White Earth Band of Ojibwe Chairwoman on Hugo Chávez

The following comments were made by White Earth Chairwoman Erma J. Vizenor during her “State of the Nation Address,” March 7, 2013, in Mahnomen, Minnesota.  They are taken from the Nation’s newspaper, Anishinaabeg Today, March 13, 2013, reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.

On Tuesday Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez passed away.  President Chavez was a friend of the White Earth Nation.  He was known for his fiery rhetoric and socialist ideals that offended many nations throughout the world but to White Earth he was our friend.  He cared about the poor.

President Chavez and the people of Venezuela have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars of CITGO fuel assistance (their oil) to needy families on and near the White Earth Reservation as well [as] to other tribes in the United States.

In September 2006, I traveled to New York City to meet with Venezuelan officials about possibility of fuel assistance funds for White Earth.  There were leaders from the Micmac, Abenaki, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Mohawk tribes at the meeting.  Some of these tribal leaders had visited President Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela the year before and their tribes were receiving CITGO fuel assistance from Venezuela.  I was anxious for White Earth to participate.

President Chavez was at the United Nations in New York City.  We were informed that he would meet with us the following day in Harlem.

After the meeting that day I went to my hotel room, turned on the TV and heard the news that President Chavez had called President Bush a disparaging name before the Assembly at the United Nations.  The news reporter said there were death threats on President Chavez and that he had left for Venezuela.  I went to bed feeling very sad about [the] whole situation.

The next morning I said to the Venezuelan official, “I heard on the news President Chavez has left for Venezuela.”  “Oh, no,” the official said, “President Chavez has not left.  He will meet with you.  He cares about Native Americans.  He knows your history and what has happened to your people in your country.  He wants to help you.”

The tribal leaders and I boarded the coach bus for Harlem where we gathered in a large church.  We were escorted to the front pew.  Within a few minutes, President Chavez came and greeted us.  He spoke through an interpreter about the indigenous people of this land, about poor people and how he wanted to help.  Since that time White Earth has received CITGO fuel assistance from Venezuela that has helped hundreds of families and elders keep warm through the cold Minnesota winters.

Now that President Chavez has died, future CITGO fuel assistance funds are uncertain.  He was our friend and our prayers go out to the President’s family and the people of Venezuela.

H/T to David Thorstad.

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