Fort Sill protest

Participating in the July 20 protest at Fort Sill were, from left: Mary Crowe, and Lou Montelongo, both Eastern Band Cherokee from Cherokee, North Carolina; JoKay Dowell, Quapaw, Eastern Shawnee, Cherokee, of Tahlequah; Dallas Goldtooth, Diné-Dakota, of Red Lake, Minnesota; Richard Whitman, Euchee, of Oklahoma City.

She is also an award-winning photographer and writer. And recently, she and her family made a mark on a proposal to house undocumented immigrants at Fort Sill in Lawton.

Although Dowell began her advanced education with a degree from the Tulsa Technology Center practical nursing program in 1987, Dowell earned her Bachelor of Arts in mass communication and journalism from Northeastern State University in 2003. Her minor was in Spanish.

A member of the Cherokee Nation and Quapaw, Eastern Shawnee, and Peoria Tribes, Dowell has won awards for community service and has served on numerous committees, panels and boards. She has been a delegate for organizations and causes that has taken her before the United Nations, and to Ecuador and Guatemala. She has also been a newsroom team member for the Tahlequah Daily Press.

Since 1992, Dowell has been a volunteer and an affiliate of Indigenous Environmental Network. For several years, she acted as media coordinator for IEN's annual Protecting Mother Earth Conference, and still acts as an IEN representative when asked to do so.

"Indigenous Environmental Network is an alliance or network of indigenous people, communities, and organizations that believe it's our responsibility to protect the sacredness of Mother Earth by maintaining, respecting, and educating others about Indigenous lifeways and natural law," she said.

For 30 years, IEN has worked in coalition with national and international human rights organizations.

"Although the name indicates IEN's primary focus as environmental, for Indigenous peoples, especially traditional, subsistent, land-based Indigenous peoples, the environment is interwoven with our traditional beliefs, languages, for lack of better terminology our 'religions,' even our diets," she said.

Dowell has always stood for what she believes is right, or against those she considers harmful to the people. In 2016, she delivered supplies to and spent five weeks on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, working to fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Last month, Dowell traveled to Fort Sill military base to protest the U.S. government's plan to house unaccompanied immigrant children on the site. She was among hundreds of community members, American Civil Liberties Union members, Native Americans, Japanese Americans, and more blocking the base's entrance.

Fort Sill has housed children in the past, including 1,000 unaccompanied children in 2014. It was a relocation camp for Native Americans in the 1800s, and an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II.

"IEN was one among a coalition of several groups coming from across the spectrum of American society, like United We Dream, Dream Action, and individuals and families - like mine - that came together on July 20 to protest the careless and inhumane treatment of people attempting to cross the southern border, fleeing conditions beyond their control, and due, in some instances, to the interference of the U.S. government," Dowell said.

The topic of indigenous human rights throughout the Western Hemisphere has been a topic of concern to Dowell for 25 years.

"When I first began hearing news reports about the U.S. and the border patrol taking children and even babies away from their parents, without standard protocol or procedure and sometimes at the whim of a single border agent, untrained and unqualified to make such decisions, it brought to my mind, and that of many other Native Americans, the same cruel history of the U.S. government toward indigenous North Americans, in an attempt to destroy our cultures and persuade our ancestors to become more like white men by taking custody of Native children away from their families and shipping them off to far away and culturally foreign boarding schools from which many never returned," said Dowell.

In some cases of that history, those who did return to their homes and families could no longer speak the language of their parents, and saw their traditional culture and beliefs as something no longer familiar, according to Dowell.

"Many of the people fleeing from Central America, with most fleeing from Guatemala, are indigenous Mayan Indians. The point that many Native Americans like me see the same history being repeated by the same government against Native peoples of this continent again, cannot be denied," she said.

Dowell said U.S. policy and military and intelligence actions - in places like Guatemala, in the 1950s - was reaction to the Guatemalan government's plan to redistribute land among the displaced Mayan communities.

"Acting on behalf of American corporations, like the then-named United Fruit Co. that became Dole, the U.S. CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] overthrew a democratically elected government, which spurred on a 40-year civil war in which hundreds of thousands of Mayan Indians were tortured, murdered, mutilated, 'disappeared,' and buried in mass graves, as was done in 1890 at Wounded Knee in what's now South Dakota," said Dowell.

She believes the U.S. government needs to stay out of the politics of countries below the Southern border.

"When I visited Guatemala in 1996, people there told me repeatedly, 'What we don't need or want is your military in our country. Tell the American people, keep your military out of our country,'" said Dowell.

As a child in the state educational system, Dowell said, she was taught to believe "Americans - irrespective of political affiliations - were benevolent, welcoming people."

"I no longer believe that to be true, when the people who are our next-door neighbors are fleeing violence that, in large part, was ignited by the interference of the American government," she said.

Dowell and many who protested at Fort Sill want U.S. lawmakers to develop and implement "humane immigration policies that do not leave people, families, languishing in limbo for years."

"There must be full accountability for the whereabouts of the children ripped from their families. There must be policy developed for the reunification of families," said Dowell. "And finally, the detention facilities that look more like concentration camps to a lot of us who have those stories, those photographs, in our familial history, the concentration camps must be closed."

A week after hundreds of people protested at Fort Sill, the Administration for Children and Families announced the federal government no longer planned to house the children there. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe confirmed that.

To make a difference, Dowell encourages concerned community members to write and call their congressional representatives, and to research these topics and current candidates to make an informed vote at the polls.

"Sign petitions to close the camps and develop humane immigration policies that allow for speedy resolution to asylum requests. Join us in the power of protest," she said. "Know what your government is up to below the border."

For those looking to do research, Dowell recommends the following works and topics: "I, Rigoberta Menchu" by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Rigoberta Menchu Tum; "Bitter Fruit" by Schlesinger and Kinzer; "Our Sacred Maize Is Our Mother" by Roberto Cintli Rodriguez; Oklahoma forensic anthropologist Dr. Clyde Snow's work to document the mass murders of the Mayan peoples in Guatemala; and Father Stanley Rother's work among the Maya in Guatemala.

For more information about the Indigenous Environmental Network, visit www.ienearth.org.