Date of Event: December 10, 2012
By Lutomia Chilungu
On December 10 I was blessed to be able to attend a wonderful presentation sponsored by the Indigenous Women’s Initiative in commemoration of the global effort to celebrate the United Nations Human Rights Day. The event with the help of a panel of activists was held to lend a voice to the struggle of our local indigenous peoples. The first speaker was a seasoned participant in the struggle for native rights from the heyday of the civil rights movement in the 1960s to the present.
Oren Lyons, a soft-spoken, wise and humble man described his experiences working with the Onondaga and Haudenosaunee Nations in establishing various treaties to establish the rights of indigenous peoples. As many explained and reiterated throughout the night, native peoples have had to struggle since the time of the supposed “discovery” of the Americas to define their rights as citizens. Even the term “indigenous” as a politically correct way to refer to their people had to be collectively defined and agreed upon in a time when slander and racism towards people of color was a popular trend in America. Lyons, speaking to a crowd of elders and high school age indigenous community members, carefully described the great effort it took to organize members from various indigenous nations from all regions of the Americans to demand their rights in the face of state and federal oppression. He described the rights of natives as that akin to a roaming animal; with the ability to inhabit land without actually holding any legal rights.
These issues are centralized around one issue. At the dawn of America’s colonization the Vatican established a statute for the treatment of the indigenous Americans from North through Central to South America that deprived them of their rights as human beings on the basis that they were not Christians. This principle has led to the mistreatment, genocide and exploitation of native peoples across our vast continent and consequentially since the release of this archaic doctrine true Americans have been fighting to establish their rights in American society for the past several centuries. Sadly, it has only been since recently that members of the church and key leaders in the native community were able to dialogue about the need for recognition of mistakes made by the Catholic church in their treatment of Native Americans. This dialogue has if anything, empowered indigenous Americans to speak out about the beauty in their culture. Lyons eloquently pointed out the “laws that govern” the Haudesaunee people: “Peace, Health, Equity, Justice and the Power of Good Minds to be United.” This was a truly sound lesson that any collective of oppressed peoples wishing to build upon their pasts, embrace their cultural rootings and empower themselves could learn from.
The night at Hallwalls ended with a film shedding light on the situation with starving youth in Afghanistan who are currently homeless because of the war. Strangers in their own land this film drew a parallel on the very experience that indigenous Americans have come to know so well. To see indigenous peoples of Americas finding solidarity with these Afghanis without regard to ethnicity or religion was truly inspiring.
To find out more about the night, the doctrine discussed and the film please visit the links below.