Truth, Trials, and Memory: “Revising [the official narrative] is part of reparations”

The “Truth, Trials, Memory” conference, held at the University of Minnesota between November 1 – 3 opened with an ambitious quest: twenty years after the historical clarification commission in Guatemala, what does accountability look like? Further, in a time of increased civil discontent, protest, and resistance sweeping the United States, what can we learn from transitional justice and indigenous Guatemalan liberation projects?

Keynote speaker Pablo de Grieff opened the conference by naming four key components to transitional justice work done in post-conflict contexts: establishing truth, activating instruments of justice, the dispersal of services and reparations to victims, and the guarantee of non-recurrence. Yet, as the conference rolled onward, it became clearer and clearer to panelists and audience participants the grave difficulties and consequences of such achievements.

Irma Alicia Velasquez Nimatuj TTM 2017.jpg
Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj presents at the “Truth, Trials, and Memory” conference. Seated are Yassmin Barrios and Dr. David Weissbrodt (PC Hale Konitshek).

Indigenous K’ichee’ anthropologist, activist, author, and journalist – as well as the main protagonist of Pamela Yates’ newest film 500 Years – Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj concluded her presentation with a powerful response to transitional justice researchers and practitioners. After describing the story of a woman who had to flee her own community during the conflict with her husband and four children, only to return alone after the conflict ended, Velásquez Nimatuj declares (orig. Spanish):

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Australian “Stolen Generations”: Still Being Stolen

In early March, 10-year-old Ariana Mangolamara committed suicide in the Aboriginal community of Looma in Western Australia.  Her death wasn’t unique: she wasn’t the first in her community or even her family to commit suicide.  However, her story gripped international headlines and prompted a soul-searching analysis of why the plight of Australia’s indigenous peoples is worse than ever, despite formal political recognition and efforts to help.  Many of these efforts seem designed to destabilize Aboriginal communities through systematic neglect, the breaking of families through child removal and a callous disregard for culturally viable strategies.

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