November 30, 2004
An activist and member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community is in the Netherlands working to bring awareness to the plight indigenous people face in contemporary society.
Earl Ray, who lives on the Salt River community east of Scottsdale, left earlier this month for Amsterdam to meet with other activists and members of the Netherlands Center for Indigenous People.
Specifically, Ray hopes to spotlight problems of life on Indian reservations and get his issues before the United Nations World Court.
"It’s an effort to try to save tribes across the world," Ray said.
Speaking from his home near Camelback and Longmore roads on the Salt River community — an area in contrast to the gleaming city to the west — Ray said problems on the reservations in Arizona and the Southwest should be part of the global forum.
Ray first went to the Netherlands in 1995 looking for help with his research on water law. There he met contacts with the Netherlands Center for Indigenous People, and found allies in promoting Pima language, history and culture.
With his current journey to Amsterdam, Ray will be involved in committees with indigenous representatives from Canada, Brazil and other countries, to bring to light tragedies and atrocities upon indigenous peoples to the U.N. World Court.
The problems facing indigenous peoples around the world range from industrial poisoning of lands in Arizona and other areas of the American Southwest, to the murders of Arhuacos in Colombia
"These cases need to be resolved, because there’s numerous cultures that will die off because of this contamination," he said.
The Netherlands Center has been working with the United Nations to protect indigenous rights.
The past 10 years have been designated by the United Nations as the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, which ends Dec. 10.
In that time, the United Nations developed a draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, which if passed will set universal minimum standards for the rights of indigenous people.
Ray said the Netherlands Center forum events on Dec. 9 and 10 will also be marked by a call for endorsement of the draft declaration by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Tupac Enrique Acosta, an organizer with the Phoenixbased Tonatierra, an indigenous peoples community development organization, said Ray has been known for decades as a champion of American Indian causes.
Ray’s work, along with that of Tonatierra, also has a more global reach. Tonatierra, for example, has hosted U.N. officials in its campaign to protect indigenous peoples’ rights. The group also has worked with Phoenix to organize a proclamation for an Indigenous People’s Day scheduled for March 12.
Acosta said it is imperative the United Nations recognize the declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.
"It’s the necessary step for the recognition and respect for the identity and rights of indigenous peoples, which is not codified in the international legal system," Acosta said. "We’re defined as subhuman; governments recognize indigenous populations only. We’re in a form of captivity."