Awareness campaigns for the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide are currently organised at different times of the year. In 2020, the then American president Donald Trump issued and signed a proclamation designating November 2020 as National Native American Heritage Month. However, within a number of indigenous and non-indigenous communities, November is more accurately recognised as Indigenous Peoples Heritage month. While the United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous People is observed each year on August 9, in order to promote and protect the rights of the world’s Indigenous populations. This international event recognises the achievements and contributions made by Indigenous Peoples and the commemoration takes place on this date in recognition of the first meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, which was held in Geneva in 1982.
In America activists have been marking May 5th as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls* day since 2017, which was endorsed by President Biden this year. This day is rooted in grassroots organising by Native families, advocates, and Indigenous nations that expose and hold the establishment accountable for the causes of violence against Native women, girls, and 2 Spirit people. Throughout the week of April 29-May 5th associations organise events for the National Week of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Violence Rooted In Colonialism.
Despite active colonialism being on the whole a thing of the past, its inherent attitudes and prejudices are still very real, but so entrenched in our psyche and subconscious, they remain largely unrecognised. In the colonial worldview, only clean and pure bodies deserve to be protected from violence. Violence done to dirty or impure bodies simply does not count. For example, prostitutes are seldom believed when they are raped, because the dominant society considers the prostitute’s body violable at all times. Because indigenous bodies were and still are seen as dirty, they too are considered rapable. Dating back to the earliest periods of conquest, the practice of mutilating indigenous people, both living and dead, made it clear that colonisers did not think indigenous people deserved bodily integrity.
From 2016 to 2019 Canada carried out a lengthy process of fact gathering for the National Inquiry into violence against their indigenous citizens. The Final Report reveals that persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people.
The introduction to the report states that:
Statistics consistently show that rates of violence against Métis, Inuit, and First Nations women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people are much higher than for non-Indigenous women in Canada, even when all over differentiating factors are accounted for. Perpetrators of violence include Indigenous and non-Indigenous family members and partners, casual acquaintances, and serial killers. No one knows the exact number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people in Canada. Thousands of women's deaths or disappearances have likely gone unrecorded over the decades, and many families likely did not feel ready or safe to share with the National Inquiry before our timelines required us to close registration. One of the most telling pieces of information, however, is the amount of people who shared about either their own experiences or their loved ones' publicly for the first time. Without a doubt there are many more.
While the situation varies considerably between regions and countries, Indigenous Peoples generally face the same types of discrimination, including: lack of recognition as collective rights holders; exclusion from decision-making processes; overall discrimination by the mainstream society; lack of tenure security and therefore loss of land and resources; gross human rights violations; lack of access to justice; lack of institutional capacities; gender and generational discrimination; and lack of freedom of expression and/or access to media. Indigenous Peoples and their organisations are building networks and alliances to meet these challenges, and to share their best practices.
The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Indigenous Peoples states that:
Despite the progress achieved at the international level concerning the situation of Indigenous Peoples at the country level remains alarming, and several critical trends are not only continuing, but have in fact worsened in many countries over the last decade, and have been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the reality today is that States rarely provide a systematic response to the recommendations made by international and regional human rights mechanisms, and that the recommendations made for more substantive reforms that will ensure the wellbeing of Indigenous Peoples on the ground tend to be ignored altogether. This is represented in Indigenous communities, where various reports and (the few available) statistics show that Indigenous Peoples remain among the poorest and most marginalised peoples in the world and that their individual and collective human rights continue to be grossly violated.
Celebrating Indigenous Culture.
In countries that have indigenous citizens, thier culture, art, poetry and writing is at last being given the attention it deserves. The poet laureate for 2019/2020 of the United States was Joy Harjo, the first Native American Poet Laureate in the history of the position. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harjo is a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation. She also directs For Girls Becoming, an arts mentorship program for young Mvskoke women, and is a founding board member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.
Another American indigenous women of note is the poet and activist Chrystos, born in San Francisco, California, she is a member of the Menominee Nation from the present-day Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In her work, which is unfortunately out of print, she examines themes of feminism, social justice, and Native rights. She is the author of several collections of poetry, including Fire Power (1995), Dream On (1991), and Not Vanishing (1988).
In a 2010 interview for the Black Coffee Poet blog, Chrystos, who continues to write, but does not publish, said:
I have not been a part of the publishing industry for some time, because, as my friend, Anne Cameron jokes, "All publishers are pimps". As a former whore, I'll comment that no john ever gave me as much trouble as most printing presses. "Editing" is frequently censorship. Ghastly contracts are common. There is, in my experience, very little support for writers. This reminds me of being a single mother supporting three children with no family help.
Her poem Old Indian Granny illustrates the deep rooted dilemma of belonging to an indigenous nation:
You told me about all the Indian women you counsel
who say they don’t want to be Indian anymore
because a white man or an Indian one raped them
or killed their brother
or somebody tried to run them over in the street
or insulted them or all of it
our daily bread of hate
Sometimes I don’t want to be an Indian either
but I’ve never said so out loud before
Since I’m so proud & political
I have to deny it now
Far more than being hungry
having no place to live or dance
no decent job no home to offer a Granny
It’s knowing with each invisible breath
that if you don’t make something pretty
they can hang on their walls or wear around their necks
you might as well be dead.
We recommend this collection of portraits sponsored by the United Nations, The World In Faces - Diverse cultures of the world through the portraits of Indigenous Peoples.
The exhibition honours Indigenous Peoples’ right to their cultures, identities and traditions, and their right to self-determination by determining their own policies and strategies with respect to their cultural heritage and traditional systems.