The First Annual March for Freedom for Indigenous Children
Updated: May 21, 2022
By Celine Stevens
LOS ANGELES, CA - This past Thanksgiving, Ivette Xochiyotl and a few other women organized the first Annual March for Freedom for Indigenous children being detained in detention centers. The march began in front of the Los Angeles Pueblo Historical Monument.
The march lasted for four days. It began in Los Angeles and ended in front of the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego.
Before beginning the march, Xochiyotl cautioned the participants to avoid confrontations and escalations unless completely necessary. She advised them not to engage with police, and emphasized they intended to spread the message of love, hope, mourning and healing on what she called their “prayer walk.”
The journey would consist of actual marching, but also a caravan for the elders and children, with stops occurring throughout the night.
“Our comfort is not more important than the children’s wellbeing. These children are sleeping on floors, on concrete. So, we’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of our privilege to make sure that they know they’re not alone.”
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Xochiyotl’s goal was to reach San Diego to protest the detention center and share a list of demands that she also emphasized prior to beginning the march.
“We’re here to demand that they are released, reunited with their families, and the ones that don’t have families-that they will be released and placed in Indigenous families so we can look after them and care for them.”
She continued, sharing plans for what she and many others intend to do once the march concludes.
“We’re taking it to international court. We are ready to fight for them. We’re also asking every tribal member, everyone who can sponsor these children to take them and fight for them. These are everybody’s children.”
President Biden initially pledged to end the federal government’s use of private prisons. He also stated on his campaign website that he would make sure the government does not use private facilities for any form of detention, which originally included the detention of immigrants.
As a result, Biden signed several executive orders earlier this year, with one ordering the Justice Department not to renew private prison contracts.
However, this order only applied to places operated by the Department of Justice, which excluded private prisons run by other departments such as ICE detention centers, which are run by the Department of Homeland Security.
Selina Ramirez was another one of the women going all the way to San Diego with Xochiyotl.
She said, “Today is a day of mourning, we mourn those who are not here, we mourn those who passed with all the wisdom and knowledge. “
Ramirez said that members from various Indigenous tribes came to be present for the march, including members of the Yakama, who came all the way from Seattle.
“We’re also here to make a statement that there’s no division, there’s no borders, we don’t believe in borders, we’re one people.”
Clearbear, the chairman of the Indigenous Alliance Movement, spoke about what he says is occurring in U.S detention centers, where many migrant children are being held.
“What’s been going on is that many of the kids in these cages are Indigenous people. They’re Indigenous children, they’re Native American, they’re from Central or parts of Mexico and they’re getting abused, they’re getting mistreated, and they’re getting disrespected, they’re getting raped and murdered. And we’re here as Native people on this day of mourning to put our foot down and assert ourselves that we’re still here and that we’re tired of this shit.”
He added that the Thanksgiving holiday is a grim reminder of the past for many Indigenous people.
“Every year this creates trauma for us, every year it’s a reminder of the pain.”
While Xochiyotl understands that people use Thanksgiving to spend time with their family, she also does not want people to forget the reality for some of the children being detained.
“I know that we are so detached from the history and that we have forgotten how we came about this day and this celebration, but we are here to remind you that it’s not a thing of the past, it’s not just something that happened four hundred years ago, it’s something that continues to happen today, every day. So keep that in mind when you’re with your family, enjoy the time with your family, because that’s something that these children don’t have.”
Video credit: CBS 8 San Diego
Video credit: Celine Stevens
Audio credit: Celine Stevens
By Celine Stevens
Photo: Celine Stevens
Video: Celine Stevens
Audio: Celine Stevens, Selina Ramirez