“My Indian Name is Runs With Beer”, an example of racism.

Before I even launch into yet another example of mainstream racism, I have to ask: At what point did “political correctness” – or being “PC” – become a pejorative?  By its very definition, it’s a mechanism for cultural sensitivity to protect minorities from being marginalized.  Now I see kids on the Internet every day using it like a slur against one another.  Respect is becoming extinct.

The purpose of today’s piece is to expose an example of racism towards indigenous peoples and why it’s not okay.

This morning, my friend Michelle texted me a picture and her commentary on a cooler design she found on Facebook.  The page is a closed group, called “The Cooler Connection”.  She described it to me as being a page that largely consists of sorority girls sharing cooler designs (presumably for college drinking and whatnot).  She added me to the page so I could see its content: Most posts share designs of coolers people have done, some posts ask for advice on cooler painting, and there are even posted guides to how to paint your own cooler.  Although the idea of college students dignifying all things binge-drinking terrifies me, I also see the page as a neat way to add creativity to ordinary objects.  It’s like an interactive, DIY Pinterest board of cooler art.

Seems harmless, right?

Wrong.

Michelle’s reason for sharing this page with me to day was so I could see a cooler design by student/artist Jess Merry of Appalachian State University.  Miss Merry, from the Raleigh/Cary area, went to school in Boone in western North Carolina – i.e. the heart of Indian Country.  The Tsalagi, in particular, reside in this area on the Eastern Band of Cherokee reservation.  You would think anyone spending considerable time in this vicinity would be privy to cultural sensitivity and the concentration of an ethnic minority in his/her area, but sadly this does not seem to be the case.  I say this because Miss Merry’s design was an example of racism against the indigenous American race:

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“This is gorgeous, but that is INCREDIBLY offensive!!” wrote my friend in a flustered response.  And she’s right: The artwork should be commended, even the Papyrus handwriting, but the truth behind it is none of its content is acceptable.  Well, it shouldn’t be acceptable.  But, as evidenced by the commentary on the post, few people seem to grasp exactly why.  Instead, virtual eye rolls and accusations of “here we go with the PC comments” and “get over it” statements alternated with ones saying “this is not okay”.

“For all of you that don’t understand why it’s offensive [you] are what’s wrong with this country right now,” Michelle continues.  She is referring to the attitude that cultural sensitivity needs to die out and that too many people voice opinions about “getting over it” when there are social-economic-cultural crises so deeply rooted in historic trauma and perpetuated prejudice that there is no “getting over it”.

Not only was Michelle addressing the problem of stereotyping indigenous peoples, desecrating a headdress and chief nobility, and having no respect for one another’s’ culture, she also calls out the unacceptable treatment of ceremony.  “To put it simply, it’s disrespectful because you’re mocking a Native American tradition,” she writes.  She’s referring to “Indian names” – or really, naming ceremonies – which is a very important custom in some, but not all, groups of indigenous peoples.  Mocking this ceremony is not only a religious assault, but it continues the stereotypes through pan-Indianism with which Western film culture has brainwashed the ignorant.  In other words, the design was borne out of a racist interpretation of a homogenous indigenous culture – which simply does not exist.

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Okay, so I’m going to break this down and try to explain exactly why we should be upset about this cooler:

1. Racism.

Before everyone gets all bent out of shape about me using this word, let’s bring up the definition and then see how this fits snuggly into it:

racism

[ ˈrāˌsizəm ]

NOUN

noun: racism

the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

All members of each race meaning we are looking at the overarching, identity-stripped, cultural whitewash that we call “Native American culture”.

Possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race meaning we are using a stereotypical profile (like those being removed currently from mascots across the country), we are blaspheming religious symbols and ceremonies to a limited number of cultures and also applying them broadly and stereotypically (“pan-Indianism”), and we are insinuating alcoholism is an inherent part of “being Indian” (and paralleling it to a religious name-giving custom).

Especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races meaning the ideas entrapped in this cooler design, which are all rooted in outdated stereotypes from Western films and past “Indian policies” (explained in the subsequent points), exist purely as remains from a culture that believed indigenous peoples to be savage, uncivilized, and an amalgamate race far inferior to whites.

So to conclude, this design does in fact perpetuate racism.  What’s even worse: not everyone understands why it is racist against a marginalized race of people in this country, and people continuing to act out of ignorance – that is a very damaging thing.

2. Cultural appropriation.

Cultural-Appropriation3

Race relations is still largely a problem in the United States – in fact, as I experienced through the US’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN this past week, our country is largely frowned down upon for its backwardness in race issues.  In the United States, we tend to look at race rather than at culture and individualism.  This is, in my view, still a product of past, racist policies where someone could be marginalized simply because of his/her skin color.  Slavery is the prime example of this.  So our society still has a lot to learn about culture and cultural sensitivity, which is all exemplified by the cultural appropriation we see talked about more and more these days.

Sure, America might be a “melting pot” and cultures might influence one another, but cultural appropriation takes it a step further.  Cultural appropriation is when a dominant group exploits the culture of less dominant, less privileged groups, often without any kind of understanding and respect for the latter groups’ histories and traditions.  Therefore this cooler, too, is appropriating culture that is not in any way understood by the party-goers who would likely be using this decorated piece.

3. Pan-Indianism.

I will keep this simple: Indigenous cultures are incredibly diverse.  “Indian”, by the concept of “Pan-Indianism”, refers to indigenous peoples from the northern Arctic coast down to the southern South American tip.  Now explain to me how something like a stereotyped “Indian” profile and the contents of the cooler design are not a perfect example of Pan-Indianism?  And the problem with Pan-Indianism?  It washes away cultural identity, eliminates individualism, and allows for stereotypes to branded all over anyone who falls into the category of “Indian” – without any regard for accuracy or respect of someone’s traditions.

4. Alcoholism stereotypes.

If only I could count all the times someone used Cromagnum English to tell me about “white man” bringing over the “fire water”…. Well, actually, alcohol did exist in many of cultures for centuries – maybe even thousands of years – before any “white man” arrived on Turtle Island.  Yet we are constantly making jokes about Natives by building off of these stereotypes of alcoholism in Indian Country.  But none of it is even true.

This is not to say that Reservations don’t face an alcohol problem, because they do – but surely this same trend can be attached to any other traumatized demographic, including those in chronic economic despair (and the majority of some Reservation populations live in poverty).  According to studies by the NIAAA, white people (especially men) are more likely than any other demographic to drink regularly, by a younger age, and drive while under the influence.  A bit ironic since this demographic is also more prone to perpetuate such stereotypes about indigenous peoples.

Furthermore, indigenous populations have the highest rate of alcohol abstinence of any other ethnic group.  Many Reservations and tribal lands forbid the sale of alcohol.

The stereotyping of indigenous peoples in regards to alcoholism, as done by this cooler, is just that: stereotyping.  It is only funny if you believe it is true, and if you have no heart or care about real-world people and real-world consequences of perpetuating such misconceptions.

5. Cherokee royalty defends it.

Any time someone (who does or doesn’t identify as indigenous) states “this is offensive”, a whole slew of people suddenly find red in their veins.  “Well I’m Native American and I’m not offended!” they’ll exclaim, failing to see fallacy in their statements.  I say “Cherokee royalty”, because 9 times out of 10, these people have a great-great-grandmother who was a Cherokee princess.  Well, they claim they do, because there are no “Indian princesses”.  This demonstrates how they either are completely BS-ing, going off of mainstream phrases about “Indian identity”, or they are so disconnected with their might-be culture that their opinion is absolutely 0% indigenous to begin with.

“Indianness” isn’t a costume, a trend, or even a blood quantum – it’s an identity, an identity that includes everything from participating in your heritage, knowing your clan/blood line, enrolling if enroll-able, and promoting your culture.  When you promote your culture, you’re also protecting it.  You understand the true histories about “Indian policy”, you know the current struggles of your tribe and also many struggles of other tribes, and you are familiar with the pieces of “Rez life” that don’t get romanticized by non-indigenous America: commodity cheese, HUD housing, and corruption within your own government.

Furthermore, I consider stating your blood quantum to be a rude attempt at weighting the value of your voice by western society’s concept of how “Indian” you are.  It gives the ignorant a chance to take a stab, saying things like “Well you’re only 50%, so you’re not a real Indian” or “You might be Navajo, but you’re also 50% Lakota, so you can’t have an opinion on anything Navajo”, as an example.  If you’re a dual citizen, you just say your citizenship.  What’s sad is, even when I do this, I find myself inserting “Indian” into my statement to address the blank stares I get.  The flipside to stating blood quantum as a way to identify yourself is when people who are most likely not genuinely indigenous at all (but rather fantasize about the “cool” parts of being Indian, sans marginalization, etc.) make statements like “I’m 6% Native” or “I’m part Native American”.  Umm, what?  Just…just stop.  I already know I have no interest in what you’re about to say.

6. There’s no one left to offend.

You wouldn’t be comfortable making fun of someone to his/her face for something he/she can’t change (physical appearance, religion, etc.), yet this cooler mocks religion, race, and culture.  Therefore we can only assume that this cooler was shared because it doesn’t occur to mainstream society that Indians are not in fact dead, Indians are not in fact savages incapable of technology, and Indians are in fact on social media like any other American sorority girl or other on this cooler page.  This ties directly in to all the studies being done to prove how mascots stereotype and further marginalize indigenous peoples – especially youth – who have to face perpetuated misconceptions of who they are in everyday life, from school to what they see portrayed through national sports team mascots.  Even when these mascots are meant to be “positive”, they still impact these peoples negatively.

If you’re interested in these studies, here are some links to what has been discovered as psychologically damaging to populations that already suffer disproportionate amounts of historic trauma:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2014/07/22/indian-mascots-report-washington-nfl-team/13006145/

http://espn.go.com/pdf/2013/1030/espn_otl_Oneida_study.pdf

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/report/2014/07/22/94214/missingthepoint/

7. Hate speech platform.

Let’s be real: No one using this cooler has any interest in educating people on why they find humor in it despite the grave realities behind why its humor is rooted in on-going racism.  You’re not going to go to a party and find people saying, “Oh, hey, funny cooler!”  “Oh, yeah, thanks – it’s actually stereotypical, culturally appropriating, etc., but it’s funny because most people don’t know the truth behind why it isn’t funny!”  Nope.  In fact, given my experience, if anything comes from it there will be a following of more stereotypes, like wawawawa, dancing around like idiots, perpetuating this noble savage interpretation of real living human beings.  And, to add to bullet 6 above, all of this would be done as if it were impossible that someone in the room could possibly be indigenous.

examples
Search: My Indian Name Is Runs With Beer for many more examples.

As I conclude this piece, I have learned that the cooler was apparently already removed from the page.  Regardless, I am alarmed that this is not a rare occurrence.  (See relevant post on Newspaper Rock: http://newspaperrock.bluecorncomics.com/2011/01/aim-fights-runs-with-beer-t-shirt.html)  I am also alarmed that too many people have come to defend the racism behind this example.  I hope that the time I have spent writing this piece will speak to two audiences: 1) I hope indigenous friends and allies can identify and roll their eyes at the classic examples of rhetoric used in defending yet another classic example of racism being widely misconstrued as acceptable; and 2) I hope all of the others have found this piece an adequate summary for why we shouldn’t be taking such things so lightly.  Again, I don’t think “political correctness” should be used as a pejorative.  But I also believe such an example steps well beyond the limits of what is or isn’t “PC” and enters the realm of intolerable racial tension.

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“trail of beers” – the perfect example of mascot-induced stereotypes and racism.

When I was at the United Nations conference last week, we held a meeting on indigenous issues.  I brought up the mascot issue in one of the three questions allotted during the panel, and we discussed current work happening to resolve it.  One guest in the room made the comment, “What about Chicago Blackhawks?  I don’t ever hear anyone talking about them…”

I replied to her that they are talking, but that doesn’t mean you’ve heard much about it yet.  When it comes to these kinds of issues, it’s mostly going to be our voices on social media until it causes a big enough stir to be covered by someone else.

I have also heard many people call the Blackhawks name and logo “one of the tamer ones” – which is true in one sense.  It is true in the sense that it’s not intended to be a grotesque caricature with blood red skin, as with the Cleveland mascot, and it’s not a racial slur, as with the Washington team.  But it’s still unacceptable to make racial-based mascots of any kind, including indigenous ones.  This behavior seemed acceptable in a time when treating all sorts of non-Caucasian groups as inferior was part of normal behavior.  It’s been taking a long time to get a voice, but the indigenous opinions far and wide are finally getting a chance to surface in the general public.

But what about the Chicago Blackhawks?

BACKGROUND

Folks see the mascot, they hear the name, and they ask me – what is Blackhawk?  Is that a tribe?

Black Hawk was a Sauk leader who led armies against the United States in present-day Illinois during the Black Hawk War of 1832 – right at the peak of the Removal Era.  Sovereign nations were resisting the French invasion taking place.  This is evidenced by Black Hawk’s siding with the British previously in an attempt to keep America from invading his peoples’ territories.

Long story short: The US cheated Black Hawk and all of the indigenous peoples in the Illinois area.  Black Hawk recognized his people were being cheated – bribed, in fact, to join the US’s side in expansion.  The populations were divided between Black Hawk’s side and siding with the United States.  Sadly, this was likely part of the strategy and, ironically, this was also the war that gave Abraham Lincoln military experience.  Yes, Lincoln did some great things in ending slavery, but he was aggressively racist against indigenous peoples.  He wasn’t all that great of a guy, let’s be real.

So what about the Chicago Blackhawks?

Well, the logo is a profile of what the Wiki page calls a “Native head” drawn in the 1920s.  We can assume this must be based off of Black Hawk himself, as there is no “Black Hawk tribe”, but either way it’s clear it’s just a stereotypical drawing as usual.  Also, Black Hawk was defeated so that the US could settle Illinois, one of the key battles in removing indigenous peoples out of the area during the US genocide/concentration camp campaigns.  Doesn’t seem like a very nice thing to make as a hockey logo, regardless of all the obvious problems behind having indigenous mascots in this country.

Tommy Hawk (tomahawk? Sigh) is the hawk that runs around in the games.  Sure, that’s somewhat tame for what it could be, and at least the tomahawk is Algonquin in origin, but did they really have to go there?  I guess it goes with the whole theme of the thing… Many jerseys and shirts have the crossed tomahawks on the sleeves.

The American Indian Center has been noted as working with the NHL team to educate people on Native history and whatnot.  That’s a start, and it’s definitely a positive example.  But I still question the ethics behind having any kind of indigenous mascot whatsoever – regardless of how you present it.  Studies have shown that negative and positive representations are still stereotypes, still cause damaging effects to the mascoted people, and still generate a platform for non-indigenous people to stereotype, mock, and perpetuate ignorance.  It’s a damaging cycle and honestly none of it is necessary.

Which brings me to my main point that I want to expose: The “trail of beers”.

TRAIL OF BEERS

During the demonstration against Cleveland’s mascot/name this April, I got to hear a passionate speech by Anthony Roy of Chicago about all the wrongs of these mascots, including the effect they’re having on the Chicago community.  He told us a list of things that happen as a result of people taking the mascot and stereotype way, way, way too far.  This is the perfect example of why we have to get rid of these mascots.  People don’t even know the harm they’re doing, the prejudice that they’re accepting and finding humor in.

One event, he said, is the “trail of beers”.

The Trail of Tears is the name given to the Cherokee people’s long walk during the US government’s genocide/concentration campaign that resulted in so many indigenous deaths.  Today, it has resulted in the current struggles we see in many nations trying to recover their sovereignties.  Today it is also, apparently, a source for drinking games for Chicago hockey fans.

I do not know the extent of these games, but I have found two examples on Facebook.  One is in Bloomington, Indiana, called “Trail of Beers” on Facebook, and the other is in Dixon, Illinois, called “Blackhawk Trailofbeers”.

Here is what the description for “Trail of Beers” is on Facebook:

TOB Facebook

About: Celebrating the struggles of America’s native people.  A beer for every tear.

Description: Trail of Beers Official Facebook TOB Staff Grand Marshal – Dexter Volx Asst. Grand Marshal – Casey McCune Head Facepainter – ((OPEN apply now)) Apprentice Facepainter – ((OPEN apply now)) Head Photographer – Adam Scheerer Apprentice Photographer – ((OPEN apply now))

Other volunteer positions are available, if you want to help out contact the GM or the Assit. GM

Traditionally the Trail of Beers has been a house crawl format.  This year we are trying something new with the Trial of Beers Reservation.  It is essentially a block party filled with live music, a slip-n slide, drinking games, other undisclosed activities, and of course copious amounts of beer.

More information is being posted daily.  Like the page and be filled in on the TOB lowdown.

Thank you, Your Grand Marshall

Yes, you read that right: Trail of Beers Reservation.  And in case you want to know where this Reservation is, they made us a map:

TOB reservation

You can also buy t-shirts such as these:

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And you can be wasted and classy in the name of all those “tears shed” like these people:

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But when we check out the Blackhawks Trailofbeers page for the Dixon event, we see some even worse stereotyping, commentary, and just absolute disgustingness in general.  It’s a gathering of parents and locals, all presumably white or other, playing “Indian”.  They’ve got chicken feathers, paint, and fake buckskin pieces that they apparently think is what indigenous peoples wear.  They have a drum with a buffalo painted on it, beer, and plastic canoes, plastic bows, headbands, and fake jewelry.

Blackhawk Facebook

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I’ll be frank: They look like complete idiots.  What’s even worse, they’re contributing to the same things I’m trying to fight, like the sexualizing of indigenous women whose rape, murder, and missing statistics are disproportionately high (and who are disproportionately victimized by white men):

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It’s not just these photos, but it’s the disgusting, derogatory comments that are public on Facebook.  “Are you two part of the Secsee Tribe?  I think so.”  (Meaning “sexy”, probably in “Indian” to that, er, goon.)  “Pocohantas!”  (Oh, yes, the only indigenous woman you can imagine.  Stop living in the Disney dreamland already and learn the truth about Pocahontas.  Or some actual, notorious indigenous women.)

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What’s even worse is these women apparently enjoy whoring out themselves as well as the peoples they’re stereotyping.  This attendee to the “annual river trip”, decked with what appears to be a bindi? (she probably thinks we’re actually from India), liked all of the comments on her new profile picture.  INCLUDING THE ONE WHERE SHE IS CALLED A SQUAW.

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Oh, nooo.  I have been called that in real life.  This is so not okay.  But really, if you want more evidence of peoples’ stupidty and cultural appropriation, just search the hashtag #trailofbeers and you’ll see plenty of “#throwbacks” with “#manifestdestiny” and other disgusting depictions of white people playing “Indian”.

JUST PLEASE EXPLAIN TO ME: Why it is UNACCEPTABLE now to do this to black people?  Which totally was NOT the case 100 years ago, when blackface was in actual practice.  So WHY are we allowed to “PLAY INDIAN”???

Well, for the same reason we’re allowed to have mascots:

  1. People don’t actually understand the histories,
  2. Including the part that gets left out: We’re still here!                      

Civil Society Consultation

I will try to keep this brief.

After the United Nations’ 2nd Universal Periodic Review of the United States, there was a later opportunity for the Civil Society Consultation with the US delegates.  I was on the official list that we had to speak….but I found myself not on the list when the delegates began calling on people.  Someone spoke up and they agreed to allow me to speak on behalf of indigenous concerns.  I’ll include what I read to the delegates, then I’ll share how they responded to me, including when I approached them after the meeting:

“Several statements today were directed at the United States’ failure to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and many issues were not addressed.

As a member of the Generation Indigenous youth challenge, I am particularly concerned by the high suicide rates and disproportionate exposure of indigenous youth to substance abuse, incarceration, poverty, and adequate health services, as well as the overrepresentation of children in foster care.

As an indigenous woman, I am alarmed by the unacceptably high rate of violence against my demographic. 1 in 3 indigenous women will be raped in her lifetime, 70% of the offenders being white men from outside of the community.

These statistics are imperative to address as they inhibit fulfilling obligations to sustain indigenous cultures and to promote self-determination.

Not only have the historical traumas of Removal and other past Indian policies been documented as contributing directly to these problems, but so have the psychological impacts of the stereotyping of indigenous peoples by ignorant, outside communities.

The only modern exposures these communities often have to indigenous peoples are through inadequate public education and through grotesque caricatures, racial slurs, red-face, and cultural appropriation used as mascots in educational systems and lucrative sports industries.

These inaccurate representations perpetuate ignorance, discrimination, and the sexualizing of indigenous women. They provide platforms for hate speech and the continued silencing of indigenous peoples who live in fear of verbal and physical repercussions to their dissent of such mistreatment. The continued mascot issue therefore perpetuates and worsens the continued neglect in and discrimination against those in Indian Country.

I ask:

  • Why does the United States continue to allow places of education to have racist mascots?
  • Why does the United States continue to allow lucrative national sports teams to bear and profit from racial slurs and racist logos of marginalized citizens?
  • Why does the United States not protect the cultural rights of indigenous peoples and end the cultural appropriation of sacred and religious symbols, such as headdresses and eagle feathers, and also the desecration of sacred sites?”

Several responses were given in regards to indigenous concerns brought up by the different members of our committee.  (We also had folks representing Guantanamo Bay’s need for closure and reconciliation, police brutality – including the brother of the woman recently shot in Chicago, discrimination, transgender women of color – represented by a woman of just that category, immigration issues – by a Mexican-American immigrant, etc.)  All of our indigenous questions were answered by completely inadequate or inappropriate responses, or at least that’s how I see it…

First of all, in the question of upholding treaties, we were told that our treaties our “different” – that they also require a domestic enforcement that they are “prepared to look at”, ignoring completely the government’s complete obligation to uphold any international treaty, that they wouldn’t be “domestic” if they properly acknowledged tribal sovereignty, and that they shouldn’t have a choice of when they decide to “look” at it – this country was founded by treaties and this is imperative to address.

Petuuche Gilbert specifically voiced concerns about scared places and USDA Forest Service Lands.  We were told that these sacred places issues are “some of the most difficult to address” because their are interests in both sides and conflicting uses of those lands.  I sort of went into disbelief for a moment, then turned to Chief Gary Harrison and asked, “…Isn’t that position completely illegal?” to which he nodded.  There is obviously a huge gap between law, law interpretation, and law enforcement…

We had asked about tribal funding, and were told that it’s “very, very expensive” to assist tribes who lack resources, etc.  Again, federal obligation, folks.  That’s why this country exists – it’s a deal with Indian Country for adequate services.

Talk of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) arose.  The delegates claim to be working on implementing ICWA better and that they’re collaborating with the NCAI on this issue.  Along with that, they’re also tackling the lack of data collection, saying they’re “working very hard on how to collect better data.”

As for my question, Kevin K. Washburn, assistant secretary to the Department of the Interior, essentially did not answer my questions at all.  Instead, he took the moment to brag on how great it was that a Gen-I youth was present, that’s what they need and want, that’s the purpose of the program…….to the point that it was as if he’s tooting his own horn.  In my opinion, Generation Indigenous is youth empowerment but in one sense it’s also encouraging the youth to make changes instead of forcing the government to assume all responsibilities it’s obligated to assume.

Washburn also told me how he believes tribes are ultimately responsible for overcoming these issues of suicide, domestic violence, etc.  Again, I don’t think this is totally true.  Today, the US spent so much time bragging about the dollar figures it has spent on Indian Country and the number of acreage recovered…but if you look at those same statistics in regards to 566 of any other nations, those figures are completely inadequate.  It’s my understanding of the law that the US government is obligated to get tribes on “even footing” on account of the historical trauma and disparages they’ve been forced to undergo in the process of founding this country.  And with limited resources on their concentration camps…I mean…Reservations…..how are they expected to thrive in resource-less isolation?

Afterwards, Washburn elaborated for me on what he had been saying.  As an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, I find it hard to believe that he doesn’t know my side and want to make a positive difference.  I’m guessing a lot of his responses were solely because he’s a politician and actually has a pretty tricky job not violating his limitations on what he can say.  I told him about my involvement with AISES, he gave me his card, and I decided he is a good contact to maintain if we want to make change in the future of Indian Country.

 

The 2nd Universal Periodic Review of the United States

I’m going to spend one post specifically explaining what the UPR is, what it’s like to participate in the UN Human Rights Council, and how today’s review of the United States went.

The Universal Periodic Review

In 2006, the United Nations adopted the Universal Periodic Review process which allows for its 193 member states to be evaluated by one another on their human rights failures, successes, and on-going efforts.  The cycles were every 4.5 years – now every 3.5.  They begin with a national report from the country to be reviewed, pre-submitted questions by the working member states, and a written report summarizing the findings after the UPR by the “troika” – a unit of three pre-selected member states, different per each review.  Essentially, the Universal Periodic Review is an opportunity for countries to openly discuss and make recommendations for one another under constructive criticism.  The idea is that the UPR sessions are reasonably short and efficient, but that they can make huge strides towards achieving a universal and international standard for human rights across all of the member states in the United Nations.

Participating in the UN Human Rights Council

There are two ways really of participating in the Human Rights Council: as a delegate, or as a civilian.  This year, I was fortunate enough to participate as part of the civilian society.  I have not been working towards this HRC nearly as long as the others (most have been strategizing for more than a year, at least), however I was asked to represent the Southeast Indigenous Peoples’ Center which had already been submitting shadow reports in previous events, like the Permanent Forum in April.  My involvement began when I wrote a supplement report for their specific concerns with indigenous human rights disparages.

The UN Human Rights Council occurs in Geneva, Switzerland.  It’s actually very easy to get to: the airport is right there on the edge of Geneva, you can get a free train/bus pass from a kiosk when you first arrive, and the stop “Nation” takes you directly to the square in front of the UN Headquarters (where you will see the classic rows of member state flags).

(Funny side story: One of the art pieces in the square is a giant “wooden” chair with one of the legs busted out.  I overheard today that one of the delegates was standing in the square this week and complaining that they still hadn’t fixed the chair.  Apparently he thought a car had gone off the street and hit it, hahaha!)

Once you get to Nation Square, unless you have a very special UN pass, you have to use the side entrance.  I think one of the bus lines takes you there, but I always just walked.  You go to the left of the UN and walk a fair distance up the hillside to the gated entrance directly across from the Red Cross building.  There, you will find several lines depending on what kind of pass you have (if you even have one yet).  The gates to the right that do not go through security are like the ones at the front of the building – most special access only.

When I first arrived, I didn’t have a badge.  I had to go through security and to the desk inside to have my credentials verified and a pass made.  Unfortunately, when I first arrived, I was also not on the “special” list – or at least we couldn’t find how I was listed.  I ended up with a non-ECOSOC (UN Economic & Social) pass.  In this case, they give you a badge that gets you into the conference, but you cannot participate on the floor in the review room (the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations room).  So, on Thursday, I was able to check out the review of Bulgaria, but I had to enter building E40, go up one floor, and enter through a back way that led me to the gallery.  From the gallery, you can watch from all around the room through glass windows, on a few rows of seats in each sections, and with the neat little ear pieces that are seen throughout all of the UN rooms.

Once I had confirmed my association with the US Human Rights Network, I was invited on Friday to return to the desk behind the security gates to have an official badge printed.  This badge either lasts as long as the conference (mine goes to May 31, 2015), or they’re annual, depending on your association with the process.  Some US Human Rights Network invitees had the annual pass, but they still had to enter in the same gates that I used.  This pass was the key to entering through security in the review room and actually sitting behind the delegates during the review of countries.  I needed this to be in the US Review.

As for events, since I was participating for United States NGO/human rights rallying in the civil society, I attended a couple side sessions, the US Review, press conferences, the Civil Society Consultation, and other events that our network arranged, such as a presentation at the Graduate Institute a few blocks down from the UN which was directed towards human rights college students there.

In my next post, I will describe my involvement in the Civil Society Consultation.  But first, the main attraction…

United States 2nd Universal Periodic Review

The United States has only had one previous UPR, in 2010.  This was a historical UPR to attend, because never had the United States had a follow-up to another review.  It would be the first time that state members could accuse the United States of not having followed through on commitments since their 1st UPR.  The event was scheduled for 9am to noon this morning, keeping in line with a quick but efficient UPR process.  The UN doors, we were told, opened at 8am – but someone called in to find they actually opened at 7:30am.  I got to the UN at about 7:15am and was first in line along with a couple other of women from our US Human Rights Network.  Fortunately, we were all early enough that we got seats on the floor for the UPR.

Yes, it really was that crowded.  As I learned this week, our country is not exactly that “land of the free” that we often sing (and brag) about.  I already knew this from the work I have been doing, but I never realized how much the other countries know that and very much want to give the United States an opinion on what it’s doing improperly.  This is evident just by the participation of the member states: When I attended the Bulgaria review, the troika was present as well as a handful of countries who had recommendations to give.  When we got to the UPR for the US, I was told there were approximately 122 member states who were vying for a chance to give the US an earful.  Because of the incredible demand for the floor with such a short process to begin with, the speaking times per state member, which were already no more than 2 minutes apiece, were universally cut down to a mere 65 seconds to deliver 1) a welcome, 2) an optional appraisal for the work done and continued participation, 3) a list of human rights concerns noted in the country that the member state finds particular offensive, 4) a series of recommendations and urges the member state has for the United States to complete before its 3rd UPR.

And now for a review of what was happening – here is a list of the countries who had time slots to speak, in the order of delivery:

Kazakhstan, Kenya, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Korea, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay, Brazil, Viet Nam, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Botswana, Venezuela, Bulgaria, Burkina-Faso, Cape Verde, Canada, Chad, Chile, China, Congo, Costa Rica, Cote D’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Korea, Dem. Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Vatican, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Bolivia, Maldives, and Uzbekistan.

There were various themes, depending on the country presenting.  This is key to our strategizing as NGOs.  You may wonder, as did one individual at one of our press conferences earlier, why NGOs are coming to Geneva and our answer is this: Because we need to make changes, and we have to rally the pressure from other countries who believe in the changes we are asking for because they are the ones capable of making recommendations on behalf of our causes.  We see this as an effective strategy to pressure our own government into changes things demanded by The People to be addressed.

As I said, there were various themes: the need to eliminate the death penalty, to close Guantanamo, to commit to measures against pollution/reduce admissions for climate change, to respect privacy of citizens and those abroad (including digital communication), create equality for women and minorities, etc.  Lots of talk was done in regards to children rights, women rights, minority rights, police brutality, racial profiling, discrimination, labor rights especially concerning those in agriculture and those who are immigrants, protection of families like immigrant families, the need for abortion availability and assistance for rape victims and similar, etc., etc., etc.  About 1/5 of the member states directly voiced concerns for the US’s inability to adapt the UNDRIP (Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), and many questions on the treaty violations, especially by China.  Pakistan, of all places, acknowledged the rights of Hawai’i and Alaska in the indigenous concerns realm.

Here are 21 of the countries from my notes who made very clear and obvious statements about indigenous concerns during their 65 seconds to review the US:

Nicaragua, Peru, Moldova, Sierra Leone, Spain, Sudan, Macedonia, Albania, Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cape Verde, China, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Finland, Guatemala, India Iraq, Uzbekistan.

I’m not surprised by the Central and South American countries who had statements regarding this – as they are all part of this indigenous American system.  They also all had immigration and migrant worker concerns.  As for some European countries, they often face scrutiny on their treatment of the Romani peoples, as I heard in the review on Bulgaria.  The northern most countries of Europe also have an indigenous history.  The subcontinent of India and African countries, I suppose even the Middle East, all have very diverse indigenous communities that we often don’t think about.  Even China is faced with a plethora of dialects and diversity.  Australia, of course, has its share of indigenous issues.  However, New Zealand seemed reserved in attacking the US from this standpoint (perhaps because the Australian continent is struggling to address indigenous issues properly themselves).  Interestingly enough, Canada had no input on the indigenous situation (probably because they are almost identically as guilty).

Basically, I noticed two problems: 1) indigenous issues (which I was there for) were mentioned, but the US completely neglected answering them properly – if at all; and 2) there are so many things in the US that are not up to international standard.  In particular, this involves issues on healthcare, eliminating the death penalty, racial discrimination, etc…

The US also didn’t seem to make too much progress since their first review.  That was duly noted by several countries.

Hopefully this has been informative, and, with that, I will now move on to my next post regarding the Civil Society Consultation, key to getting our individual voices out to the US delegates during the conference.

She’s Canadian; next thing we know, she’ll take it to the UN.

I remember reading that comment a couple of weeks ago on one of the Biloxi Facebook pages.  A Biloxi alumnus and supporter of the continued use of BHS’s racist and stereotypical mascot/name was stereotyping and discriminating Deloria Many Grey Horses.  This was in April, before I realized how involved I would be getting in indigenous human rights issues.  But now I find the comment funny, because Deloria has not gotten the United Nations involved in this issue.

I did.

Several blog entries/articles I have been writing have recently gained the attention of a number of organizations.  The Southeast Indigenous Peoples’ Center in particular asked me to write a supplementary document for the Permanent Forum in New York on April 30th.  Roughly a week later, I found myself on a plane bound for Geneva.  That’s where I am now, as a representative for indigenous youth, the US Human Rights Network, and the SIPC.  On Monday, I will be sitting in the UN room with all of the media and delegates, the representatives at the podium to be addressed for the second time ever on their shortcomings in human rights issues.  For the first time ever, delegates in the room have likely seen (or at least heard) about the complaints of “Native mascotry” in the US.  And, if they attended one of the side events, it’s likely these spokespeople even have a copy of my one-pager with three pictures on the back page: one of the Cleveland Indians mascot, one of the Washington logo and name, and one of several Biloxi band members marching in Northern Plains-style headdresses.

Ironically, the comment I read on Facebook motivated me the most to travel to Geneva and address the U.N.  It wasn’t just because someone was being snarky; it was because someone thought this is a joke, not worthy of the UN…or worse, that the UN is a joke.

But these issues are already being talked about, just in a different context – and in a different country.

For example, when I first arrived on Thursday, I was given a general pass.  I sat in the gallery and listened to the review on Bulgaria.  Most commentary was friendly and kind, suggesting that more be done but congratulating Bulgaria on its progress thus far.  Until Russia stepped up to the microphone.

Russia was incredibly harsh regarding the way Bulgaria continues to mistreat Roma peoples (or maybe just the linguistics of Russian are so harsh that it translated as such).  Russia accused Bulgaria of not providing enough care for children and called for funding to be cut to state groups who promote racism of the Roma peoples.  And for those of you who don’t know, The “Romani” is the correct name for what you might call “gypsies”.

Next, Serbia adds to Russia’s opinions, concerned by the racism that exists in Bulgaria despite existing ethnic diversity.

Sierra Leone offered a different perspective, focusing on gender stereotypes and how to prosecute people for their hate crimes.  The delegate also addressed her concern for victims of hate crime (“hate speech relief”), such as a need for women/domestic violence shelters in Bulgaria.

Slovakia called for more than just Bulgaria to work in unison, as part of a larger Roma integration strategy, especially in regards to children welfare.

All of these perspectives were interesting and I realized the Romani are, in many ways, like the indigenous peoples of certain parts of Europe.  They don’t live a “standard” life, are stereotyped, and are viewed often as less than humans.  It made me wonder what it would be like if the United States were finally scoured for all of their similar mistreatments of indigenous peoples protected by broken treaty rights.

Then, today, I visited two side events.  The first was the International Indian Treaty Council, focusing on indigenous problems (but all of those discussed regarded the United States).  The second was a more general discussion on American human rights deficiencies.

Andrea Carmen (Yaqui) discussed the US’s process of authorizing itself to dismiss treaties, and to declare it will make no more new ones.  She argued this is how the US silences indigenous peoples, by ignoring them and putting them under plenary power with no legal basis.  In later discussions, she brought these points up again in the case of the seizure of Hawai’i.

Chief Gary Harrison (Alaska) called for the decolonization of Alaska, proving that, by legal definition, the United States does not own Alaska.  Alaska was “bought” from Russia, but Russia never conquered Alaska, therefore it was not Russia’s to own in the first place.  He even explains how the process to vote for Alaskan statehood was completed by only settlers as it took five white people per Native to verify their “competence” in voting.  He spoke out against mining in Alaska and how it causes problems in indigenous villages, such as pollution, rape, and murder.  He defended their right to clean drinking water, and for salmon to live and spawn in clean waters, saying they have spent so much money cleaning up, yet mining companies want to return and re-pollute recently cleaned salmon streams.

Christina Snider spoke first about the concern of children welfare and having cultural households, then also about women’s rights and violence against indigenous women (and children).

Petuuche Gilbert (Acoma) focused on how the entire country was founded on the unethical idea of “manifest destiny”, stating that laws continue to be made in order to keep the land “in the hands of thieves”.  This is his explanation to the continued land-grabs and exploitation.  He also calls “domestic sovereignty” an “oxymoron”, saying “they made it up to control us, our land, our people.”

The floor was then open for discussion, and they took three questions.  I ended up grabbing the third slot.  My statement was (maybe not quite as eloquent because I was nervous!  But this was the gist.): I am here to represent indigenous youth for several organizations.  In indigenous youth populations, suicide rates are incredibly high, and substance abuse as well as the idea of “no hope” are also plaguing communities.  Self-worth is low, because there is also a prevalence of disrespect from outside cultures.  Through my personal experience and the experience of others, I have come to realize the significant of the mascot issue and how it perpetuates disrespect, lack of understanding, and this “no hope”/low self-worth experienced in such indigenous communities.  What I want to know is, why can blackface be illegal and yet redface is okay [especially since it represents scalping, not skin color!]?  Why haven’t these mascots been banned when the change would be so simple and have such a positive impact?  A lack of education of our peoples also perpetuates the lack of respect, thereby perpetuating such discrimination and racism – people don’t even understand why it’s wrong.

I received a lot of nods from the board.  They started with the questions in order, then returned to mine.  Andrea Carmen stated that the UN permanent forum that was just held had a lot of input about the vastly disproportionate youth suicide rates in the indigenous populations of US and Canada, influenced directly by all these aspects of Reservation/urban Indian life that had been addressed in the side event.  She also pointed out the connection between the history of child removal and residential schools, of disgracing what it is to be indigenous.

Christina Snider said that she is very involved at the National Congress of American Indians in the problems of cultural appropriation and the use of indigenous mascots.  She argued it is indeed very intrinsically linked to the issues of youth, like high suicide rates, juvenile justice issues, and the “prison pipeline system”.  She says, “Until we can respect ourselves as people, these issues will keep happening; until other people can respect us as not being pasted on their bumpers, painted on their faces, and worn on their heads at Coachella – how can we help ourselves if others cannot respect us as people?  It’s all connected.”

Finally, as time was running out, Chief Gary Harrison added two key words: historic trauma.  He shared that his father was murdered in front of his whole family and that the man who did it received one night in prison.  He said, “When crimes are not rectified, this causes historic trauma.”  Indeed, I remember reading articles about how post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is experienced by many people living on US concentration camps (Reservations).  Chief Harrison continues, saying the mining camps contribute to these feelings of “no hope”.  He said that, when these camps come in, the men get the jobs, then the community members see all these people come in with money and they don’t have any money or any way to take care of themselves….”And you wonder why they’re committing suicide.”

After the meeting, Chief Gary Harrison approached me in the hallway and thanked me for bringing up that point.  He elaborated more on the psychological aspect of the issue, of historic trauma/PTSD, and we discussed the lack of appropriate education in the American system regarding indigenous histories, affairs, etc.  It was very encouraging to see an Elder acknowledge the complications of Native mascotry and how they’re not acceptable.

Later, we reconvened at the Graduate Institute for presentations by the US Human Rights Network. All sorts of issues were represented.  We discussed indigenous issues, southeast Asian deportations, torture crimes by the US government (delivered by men in the US military, and also an attorney for victims of Guantanamo Bay), police violence, and even a transgender woman of color stood up, nearly in tears, explaining her life expectancy is 35 because she chooses to live as who she is and has no protection.  The event was followed by a social with dozens of students.

Well, there’s a re-cap of the last day and a half.

So, to reiterate the original point I made in this post – yes, the mascot issue is now a prevalent discussion in the 2nd US review… And, yes, Biloxi was used as a prime example of racist mascotry in the public education system.