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.
- 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.