A note on SAIIC and Abya Yala News

In the 1980s, a group of activists who worked to promote inter-hemispheric Indigenous dialogues, launched a non-profit called SAIIC, The South and Mesoamerican Indian Information Center based in Oakland, CA. Various individual contributors supported this project that was initially conceived of by Mapuche activist Nilo Cayuqeo, a Mapuche native from southern Argentina but, at the time, had emigrated to avoid persecution by the Argentinean military dictatorship. It was Cayuqeo who enrolled other Native Americans interested in this project of dialogues: Xihuanel Huerta, Gina Pacaldo, Wara Alderete (Calchaki) and a bit later others, such as Misquito activists Amalia Dixon and Carlos Maibeth, as well as Andean anthropologist and Quechua linguist, Guillermo Delgado-P. Several solidarity collaborators that were supportive of Indigenous causes worked for SAIIC in various capacities, themselves activists for environmental causes and Indigenous rights. Without their know-how, SAIIC would not be what it became, naming all them would have the danger of leaving someone out; so, in order to avoid such pitfall I extend recognition to their participation and collaboration. In any case, as you browse each of the Abya Yala News issues, you will find the names of participants, artists, photographers, and translators on the editorial team, duly acknowledged.

The issues that SAIIC published in the form of a journal took several formats. This evolved from the initial mimeographed ones, to the more elaborated, affected already with the arrival of early computer programs dedicated to publishing. SAIIC folded up by the end of the 1990s, largely because interactive communications via computer networks declared SAIIC’s work obsolete. Nevertheless from the late 1980s through the 1990s, it became the main informative sources that actively tried to document and denounce the persistent mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples throughout the Americas. The main intention of the SAIIC publication, called now Abya Yala News, was: “linking Indigenous Struggles Throughout the Americas.” And, indeed, the journal became an outlet that privileged Indigenous voices that originated on the same territories that Indigenous Peoples had inhabited for millennia.

By the early 1990s, SAIIC and Abya Yala News accompanied the initial Indigenous mobilization to reject the Spanish government’s official call to “Celebrate” the “Encounter of Two Worlds.” In the eyes of Native Peoples of the Americas, such a call was turned around and, instead, “to mourn” or “Commemorate” was the issue in the context of a “Dis-encounter of Two Worlds.” What happened? It was obvious that the Spanish government and the King of Spain forgot that history has several faces or versions to it. SAIIC supported an Indigenous version of the heritage that entered the Americas five hundred years ago.

Conscious of the fact that illiteracy affected native peoples throughout the Americas, but especially those in Spanish and Portuguese Americas, SAIIC also branched out to produce and record radio programs, translating the news and circulating them in cassettes (now an extinct technology). The radio cassette recordings were done at KPFA (the Berkeley radio station) with the assistance of Inés Hernández Avila who conducted a Radio Program on Indigenous issues. Stefano Varese, Jack Forbes, DQ college student, and UCDavis, also lent a hand of active support. At the same time, such programs were re-transmitted by shortwave radios that were owned by Indigenous communities in the Americas. As it can be seen, SAIIC engaged in the trilingual production of news, labor that engaged and attracted the solidarity commitment of countless students at the University of California (Berkeley, Davis, Santa Cruz), and Mills College, who would come forward lending a hand to SAIIC. At the end, it was a great community of solidarity peoples who believed in the project of “Transcommunal” cooperation.[1]

Today, after more than a couple of decades, the issues kept alive by the interested collaborators of SAIIC enter the historical record. Its purpose is to leave an imprint on at least a decade of work, documenting the fate of Indigenous Peoples as it unfolded on our own territories. SAIIC remained a project of intercultural association, it became a community of activists and native peoples of all origins, opened a true inter-hemispheric angle to understand that native peoples inhabit the world, not just the Americas.

Because of the educational and informative work that SAIIC developed then, it very often participated in the sessions organized by the Working Group on Indigenous People, a subcommittee of the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations in Switzerland where several friends of SAIIC helped defray costs to support Indigenous delegates. At the end, all this work was worth doing for, as we know, on September 13, 2007, as a result of a long and arduous effort by Indigenous Peoples around the world, the UN General Assembly approved the overdue Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.[2]

SAIIC’s initial task “of linking the Indigenous struggles of the Americas” was accomplished. The documents you have in front of your eyes exist because of the interest of committed individuals who contributed to keep these records alive. Although SAIIC and Abya Yala News no longer exist, those of us who participated in the project understand that it accomplished the original goal it set for itself. Today, people in the United States and Canada understand the historical struggles of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, and the people of South and Mesoamerica understand the resistance that takes place in the Dakotas. The struggles are linked.

Thank you,
Guillermo Delgado-P.
Santa Cruz, CA

[1] See: John Brown Childs, Transcommunality. From the Politics of Conversion to the Ethics of Respect (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003).

[2] To complement this discussion we suggest the various articles in: Indigeneity Collected Essays, edited by Guillermo Delgado-P. and John Brown Childs (Santa Cruz, CA: New Pacific Press, 2012).