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Tuesday, May 2, 2000

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Rigoberta Menchu Tum, a Guatemalan indigenous
leader, speaks at the state Capitol yesterday beneath
a statue of Queen Liliuokalani.

Rights must be
safeguarded, Nobel
winner says

Diligence is the key for
Hawaiians, especially after
any agreements are signed

By Pat Omandam


If Hawaiians gain political status from the federal government, they must continue to fight to see that the recognition as an indigenous people is fulfilled, says indigenous rights expert Rigoberta Menchu Tum of Guatemala, a 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

"In other parts, indigenous peoples have been able to achieve accords and treaties, and many times these treaties and these agreements are not respected," Tum said. "Therefore, our brothers continue to struggle so that these treaties and agreements are fulfilled."

Tum, 41, is in Hawaii for a series of speaking events and to serve as a good-will ambassador of peace for the United Nations Education, Scientific and Culture Organization.

Tum, who is Mayan, has been working to bring international attention to the plight of Guatemala's indigenous people for nearly two decades. She is a member of the Quiche, one of 22 groups of the Mayan, who constitute 60 percent of Guatemala's population.

In 1992, she received the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering peaceful relations among all sectors of Guatemalan society and for her efforts in defense of indigenous rights worldwide.

She used the $1.2 million in prize money to create a foundation to defend the rights and values of indigenous peoples. Her life story was detailed in the book, "I Rigoberta Menchu," by author Elisabeth Burgos Debray in 1983.

Although she has returned to Guatemala several times to advocate the rights of Indian peasants, death threats have kept her in exile in Mexico.

Mililani Trask, a Hawaiian activist and Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, said Tum has expertise working with governments worldwide on indigenous rights and her input here will help with the reconciliation efforts between Hawaiians and the federal government.

"We're trying to have reconciliation with the United States," Trask said. "She is someone who has worked on reconciliation in Guatemala and on many difficult topics around the world."

Tum said there are common themes of intolerance, displacement from ancestral lands and hope among native peoples struggling for their rights. And in the greater society, the women, children and the poor encounter the same things, she said.

"I would prefer seeing that all peoples of the world would be able to work together and to be able to share the resources of the world. However, these questions of autonomy, independence, liberty for freedom of the different native peoples really is a decision that belongs to those persons that are living these problems," she said through an interpreter yesterday.

"What I would most hope is that there is in this situation, there would be dialogue and negotiations. I believe this is possible in this beautiful land," Tum said of Hawaii.

Her visit was sponsored by the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii, which paid the bulk of her $16,000 traveling expense. ASUH senator Giselle K. Arambula said the student government wanted Tum to share her experiences in human and indigenous rights, especially with Hawaiians.

Tum will speak on the role of aloha as a form of peaceful resistance 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at the UH-Manoa Campus Center ballroom.

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