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There is at least one group in India willing to confront the issue of women’s relationship with their spiritual traditions, SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association). Mirai Chatterjee, a member of SEWA, points out in her essay, “Religion, secularism, and organising women workers,” that the need for attention paid to women’s relationship to their spirituality is imperative. She says SEWA recognizes the importance that religion plays in shaping world views and facilitating or debilitating relationships between communities of women. With the rise of communalism (defined as loyalty and commitment to the interests of your own minority or ethnic group rather than to society as a whole) throughout India, it has become increasingly important to understand how and to what extent religion/spirituality informs women in their everyday lives. SEWA has become aware of the use of religion by sadhus, mullahs and other religious leaders to forward their own communal agendas and the resulting devastation it has wreaked on individual women’s lives and the chances for alliances between women of differing religious communities.[i]

Amidst all of the communal devastation, SEWA has remained vigilant in encouraging open communication between its members from different religious traditions in order that “From this exchange [of both positive and negative religious experiences] ideas for action and further organizing could develop, together with a strengthening of our own bonds.”[ii]

SEWA’s efforts at encouraging dialogue between members include touching on issues such as:

  • communalism as a virus that, due to prolonged socialization, affects everyone and this internalization should be confronted;
  • recognition and emphasis on the positive, humanistic aspects of religion;
  • challenging the patriarchal, oppressive and divisive aspects of religion through a feminist lens is vital to creating alternatives, which are possible through introspection and collaboration;
  • women’s roles in religion and religious women’s contributions to society should be highlighted and understood- and not just leaders, but average’s women’s contributions through ritual, folklore and songs;
  • secularism needs to be addressed and an understanding of its role in dividing communities; disassociation from the definition of ‘religion’ used by communalists that only further divides communities and would-be allies;
  • encourage minority women to take up leadership roles;
  • encourage a ‘common civil code’ that respects everyone and is not co-opted by communalists and used to oppress women, dalits, the poor or religious groups.[iii]

(C) 2010 By Shannon Laliberte Parks. All Rights Reserved. Please Obtain Permission to Copy.


[i] Chatterjee, Mirai. “Religion, secularism, and organising women workers,” in Against All Odds: Essays on Women, Religion and Development from India and Pakistan. Kamla Bhasin, Ritu Menon and Nighat Said Khan, eds. Kali for Women: New Delhi. 1994. pp. 107-16.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Chatterjee, Mirai. “Religion, secularism, and organising women workers,” in Against All Odds: Essays on Women, Religion and Development from India and Pakistan. Kamla Bhasin, Ritu Menon and Nighat Said Khan, eds. Kali for Women: New Delhi. 1994. pp. 114-5.

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NATIVE LANDS CONSIDERED NATIONAL SACRIFICE AREAS: “A closer look at the western religious origins of the term [sacrifice] is even more disturbing. The ‘sacrificial lamb’ or ‘scapegoat’ is symbolically understood to take on the weight of the community’s sins, and is then either exiled from the community or killed as an act of atonement.

In that sense, the designation of many Indian lands as National Sacrifice Areas is a disturbingly accurate recognition of present reality. Native communities are the scapegoats for Western consumer culture, bearing the burdens of the sins of the community. Indian communities have hosted toxic waste, a by-product of white middle class consumer lifestyles, without ever having benefited from those lifestyles.” – Jonna Higgins-Freese and Jeff Tomhave, in their article Race, Sacrifice, and Native Lands

As an ally to Native women environmental leaders throughout the Southwest, I have witnessed, first hand, that Native American grassroots and community groups are facing a multi-faceted fight when it comes to protecting their lands from continued environmental destruction and cultural genocide.

  • Increasingly the federal government and private industry is looking toward Tribal lands for new and existing sources of domestic energy, as well as ground zero for launching domestic “green” alternative energy initiatives. For centuries, corporations and the federal government have exploited Native communities for their own gain, therefore those entities pushing for this renewed effort to source alternatives in Indian Country must be held accountable to those communities who will ultimately bear the brunt of the expansion and development.
  • This effort to keep parties accountable is much harder than one might think. Tribal power over its own lands is a complicated matter, involving a “checkerboard” of intersecting, interwoven, complex relationships between federal, state and tribal policies.
    • Overall, it should be noted that more often than not, tribal governments answer to federal and state regulations, as opposed to the other way around.
    • Historically, the federal government has perceived Indigenous people of this land, first, as uncivilized “savages,” then when human rights were called into question, the perception shifted to recognizing their humanity, but deeming them infantile, so as to continue to exert power over them and their lands.
  • Unfortunately, the department of the federal government that most directly affects tribal sovereignty when it comes to environmental considerations is the EPA. The reason this is unfortunate is because research shows that the EPA “ …more often than not, opposes congressional attempts to pass tough environmental laws… spends more time and money figuring out how to exempt corporations from regulations than it does enforcing them and …. the EPA’s will to regulate is so weak that a proposed regulation must be under a court-ordered deadline (brought by an environmental group) before it will even be considered for the EPA administrator’s signature.[1
  • Investigation into the relationships between decision makers and industry has cast a negative light on many projects brought to Indian Country. For its part, the EPA has a long record of administrators leaving the department and entering into highly lucrative positions with hazardous waste management corporations and other industry players. Therefore, it is critical to provide support, when called for, to Native American partners in seeking to untangle the web of intricate policies so that the voice of the grassroots is heard as new decisions are made regarding Native land use.
  • With the onslaught of the recent economic downturn, both global and domestic, budget cuts to critical services that provide for some of the most impacted communities in this country are being enacted. The result is that impoverished communities are left disproportionately under-served by both governmental services and pro bono advocacy.
  • And lastly, as our government seeks to assuage Americans’ economic and national security fears, solutions are being sought in the heart of Native country – federal and private interests are looking to the vast amounts of untapped petroleum-based resources that lie beneath the lands of this country’s Indigenous peoples, as well as those purported to be sustainable, “green” alternatives.

Each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet… we will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” – President Barack Obama

Nuclear power is going to be an important part of our energy mix.. We will be building some [clean] coal plants… while we search for alternatives.” – Steven Chu, Nobel Prize winning physicist and Secretary of Energy. Read the rest of this entry »

The beautiful San Francisco Bay Area has been a mecca for humans for millenia. With it’s amazing moderate climate, spectacular views from the hills, lush year-round greenery and diversity of wildlife, it’s no wonder so many flock to live in this collection of cities. Unfortunately, throughout the mid-18th to mid-19th centuries, Spanish colonization of this area of the countrydecimated the population of original inhabitants of the area, the Ohlone people.

Throughout time, the Ohlone have been promised land grants to regain control over their original territories (18th century Spanish missions petitioned for this on behalf of Native folks, only to assign themselves as administrators), but have been denied those rights time and again due to bureaucracy, politics, racism and the interests of the United States and the State of California over the cultural and religious rights of the Ohlone.

One of the most notable pieces of land once part of Ohlone territory is the city of San Francisco. And while there is no foreseeable future of the Ohlone regaining those particular territory rights, they have been granted the right to be addressed whenever the State of California decides to move forward with development projects that potentially impact Native people’s cultural and religious rights as tied to land. California State Senate Bill 18 states that cities and counties of California must communicate with California Native American tribes before implementing plans for development of open space for the purpose of protecting Native American cultural places. The intent language of the bill states that city and county officials must:

  • Establish meaningful consultation between tribal governments and local governments at the earliest possible point in the planning process
  • Provide information available early in the planning process to avoid potential conflicts
  • Enable tribes to manage and act as caretakers of cultural places.

In the interest of keeping the city and county of San Francisco accountable to some of the longest – and most culturally/spiritually invested- residents of this area, Mayor Gavin Newsom must hold meaningful dialogue with Ohlone Native people living in San Francisco regarding any future development of Candlestick Park/Hunters Point Shipyard. The plans consists of a new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers and a mixed-use community with residential, retail, office/research & development/industrial, civic and community uses, and parks and recreational open space (full planning document found here).

My ally, Corinna Gould, from Indian People Organizing for Change, has asked that this letter she has written and sent to Mayor Gavin Newsom be passed far and wide. I would add that a quick call or email to the mayor’s office will help build the pressure needed to ensure that the city and county of San Francisco adhere to the law and include the Ohlone people in this decision making process. The mayor’s office contact information has been included below.

Please take a moment and send an email or make a call today!

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Corinna’s letter to Mayor Gavin Newsom:

Indian People Organizing for Change

10926 Edes Ave

Oakland, CA 94603

510-575-8408

shellmoundwalk@yahoo.com

January 12, 2010

Mayor Gavin Newsom, SF

City Hall Rm 200

1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Pl.

San Francisco Ca 94102

Re:  Planning Department Case No. 2007-0946E

Candlestick Park/Hunters Point Shipyard

REQUEST FOR IMMEDIATE MEANINGFUL CONVERSATION

Dear Mayor Newsom,

I am writing to you to ask that the City of San Francisco follow the law set out by the State of California to have a “meaningful conversation”, with the original people of your city, the Ohlone, prior to development.  Senate Bill 18 is intended to bring in the local American Indians to talk respectfully with the city and county planners to determine if sacred sites are or could possibly be disturbed during a project.  It is the City and Counties responsibility to contact the list of people on the Native American Heritage Commissions roster if they are going to adopt or amend a general plan.  As the law passed in 2005 and the general plan was amended in 2006, the Ohlone people should have been contacted at that point.

As an Ohlone woman that has been working on Shellmound and Sacred sites issues for over 10years, I am asking that the City of San Francisco work with my relatives in order for us to continue to treat our ancestors in a respectful manner.  A Public Hearing is not “meaningful discussion”.  Please allow for the time allotted in the SB 18 law and bring the Ohlone people in for a meeting to discuss what the next steps should be.

Sincerely,

Corrina Gould, Ohlone/IPOC Organizer

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Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Office contact information:

Telephone: (415) 554-6141
Fax: (415) 554-6160
Email: gavin.newsom@sfgov.org

MAKE  A QUICK CALL OR SEND AN EMAIL TODAY STANDING IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE OHLONE PEOPLE OF THE BAY AREA!!

“History is important. If you don’t know history, it’s as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it.” –Howard Zinn

INTRODUCTION

As a former colony of the British Empire, the United States is directly influenced by the history of European women’s plight prior to the “founding” of this country. Therefore, it is imperative to understand that history so that the near past and current state of affairs related to women’s health rights in this country can be understood in complete context.  The implications of a history that includes a legal system that stems from the struggles of women throughout Europe to defend their reproductive rights against some of the most repressive, genocidal, social and legal structures in history is critical in understanding how the rights of some of the most vulnerable groups of women in this country are infringed upon by existing legislation. It is also critical in grasping the gravity of the current legislative reform related to healthcare that is happening in this country.

This brief is not meant to be complete history of women’s rights in Europe nor the United States, rather a condensed listing of some of the most relevant issues that have lead to the current state of women’s rights in this country. The paper’s perspective is decidedly Western mainstream and certainly an overwhelming amount of information could be contributed if written from the perspective of the myriad cultures that exist in this country. But the for the purposes of this paper, this perspective is a first step in understanding the complete picture of the history of women’s rights in this country.

AN ANCESTRY OF GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION & DISAPPEARANCE OF PRIVACY

By the end of the 14th century, European states began the subtle and slow transition from a nature-based society to mercantilism, which eventually evolved into capitalism. The effect this had on women and their reproductive, economic and class circumstances is a steady decline toward subjugation. Women went from positions of equity with men to being perceived as servile, infantile, commodities and reproductive machines. Increasingly, women were seen as reproductive beings, their most important contributions to society being the ability to increase the citizenry. This perspective lead to widespread social and legal restrictions on women’s access to traditional forms of birth control, abortion and holistic healthcare. Their autonomy in these decisions were completely stripped away and became affairs of the State.

There are many historical “moments” that have contributed to the current US social perception of women and legal barriers to their autonomy in controlling their reproductive choices. Some of which include:

  • In the 16th century Europe experienced a decline in population growth, which some historians attribute to “low natality rates and the unwillingness of the poor to reproduce themselves.” Sylvia Federici argues that this population crisis was the beginning of state intrusion into once-private reproduction issues. [i]
  • By the mid 16th century, the prevailing thought of the State was that a larger citizenry determined its stature on the world stage. French political thinker Jean Bodin wrote, “In my view, one should never be afraid of having too many subjects or too many citizens, for the strength of the commonwealth consists in men.” Additionally, Henry IV was known to say “the strength and wealth of a king lie in the number and opulence of his citizens.” This new widespread belief system signaled the beginning of laws punishing any behavior obstructing population growth.[ii]
  • The Great Witch Hunt of the 16th and 17th centuries were a full on assault on women the world over. The primary focus of the witch hunts, says Federici, was to co-opt control over women’s bodies, seizing power of contraception and non-procreative sexuality from them. During this time, European governments enacted severe penalties against reproductive crimes, including contraception, midwifery and infanticide.[iii]
  • There were also very strong social norms that developed indicating that women were incapable of controlling themselves and needed to be hidden away for their own and society’s benefit; women were popularly conveyed publically as unreasonable, vain, wild, wasteful, mouthy, gossipy, scolds, witches, etc. [iv] Read the rest of this entry »