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.

UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues – supplemental submission

The Southeast Indigneous Peoples’ Center reached out to me via Twitter earlier this week, asking me to supplement their submissions to the UN in NY today and to Geneva in two weeks.  They had seen the work I was doing for #IndigenizeZuckerberg and also the mascot issue in Biloxi this past week.  This is their reviewed version of the piece I threw together to supplement their report on how the mascot issue is a form of hate crime in violation to UNDRIP:

Since Manifest Destiny first targeted the indigenous peoples of North America, Native Americans and Alaska Natives have become a marginalized race of Peoples, suffering worse afflictions than any other racial group in the United States.  The U.S. Government holds a special trust relationship with the hundreds of sovereign indigenous nations within the 50 states, yet treaty rights continue to be ignored and Indian services are severely neglected in federal spending priorities.  As a result, Reservations have become concentration camps where the descendants of genocide victims are expected to either lose their indigenous identities, leave, and assimilate, or to continue suffering in silence.  Centuries of wrongful U.S. policy has demonstrated the desire to erase cultural identity from the indigenous peoples, to reap tribal lands of resources for the benefit of the non-indigenous and leaving pollution in its wake, and continually neglect the high youth suicide rates, murdered and missing indigenous women, and discrimination on indigenous peoples by outside communities.

 

Not only is tribal self-determination not being adequately promoted, but mainstream America is being taught a biased history of the vast crimes committed on indigenous peoples.  Their skewed view is multiplied when their only modern exposure to Indigenous Peoples are the grotesque and stereotypical caricatures, racial slurs, and cultural appropriation used as mascots in educational systems and lucrative sports industries.  These inaccurate representations perpetuate ignorance and 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 Indian Country.

 

The Onedia-commissioned study documents the direct impact these stereotyped imageries have on the self-worth of indigenous youth who already have the highest rates of suicide of any group in the country.  It also demonstrates how these images continue to teach non-indigenous youth prejudice, even if the mascots are meant to be positive and even if the children do not intend to learn racism.

 

According to the Aspen Institute,

• American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) poverty rates in 2009 were 23.6%

• AI/AN average household income was $33,300 versus a National average of $46,200 in 2000

• AI/AN in Indian Country have incomes of less than half the National average

• the IHS estimates, historically, annual Congressional appropriations have only met 52% of AI/AN healthcare needs

• in 2009, 24.1% AI/AN lacked health insurance coverage, yet had more than double the suicide rate, with indigenous teens the highest suicide rate of any group in the country, a 514% higher alcoholism mortality rate, a 177% rate of diabetes (and the highest Type 2 rates in the country), and 500% higher rates of tuberculosis.

• 16% of students at BIA schools in 2001 had attempted suicide in the preceding 12 months

• the second leading cause of death is suicide, 2.5 the national average, among AI/AN ages 15-24

• in 2003, the national graduation rate was 49.3% for AI/AN versus 76.2% for whites, 13.3% AI/AN got undergraduate degrees verses 24.4% for the general population

• drop out rates for AI/AN high school students are more than double the national average, and are over 50% in states with the highest AI/AN population

• AI/AN children make up 2% of American children, yet 8.4% of American foster care children

• violence accounts for 75% of deaths in AI/AN ages 12-20 years (malicious injuries, homicide, suicide)

 

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice:

• AI/AN women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the U.S. in general

• 1 in 3 AI/AN women will be raped in her lifetime versus 1 in 5 of American women in general

• a larger percentage of victimization against AI/AN women is committed by white offenders than by AI/AN offenders

 

All of these statistics are relevant to demonstrate how, across the board, AI/AN youth, women, and whole communities are suffering as a race at unacceptable rates.  The U.S. Government is obligated to provide services to these communities, and to promote self-determination.  However, self-determination requires self-sustainability in four community aspects: environmental, social, cultural, and economical.  All four of these components are being inadequately addressed if not completely neglected, as evidenced by these atrocious statistics.  Furthermore, the lack of education and the perpetuation of hate speech and silencing of indigenous peoples that revolves around the presence of indigenous mascots in non-indigenous communities directly contributes to these disparages.  These symbols encourage the dehumanization of human beings.  This dehumanization washes away identity and cultural significance, leading to the cultural appropriation of sacred indigenous symbols and beliefs.  The lack of proper education on indigenous histories and current issues contributes to this ignorance.  All in all, indigenous peoples are lumped together as a lesser human race and are silenced and continuously marginalized.  Youth have lower self-worth and self-respect, and suicide rates remain terribly high.  Indigenous women, by the thousands areraped, murdered, missing, and ignored by the populations who are statistically more likely to have committed the crimes in the first place.

 

So we ask, as indigenous youth who accepted the Gen-I challenge this year, are we expected to accept that we or 2/3 of our friends and family will be raped in our lives?  Are we expected to accept the perpetuation of dehumanization against us and all Indigenous Peoples through the continued use of native mascots in our schools and sports?  Are we supposed to lose more indigenous friendsto suicide, because we are just an expanding statistic?  Are we supposed to believe this is what is constitutional to Indigenous Peoples?  When will the international community stop ignoring the disparities in between indigenous and non-indigenous communities and the lack of education on indigenous realities in mainstream US?

 

Start with the easy fix:  Change how we educate Americans on Indigenous Peoples, and change how they view the mascot issue.  Banish all mascots and public uses of racial slurs, such as by the Washington football team, the Cleveland baseball team, and the hundreds of schools still using these images like the Biloxi Senior High School in Mississippi.

 

We are harassed, ridiculed, and live in fear of the consequences when we ask others to stop dehumanizing and mocking usWe fear for our lives and the lives of others, just because we are representing IndigenousPeoples in an overwhelming non-indigenous society.  

 

We ask: 

Why does the United States refuse to protect our rights as defined by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP)?

We recommend:

1. ALL RACIST MASCOTS eliminated before the close of schools June 1, 2015. Indigenous Peoples will define what is racist.
2. US comply with all Articles of the UN DRIP and eliminate all derogatory images of Indigenous Peoples and indigenous persons and culture and obtain permission to use indigenous cultural heritage in accordance with Article 11 and other relevant Articles of UN DRIP.