La Prensa Libre

Nobel laureate Menchú helps bring Indigenous Peoples Day to Fayetteville

octubre 15
18:00 2015
Lioneld Jordan, alcalde de Fayetteville, da las llaves de su ciudad a Rigoberta Menchú, Premio Nobel de la Paz, el lunes 12 de octubre, proclamado Día de los Pueblos Indígenas.

Photos by Jose Lopez/La Prensa Libre
Lioneld Jordan, mayor of Fayetteville, gives the keys to his city to Rigoberta Menchú, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Monday, Oct. 12. Menchu, a K’iche’ Maya from Guatemala who has defended her people’s human rights, is the Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lecturer for 2015.

José López Bribiesca

Versión en español aquí.

FAYETTEVILLE — Joining the growing list of cities and states in the U. S. that no longer celebrate Columbus Day, Fayetteville also proclaimed Monday, Oct. 12 as Indigenous Peoples Day.

Rigoberta Menchú, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, was present as Fayetteville mayor Lioneld Jordan made the proclamation after a walk to the Trail of Tears marker behind Razorback Field.

Menchú was in town Oct. 12 and 13 as part of the Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, culminating with her presentation of the 2015 Winthrop Rockefeller Distinguished Lecture at the University of Arkansas.

Menchu, center, leads a walk down Garland Avenue to the Trail of Tears marker on Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Menchú, center, leads a walk down Garland Avenue to the Trail of Tears marker on Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Menchú, a K’iche’ Maya from Guatemala, acknowledged Fayetteville’s sacredness, saying the city has been sealed with the presence of its native inhabitants.

“No culture dies. They are not dead. Everything that our ancestors said and wrote remains in the life of every person on this planet,” Menchú said in Spanish. “And I also leave a piece of my energy here.”

La guatemalteca Menchú charla en su idioma con su compatriota Lucía Pérez Hall, derecha, una maya kaqchiquel que radica en Fayetteville, durante la caminata.

Menchú, a K’iche’ Maya from Guatemala, smiles while speaking her language with her compatriot Lucía Pérez Hall, Fayetteville resident and Kaqchikel Maya, during the walk to the Trail of Tears.

The Nobel laureate also stressed the symbolic importance of the walk down Garland Avenue to the Trail of Tears marker on Martin Luther King Boulevard.
“Walking is an act of movement. Peoples are movement. Our organism needs movement,” she said. “Walking is contact with Mother Earth. And walking renews our oxygen. We are oxygen. If we do not have oxygen, we die, and this place is also a place of oxygen. That’s why it is called a sacred place”.

Jordan issued the proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day, but not before giving Menchú the key to the city of Fayetteville.

“This is a very special day. Many, many places in Latin America remember this day because, in Guatemala, this day is a day for national dignity,” Mechú said, in English. “I am very, very happy to receive this key because it’s part of this sacred place. I think in many countries, we struggle for sacred space.”

An emotional Jordan said Menchú has been one of his inspirations ever since he read her testimony “I, Rigoberta Menchú” many years ago.

“You have been a fighter for social justice and it is an honor and a privilege for me just to be in your presence. You’re one of my heroes and I want you to know that,” Jordan said, with watery eyes.


The Trail of Tears’ dark history

Jordan and UA professor Frank Scheide, right, hold the proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day in Fayetteville.

Jordan and UA professor Frank Scheide, right, hold the proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day in Fayetteville.

The walk to the Trail of Tears has happened yearly for more than a decade under the leadership of Frank Scheide, professor of film history at the UA.

Scheide explained how the journey through the Trail of Tears became one of U.S. history’s darkest periods.

President Thomas Jefferson originated the idea of kicking out indigenous peoples from their own nations “saying that sovereign countries should not exist within the borders of the United States,” Scheide said. “And that particular perspective was used to forcibly remove the tribes from the Southeast. And in the 1830s, this was finalized and these tribes were sent over the Trail of Tears.

“One of the routes of the Trail of Tears is right behind you,” Scheide added, pointing toward Martin Luther King Boulevard. “And as Dr. Menchú is witness, the mistreatment and exploitation of indigenous people continue today. It’s a matter that we all must be concerned with and try to set right.”

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