After 20+ years the Declaration on the Rights of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples falls flat on its face with barely a grunt. This is not so much a surprise that it just lies there on wet pavement, disintegrating in the rain, since the text that finally made it to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) was far from the text the Elders and warriors had been fighting for all these years. As much as I am and always will be a supporter of the struggle of indigenous peoples, I cannot say that I am sad about the no-motion action that has tabled the Declaration for an extended period of time. Probably you will not like what I have to say in this entry, but I hear Grampa Tony telling me to “Speak up!” and for so long I have only written what people wanted to hear when it came to the UN meetings that had to do with indigenous rights.
So, yes, the negotiations have lasted a fruitless 20 odd years. But, what would the results have been otherwise? During the 9th and 10th Working Groups on the Draft Declaration (WGDD) the Chairman’s Text that has since become the sole basis of negotiations and adoption at the UNGA was the worst nightmare of most every delegate who was participating. Just look within this site at the almost verbatim quotes I took down from those very meetings! And I say most every delegate because there were indeed a few delegations back then who were in support of the Chairman’s Text and whose delegations were dubbed as traitors and sell-outs to the indigenous cause! Suddenly the loss of the Chairman’s Text is a big tragedy?!?!?
To be fair, I have not been present at the 11th WGDD nor the 1st Session of the new Human Rights Council. After putting myself into severe financial troubles in funding the reports for all those years, I could no longer afford the luxury of participation, and nor could the Lakota who were one of the last voices supporting the original Sub-Commission text as MINIMUM STANDARDS of rights for indigenous people when all other representatives began to make changes to the original Declaration and the once united voice of indigenous peoples fell to pieces. Is it so easy for people to forget that not so long ago ALL indigenous peoples supported the text in its original form? It was not until 1997 that the voices began splintering because of government spies sent as indigenous delegates to break up their consensus. From there onwards the WGDD was a bunch of backbiting, self-serving nonsense. Maybe if the voices had remained unanimous in support for the DD a declaration would have been adopted last week.
I may even go so far as to say, and might I add this has been on my mind for years, that the Declaration became the pet project of many egos during its short life. When I was writing my widely disseminated reports, I would get questions and anger from indigenous peoples, council members and the like who had no idea that So and So at the UN was there representing their indigenous nation! They didn’t even know who some of the delegates were! And these are people who are at the UN fighting for the rights of their people? What people?!? There were delegates who disparaged my work and me since I am not indigenous (nor did I ever make any such claims) while it turned out that they themselves were not indigenous at all. I am deciding not to name names, but how easy it would be if I chose to do so. I have notebooks FULL of dirt that many delegates would be loathe for me to know and I, unlike them, did the right thing by not saying anything publicly. This is what I am talking about when I say that the Declaration was only a ‘pet project’ to certain people who have overwhelmed discussions and who hijacked the original text in lieu of the Chairman’s Text.
It’s been a long time since I felt it but all of a sudden I feel Grampa Tony present and his twinkling eyes telling me to “SPEAK UP!” I was quiet about these things for far too long. People indeed had the wrong impression of me. The innocent ‘little girl’ who had no idea what was going on and so no one watched their words around me. I know all kinds of secrets. Stories about older married representatives having affairs with the nice Swiss doCip volunteers, alcoholism, violence. Organisations misrepresenting themselves and the people they supposedly represent. Oh, the dirt I have, kola. I have dirt.
While I know there were many delegates who were and are a part of the struggle for the right reasons, there seemed to be just as many and possibly more who were involved in the UN work for all the wrong reasons. For personal gain, fame, prestige, pride, rather than the actual helping of ‘their’ community or any indigenous community even. We all know that tribal peoples, indigenous peoples has a very romantic ring to it, and there were those that capitalised on their own fetishization, be it for sex or money.
Maybe you think I digress from the small death of the Declaration. Maybe its current failure has released a lot of things I never felt were appropriate to say until now. Namely: the hypocrisy of the entire DD process, not only from the governments but also from indigenous peoples themselves. The last Indigenous Caucus statement that came out was during the beginning of the 9th WGDD, why? Because there was one organisation who came to the Caucus meetings with the sole purpose of thwarting consensus. Sound familiar? It was not only the obstructionist government of the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand among other governments who blocked consensus. There were indigenous people too who took government positions! They were utterly hated during the meetings! The Chairman’s Text used to be considered the point of selling out. Now it is the point of ‘The UNs failure to address human rights for indigenous peoples’? Pardon my French, but that is a full load of bullshit if I ever heard one.
Any sadness at the failure of the Declaration must be partial guilt at having sold-out. Because you know what? Sell-outs NEVER WIN. Sell-outs lose whatever integrity they had left, if any, and then they slink off with their tales between their legs. Furthermore, many indigenous people on the ground, at the grassroots level had and have no idea what on earth is going on at the international level, and nor do they care. Why? Because the UN will not ever be able to address their poverty, their land seizures, their illness, the dumping of toxic wastes. Some say the UN work was the ‘last ditch effort’ for rights of indigenous peoples. Yeah right. The UN is the work that makes people feel important doing, no one recognises them, no one knows if they are someone important or not, yet they can go to the UN and speak. They can get an official document with their name and speech printed on it. I have thought for some time that THIS is the real reason why many people go to the UN.
Charmaine White Face, the spokesperson of the Black Hills Teton Sioux Nation Treaty Council (BHTSNTC), may have been the lone voice in support of the original Declaration text, but at least they can sleep well at night knowing that they never strayed from the wishes of the Elders, they never compromised their integrity, and they never sold out. As Aunty Charmaine says, ‘No Declaration is better than a bad Declaration.’ Desperation does not allow for back-pedalling. The desperation in the last sessions was an ugly thing and thankfully I only witnessed it via official reports. The BHTSNTC were never desperate. Why? Because they knew that as humans, as Lakota People, they have rights bestowed upon them by the Creator. They do not need a piece of paper to grant them dignity. And if a peice of paper does not detail the very natural rights they already know are theirs, there is no need to succumb. They will not grovel.
My allegiances were always with the Lakota. Grampa Tony and Aunty Charmaine were and are my friends, mentors and now are a part of my spiritual family. They are models of integrity and dignity, and each day I find a new level to the things they taught me. Because of them, I am proud that the piece of crap Chairman’s Text did not pass. It was not what the Elders wanted. Grampa Tony, and others, did not work for all those years for a Chairman’s Text! A watered down version of compromised rights! I am ashamed that the Text even went so far as the General Assembly. But thankfully, it did not go so far as it could have and I like to think that the Elders who are now in the Spirit Realm were somehow responsible. The Declaration should not pass in this watered down form. I will continue to pray that it doesn’t.
It is time for all the UN indigenous people to let go of their UN identity and return home to their communities and get back down to the work that needs to be done there. The non-passing of the Declaration is a sign that it is time to let go of the self-importance the UN work left many indigenous peoples with. The failure of a bunk Declaration is a sign that somewhere along the way the participants lost sight of the things that were most important and they need to find their way back to those things. Although I will always wonder what happened in these years I have been absent that created such an about-face in the position of indigenous peoples, the fact that the Chairman’s Text did not pass is a gift for people to let go of a process that would do nothing to help them and get back to doing the small daily actions that in the long term are indigenous people’s salvation.
In honour of Tony Black Feather and Garfield Grass Rope,