Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

March 18, 2012

Lakota/Dineh activists at Left Forum New York

Lakota/Dineh Activists at the Left Forum in New York City

by Owe Aku International Justice Project
Censored News
 March 18, 2012

Pointing to the inadequacies of both right and left as simply different arms of the same colonial, corporate, consumptive beast in settler-nation politics, a group of Lakota and Dineh Indians presented a panel called “Decolonize the Occupy Movement; Defending Mother Earth and Confronting American Capitalism” at the Left Forum in New York City on Saturday, March 18th. The room where the panel presented at Pace University, not far from the “occupy” movement’s Zucotti Park, was standing room only. The panel was organized and hosted by well-known New York City activist Sally Bermanzohn.

Tiokasin Ghost Horse (Lakota) opened the discussion by talking about the origins of a settler-mentality that permitted the kind of racism and destruction that attempted to destroy all peoples, living with, not separate from, the Earth. Using etymology to deconstruct the language of dominion, racism, superiority and hierarchy, he presented the usually unexamined connections between historical and contemporary forms of colonization and genocide.

Janene Yazzie (Dineh) then brought the discussion down to her experience as a young mother, working in her community to revitalize traditional community-based lifeways literally upwards from the soll of her Native land. Janene expressed some of the rewards and frustration of working in her community and in alliance with other Indian peoples in rejecting the forms of domination and imposition of alien ways that Tiokasin had discussed. “You cannot decolonize anyone else,” she said. “Decolonizing your mind is a very personal experience.”

Kent Lebsock (Lakota) talked about Lakota participation in international Indigneous peoples’ advocacy since 1977. He discussed the process that was developed by Indigenous peoples from around the world, entirely unique within the U.N. system, to directly participate, outside the purview of the member states’ mechanisms, in the assembly of the words and worlds that would eventually constitute the Declaration on the Rights of Indigneous Peoples. Kent also reminded the audience that their government and people still have legally binding treaties with the Lakota Nation and that having broken those treaties has broken the relationship between our peoples. “The USA broke the 1868 Ft. Laramie treaty when gold was discovered in the Black HIlls and continues to violate the treaty to realize immeasurable financial profit resulting in extreme poverty and third-world conditions for the Lakota people that continue to this day. To repair that relationship, empty acts or Congressional apologies are inadequate. Honoring the treaties is the only solution.”

Finally, Debra White Plume (Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge) spoke about her life as a mother, a grandmother, a life-long activist and a woman who’s responsibility was always to protect Ina Maka (Mother Earth). In an eloquent style for which she is known, she described the Lakota way of life through the history, stories and the contemporary struggles she is involved in with our people to preserve sacred water from uranium mining, the Keystone XL Pipeline and the myriad other assaults occurring on Lakota treaty territory. “Corporations and their governments are responsible for raiding precious drinking water, including North America’s largest underground lake, the Oglala Aquifer in Lakota territory running from the Dakotas to Texas, and the boreal forest eco-system in Alberta, Canada which provides 80% of the world’s drinking water.” She stressed the importance of all of us taking responsibility, each day, for protecting the sacred water upon which all life relies. Lakota identity exists within the interrelated circles of family, tiyospaye (clan) and nation and how these define our relationships to one another and to Ina Maka. She received an ovation from the people gathered when they learned that only days before she had been arrested, along with other Lakota people, stopping heavy haul trucks bound for the tarsands from crossing Lakota territory. Owe Aku, which means “Bring Back the Way” is the organization that she and her family created on the Pine Ridge Reservation in order to preserve Lakota culture and lifeways. In reflecting on the Left Forum, Debra stated that “if we impacted some people yesterday, with the truth of our lives, and our love for Mother Earth, and taught them something about the workings of the Lakota and Dine minds, then we have done good. If we shared with them a perspective that includes personal responsibility and prompted them to look inside and examine their own paradigm, then we have done something good.”

The panel’s purpose, to an audience of the “left”, was to talk about the Indian experience of confronting American capitalism since the arrival of the settler peoples on our shores. Most importantly, it was to make the connection between that history and the current situation being experience by the “99%”. In closing, Debra White Plume told the story of how settler peoples came to be known as “wasichu” in the Lakota language, which means fat takers. “Today,” she said, “you call them the 1%.”

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