I will never, as long as I live, forget last November. It was a time when all that I said I believe about my faith was actually thrown into the fire (along with me) for testing.

Last October 25 on the steps of St. James in Vancouver I met the founder of the Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca (CIPO) Raul Gatica from the Nuu Savi nation in Oaxaca Mexico, who is now living here as a political refugee. He had come to ask me to help other refugees and immigrants from Mexico and Latin America build an altar for the traditional Day of the Dead celebration (All Saints).

For more than a year I have been working with many people on many projects involving human rights in Mexico. The retired Bishop of Chiapas, Samuel Ruiz, came up to Vancouver for the World Peace Forum, along with five indigenous youth from the state of Oaxaca.

The most recent chapter of the Oaxacan story began on June 14 of last year when striking teachers, 70,000 in total, were attacked by the police during a peaceful occupation of Oaxaca’s central square.

Emilie Smith marching to a demonstration in Oaxaca, Mexico.(Velcro Ripper photo)

All summer long the unrest bubbled and brewed. By the end of October, things had reached the exploding point. Some 20 people had been killed since June. The government had undertaken the largest military action against a peaceful civilian protest in the history of Mexico. At the end of the month, they moved into the city, crushing, but not yet destroying, the resistance.

That’s where I came in . . . On the phone to our beloved friends in Oaxaca, I could hear how their voices trembled. After much prayer and contemplation, I decided I had to go to Oaxaca as companion and witness.

I arrived on November 6 and observed the continued strangling of the city. I experienced the terror of living with a community under constant attack, and threat of attack. I was present November 25 when the government forces unleashed a final (for now) strike on the communities, a day of grief and horror, when dozens were beaten, illegally detained, or killed. Many just disappeared.

In Vancouver I am now one of the coordinators for our local Oaxacan Working and Support Group. We are organizing delegations and visits to the region. I feel that Canadians have a responsibility to actively care for our friends and neighbours. Please contact me if you would like more information: emilietsmith@hotmail.com.

For more information and for longer reports on my time in Oaxaca, please see the CIPO-Van website at http://www.nodo50.org/cipo-van