On May 12, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) will begin its 13th session at the United Nations in New York City. The session will run for two weeks and cover a broad range of topics.
The event is not open to the public. Only confirmed and registered NGO and IPO representatives are allowed to participate. However, as a UN accredited member of the media, I will be there, too. Yeah, that’s right. Two Row Times columnist and radio show host John Kane will be there having the conversations that may or may not be welcome.
Now I’m not among the starry-eyed devotees of the UN. I am a skeptic although I appreciate the good intentions of such a body and even the nice words assembled in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). But intentions are not actions and the UNDRIP clearly identifies itself as the minimum standards that the world holds for the rights of Indigenous peoples. And while I understand the most common denominator for the nations of the world would almost have to accept a minimum standard, this Mohawk certainly doesn’t.
Of course, the US and Canada, the last UN nations to conditionally endorse the Declaration, could not even accept this minimum standard at face value but rather suggested they could only support the “aspirations” of the document provided that its articles do not conflict with US or Canadian law, which kind of misses the point. Uh… if your laws conflict with the UNDRIP, which they certainly do, as well as your policies, propaganda, altered history, religions, schools and state sponsored racism, then you obviously are not really supporting what the rest of entire world has endorsed.
So why go? Simple. Shame.
I have made it my mission to encourage conversations on Native issues. The more conversations that are had, the brighter the spotlight shines on those issues. If it is nothing else, I see the UN as a grand stage for conversations. But because the US and Canada fail miserably by almost any standard for compliance with the UNDRIP and because they have no intentions of complying, our best recourse is the “court of public opinion” and shame on that grand stage.
One of the biggest mistakes we make in fighting for our inherent rights is treating them as gifts from our oppressors. Our rights are neither “treaty rights” nor are they UN Declaration rights. They are unalienable, inherent and original. Treaties may acknowledge them or even suggest protection of them but they do not grant them. The UNDRIP makes no claim to be the origins of our rights either. This declaration simply reiterates much of the UN Declaration on Human Rights with certain other obvious international standards such as “free, prior and informed consent” from people affected by the actions of another. The UNDRIP recognizes rights. It does not establish them.
Our job begins with asserting our inalienable rights based on our inherent sovereignty. The language in their treaties may be used to demonstrate and remind those that would violate our rights how many times they acknowledged their limitations and just how little we ever really ceded to them regarding our rights and liberties. The same goes for the UNDRIP. But unlike all those treaties that our people were coerced into, for access to our lands, the Declaration is not a quid pro quo or a this for a that. It is simply a minimum standard. But it is pointless if it is unknown or never cited.
So while our job begins with asserting our rights, it is also incredibly important to specifically cite how and where our rights are being violated within the context of the UNDRIP and our inherent sovereignty. We need to make the violators of those rights painfully clear of the international standards they are ignoring and alert the international community of the violations and impacts of this as well. There are 46 articles and a preamble loaded with affirmations, acknowledgements, concerns, beliefs and specific points of recognition to which we should hold the non-Native governments and do so with every intent of leveling shame and embarrassment on these US and Canadian hypocrites.
The opening day of the UNPFII, among other issues, is scheduled to cover sexual health and reproductive rights. With more than 1,000 missing and murdered Native women in Canada alone and the highest rate of childbirth mortality rates on the continent, how can the US and Canada not be shamed?
The second day will focus on the impacts of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery. This can’t be just a study of past atrocities but must include the ongoing ones, as well. The US codified this racist doctrine in 1823 and it is still cited to this day to diminish everything from claims to our stolen lands to our right to trade and develop our own economies. This can’t just be about condemning ugly history as though it’s all better now. It isn’t! The suggestion that our “discovery” by Christian nations justified conquest is not just wrong today. It was just as wrong when the house of cards that is “federal Indian law” was built on it then. The UNDRIP should assist us in securing more equitable remedies, not just for past grievances but current conflicts, too. The US and Canada can keep their “houses of cards” but if they don’t want it toppled they should keep us out of it. There is no shame in fairly and respectfully resolving conflict but any nation claiming superiority based on race or religion should be truly embarrassed.
Redress, land disputes and land claims, Indigenous children and Indigenous youth, and actual implementation of the UNDRIP are other scheduled topics for discussion. And I will take every opportunity I can to bend the ear of anyone that will listen to address the most critical issues to our people — poverty today and bleak prospects for the future.
All the access to sacred sites in the world can’t fix poverty and self-esteem. All the special days, decades and declarations the world over will not secure a future for our unborn faces. We don’t need world courts or international sanctions. We need real international relations that support our trade, our travel and our autonomy. We need interface between the voices that call for our right to be respected and protected, and those whose laws fly in the face of those calls.
Let’s see what a little “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane” at the UN stirs up.