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FYI: SASAL, Endangered Lang, New Software

Author: Uri Horesh

FYI Body: The web site for SASAL (Student Association for Sociolinguistics and
Anthropological Linguistics) has been up an running for a while now. Its
newest addition is a form, which you may fill in online in order to join

The form is located at:

You are also invited to surf through the rest of the site and click on the
"News" link to find out about an informal gathering scheduled for October
16, 1999 during the NWAVE conference in Toronto.

We also wish to remind you that SASAL has a Listserv mailing list.
Instructions on how to subscribe are available on the web site.

* *
* SASAL - Student Association for *
* Sociolinguistics and *
* Anthropological Linguistics *
* *
* *
* *

I enclose latest news of a substantive threat to the future of the U'wa
people, who speak a Chibchan language and live on the Colombian border with
Venezuela. This is of legitimate interest to linguists and
environmentalists, as well as any concerned with the human cost of economic
invasion of traditional communities.

Besides the evident humanitarian threat from the incursion of the oil
industry, with attendant political and military hazards, into a largely
insecure and unpoliceable part of Colombia, there is a language
endangerment aspect.

If the U'wa carry out their threat to commit suicide en masse, that will
extinguish their line and their language, the last survival of the central
Chibchan family. U'wa is the only surviving language that is closely
related to the extinct Chibcha, or Muisca, the language of the dominan
civilization round Bogota, conquered by the Spanish in 1536. Chibcha was
at first used widely in the colonial administration of "New Granada" (as
this part of thre Spanish Empire was called), but died out in the 18th

I should be happy to correspond with any list members who seek further
background on the human or linguistic background to this urgent issue,
since my own research area is in the historical, and present study of this
language family and its speakers.

Nicholas Ostler

- --------------------------------------------------------------
Nicholas Ostler
Foundation for Endangered Languages
Registered Charity 1070616

Batheaston Villa, 172 Bailbrook Lane
Bath BA1 7AA England
+44-1225-85-2865 fax +44-1225-85-9258

############### U'WA DEFENSE WORKING GROUP ACTION ALERT! ###############

We are seeking an explanation for this progress that goes against life.
We are demanding that this kind of progress stop, that oil exploitation in
the heart of the Earth is halted, that the deliberate bleeding of the Earth
stop...we ask that our brothers and sisters from other races and cultures
unite in the struggle that we are undertaking...we believe that this
struggle has to become a global crusade to defend life.
- Statement of the UÕwa people, August, 1998


Contents :
1. Action Alert - Drilling on U'wa Land Imminen
2. Background information on the UÕwa struggle

On September 21st Colombia's Environment Minister Juan Mayr announced he
was granting a permit for Occidental Petroleum to begin exploratory
drilling on the U'wa ancestral homelands. The U'wa have denounced the
government's decision as cultural and environmental genocide. This permi
removes the final legal obstacle to Occidental's plans to drill and pushes
the U'wa one step closer to their last resort pledge of committing mass

For several years now the U'wa have been an inspiring symbol of ecological
sanity and indigenous resistance to the oil industry's relentless invasion
of the final remote corners of the planet. The U'wa have maintained their
stand despite harassment, intimidation, a brutal assault on their
spokesperson and the murder of three of their supporters. A worldwide
solidarity movement forced Royal Dutch Shell to withdraw from the projec
and has stalled the efforts of LA-based Occidental Petroleum to begin
drilling. Until now. With approval from the Colombian government drilling
on U'wa land is imminent. A global solidarity movement is needed to
pressure the Colombian government and Occidental to cancel the project.

In Colombia where a 30 year civil war has claimed the lives of 25,000
people this decade alone, oil and violence spread hand in hand. Oil
installations are popular targets for the guerillas and as such bring de
facto military occupations along with the inevitable ecological devastation
from ongoing bombing. For the U'wa oil is the blood of Mother Earth and
therefore to drill is the ultimate desecration of their ancient traditions
of living in peaceful balance with the Earth.

The U'wa remain strong in their determination to protect their culture and
sacred homelands but they need your help.



Dr. Ray R. Irani, President and CEO
Occidental Petroleum
10889 Wilshire Blv.
LA, CA 90024
fax +1-310.443.6690
ph. +1-310.208.8800
email :

Presidente Andres Pastrana
Casa Presidencial
Bogota, Colombia
fax +571.334.1940 (direct) or 202.387.0176 (c/o Embassy in Washington D.C.)
phone (Embassy in D.C.) 202-332-7476

Environment Minister Juan Mayr can be reached at : <> or <>


We need to show Occidental AND the Colombian government that activists
around the world will stand with the U'wa to prevent the destruction of
their culture and homeland. The best way to do this is to have a strong
presence at Colombian consulates and embassies around the world. If you
live near a consulate please call them up and ask for a meeting with the

Fact sheets and other campaign materials are available on the RAN website
WWW.RAN.ORG <http://www.RAN.ORG>

Please call or email for hard copies, additional information and to
coordinate your local actions with other supporters. Contact Patrick
Reinsborough at <> or call us a
+1-415-398-4404 or 1-800-989-RAIN

- --------------------------------------------------------------------------


"We will in no way sell our Mother Earth, to do so would be to give up our
work of collaborating with the spirits to protect the heart of the world,
which sustains and gives life to the rest of the universe, it would be to
go against our own origins, and those of all existence."
- Statement of the U'wa People, August 1998

The UÕwa of the Colombian cloud forest are in a life-and-death struggle to
protect their traditional culture and sacred homeland from an oil projec
slated to begin on their land at anytime. The UÕwa are adamantly opposed to
the drilling and warn that the project will lead to an increase in violence
as seen in other oil regions of Colombia. Despite this, Los Angeles-based
Occidental Petroleum and the Colombian government continue to move forward
with plans to drill. The UÕwa have made a call for international support;
now is the time for us to answer.

The UÕwa's opposition to the oil project is so strong that they have vowed
to commit collective suicide if Occidental Petroleum and the Colombian
government proceed with the project on their ancestral lands. The UÕwa, a
traditional people some 5,000 members strong, explain they prefer a death
by their own hand than the slow death to their environment and culture tha
oil production will bring. A core tenet of UÕwa culture and spirituality is
the belief that the land that has sustained them for centuries is sacred.
They strongly believe that to permit oil exploration on these sacred lands
would upset the balance of the world. In the words of the UÕwa, Oil is the
blood of Mother take the oil is, for us, worse than killing your
own mother. If you kill the Earth, then no one will live.

The UÕwa peoples struggle exploded into the public arena last March with
the tragic murders in Colombia of three indigenous rights activists:
Terence Freitas, Ingrid Washinawatok and Laheanee Gay. Terence was one of
the founders of the U'wa Defense Working Group and had devoted the last two
years of his life to supporting the UÕwa in their campaign to stop
Occidentals oil project, reclaim their ancestral homeland and protect their
traditional culture. Ingrid and Laheanee were coordinating with the UÕwa to
launch an educational project designed to maintain and promote the UÕwas
traditional way-of-life.

These murders and the intimidation the U'wa have already persevered are bu
a harbinger of the wider physical violence the oil project will bring to
their people. Throughout Colombia, oil and violence are linked
inextricably. Occidental's Can~o Limo'n pipeline, just north of UÕwa
territory, has been attacked by leftist guerillas more than 600 times in
its 13 years of existence, spilling some 1.7 million barrels of crude oil
into the soil and rivers. The Colombian government has militarized oil
production and pipeline zones, often persecuting local populations the
government assumes are helping the guerrillas. Oil projects have already
taken their toll on many other indigenous peoples of Colombia, including
the Yarique, Kofan and Secoya.

The current drilling plans threaten the survival of both the UÕwa and their
environment. The UÕwas cloud forest homeland in the Sierra Nevada de Cocuy
mountains near the Venezuelan border is one of the most delicate,
endangered forest ecosystems on the planet. It is an area rich in plant and
animal life unique to the region, and the UÕwa depend on the balance and
bounty of the forest for their survival. Where oil companies have operated
in other regions of the Amazon basin, cultural decay, toxic pollution, land
invasions and massive deforestation have followed.

Occidental first received an exploration license for the 2 billion barrels
oil field- the equivalent of three months of U.S. consumption -in 1992.
Since then, the UÕwa have voiced their consistent opposition to the oil
project. They have taken a variety of actions to halt the project including
the filing of lawsuits against the government in Colombia, petitioning the
Organization of American States to intervene, appealing directly with
Occidentals top executives, and reaching out to company shareholders.

Last April U'wa representatives came to Los Angeles to directly confron
Occidental. Along with several hundred supporters the U'wa marched on Oxy's
HQ and demanded a meeting with CEO Ray Irani. When they were refused entry
activists occupied the street in front of the building and held an
inspirational rally on Oxy's front steps. Two days later on April 30th
while the U'wa spoke at Occidental's shareholder meeting there were
demonstrations at Colombian consulates and embassies around the world.

The U.S has very strong ties with Colombia. Not only does Colombia sell
most of its oil to the U.S. market but under the auspices of the "War on
Drugs" U.S. military aid to the repressive regime in Colombia continues to
grow. This year Colombia received $289 million in aid making them the third
largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the world after Israel and Egypt.
The U.S already has hundreds of military advisors in Colombia and the
Clinton administration is proposing to give Colombia an additional $1.5
billion dollars.

In August the Colombian government expanded the U'wa legal reserve. However
the expansion includes only a portion of the U'wa traditional territory and
most significantly the new borders were drawn in such a way as to place the
site of Occidental's first drill site just outside of the reserve
boundaries. The Colombian government can thereby maintain that drilling
will not happen on U'wa land.

With drilling imminent and in the face of mounting violence in the region
the urgency of the UÕwas struggle has never been so great. The U'wa need
all of us to support them in their struggle. Spread the word. Tell their
story. Educate. Organize. Contact Occidental and the Colombian government.
Demand they cancel the project now!

UÕwa Defense Working Group Members:

Amazon Watch, Action Resource Center, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund,
EarthWays Foundation, International Law Project for Human Environmental &
Economic Defense, Project Underground, Rainforest Action Network, Sol

- --------------------------------------------------------------
League of Indigenous Sovereign Nations of the Western Hemisphere
LISN Web Site:
To subscribe to the LISN mailing list please send an email to with the content: subscribe league
- --------------------------------------------------------------
Disclaimer: This material is distributed in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C.
section 107. All copyrights belong to original publisher. LISN has no
verified the accuracy of the forwarded message. Forwarding this message
does not necessarily imply agreement with the positions stated there-in.

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