Tribute to a Warrior Woman
As a Menominee, Ingrid experienced at a young age the struggle to retain her indigenous identity. The Menominee nation had been faced with the possibility of termination and the selling of tribal lands for large-scale tourism development. The Menominee nation's successful struggle to retain its tribal recognition and regain its reservation landbase provided Ingrid with the impetus to devote her life to the Indigenous struggle.
Ingrid has said, "The movement is a result of that intergenerational connection of our peoples and the struggles they were experiencing…it evolved out of crises, frustration and anger…people just couldn't take it anymore. Our people were dying, our land was stolen, our rights were being trampled, situations were happening where our people were being beaten down by a bureaucracy, they were beaten down by force and you finally say, 'That's it--no more!'"
She has led the struggle for Indigenous rights. In her work as Executive Director of the Fund for Four Directions, she has observed and supported the struggles of native peoples in international and local arenas. Her activism on behalf of the U'Wa people of Colombia reflects her lifelong commitment to recognizing and preserving the rights and beliefs of Indigenous Peoples.
On February 25, we received word that our sister Ingrid Washinawatok, the Co-Chair of the Indigenous Women's Network, and Lahe'ena'e Gay and Terence Freitas, two other members of a humanitarian delegation to the U'Wa people of Colombia, were kidnapped by FARC, a left-wing paramilitary group. It was during the end of their visit that our sisters and brother were kidnapped by hooded men in civilian clothing from the car they were traveling in. The three were part of a delegation that had been invited by the U'Wa People to join in prayer and solidarity. The purpose of the trip was to assist the U'Wa People in establishing a cultural education system for their children and support the continuation of their traditional way of life.
The morning of March 5th, the U.S. Embassy contacted the families of Ingrid, Lahe'ena'e, and Terence informing them their bodies had been found in Venezuela about 30 yards from the border of Colombia. They had been bound, blindfolded, beaten, tortured and shot numerous times. It was through Ingrid's credit cards, which were still in her possession, that they were able to trace their identity so rapidly.
Earlier in the week, Ingrid's family had communicated to the State Department their concerns over Janet Reno from the Justice Department going to Bogota to deliver $230 million dollars to the Colombian government to escalate the war against FARC. An immediate attack on FARC forced by the Colombian government resulted in 70 dead, the largest number in recent history of the war. Also, army warplanes, helicopter gunships, and heavy artillery were utilized for the first time, marking a significant change in the tactics utilized by the Colombian government against FARC. The family had transmitted a message to the State Department saying that they believed these U.S. actions were putting the lives of the hostages in dire jeopardy. The family and the Menominee government believe that the hostages were brutally beaten and killed as a consequence of these U.S. actions.
In losing her life to the movement, Ingrid Washinawatok has left a legacy for us: that though we can be beaten down by force, the spirit of Indigenous Peoples cannot be beaten down, stolen, or killed. The spirit and identity of Indigenous Peoples will always transcend a force, a group, or a government. For our roots extend beyond time, and history has shown that. Ingrid Washinawatok will live on in our work, in our cry to regain what is rightfully ours: our identity.
Ingrid Washinawatok, warrior woman, you have said 'no more.' Your cry will not be forgotten.