Margo Tamez

Regional Network: 
National Fellows
Class Year: 
2001
Position: 
Assistant Professor
Organization: 
University of British Columbia Okanagan Traditional Territory, BC, Canada
Location: 
UBC Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada

Margo Tamez (Ndé, ‘Lipan Apache’) is a citizen of the Lipan Apache Band of Texas and an Assistant Professor in the Faculties of Indigenous Studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (Canada).  Her activism spans and goes far beyond U.S. and Texas borders and her activism critically examines and questions the legality, morality, functionality of western law in Indigenous customary lands and territories.  Her background in environmental protection is a legacy she received from more than 40 generations of her Athabascan, Nahua, Tlaxcalteca, Comanche, and Euskara foremothers and forefathers.  "Since time immemorial my People have inscribed our stories of Indigenous Genesis as pictorial genealogies, cosmologies, and documentations of our inherent belonging in our homelands.  The 'American' phase of Indigenous history is becoming a thing of the past as Indigenous peoples across the Indigecas (formerly known as the ''americas") are waking up from a deep, tortuous nightmare and reclaiming our home, our minds, spirits, bodies, and memory."  Decolonization is a term Tamez uses which wholistically applies to Indigenous sustainability methodologies applied to current-day Indigenous land claims and land use struggles in self-determination processes.  "Decolonization of society and historical clarification of past transgressions against unceded Indigenous territories in the U.S. and along the U.S.-Mexico border is crucial in the fight against extractive industries which are destroying the Lipan Apache homeland."  The exercise of Indigenous self-determination in international arenas is a crucial act of decolonization and the exercise of Indigenous languages, ceremonies, religious and medicinal practices, food systems, and Clan Governance is critical to revitalization of Indigenous peoples' relationships with water and earth. "Decolonization and revitalization are interlocking forces in the Indigenous movement to disrupt 517 years of the rape and torture of Konitsaaii gokiyaa."

Margo was born in Austin, Texas,within the traditional territory of Kónitsąąíí gokíyaa, (‘Lipan Big Water Peoples’ country), also known as South Texas, the Lower Rio Grande River Valley, Tamaulipas and Coahuila, Mexico. She is the co-founder of the Lipan Apache Women Defense, a community based, all volunteer organization, located along the Lower RIo Grande River. "LAW-Defense focuses on Ndé peoples’ empowerment, decolonization, revitalization and strengthening of Indigenous peoples’  knowledge systems, decision-making, and decision-making.  It is the exercise of our inherent right to self-determination.  These are contemporary processes rooted in historical and on-going resistance against legacies of euro-centrism and genocidal policies imposed over many generations which have worked to sever the inherent relationship between Indigenous peoples, our homelands, healthy families, and future generations." 

“For me, family was everything when I was growing up.  Our family members lived in almost every place, bissected by most all counties of south, south-western, and west Texas.  Being spread (and split apart) over such a large territory, I came to appreciate the resilience of Indigenous cultures and peoples.  We were all undergoing violent processes of erasure and aggregation by way of assimilation by the imposed identity (imposed by whites) of ‘Mexican’--a huge misnomer for all the diversity on the ground in actuality.  Indigenous peoples' worlds inside the apartheid, police-state south Texas—were mostly invisible to the dominating society.  We lived as the internal colonized and mostly forgotten Apache, Comanche, Nahua, Tlaxcalteca, Coahuiltecan, and Mexican (Nahua) kinship systems.  In this situation our family was everything.  We had family in each and every small village, town, and city of our traditional land-base all across south and southwest Texas, so we were always close to family, no matter where we traveled. We spent a lot of time on the road from one family reunion and holy feast days to another; but, we traveled with fear and dred because though whites were not the majority they were nonetheless the dominators in a world teeming with hate and hostility toward Indigenous peoples from and of the lands the settlers desired.  

“Stories from our peoples on the land—my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and extended clan members were my earliest source of understanding and navigating the world—a world in which our peoples were fending off constant aggression and theft of our traditional lands, water, resources and destruction of our culture.  The stories that filled and made my spirit were rich with drama, terror, humour, love, empathy, compassion, desire, and tragedy.”  Born into chiefly families, the Lipan Apache traditional Clan structure was undergrounded after the 1872 massacres and mass lynchings of 'Mexican's across the Texas border, and 1919 executions of community leaders which preceded waves of dispossessions in the shadow of the coal and hydro projects criss-crossing the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande.  "As an Nde' historian, it is vital that Indigenous memory of injustices, recovery, place and unrest be centered and made visible as a core source of Indigenous peoples' activism and human rights advocacies in our region.  To Indigenous peoples, the environment can never be reduced to a 'civil' right, or another 'justice' campaign.  The environment is beyond the laws of colonizers, and Indigenous peoples have original instructions about our integral and unseverable relationship to place.  Civil rights and environmental justice has never come 'home' to Indigenous homelands.  That has to be understood as a key defining difference between environmental rights and environmental justice advocates -- and Indigenous self-determination advocates.  Indigenous collective rights to self-determination are upheld in international law; we are not subjects of nation-states."

As a young Nde' woman living in “the open air prison called south Texas” Margo lived with her parents and siblings—the first to leave their rural community and become swept up in industrialization, urbanization, domestication. As her parents became wage earners and swallowed up in the treadmill and marginalization in the white rule system of south Texas, Margo and her siblings would lose their Indigenous and Spanish language capability and become ruled over by the oppressive forces at work in the post Vietnam era of English-only public schools in San Antonio.  At the insistence of her mother, she and her siblings would pursue higher education against all odds.  Her mother imprinted her future into her, when filling out an application for her, and writing down that Margo’s ‘hobby’ was “she reads, she writes.”  Ironically, none of her family members even understood what a ‘hobby’ was, though with these words, Margo’s future was sculpted by her mother—an Indigenous rights activist with experiences and memories of rebel ancestors, oppression, and unfinished business between colonizers and the colonized along the Rio Grande. 

Tamez attended Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio College, the University of Texas at Austin, Arizona State University, and Washington State University.  She received a Bachelor of Arts in Archaeological Studies, a Bachelor of Arts in Art History, a Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry, and a PhD in American Studies with an emphasis in Indigenous Historical Consciousness, Indigenous Legal Theory, and Indigenous Poetics of Resistance.  While in Arizona, her mentor, Teresa Leal (Opata Mayo) and sister in resistance Lori Riddle (Akimel O’Odham) forged critical alliances with Tamez in developing critical community based strategies of binational and beyond borders networks in the struggle against militarization, migrant persecution and deaths, environmental destruction, neoliberal policies, and wide-scale human rights abuses.  Together they forged alternative critical resistance amongst Indigenous women, elders and youth, which planted the seeds for forging and developing lasting anti-colonial and anti-state activisms between Las Comadres, Las Morenas, De Las Manos, Gila River Action for Community & Environment (GRACE), and Gila River Environment & Youth (GRAY).

Tamez is the author of critically acclaimed books, Alleys and Allies (1990), Naked Wanting (2003), Raven Eye (2007) and a contributor to more than forty readers, journals, and volumes.   Since 2006, her contributions in Indigenous human rights and human rights defense has been recognized by international practitioners, legal experts, jurists, hereditary Chiefs, Elders, and Indigenous organizations throughout the world.  In 2011, she co-founded the Emilio Institute for Indigenous and Human Rights in direct response to human rights violations by the government of the United States against Ndé peoples left in the margins of Texas, Mexico and U.S. history.  She worked alongside Elders and traditional Chiefs to re-establish a grass-roots, bottom-up, Indigenous decision-making process which stands firmly against the state of abjection and exception that the Texas-Mexico border has become and which sharply critiques the post 9/11 systematic injustices of the no-constitution zone established outside of the rule of law.   She has actively participated in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Inter-American Commission/Organization of American States, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Geneva), and the 3rd Seminar on Treaties, Agreements and other Constructive Arrangements of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as the international negotiator of the Lipan Apache Band of Texas. 

In the last two years, she has worked with community partners at the University of Texas School of Law, Human Rights Clinic in ground-breaking work for recognition of Indigenous peoples’ human rights under the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).  In 2011, she and the Human Rights Clinic undertook the first-ever collaborative effort to interrogate the en masse human rights violations of the U.S. border wall along the Texas border and submitted their 134 page legal brief to the CERD monitoring committee. In May 2012, their submission was accepted by the CERD. In March 2013, the CERD responded through a diplomatic letter to the U.S. with serious questions regarding human rights violations against Lipan Apaches, other Indigenous peoples, and vulnerable Mexican-descent and Latino communities impacted by the wall.  In collaboration with the International Indian Treaty Council, in September 2013, Margo submitted a brief on behalf of the Lipan Apaches and other vulnerable communities impacted by the border wall to the monitoring body of the International Convention of Civic and Political Rights for their 2013 review of the U.S. 

In particular, her contribution raised the emerging issue of the violation of the U.S. against Lipan Apache rights to self-determination, and the threat of the wall and militarization against the sacred Isanaklesh Gotal ceremony, also known as the Apache puberty ceremony. Her work makes the crucial connection between Indigenous peoples’ self-determination, language revitalization, autonomy, territory, ecological ethics, decolonization, and freedom from settler colonialism as interlocking forces which must drive the focus for redress and to address the future wellness and health of Indigenous girl’s and women’s lives as intricately related to the future wellbeing of Indigenous economic and social well being.  At present, she is planning to attend the CERD’s interrogation of the U.S. in Geneva, in August 2014 and is writing a book entitled “Dangerous Memory, Resurgent Truth: Indigenous Peoples, Dispossession and Self-Determination (Texas-Mexico, 1540-2012).  Margo is also in the early production phase of a documentary, entitled, “We are the Big Water People Clan—Our Lands are Unceded” which documents the oral tradition and oral history of Lipan Apache peoples’ Traditional Knowledge of Kónitsąąíí gokíyaa going back to 800 A.D. and the Ndé emergence story.

Currently, Tamez weaves her time between teaching, research, service to the university and community. She is an active volunteer for and alongside Indigenous Peoples in the Traditional Territory of the Syilx and the Secwepemc homelands.  She is a devoted mother, daughter, wife and activist.