No More Stolen Sisters with Liberty Valadez
Jun 14, 2023
DES MOINES IOWA - The United States has a history that many do not want to face. We live on land stolen, violently, from past generations of Indigenous people. Today, even among progressive minded folks, Indigenous issues are not well known. On May 5th, I attended a protest at the Iowa State Capitol and spoke with Indigenous activist, Liberty Valadez. Liberty told me about some issues that Indigenous people face that need more awareness.
Peter: Tell me a little bit about your background and also about why we're here at the Capitol today.
Liberty: Hello, my name is Liberty Valadez. I was born and raised in Iowa, but I do have strong roots down in Texas. The reason why I bring that up is because I am Indigenous. My family comes from the Hopi tribe. But past that point, I'm still reconnecting. Much like many other Natives. I'm at the Capitol today protesting and bringing awareness for the most part to missing and murdered Indigenous women, relatives, two spirit, girls, whatever acronym there is. Cinco de Mayo, May 5th, is not only a revolutionary day, it's also National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). And I think something that kind of sums up why it's so important is this statistic right here. Indigenous people make up 2.09% of the whole population in the United States. Despite that being such a small number, they make up 40% of all women trafficked or people trafficked in the United States. And that factor alone is unacceptable. I also want to bring awareness to Indigenous land sovereignty, the message of what land back is, what ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) is, what UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People) is. These are all topics that I'm going to be discussing at this protest because they are essential to not only saving Indigenous people and the culture, it's to saving the planet because Indigenous people are directly correlated with the health and the well-being of the planet.
Peter: You mentioned a few issues that you are also educating people on in addition to MMIW. Can you start with what "land back" means for those of us who have never heard of the phrase before?
Liberty: So land back is one of the things I feel very strongly about. Land back is the idea and the practice of allowing Indigenous people to essentially be shepherds of the land. So instead of tearing down acres of forests like in Atlanta you have to address indigenous people first because Indigenous people were here before we were colonized. So I feel like Indigenous people should have a say over what happens to the land that they came from. Land back is also the belief of protecting and preserving the environment. Land back isn't about taking everybody that lives in the United States and sending them back to Europe or sending them to live in these what most people know as concentration camps. What it is, is practicing and exercising methods that preserve the land for generations, seven generations in the future. We got to think ahead. We can't just think of ourselves because that's how we got into this predicament.
Peter: And what is UNDRIP?
Liberty: UNDRIP is a topic that I feel is very important for Indigenous people all over the world, especially the US becuase the US, is kind of a big powerhouse in how policies are shaped around the world. UNDRIP is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The reason why that is so important is because the UN has declared that Indigenous people have the right to freedom that everybody else does. Despite historically and currently not having access to basic human rights. I think in 2007 the United Nations sent out this declaration and only four nations decided against it. And that was Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US. Funnily enough, those are the four countries that are the worst in terms of injustices towards Indigenous people. The UN in 2017 agreed to upholding this declaration of Indigenous independence except for the US. The US is still the only country that has not acknowledged it. They said it is a great idea to strive for, but they have done nothing to actually support the voices of Indigenous people here in the United States, and I think that is very telling on what this country is like.
Peter: And what is ICWA and why is it so important?
Liberty: ICWA is the Indian Child Welfare Act. It was created in the seventies, I believe, to make sure that Indigenous children would not get taken out of their communities. Because whenever Indigenous people are taken out of their communities, are denied speaking their own language, denied learning their own customs, that's called cultural assimilation, also known as a form of a genocide. That's something we still face every single day as indigenous people all around the world. ICWA is in the process of being overturned. The reason why that is alarming is because if it was overturned, then that undermines sovereignty and undermines that Indigenous people are still here, we are still here and we still have a voice. Despite how much the government likes to believe otherwise.
The future of ICWA is going to be ruled on by the Supreme Court in June 2023. I really appreciate Liberty taking the time to educate me and all of our readers. If you'd like to learn more about Indigenous issues and activism here in Iowa you can check out the Great Plains Action Network at https://www.greatplainsaction.org/