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1999 NCC News Archives

Agricultural Missions Board Member Among Three Killed in Colombia

March 10, 1999, NEW YORK -- Ingrid Washinawatok, one of three people murdered in Colombia during a recent visit to meet with U’wa Indigenous People, was an active board member of Agricultural Missions, a National Council of Churches program, and a member of the NCC’s Racial Justice Working Group.

Ms. Washinawatok and two other Americans, Terence Freitas and Lahe’ena’e Gay, were abducted on February 25 in the Colombian state of Arauca, near the Venezuelan border. Their bodies were found and identified March 5 by the Venezuelan judicial police, just across the border from Colombia.

Agricultural Missions works with rural organizations and non-governmental organizations in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America and with rural groups in the United States in the areas of sustainable agriculture, appropriate technology, rural legal assistance, gender equality and training.

Ms. Washinawatok, a member of the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin, first became involved with Agricultural Missions in 1985 and joined the Board in 1990. In 1993, she facilitated an opportunity for the Board to hold its "Annual Study Session" on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation – an experience that participants found deeply affecting, recalled the Rev. Eva Jensen, Agricultural Missions’ Executive Director.

"She brought to the board and staff of Agricultural Missions her deep commitment to facilitating understanding between human beings and all race and ethnic groups – Indigenous Peoples, African Americans, Asians, Hispanics and European Americans," wrote the Rev. Jensen in a statement released today on behalf of Agricultural Missions. (Text follows.)

"She helped to foster solidarity in advocacy and action for social, economic and political justice. Ingrid was instrumental in bringing women’s perspectives and gender sensitivity to Agricultural Missions, beginning in 1985 when she began serving on the Women’s Committee.

 "We feel the deep loss and pain that Ingrid’s death brings to us," she said. "Our memories of Ingrid and her witness in life to human compassion, understanding and the work of social justice will live long and continue to sustain us in hope and life." Agricultural Missions, at its 1999 Annual Study Session (April 8-11 in Southern Georgia), will honor and remember Ms. Washinawatok’s life and gifts, the Rev. Jensen said.

Ingrid Washinawatok, member of the Board of Directors of Agricultural Missions, was killed in Colombia during a recent visit to meet with U’wa Indigenous Peoples

Report by Eva Jensen, Executive Director, Agricultural Missions: March 9, 1999

It is with a profound sense of loss and pain that we report the murder of Ingrid Washinawatok. Her body was found and identified last Friday, March 5, 1999 by Venezuelan judicial police, just across the border from Colombia.

Ingrid was in Colombia, traveling with two other Americans, Terence Freitas and Lahe’ena’e Gay, under the auspices of the Hawaii-based Pacific Cultural Conservancy International, to meet with U’wa indigenous peoples and determine whether they might be able to assist them in their efforts to retain control of their land and natural resources. In 1997, the U’wa nation of approximately 8,000 indigenous people, won a legal battle against Occidental Petroleum that prevented the Los Angeles-based company from exploratory drilling on traditional U’wa territory. Ingrid, Lahe’ena’e, and Terence were abducted in the Colombian state of Arauca, near the Venezuelan border, on Thursday, February 25 by two masked gunmen wearing civilian clothes, after spending a week with the U’wa people.

At this time, it is unclear who is responsible for the abduction of Ms. Washinawatok, Ms. Gay and Mr. Freitas. An U’wa representative who was with them when they were abducted, said he suspected the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest and oldest rebel group. Others suspect the involvement of right-wing paramilitary forces operating in the area. No one has been able to confirm who is responsible and no one has claimed responsibility.

Ingrid Washinawatok, age 41, lived in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, Mr. Ali-El-Issa, and son, Maeh-Kiu-Kesek. She worked for the Fund of Four Directions in Manhattan, a foundation that supports Native American Culture.

Ingrid was a member of the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin, where she was born and grew up. Together with her father, James, a prominent tribal judge, Ingrid was an advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples in many places from within her own community in Wisconsin. In 1975, she came to New York City as an Intern with the International Treaty Council, an organization that monitors indigenous rights in the hemisphere. She was a founding member of the Indigenous Women’s Network in 1985, a coalition of Native American women that applies indigenous values to contemporary problems.

It was in 1985, when she was working with the International Treaty Council, that Ingrid became involved with Agricultural Missions. She brought to the board and staff of Agricultural Missions her deep commitment to facilitating understanding between human beings and all race and ethnic groups – Indigenous Peoples, African Americans, Asians, Hispanics and European Americans. She helped to foster solidarity in advocacy and action for social, economic and political justice. Ingrid was instrumental in bringing women’s perspectives and gender sensitivity to Agricultural Missions, beginning in 1985 when she began serving on the Women’s Committee.

Since 1990, Ms. Washinawatok has served as a member of the Agricultural Missions Board of Directors. In 1993, she facilitated an opportunity for the Board to hold its Annual Study Session on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation – a watershed experience for participants who were welcomed into the community life, culture and spirituality of the Lac Courte Oreilles band of Lake Superior Chippewa of the Ojibwe Nation. The values, wisdom and spirituality of the Lac Courte Oreilles transformed and deepened participants’ perspectives of themselves, others, the world, and our commitments to facilitating sustainable development. All were renewed in their respect for the traditions of Native American people and strengthened in their commitment to support Native American sovereignty rights.

During the 1993 gathering, Lac Courte Oreilles tribal member and educator, Art Tainter, said: "Every person is a part of our life. We are all related. We lose something if we lose one of us." Today, we feel the deep loss and pain that Ingrid’s death brings to us. Our memories of Ingrid and her witness in life to human compassion, understanding and the work of social justice will live long and continue to sustain us in hope and life.

At the April 1999 Annual Study Session of Agricultural Missions, we will honor and remember Ingrid Washinawatok’s life and the many gifts she shared. Her vision and values will continue to inform the work of Agricultural Missions to facilitate community-based initiatives for sustainable development and network relationships among peoples organizations so they can share local knowledge and expertise with one another as well as solidarity in advocacy for social justice.

We offer our thanks to her people; her mother, Mrs. Gwen Washinawatok; her sister, Jeanne Washinawatok; and her husband, Mr. Ali-El-Issa, and son, Maeh-Kiu-Kesek; who shared with us their life with Ingrid. Cards and letters may be sent to Ingrid’s family c/o Agricultural Missions, Room 624, 475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10115.

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