BREAKING NEWS: Riot Police Arrest Shailene Woodley, Protectors at Standing Rock on Indigenous Peoples Day

REPOSTED FROM THE GOOD MEN PROJECT: https://goodmenproject.com/social-justice-2/breaking-news-riot-police-arrest-shailene-woodley-protectors-standing-rock-indigenous-peoples-day-dg/

While America and its media outlets were focused on the Debate last night, the US Court of Appeals denied Standing Rock its injunction on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

On September 2, 2016, the tribe had filed numerous sacred sites, graves, and other important cultural areas that are protected by federal law and which were along the proposed pipeline route in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.  Receiving cultural compliance after archaeological and ethnographical surveys is standard procedure for any and all construction projects in the United States. However, Energy Transfer claimed to have completed these surveys of Lakota land without actually consulting Lakota experts on what their sacred sites look like or where they are located. When the tribe was finally able to survey the area, experts immediately identified dozens of locations and filed for an injunction.

On September 3, 2016, a Saturday morning on Labor Day weekend, Energy Transfer skipped over 13 miles of planned construction in order to destroy the identified sites before the courts could review the case.  This led to the first confrontation between unarmed Protectors and hired personnel. The energy company claimed Standing Rock tribal members and their allies were trespassing on treaty land; Protectors argued their inherent rights to protecting such sites, especially when the company was not allowed to proceed with a pending injunction. The injunction was temporarily granted.

Protectors kept filing into the Sacred Stone Campground, ready each day for the destruction to continue. A number of non-violence trainings were held to help Protectors keep the spirit of the movement intact. Then, last night on October 9, 2016, the US Court of Appeals denied Standing Rock the injunction — on a Sunday night while the world was watching the Presidential Debate.

Shailene Woodley, who has been active since the Standing Rock youth ran over 2,000 miles to hand-deliver a petition to DC, arrived yet again to the front lines in Cannon Ball.

Protectors were ready at the front lines as militarized riot police arrived on the scene. Woodley kept her phone recording for about two hours this morning to make a video documenting the encounter. In the video, you can hear discussions about an accident on Highway 1806 that the police were blaming the #NoDAPL people for causing. The Protectors peacefully prayed, danced, and chanted until they were asked to disperse.

When Woodley returned to her RV on Highway 1806, she found it completely surrounded by police officers. You can hear her try to reason with them, stating that she left as asked. They accuse her of trespassing and she asks why she is being targeted? Is it because she had, at that moment, over 40K live views on her video? She handed the camera to her mother as the police proceeded to arrest her.

Woodley is not the only person who has been arrested in this lengthy defense of treaty land and tribal rights. She will also be far from the last. Please share this atrocity on social media using the hashtag #NoDAPL. This battle is far from over, and we need the world’s support.

Other ways to support include calling entities like the Army Corps of Engineers and announcing your position on the #NoDAPL case. As winter approaches in North Dakota, the Sacred Stone Camp is in need of supplies – so also consider donating.

We need to get this trending immediately, especially on #IndigenousPeoplesDay. Especially when neither Trump nor Clinton has made one mention of indigenous peoples in their debates. Share the news. Use the hashtag. Help us end this silence now.

 

Advertisements

Eurocentric Curricula: A Modern-Day Colonizer of Young Minds and Perspectives

This is a paper I did for HST102 at Dine College.  I probably could have written thirty pages, but I already went over the limit…

 

Kayla DeVault

Dr. King

World Civilizations 102

20 April 2016

Eurocentric Curricula: A Modern-Day Colonizer of Young Minds and Perspectives

Formal public education in the United States has its roots in the American Colonia Era. During this era, Christianity and white supremacy affected every aspect of political and social life in the United States as well as in many places in Europe or colonized by European countries. With an educational system being borne from this era, it is therefore understandable that the subsequent system be entrenched in Christian values and a Eurocentric perspective on the world and on racial equality. As eras have passed, more and more work has been done by the government and pressuring citizens to rewrite the curriculum, resulting in changes of religious content in curricula, the inclusion of a more racially diverse student body, and even topics like anthropology that explore more human histories. However, are the curricula in public schools still heavily Eurocentric? In particular, how are the histories First Americans portrayed today in these systems, if at all, and how does it reflect on how they portray themselves?

Until the Indian Citizenship of 1924, any Native American who did not relinquish his or her tribal citizenship could not be considered an American citizen. In some ways, becoming a citizen of both a tribal nation and the United States was controversial as it could be seen as undermining tribal sovereignty. Even so, this change means that it has been less than a century that Native American histories have become part of American history rather than an “us vs. them” viewpoint, i.e. a Eurocentric perspective. The question is whether or not the curriculum has shifted to reflect this societal change. Considering the heightened “Indians and Cowboys” film activities in the 1950s and 1960s, the American obsession with “us vs. them” and the Plains Indians cultures prohibited non-Indian Americans from seeing anything but the 1800s, stereotypical Indian fighting invading frontiersmen.

Even as the American Indian Movement rose alongside other Civil Rights movements in the 1970s, old-fashioned mentalities continued to affect modern Natives. The involuntary sterilization of thousands of Native women by the Indian Health Service during this era, under the guise of “helping” Native communities, demonstrates the prevalence of this outdated, “us vs. them” concept of Indians in the popular American viewpoint. Furthermore, the continued lack of coverage on such acts of genocide reinforces the disparities in including Indians in American history. Yet this is merely one example; American Indian histories extend for thousands of years over thousands of miles, and those histories are living. How well is our public school system doing to address such an enormous spread of topics and in a way that is culturally appropriate, accurate, and inclusive?

One of the first methods used for reviewing the curricula in public schools was to study the guidelines for Social Studies provided by the Bureau of Education. Various public school superintendents, from Flagstaff to Tuba City, confirmed that the Arizona Bureau of Education’s standards are the best resource for studying the curriculum of social studies from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Having also been a student in the Pennsylvania public school system, I spent some time analyzing that curriculum as well. I also took Advanced Placement United States History (APUSH), and so materials were reviewed for APUSH as another “American History Standard”. In all areas, the curriculum was reviewed for: 1) inclusion of Native histories; 2) presentation of Native peoples as historic-only, contemporary-only, or both; 3) breadth of Native cultures included; 4) emphasis on local history, including local tribes; 5) perspective on Native histories (Eurocentric or unbiased); 6) included or excluded historic events that are significant in Indian Country; and 7) Navajo history, especially the Long Walk.

Having attended several public and private schools in Pennsylvania, I am particularly interested in the changes being made to curricula as well as where there are still disparages. Indian mascots are used widely across eastern States, yet so many curricula fail to educate students on proper Native history, thereby perpetuating a vicious cycle of ignorance. One of my private schools is currently looking into a curriculum revision that includes training teachers on how to present materials in ways that are more culturally inclusive. In a conversation with my former school’s headmaster, she described the old curriculum as being “written and presented from the view of the oppressor”. In my years at that school and others, I can only recall a focus on the Removal Act, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, and a very general view of Indian Policy. Otherwise, topics included “Indians”. My younger brother was even given an “Indian name” in 5th grade, and we were both made to create paper headdresses to celebrate Thanksgiving. These activities not only inaccurately depict past and present Native peoples, but they also assume no Native child is on the receiving end of that education by the nature of how the information is presented. These lapses contribute to the Eurocentric curriculum perspective.

Today, education in Pennsylvania still lags behind in quality like much of the nation, but changes in the curriculum are evident. In fact, after reviewing resources for public education standards in Pennsylvania, I was pleased to discover some social studies curricula specifically geared to dispel “Indian” stereotypes in young students. One example of this is a 3rd grade activity that focuses on Anishinabe peoples relative to the Great Lakes region of the United States. This activity introduces students to past and present cultures of the various Anishinabe/Ojibwe people, discussing both original and contemporary locations. The culture and tradition of the Ojibwe people are studied in depth. The class is then tasked with researching the topic of migration of the peoples and reflecting on this migration’s role to culture. Another section, specified for grades 3 through 5, is “Not ‘Indians’, Many Tribes: Native American Diversity”. The point of this section is to show similar interactions between environment and culture for the Abenaki, Hopi, and Kwakiutl Nations. Students are asked to contrast and compare these wildly different groups and to demonstrate how their environment has shaped their cultures. These activities are encouraging to find in the curriculum guidelines because they demonstrate an effort to dispel stereotypes and create a better understanding of native peoples in both a past and present context.

However, not everything in Pennsylvania’s standard curriculum is up-to-date. While the examples found were great ones, they are not representative of the efforts across the board. These two examples were perhaps the only examples that could be made of this myth debunking, and the word “Navajo” only returned results for a collection of poems under a long list of books recommended under one track of high school history. Searches for the term “Long Walk” returned nothing, and so it is expected that even an intensive scouring of commonly used textbooks in the Pennsylvania curriculum will likely result in very little representation of significant southwest tribal history. Even the vocabulary used by these curricula to teach the most disgraceful parts of American history is rather biased. Textbooks are quick to describe the actions of Nazi Germany as “genocide” by means of “concentration camps”, but the reality is these Nazis replicated American designs that were used against tribal peoples – and yet we continue to use language like “walk”, “march”, “relocation”, and other milder terms.

Furthermore, there are many elements in the Pennsylvania history and social studies curricula that, as they stand, continue to present negative figures in a positive light. One prime example of this is the depiction of Andrew Jackson. As most Americans have likely been educated to believe, Andrew Jackson is generally portrayed as a war hero with many great accomplishments. His face appears on the twenty-dollar bill for this reason. Yet, as many modern Natives understand, and as activists like Deloria Vine, Jr. have loved to remind America, Andrew Jackson is far from a hero. Then how is it that, under the standards for social studies teaching for Pennsylvania on the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson is described as having a victory over the British in New Orleans which made him “a new hero” in the United States? (PDESAS). In fact, the link referenced for more information continues by stating: “Added to his fame as an Indian fighter, this brilliant action propelled him to national prominence and ultimately to election as president in 1828” (American History). How would an Indian student reading that line feel about what it was suggesting? Would it even occur to the other students and teachers who are non-Indian that this passage is an incredibly exclusive piece of “history”? The entire section also seems to fail drastically at educating students on contemporary issues, such as why today Andrew Jackson is so widely rejected as a hero in Indian Country. How could a modern, non-Indian student understand the motion to change the face of the twenty-dollar bill when any portrayals of Andrew Jackson in the public system are so positive?

The standards for education in the southwest are similarly governed by the States. In Arizona, the curriculum prioritizes Native history far more than eastern curricula tend to. Various Superintendents across northern Arizona supported this observation in phone conversations about their schools’ curricula. Just by reviewing the very general outlines Arizona sets for education in high school, topics regarding Native Americans appear in history, geography, and government strands. The first mention is in Paleo-Indian topics; an effort is made to differentiate the various kinds of tribal peoples and their specific inheritance. One section is set aside for the southwest populations, relevant as a local cultural topic. Unlike many other curricula for different states, the Arizona curriculum does require students to analyze the movements of American military and government and how these impacted the cultures and lives of the tribal peoples affected. In the government section, students are required to learn about the voting rights issues Natives faced – not just on a National level in 1924, but also following World War II in Arizona. This section also talks about the Code Talkers.

However, one observation is that the “Long Walk” is never specifically detailed in the curriculum, and neither is its famous eastern counterpart, the “Trail of Tears”. Even in descriptions of Kit Carson, his supervisor Carrelton, and Fort Sumner, many American texts shy away from capturing the true brutality, injustice, and Eurocentric mentality that dominated the era (Gordon-McCutchan). Carson, long praised for his efforts as written in White history, is in fact a criminal by modern standards. Especially among the Navajos, this holds true. Students today should be taught the same perspective, for anything short of that would be at conflict with the human rights topics they cover in other classes. Students on the Navajo Reservation or living near it – or perhaps just in the Southwest in general – should absolutely be made aware of not only this topic in history, but of the shift in perspectives regarding how we now reference it. Imagine if we still read passages on slavery in American history books written by those in support of keeping slavery in the economy. There are some perspectives that have to be updated and erased, so why is it taking so long to change Native American passages?

While it is true that local histories should be emphasized in one curriculum more than another, it is still important that the histories being taught at a national level should cover a significant part of Native histories. The curriculum set in place for APUSH is essentially a national standard for understanding United States History. The scores from the AP exams in this area are capable of earning college credits for high school students pursuing higher education degrees. The curriculum therefore should reflect an intense and holistic view of what is widely accepted as “American history”. Yet, APUSH does not define as “American History” starting at its Independence of 1776 or even in just the years leading into that event. Instead, it defines “American History” as 1491 and beyond. This inclusion of one year before Columbus landed in the Caribbean in a way implies that Native history is a part of the American story, but in reality its purpose is to establish an idea that Native populations have been conquered and how it was done. This is a troubling approach as it disseminates Columbus’ viewpoint on the peoples he and the Europeans after him used to justify their actions: Native peoples in a limited, narrow, and uncivilized context that fails to acknowledge cultural diversity and richness. Without making this distinction between how these “conquerors” viewed Native peoples and how they should be viewed, it becomes increasingly difficult to put contemporary Indian issues into a historical context. For example, just the very idea of “Indian policy” as a blanket term for how to “deal with” Indian peoples perpetuates the blurring of lines between sovereign nations and the “us vs. them” mentality that devastates understanding modern issues faced by tribal governments and citizens in the Americas.

Although the curriculum largely focuses on the “Five Civilized Tribes”, the Spanish missions and encomienda system in the southwest, and some of the political movements from the American Indian Movement in the northern Plains, I saw no indication of Hawai’ian and Alaskan indigenous histories. The Dawes Act and subsequent Indian Reorganization Act is mentioned, but no curriculum notes outline the Residential Boarding School Era, the Navajo Long Walk, the Livestock Reduction, the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, or even the Termination Era of Indian Policy. In fact, Native history seems to end in 1973 with Wounded Knee – although, sadly, that is much more impressive than most histories that end with the Trail of Tears and which fail to portray Natives as living citizens with professional careers.

In addition to these curricula, one business book for business classes at Coconino Community College was analyzed for material relevant to Indian businesses. The book is “The Legal, Ethical, and Regulatory Environment of Business” by Bruce D. Fisher and Michael J. Phillips (1998). The purpose of the book is to “[emphasize] the relevance of legal environment topics to business functions” and to present a “strong emphasis on ethics, international law, environmental law, and women’s legal concerns”. After scanning the book’s contents for any coverage on Indian businesses or tribal entities, it was found that Native Americans are mentioned very few times in the text.

On page 459, a section devoted to “Exclusions from Coverage” mentions employer discrimination policies. In this, it explains that Title VII does not apply to Native American tribes, but nothing more is stated to explain why this is so. For the Navajo Nation, for example, there is a complicated business arrangement. Not only is employment priority Navajo (not simply Native American), but all business transactions fall under a complicated bidding process with Navajo Priority 1, Priority 2, and Non-Priority. Indian services provided by the Federal government, on the other hand, are Indian Preference. This concept is so widely misunderstood by the non-Indian population that it should be emphasized in all business texts. In a school like Coconino Community College, surrounded by Indian Country, it is somewhat surprising that is excluded. Another mention, on page 783, casually describes the Department of Energy attempting “to convince Native American tribes to accept [nuclear] wastes on their reservations in exchange for federal money”, as if this is ethical business practice (Fisher).

All in all, it appears as though states are making an effort to be more inclusive of non-biased Native histories that assist in dispelling stereotypes. However, the transition is slow, and it is especially slow in areas where there are less Native students or Native populations – i.e. areas that may have a higher tendency to not see Natives in a modern perspective and who would, therefore, benefit from these contemporary lessons the most. So many curricula focus on the expulsion of Spanish powers from the southwest without consideration that people already lived there. That is why incorporating lessons on the Long Walk is such a key point for introducing the atrocities committed by all armies during the 1800s in present-day New Mexico and Arizona. The real story of the Long Walk is not lost among today’s Navajos, however. Modern music about the walk can be heard regularly on KTNN, the local Window Rock radio station. There is also the famous song Shí Naasha, written in 1868, that sums up the true emotions of the walk back from Fort Sumner:

Ahala ahalago naashá ghą

Shí naashá ghą, shí naashá ghą,

Shí naashá lágo hózhǫ’ la.

Shí naashá ghą, shí naashá ghą,

Shí naashá, ladee hózhǫ’ǫ’ lá.

I am going in freedom.

I am going in beauty all around me.

I am going, I am going, in beauty

It is around me.

This song reflects the anxiousness and relief of the people returning. It is also cultural significant when one realizing the story and the impact of reentering the boundaries of the four sacred mountains. Furthermore, “walking in beauty” and “harmony” play such an important part to Navajo culture, and seeing it as such a positive way to recover from Fort Sumner demonstrates the resilience and cultural strength of the Navajo people. The spirituality is completely interlocked with their experience at Fort Sumner, despite the conditions and lack of hope. Their song and prayer is what kept them together. These are things students are not able to learn from modern curricula and therefore are not able to understand wholesomely when visiting the Navajo Nation or surrounding areas.

In conclusion, the American education system still has a ways to go before it will be truly and equal and unbiased learning experience. Once students are able to recite the culture, history, capitals, and names of tribal nations as well as they can European ones, they will be closer to understanding the country they actually live in; and once students can stop using descriptors like “African”, “Asian”, “Indian”, and “French” or “Italian” as if they are parallel words, equality will be better established in the way we perceive the world. We have had numerous battles about removing religion from schools; it is time we begin making greater strides to reform the “Native American” curricula in these schools as well.

Nicaragua

The Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice (UUCSJ) has periodic trips, both domestic and international, that enable participants to receive education on certain topics and to engage with local communities.  For two years, I have been scheduled and rescheduled for a trip to Haiti.  Finally, when the trip was canceled this April, I had an offer to transfer to a trip to Nicaragua.  With the help of a financial award, I was able to attend the May 2016 Climate Change Justice trip with UUCSJ.

An Untold History
Perhaps the most baffling part of the trip was the historical background we were given.  We were asked to read Nicaragua: Living in the Shadow of the Eagle which describes, as the title would suggest, not only the history of Nicaragua but the intense trifling the United States has had.  Between this text and then several class sessions in Managua at CEPAD with instructors such as Aynn Setright, we were able to grasp the complex social, economic, political, and cultural chaos that makes modern-day Nicaragua.

The histories general start with the recorded ones the Spanish brought.  The enslavement of tribal peoples from the various geographical regions of Nicaragua is no new story to the Americas, sadly, and its largely Mestizo population today is testimony of that.  Then, in later centuries, interests in creating a canal across Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua adds to America, Britain, and Spain’s desire in controlling the land.  The Liberals of Leon and the Conservatives of Granada, we are told, disputed back and forth over where the Capital would be and who would be in charge until it was settled that Managua, directly between the two, would take over.  (Ironically, no indigenous groups built at Managua because it is on the fault line.  As a result of moving the capital here, earthquakes have destroyed the city, the largest stopping the clock on the cathedral tower in the cultural plaza.)  Periods of unrest are the trend in the 20th century, with the United State’s William Walker declaring himself as Nicaragua’s president, the control of a corrupted National Guard, and then three generations of dictators under the Samoza family.  In 1979, the Sandinista Revolution resulted in a period of reform until 1990.

To this day, however, the elections do not go without the United State’s meddling in them, and corruption continues in the modern “democracy” – especially in program spending and addressing the class gaps.  As the book we read told us, the GDP for Nicaragua has been at about $800 with most of the population earning about $200 annually.  Cheap labor, rather than coffee, is considered the major export of Nicaragua.  This “export” contributes to the gap.  We witnessed these gaps and also the lush spending of the modern government.  Google “Trees of Life” to see the way thousands of dollars have been spent in Managua: artificial tress with lighting have been constructed all over the city, some with paid guards posted at them 24/7.

Coffee Problems
Meanwhile Nicaragua continues to struggle with its issues of a very monocrop-based economy.  Presently, the coffee industry is its major crop.  The rich soils from volcanic ash contributes to its success.  However, changes in the climate have altered the environment of the various altitudes and regions in Nicaragua that were once naturally ideal for these crops.  Additionally, arroyo, or “coffee rust”, is killing crops at a rate that is threatening the future of campesinas.  When these farmers sell to companies that don’t actively seek for Fair Trade agreements, the gap between the farmers and the middlemen increases.  Now, Nicaraguans fear what will happen if they cannot overcome the coffee rust.

After spending several days in Managua, our group traveled to Prodecoop in Esteli to learn about their Fair Trade program.  We also visited various programs such as FEM and Las Diosas, which work to employ and support women, educate women on health, and prevent domestic violence.  On the way out of Esteli, we headed north towards Honduras and stayed two nights with homestays in the little village of Quibuto.  Quibtuo is in the Fair Trade coffee business and has a complex organization of small farmers working together to support themselves.  My host dad walked me around his farm and showed me his coffee trees, including the leaves that were tainted with coffee rust.  His finco included many contraptions for sorting the coffee cherries before they go to a beneficio.  He also picked some beans from his sieves and showed me what he calls “cafe oro“, also verde.

We got to ride to the top of the mountain, which was sadly dry for the rainy season, and visit a large farm on the hillside.  There, we worked at a demonstration area to prepare soil with ash, plant coffee beans in rows, cover them with weeds and water them, then select “matches” (sprouted beans) to plant in small bags that we prepared.  We took a couple of bags that were already trees over to a farm.  There, we were shown how banana trees had been planted as fast-growing shade sources.  Under these trees, we dug a couple of holes, cut the bottom and sides of the bags for good root starting, and planted the trees.  That night, we finally had thunderstorm.  The rain on the tin roof was so loud, I was convinced our shack was going to wash down into the dry riverbed at the bottom of the mountain.

A couple of things I learned from this experience: 1) I can actually have conversations in Spanish; 2) I want to study climate change in Nicaragua to support these indigenous communities; 3) buying Fair Trade (100%, not just partial, certified) is really important; and 4) Equal Exchange, who had representatives on the trip with us, is exactly what it advertises itself as being: 100% Fair Trade and actively working with these communities.

Mining Problems
I also got to visit the Guardians of Yaosca River (and to swim in the river).  The long and winding road from Rancho Grande took us to the riverside where an outdoor feast was arranged.  On the way, we stopped to observe a mountain.  363 natural springs, they said, exist in the mountain.  B2Gold, from Canada, is threatening to do open-pit mining in that hillside.  None of the community members are in support, yet B2Gold keeps manipulating the situation.  We also passed the entrance to an existing mine.  Next to it was a billboard showing B2Gold’s ‘support of community health’, ironically.  “That man in the hat,” said one of the Guardians, pointing to the billboard.  “Did not give consent for his face to be on the B2Gold billboard.  He is not in support of the mine.  But they keep manipulating things to make it look to the public like we are in support.”  He told us they no longer sign documents, unless it is their own petition, because B2Gold will just transfer their signatures to something saying they support the mining of the mountain.

On the riverside, two young women sang a song.  It ends “I cannot live without water, I cannot live without air, I cannot live without forests, but I can live without gold.”  I was surprised by how little has been covered on the problems of mining and exploitation of communities in Nicaragua.  I also became interested in learning more about MARENA, the organization that I have since discovered should be responsible for environmental impacts and protection in Nicaragua.  (We later had met with a priest in Rancho Grande who didn’t believe there was any accountability; to me, there appears to be an organization, but I’m guessing different presidents oppose MARENA’s “meddling” in their profits when trying to exploit labor, resources, etc. – and speaking out against the government has been resulting recently in missing people or corpses.)

While people were quick to boycott jewelry, someone reminded us that electronics use gold in the circuitry.  Our phones, our computers, everything.  I also reminded them that solar panels, wind turbines, cars,…those all depend on mining as well.  Maybe not of gold apart from circuitry, but various minerals and metals nonetheless.

To read more on this topic, here is one article I have managed to find: B2Gold at Rancho Grande

Although this is not an extensive coverage of my trip, or of these topics, I wanted to put something out there so people can understand the injustices that continue to happen in Nicaragua.  The resilience of the people, despite recent huge population losses from the revolution, is really impressive and somehow contagious.  The street art in Managua and across the countryside, often with “FSLN” emblazoned in paint, was also inspirational for how social movements happen, continue, and are remembered.

To end, I scanned a water color I worked on this week.  It features the National Bird, a Turquoise-Browed Motmot (Guardabarranco Comun).  These guys apparently bury their eggs.  He’s on a branch above new leaves, some with Nicaraguan flag patterns on them, protecting the sleeping babies.  Behind the bird, outlines of revolutionaries and also the famous image of Sandinista himself.  The red and black colors represent the FSLN.

tFullSizeRender (1)FullSizeRenderIMG_8440

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.

a case of social injustice.

Social Injustice is a bizarre concept. It is complex, multi-faceted, and takes different forms relative to perspective. By its very definition, social injustice embodies the deliverance of unfair treatment and bias by a group to an individual or subset group with differing views. It is often made synonymous to immorality, or being contrary to accepted principles. It is a particularly difficult reaction to withhold when judgment is passed cross-societally when fundamental beliefs are more likely to contradict, even acutely.

Without a single, universally-accepted version of “truth” or even a universally-accepted and plain definition for the word, society naturally diverges into a plethora of worldviews, principles, and opinions. This divergence in moral views is what has given birth to variance in political parties and in religious beliefs among humanity. It creates diversity. It creates democracy. It also creates conflict.

Conflict, when used as a tool to address issues and deliver justice, can be a healthy side effect of social-moral divergence. It’s what makes democracy work: discussing how matters do or do not conflict with a nation’s fundamental principles and laws. Oppressing a way of thinking because it is not the popular opinion is when society causes democracy to fail. When these outlying opinions are disrespected and punished, social divergence and moral conflict transform instantaneously into a case of social injustice.

In the United States, Canada, and much of Western Europe, the employment of democratic governments has solidified moral foundations on which the governments operate. Amongst these and in the forefront are the rights to freedom, equality, and free choice. Not only was such freedom almost denied to a young Canadian Aboriginal Makayla Sault and her family, but their principles continue to be assaulted online and elsewhere by ignorant and self-righteous critics.

Makayla Rain Sault

Makayla is the eleven-year-old daughter of two Pastors, Ken and Sonya. They are members of Ontario’s New Credit First Nation. In January, Makayla was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a blood cancer. She had been going through chemotherapy treatment per standard procedure until her story surfaced in the media around early May. It surfaced because Makayla reportedly asked her parents to quit chemo. She felt sick, she didn’t want to die sick, and wanted to exercise her rights to seek traditional medicine instead.

This story surfaced in communities such as Indian Country News as another tidbit of relevant happenings in the native community. Comments were of the supportive nature from other Indian Country community members who demonstrated their belief in the power of traditional medicine and the right to choose. In Canadian and American media outlets, however, articles ranged from liberally supportive to accusatorily denouncing. Comments on such electronic copies of the articles ranged as well. The supportive ones either came from people claiming native ancestry and thus having no qualms with traditional practice or from others who agree with the fundamental right for people to make their own choices, regardless of what one’s personal viewpoints were on traditional medicine, leukemia, or modern medicine.

The comments and the articles, however, which denounced Makayla, her parents, and their choices, built their foundations on their own beliefs of what is knowledge and of what is truth. A nauseating number of comments even took stabs at Native Americans as a whole, laying one inappropriate racist remark after another. Such comments served no purpose toward the end-goal and only exposed the grotesque ignorance Americans and Canadians have regarding the cultures that originally founded the landscape on which they now supposedly exercise freedom and equality for all. And while it would be hypocritical to withhold these people from their opinions, no matter how racist and ill-informed, their actions still work backwards against justice, freedom, and other constitutional pillars.

Between all the outcries, Makayla returned home to her reservation – but the medical “professionals” spat their protest in return. (I quote “professionals” because of, well, the whole what is truth and what is knowledge thing – on which I will elaborate in a bit.) Child Services was thus brought in to investigate. Should Makayla’s parents be deemed incapable of providing her the sound minds and care she was owed by them, the outside, non-tribal government would step in to take over. During the wait, Makayla’s parents released a video of their daughter reading a letter about how she felt in chemo, how much healthier she felt she was already becoming using traditional medicine, how she would rather die this way than in chemo, and how Jesus came to her in the hospital and assured to her that everything was going to be okay.

Now that it is June, the court has made its decision: to let Makayla stay at home with her parents. It was realized that Makayla’s parents were of sound mind, that Makayla was aware of her choices and knew which one she wanted to make, and that forcing her against her will might actually cause more stress, strain, and damage to her life than it would be an act to preserve it. Again, Indian Country comments praise her choices, her freedom, and traditional medicines. Mainstream comments either praise her right to choose and the strength of her family to let her, or they again denounce Makayla with such keywords as ignorance, stupidity, and shame. Some commenters are even gracious self-righteous enough to suggest her parents order the coffin now.

To me, the choice is obviously Makayla’s and her family’s. To me, disagreeing with her choices is fine, wanting to withhold her choices is diverging from the fundamentals of American and Canadian society, and choosing to actually withhold her choices would be an act of social injustice. To me, acting on racist comments, ignorant opinions, and cross-societal judgment is also a form of social injustice. My viewpoints are obviously not universal, so I will break down the key components of this situation.

Race

A lot of reactions that I have encountered in arguing the rights of Makayla have been ones that insist race is an irrelevant factor and that it should be. But I don’t think that’s the case, that it is either irrelevant or that it should be (although it would be great if past conflicts hadn’t kept that from being the case). For one, if race were truly irrelevant, why is it in the majority of the posted reactions online? Why is it even mentioned in the article? Well, it’s mentioned in the comments because self-righteous, ignorant people evidently choose to base their arguments on fallacy, or maybe they are just cruel and insecure. I’m not about to attempt explaining why humans diverge from their own social standards, because maybe it’s just an inherent folly of our race as a whole. As for the article, it is an important factor in two ways: It, as with the mentioning of Christianity in the Sault household, lays the moral foundation on which the Sault family operates. It also develops a slightly more complicated situation as far as governmental procedures are concerned.

Although education on the histories and present states of indigenous cultures in North America still lacks significantly considering the proximity and relevance these groups of people have had and continue to have to America and Canada, the majority of the populace should have a basic understanding of their past conflicts. Without delving into a whole other argument, consider that the American government has been notorious for not delivering social justice to the hundreds of peoples encompassing the aboriginal population in North America. As a result, several factions exist separately from the mainstream government.

In America (I’m more familiar with this system), this means that certain tribes own reservations, which have their own tribal governments. The land of a reservation is technically not part of the state or states in which it geographically belongs. The federal government oversees both the state and the tribal governments. The tribal governments operate separately, as state governments do.

There is no way to easily summarize the complexity of issues on the average reservation, but here’s how I see it: Between the sudden relocations and unfair land allocations made through past acts of social injustice by the American government, many of these tribal communities find themselves with insufficient natural resources. So many societal and governmental changes over the last century, too, means that many have struggled to develop rapidly enough to catch up with “modern” society around them. Yet, these tribes still function under the same federal system and they still choose to exercise the cultures, traditions, and beliefs as those who have immigrated to the same lands also choose to do. Unfortunately, such exercise was not permissible until the 1970s, later than any other “race”. So between struggling systems, depleting natural resources, and culture shocks, these people have a lot of justified fear and have not forgotten what has happened to their cultures over the last few centuries by a government that has since absorbed them.

How does this pertain to a modern Canadian such as Makayla? Well, Makayla lives on a reservation. She is protected by treaty laws that would be violated if the Canadian government removed her from her reservation. (History repeating, anyone?) Furthermore, Makayla is of Ojibwe descent and actively living with her family in their tribal community. It is not surprising that her family values their culture and traditional medicine much like it is not surprising that a daughter of Christian Pastors speaks of Jesus having come to her. To denounce her and her family of their belief in medical healing would be, in my view, the same as denouncing her for their Christian beliefs – and I bet a lot more people would have a problem with the latter. But what is the difference? They believe God is Truth just as they believe traditional medicine is the same, better, or at least more peaceful than “modern practice”. So, please, save your comments about “white man” and his “strong medicine”. I don’t know whose egos are even boosted by such disrespect. And please respect the reason for reservation treaties, rather than mocking natives for being “racists” and “trying to isolate” themselves. It wasn’t that long ago that Canada had residential schools for “savages”. And by not long ago, I mean 50 or 60 years ago. Maybe within your lifetime. What oppressions have you faced in your lifetime that are of that intensity? Honestly and without making this a pity competition?

Knowledge

Accompanying the denouncing of traditional medicine is the belief that modern medicine is in fact the answer. Wow, talk about history repeating. This is looking down on another culture’s view of the human body and of its traditional knowledge. This is the same attitude that landed so many innocent people in those residential schools to begin with. It is the same attitude that, if unchecked, blossoms into a hatred as strong as Hitler’s for a single race or a single way of thinking. People believing they know the absolute moral truths of the planet are exercising their rights to moral standpoints, but forcing those beliefs on others is where lines are crossed. The truth is, we don’t know what truth is – at least not as a collective when so many varying fundamental truths exist amongst today’s cultures. All we can do is hold our own truths and respect the truths of others. These truths are what allow us to live and practices ways that we believe are correct. The combination of truths and beliefs allow us to ascertain what we consider “knowledge”, but “knowledge” is word that has been of strong philosophical debate since at least the time of Descartes. Why does this matter? Because knowledge is also a cultural perspective.

We might have facts. These are statements that are made and cannot be disproved because they are true. But to say something is factual is a difficult process. Religion is one of constant “factual” debate. In my view, Science is, too, a religion – something that cannot be humanly controlled and therefore is difficult to prove. Maybe things can be disproved. But to prove something? To actually make something true? You can expect society to develop diverging opinions. As mentioned before, that’s why we have different branches of government and different denominations of religion. (If “the Word” is “truth”, how are there so many different kinds of Christianity?) Alas, what makes science any different? Some “believe” in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Some don’t. Gravity is a theory, too, a thing that we can’t see but that we have so far consistently demonstrated – but it could be inaccurate. At what point is it a true, completely defined, controlled thing?

Modern science is no exception. We get statistics. We try to control simulations. We perform experiments, derive theories, draw conclusions. But we haven’t always been right. Do you know how many times chicken eggs have been considered “healthy”, then “unhealthy”, and then only “healthy” if eaten with some arbitrary amount of moderation? Quite frankly, I think the human body is super complicated, that modern medicine has discovered some amazing details and observations about it, but that humans don’t know jack. Humans also love to think they have knowledge and then use those notions as a weapon to beat down others.

One of the steadiest arguments against Makayla’s case is the reportedly high chance of survival with her particular kind of leukemia. Statistics have been report here and there, inconsistently, but most seem to average out at about 70%. That means there are four cups in front of you. Pick one. (Slighly more than) one contains a death sentence. No one denies chemo isn’t horrible, although I bet you the majority of medical “professionals” dealing with cancer patients have not actually experienced cancer or chemo themselves. So back to the cups: suffer through chemo and pick one. Was it worth it? Would it have been worth it if it were 50/50? What about 10%? What if? Someone says this: There’s virtually no way you will survive this, but modern medicine says chemo is your best chance. If you try traditional medicine, you can bet you’re going to die. Without the side effects of chemo. And you can bet it based on that “professional’s” opinion, a “professional” who has only studied and been given the opinions that exist in “modern” medicine to date. Because so many statistics exist regarding traditional medicines. Because, Billy Best anyone?

Let’s not forget where “modern” medicine even came from. Did it just crop up one day, like someone opened a box and declared “I have found modern medicine!”? No! It started with the basics, with plant remedies and simple survival skills that are the reason why we exist today. Our ancestors survived on these basic medical practices. Our bodies evolved consuming(or were simultaneously created with to consume) the plants, the atmosphere, the world that naturally occurs around us. Traditional medicine isn’t some spontaneously invented, unwarranted native voodoo – it is, to some cultures, also a “profession”. A “profession” that not every member of a culture is skilled or knowledgeable to even practice. To be as arrogant as to declare that we know something that we can’t possibly know but that we can only infer from select inquiries? Well, isn’t that like the whole GMO argument? Isn’t that “playing God”?

The Right to Choose

But really, who cares? Who cares who or what Makayla is or anything else? Her parents aren’t lunatics but reportedly loving. They believe they are exercising their love for their daughter by giving her the choice of comfort and familiarity. They are all well aware of the possible consequences, but they believe in the power of natural remedy in the way they believe in their Savior looking over them and making choices that human hands can never make. I don’t care if you believe the Spaghetti Monster is by your side – it’s no one’s business to hold your beliefs against you, especially with something as intimate as a life-or-death matter. With all political, religious, and cultural turmoil aside, they are Canadian citizens with the right to choose. And poor Makayla… To quote her, “I live in this body, and they don’t.” Child or not, Makayla clearly understands her rights and her right to choose, and no Ontario law prohibits her from doing this. Her community supports her right to choose as well and all authorities are in compliance that her parents are of no danger to her. So why is this so complicated? Because doctors disagree with Makayla and some members of the outside community have voiced opposition based on their differing views. All I can say is Thank you, Makayla, the Saults, and the supporting community for recognizing the right to choose and exercising it. Thank you, Ontario, for honoring and protecting the rights of Canadian individuals and choices regarding their own lives. And now let’s show support – whether you like the choice or not – for a sick but strong girl. It’s not a call to liberals, to aboriginals, to Canadians, or to Christians – it’s a call to a humane humanity. Gishwe’ muk kshe’ mnIto pine’, Makayla!