Activists to discuss indigenous politics, environmentalism in the Americas at Bates College

The politics and environmental interests of indigenous peoples in the Americas, including Native Americans from Maine, are at issue in two nights of panel discussions at Bates College at 4:15 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22, and 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23.

Featuring three panelists, Monday’s symposium is titled Latin American Indigenous Movements in the 21st Century: Frontiers of Activism. It takes place in Chase Hall Lounge, 56 Campus Ave., and is sponsored by the Mellon Innovation Fund, the environmental studies program, the anthropology department, the social science division and the Multicultural Center at Bates.

Tuesday’s roundtable discussion is titled Indigenous Environmental Activism Among Near and Distant Neighbors and includes two of the Monday panelists and two Native Americans from Maine. It will explore forms and roles of native environmentalism and its engagements with Western environmental policies. This takes place in the Benjamin Mays Center, 95 Russell St., and is sponsored by the Mellon Innovation Fund, the environmental studies program and the Multicultural Center.

The programs have been put together by Bates College faculty including a group associated with the Latin American Studies general education concentration at the college. General education concentrations, or GECs, part of the college’s core curriculum, are groupings of courses oriented around a common theme and often drawn from diverse academic departments and programs.

Monday’s panel is composed of three activists involved in indigenous politics in Latin America: Patricia Gualinga, Victor Montejo and Trevor Stevenson ’00.

Gualinga is a member of the Kichwa indigenous community of Sarayaku in Amazonian Ecuador. She has spent years leading the community against oil exploration on indigenous lands, a process that has put Sarayaku in the international spotlight. Gualinga has also ensured that women’s voices are heard in the movement for indigenous rights and environmental justice.

Her efforts have taken her around the world and led to collaborations with non-governmental organizations in the United States and Ecuador, as well as participation within the Ecuadorian government and CONAIE, Ecuador’s national indigenous federation.

Montejo is a Jakaltek Maya from the Northwestern Highlands of Guatemala, where he was a schoolteacher before coming to the United States. He fled Guatemala in 1982, after his brother, also a teacher, was assassinated by government soldiers and his own name appeared on death lists.

For the last eight years Montejo has chaired the Native American Studies Department at the University of California, Davis. In 2003, he gave up a Fulbright grant to run for Congress in Guatemala, and was elected in December of that year. He is the author of several books.

Stevenson is originally from Wyoming, where he was involved in environmental and indigenous issues. He has worked with indigenous movements in Latin America for more than a decade and has extensive experience in coordination between indigenous peoples and local governments and NGOs. He has served as the executive co-director of the Washington, D.C.-based Amazon Alliance for Indigenous and Traditional Peoples and their Environment.

Gualinga and Stevenson will join two members of Maine Wabanaki tribes in Tuesday’s event. Brenda Commander is serving her fourth term as chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. She is overseeing tribal efforts to restore the Meduxnekeag River, a tributary of the St. John River that flows through tribal lands. Through partnerships with private and government agencies in Canada and the United States, the tribe is improving the water quality of the river for cultural and environmental reasons.

John Banks has been director of the Penobscot Nation’s Department of Natural Resources since the department’s founding in 1980. During that time he has overseen the implementation of an extensive water quality testing program for the Penobscot River to ensure that the river complies with state and federal clean water standards.

In addition, Banks and his department have played an important role in the newly formed Penobscot River Restoration Trust, which is raising money to pay for a removal of dams that would reopen 1,000 miles of river habitat along the Penobscot.