Saturday, 31 December 2011

Giving away or giving back: the return of the land

This week the Chilean National Indigenous Development Corporation (CONADI) informs of the delivery of 1,480 hectares of land to four Mapuches communities and to 91 families from various districts of the Region called ‘de Los Rios’, benefiting more than 500 people from ethnic origin. It is, according to the press, that this is the largest land granted in this region.

The Minister for Social Development as well as the national director of CONADI travelled to the farm named Collampulli situated in the comuna Panguipulli to sign the papers when and where the ceremony took place.

One see from the information provided by the Government that everybody seems happy but reading other sources we learn a little bit more – the other side of the story.

For instance the online paper bibiochile noted that the president of the community Chepu Manquel Dionisio said that while it was very important to them as an indigenous community to recover territories, to recover their true land was like ‘swimming against the current’ and that the delivery of these alternative sites do return just in part what have belonged to them for centuries.

Another source mentioned that the President of the Community Chocano Fermin, was happy to finally receive their land, but criticized the delay in the allocation (more than a decade) and costs involved for the commoners.

I just find interesting the play of wording, the Minister and CONADI talks about ‘delivery’ and ‘grant’ while indigenous peoples talk about ‘returning’.

Has this Chilean movement being influenced by the ILO Convention 169?
According to Pedro Mariman,coordinator of the Indigenous Citizen Observatory, CONADI has accelerated the land purchases to prevent budget under spend. He said that CONADI fears that not all resources for funding for land acquisition are being executed. In 2010, it did have to repay 37 billion pesos for not implement these resources which corresponded to 76 percent of the budget available to the fund. This awareness came because these land deliveries are being made just about at the finish time of the fiscal year.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Sacred Spaces: Under Threat in Lawrence, Kansas

In a few short weeks, a hearing will be held in the United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals over the fate of sacred space in Lawrence, Kansas, USA. The Wetlands that are the subject of the law suit have a unique existence that catalogs the past destructive assimilationist policies of the US government towards indigenous peoples and their ability to not only survive but transcend those. It is shocking to realise that the Wetlands are still under threat.
Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, USA began its existence in the late 1800’s as an Indian boarding school. These schools were set up as part of the government policy of the assimilation of the indigenous peoples in the United States. The official policy and acts of assimilation supposedly came to an end with the enactment of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act. My earlier posting on this blog points to resources that indicate that the implementation of this Act remains problematic, and assimilationist attitudes towards indigenous peoples were not erased by the simple enactment of a federal law.

Haskell Indian Nations University has been transformed into a unique higher education institution, where “traditional knowledge and teaching methods are integrated into higher education curriculum” (Wetlands Preservation Organization, Student Life, Haskell Indian Nations University).

On the southern edge of Lawrence, there is a bridge that leads to nowhere. It was part of a planned road development plan that would have built new high speed roads across the southern edge of a town that was bursting at the seams from the growth of McMansion neighbourhoods and suburban sprawl. The planned road would have cut through wetlands that have become a sacred space to the indigenous community at Haskell Indian Nations University and beyond. Years of litigation has ensued. The case is currently at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, with oral arguments scheduled for 19 January 2012. ( see here for more information).

The wetlands have become a sacred space, and the way in which this happened is poignantly described in a way that reflects the history of destruction and assimilation that indigenous peoples have survived: “Since the children were not allowed to visit their families, and since families who came to visit weren’t allowed to stay in town due to prejudices at the time, the wetlands became a meeting place for them. Children would escape to the wetlands to hear news from home and to pass on messages. The wetlands were also where children escaped to get away from the harsh boarding school…The wetlands became a sort of sanctuary for those children who sought to escape forced assimilation” ( Jessica Lackey, “Summer Intern Shares Environmental Concerns: Save the Wetlands”). The wetlands are in active use today as a sacred space for indigenous peoples.

Sacred spaces should be respected, not under threat, and it is alarming that this particular sacred space continues to be under threat. Attacks on the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples should have been consigned to the shadowy pages of history some time ago, but instead they continue in the present day--with no sign of abating.

This video here captures the special beauty of the Wetlands and provides information on the history of the Wetlands litigation.

Written by Sarah Sargent.

The Indian Child Welfare Act: A Long Way to Go

In an earlier post to the blog, I wrote about the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) , and a recent decision by the Kansas Supreme Court to over-rule the use of the "existing Indian family" doctrine. This doctrine was judicially created and allowed a judge to determine that the Indian Child Welfare Act, and the attendant protections it provided, would not apply in a particular case. The doctrine was long criticised as being in conflict with the plain language of the Act, and the Kansas decision is in some ways a symbolic one as well as judicially important, given that the Kansas courts invented the doctrine in the first place.

Antipathy to the Act neither began nor ended with the “existing Indian family” doctrine. If the Kansas Supreme Court decision marks an important milestone in the doctrine falling out of favour, much work remains to be done to meet the effective implementation of the Act. And this is surprising, given that this Act dates from 1978!

IWCA, as American federal law, applies to all American states. It was passed in response to the decades-long practice of removal of children from their families and communities in the view that assimilation was in the best interests of indigenous children. ICWA was designed to counter the practices that led to the removal of large percentages of children from their families and communities.

But there is of course a world of difference between a law on the books and laws being actually implemented in a meaningful and effective way. This link here provides both an overview of the Act and commentary on the problems of it being adhered to.

In late 2011, NPR broadcast the results of its investigation into the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The broadcast and related information can be located at this link.

The existing Indian family doctrine and the thinking that led to resistance to ICWA is hopefully on the wane, but there still is a long way to go.

Written by Sarah Sargent.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Chile: Bilingual Intercultural Education

Bilingual Intercultural Education (EIB), is a proposition taken by the Chilean government in 1993 that serves as the foundation for a demand of indigenous peoples, and particularly Mapuche people, in educational programs. Today this scheme can find support in the General Education Law and Supreme Decree 280 of the Ministry of Education.

However, the experience from the Bilingual Intercultural Education in the metropolitan region has emerged thanks to the continuance and efforts of traditional educators, and thus, as it is not yet being recognized institutionally, traditional educators have been victims of discrimination and strong racism. This is noted for example from lack of budget allocation for the development of the EIB, to racist actions from the own State institutions in charge of education such as the Municipal Corporations of Education and moreover from schools’ principals.

This month a traditional educator Pamela Huichalao Cona, a staff from the School Paulo Freire, situated in the Commune of Cerro Navia, Chile has had to seek ‘recurso de amparo’ (‘writ of protection’) before the Court of Appeals of Santiago against the City Council of Cerro Navia represented by its Mayor and Councilor of the same community. The defendant party appears to have participated in constant acts of racist and xenophobic persecution - even threaten individual liberty and individual security. The reason being that the defendant aims to make the traditional educator to desist promoting and defending indigenous languages and cultures in the community and quit the EIB program that is taking place in the mentioned school.

For those of you not familiar with the writ of protection (recurso de amparo), this is a remedy quite common in jurisdiction from South America for the protection of constitutional rights- this action is used not only for habeas corpus but also for the protection of individual rights.

Added to this, Miss Pamela together with more than a hundred community members and educators attended the Presidential palace in order to put to the attention of Chile's President Mr Sebastián Piñera, a series of events raised in recent months in relation to racism and discrimination that Indigenous Peoples are suffering and are victims of. The letter left to the President noted that this is a “serious cultural and social problem that deserves to be approached from public policy and which call on your government to adopt relevant policies in this area.” It also mentioned that intercultural education should not only be aimed at Indian students, but to everyone so as to make aware the new generations to cultures, principles and philosophy of indigenous peoples.

The information started to remind the readers [I guess making their point stronger and making clear to Mr Sebastian Piñera] that Chile has ratified many international treaties and thus having the duty to respect and guarantee human rights and moreover those of indigenous peoples. Some of these Treaties are: International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention No. 169, American Convention on Human Rights and the Covenants on Human Rights at the United Nations Organization of 1966.

I would like to point out the information that the Minister of Education gives in its webpage as part of a very simple explanation regarding the details that the General Education Law has. It mentions that the law establishes an institutional framework for school education which, among other things:
  • Promote and respect the diversity of methods and school projects, as well as cultural, religious and social learners.
  • Propose the inclusion of students from different social, ethnic, religious, economic and cultural rights.
  • Last but not least it noted that the educative system must recognize and value persons in regards to its culture and origin, and taking into account their language, worldview and history.
I believe therefore that the President does not need to look further than its own national legislation motto.

Source Informatico Mapuche manuexpress.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

“The Wisest Future Course”

Kansas — what is there? The temptingly easy answer is of course, tornadoes and dogs named Toto. Sky and prairie grass, cattle, Dodge City… but there is more. Just under a deceptive placid appearance, there is so much more, both good and bad, of relevance to the idea of culture and identity, and the way in which groups of people do and do not live together. The shadow of the case Brown v Topeka Board of Education –the United States Supreme Court case decision on the de-segregation of American schools --leaves an uncertain legacy. Is Kansas to be championed for its place in the civil rights movement or is it to be remembered as a place of modern-day apartheid, well within living memory? And how is this reconciled with the history of the state itself—Bleeding Kansas—brought into being a state that prohibited slavery and was the site of intense fighting between pro-slavery and anti-slavery citizens? ( a story well told in the novel by Jane Smiley, “The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton

Lucas’ post brings out an important point—the danger of manipulation of indigenous identity to suit the aims of settler culture. Much has been written on this, much more needs to be written. The question that Fiona raises in her post about who is indigenous raises the danger of identity manipulation to the fore. And Kansas itself was the site of a pernicious judicially created doctrine, “The Existing Indian Family Exception” that allowed judges to side-step the protections within the Indian Child Welfare Act—when the judge as sole arbiter of culture and identity decided if a child was “Indian enough” for the Indian Child Welfare Act to apply.* This is despite this doctrine being clearly in conflict with the plain language of the Act itself. Judicial resistance to an Act that gave great weight to a child’s indigenous identity and in the protection of this identity led to the application of the doctrine outside of the State of Kansas. Finally, a 2009 decision ( In the Matter of A.J.S.) from the Kansas Supreme Court over-ruled the use of the doctrine in Kansas cases, stating clearly, “we are persuaded that abandonment of the existing Indian family doctrine is the wisest future course.”
And not a moment too soon.

A full discussion of the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Existing Indian Family Exception can be found in the link to the decision In the Matter of A.J.S, above.

Written by Sarah Sargent.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Chile: the right to wear a traditional custom is more than a mere fact

This month we saw a Chilean Senator introducing legislation that would allow students to wear Indigenous dress to school.
Last November two Mapuches students were not allowed to take part in the photo-shoot schedule in their high school in Collipulli, a local school in the Araucania region, Chile. The pictures are taken as part of the graduation ceremony – photo taken and to be given in the graduation day. The director of the school refused to accept without further explanation the girls to be wearing their traditional Mapuche. The girls informed the Temucuicui community of the circumstances and the ‘lonko’ (a leader from the Mapuche community) Queipul Victor argued that there was "… a clear attitude of discrimination and racism by the director, a situation that we are not willing to accept and less leave unpunished…”

As a result, Senator Alejandro Navarro proposed and so introduced an amendment (Boletín N° 8.073-04) to the legislation on Education that would allow all students to wear Indigenous cloth to school and to its functions. The Senator referred to the second paragraph of Regulation No. 57 of 2002, Ministry of Education, which expressly states: "In any case, the failure to use school uniforms cannot be punished with a ban to enter the educational establishment. " Therefore, he noted that the regulation clearly indicates that educational establishments are not allowed to prohibit assistance for not having school uniform.

The Senator also mentioned the ILO Convention 169 Art 1 and 2 as the reasons why Indigenous peoples should be allowed to wear their traditional clothing customs to school ceremonies.

Senator Navarro proposes to add to Art 11 of Law N ° 20.37O, General Law of Education the following:

"Membership of a student or pupil to native or indigenous community, in no case constitute an impediment to enter and remain in an educational establishments at all levels, the establishment must provide academic and administrative facilities to allow application of both objectives. Moreover, establishments situated especially in those regions, communes and villages where there are  communities of indigenous peoples, shall assist for the integration and participation of students referred to in this subsection, in all activities of the establishment,whether sporting, academic, recreational, extracurricular, or recreational, promoting and safeguarding the respect from the whole educational community to the ancient customs and practices, including the use of their clothes or clothes in the establishment's activities. Furthermore the establishments would set up in their internal regulations, the penalties for transgression of this rule. "

One of the things that I like the most in a graduation day here in the UK is to see some of the parents wearing their traditional clothes and to be honest I never thought this to be a right as such. I mean, some opt to wear Armani or Gucci while some opt to wear jeans! And as the title implies, to wear traditional clothes is more than a right, I can see actually the faces of the families not only being proud for their relatives’ achievement but they wear this beautiful dresses proud of being who they are. I definitely applaud this Chilean proposal.

Source newspaper La Nacion.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Indigenous identity and settler society: a manipuation somewhere?

Sarah's post in response to Patricia's, about "becoming native", brought to mind the idea of how much indigenousness there is to settler societies in countries such as Australia and Brazil, where the percentage of indigenous peoples, compared to the overall population, is fairly low. I am a Brazilian working in Australia, so I can’t help but try to draw similarities between the two countries, especially as Australia now looks into how to insert language recognizing indigenous peoples into the Australia Constitution. My point being, there is something almost tokenistic to the way indigeneity is addressed in some of these countries. I understand that the rhetoric is mighty important, and that it does help build up to concrete action, but when Australians seem to favor a preamble over a hard provision on the recognition of the contribution of indigenous peoples to Australian society and on safeguards for their culture, it makes me wonder how indigenous identity can be manipulated and appropriated by settler societies to serve certain purposes.

Crossing back to the Americas, take the Organization of American States (OAS) as an example. The OAS has been drafting for many years now its own declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, and there is a lot of buzz around it, seen as a vast majority of the world’s indigenous peoples live in the Americas. And there is a lot of language in this OAS draft about how the identity of the American people is different from Europeans precisely because of the indigenous influence. So far, so good. Except that it creates the possibility for an appropriation of indigeneity, or, to be more precise, a certain version of indigeneity that conforms to the goal of “safe differentiation from Europeans” that is problematic, in the sense that non-idealized expressions of indigenous identity will not gain as much recognition, for not being seen as “sufficiently indigenous”, or, what is worse, not “authentic”. Am I against a search for authenticity when it comes to culture? To be quite honest, I go back and forth a lot on this one, but, if the criteria for authenticity are to be set a priori by non-indigenous peoples, then I am against a test of authenticity of any sort. Why? Because it creates an expectation that indigenous peoples’ cultures, in order to receive any support from the government for their development, will have to conform to a certain idyllic way of life, which may well coincide with what they wanted all along, but it may also not. Depriving indigenous peoples of the choice to be what they want is what bothers me.
Which is why, while I am all for recognizing the influence indigenous peoples’ influence on settler societies, I am wary of any attempts at determining, from the outside, what this culture is on the whole. So, let us come home and become a little more native, by all means, but let us prevent ourselves from thinking we can actually comprehend a foreign culture in all its richness, texture, nuance and internal contradictions. We should always aspire to knowing it in full, but we should always be aware we’ll never get there.

Written by Lucas Lixinski.

Voice and Silence

Voice. Who has it? Who can speak? Who is silenced? Who is listening? These are all questions that circle around my mind, thinking of writing on a blog about indigenous issues. Who am I to write, think, speak on these issues, to add my own thoughts and ideas into the rich and vibrant discussion that has been steadily growing since the 1970’s?
I am, after all, not indigenous. I am in Wes Jackson’s words, one of the “descendants of those early beneficiaries of conquest”. I want to avoid the scenario that scholar Makua Matua addresses in his work on human rights, “Savages, Saviors and Victims.”

I do not know better than anyone, I do not want to be in the position of promoting rescue or salvation. Indigenous peoples are not victims in the sense of being powerless, in need of a benevolent non-indigenous hand to promote their aims and needs and to give them voice.
And thus it is a quandary on how to approach the work and discussion on indigenous peoples in this blog. Indigenous peoples are not a single uniform entity, but a wide variety of peoples across the world. Their various cultures are not frozen in time but evolve, change, and influence other cultures. Things such as essentialisation, stereotypes and tokenism are things to strive to avoid.

That is one part of the issue on voice. But there are larger issues, about indigenous peoples gaining voice and speaking out. There are issues as well on the implications of the silencing of when individuals, communities and peoples . The dynamics of silencing are discussed by Alexander, in their book “Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity” and is a worthwhile read.

A blog helps to break silence. It helps to bring discussion, attention, dialogue, questioning and focus on issues. A voice, anyone’s voice, added to the discussion, keeps silence and all of the dynamics it brings with it at bay. This is what I tell myself whilst struggling to avoid the pitfalls and traps that can come in engaging in the discussion—avoiding ideas of rescue, salvation, victims, stereotypes and frozen culture. Acknowledging that and with adding my own voice to the discussion with some careful hesitation, it is a delight to see this blog take off, and my thanks to Patricia for bringing this idea to fruition!

Witten by Sarah Sargent

Friday, 23 December 2011

"Becoming Native to This Place" and "There is No Place Like Home"

Patricia has written very insightfully that indigenous communities have influenced and continue to influence non-indigenous communities in many ways. She says "indigenous people influenced what we are today, and they are still part of us and our society." This is very apparent to me when I have returned to my own home-coming for the holidays, with a chance to reflect on the importance of "place." Indigenous peoples are engaged in many debates and legal claims about their traditional homelands. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples reflects the importance that "place", homelands, land, have to indigenous peoples.

Wes Jackson, a Kansas author, has written a book titled "Becoming Native to This Place." The book jacket introduction comments that "...even the best of the European settlers had a stronger eye for conquest than for justice. Natives were in the way--surplus peoples who must be literally displaced. Now, as ecologist Wes Jackson points out, descendants of those early beneficiaries of conquest find themselves the displaced persons... In a ringing cry for a changed relation to the land, Jackson urges modern Americans to become truly native to this place..."

Place becomes not only a physical location, but a way of living in and relating to that location, taking meaning as well as sustenance from it.

Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz understood this very well in her simple phrase, "There is no place like home."

I am home to Dorothy's fabled Kansas after nearly a year away. I am home in every way that the word can convey a variety of meanings. I know I am home when I can look out over the clean sweep of the western horizon and the starting edge of the Flint Hills-- one of the last Tallgrass Prairie ecosystems remaining in the world. As a child, I grew up galloping my horse bareback over the prairie, imagining the time not so long ago when it was home to indigenous peoples and bison, and not herds of meandering beef cattle. Indigenous influence and practices live on, though. Ranchers still practice the land management systems of indigenous peoples when they set the prairie alight in the spring, to encourage the growth of new rich green spring grass.

I know I am home because I can breathe deeply and not feel the empty echo of missing this place deeply inside of me. Chief Seattle is quoted as saying that "the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth." These words make more sense to me than ever as I revel in the simple pleasure of simply being back in this place, and understanding the importance of place to who and what a person, a community, a peoples are and to their identity. This land is now part of me, something I carry inside of me when I am away, and miss with physical pain. I belong to this land-- is this part of Wes Jackson's call for "becoming native to this place"?

Written by Sarah Sargent.

Venezuela’s dinner on Christmas Eve: a reflection of a tradition

The topic of Indigenous is very close to me because...well you see, my grandparents from both sides came from Europe (Italy (mother’s side) and Spain (father’s side)) to Venezuela (South America) and married (both of them) native people. I do not remember much of my indigenous grannies because they died extremely young and so was I. One of them was more native than the other but they surely were different from our neighbours [the colour of their skin, the way they dressed – one being against wearing any shoes! and the hair – so black, so shiny].

Today I will bring a Venezuelan Christmas tradition which is specific to this holiday since I consider this dish to bear a resemblance of what I am, a mixture! Indeed the dish I bring you today is influenced by the Europeans and Indigenous Venezuelan: the ‘hallaca’.

The hallaca is the result of our historical process. Its provenience and name has different versions but I would like to keep to my belief, to what I was taught.
When and how was it born?
The strong contrast of flavours and colours is evidence of both influences. It combines meat, olives, raisins, cappers and vegetables wrapped in a maize dough; this filled dough is then wrapped in bananas (or plantain) leaves tied with a string and ready to be cooked in boiling water. The tale is that in colonial times the owners of lands would give leftovers to their servants and slaves, and they received this in their traditional cornmeal and plantain leaves for later cooking.
The name - its meaning
It is said that the word ‘hallaca’ comes from one of the Indian language called Guarani and derived from the word ‘ayúa’ or ‘ayuar’ which means to mix or stir, and because of a linguistic degradation was renamed ‘Ayacara’ and today it is known as hallaca.

In this blog we will be covering every aspect of Indigenous people but from the legal point, yet we also need to be realistic and thus, there is the need to identify ourselves with the minority. Indeed, it is good to remind not only to ourselves but to our readers that indigenous people influenced what we are today, and they are still part of us and our society.

More info here and here.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Dartmoor Commoners and Moor knowledge: Turkey plucking and moor

I am a Dartmoor Commoner. Simply this means that I have a right to graze cows, sheep and ponies on two Commons on Dartmoor. I share those rights with other Commoners but the land is owned by an individual or company. I see this as a form of ‘communal ownership’ unusual outside indigenous communities. I asked a fellow Commoner about Christmas traditions and he suggested turkey plucking.

Traditionally at least for a few hundred years a bird has been at the centre of the Christmas dinner. Today most people buy a turkey, goose or chicken killed and prepared in a factory and ready to put in the oven. However small farms and small holders in places like Dartmoor will be preparing birds relying on the knowledge passed down to them. Once a bird is killed it has to be plucked. Feathers must be plucked out carefully and gently to prevent the tearing of the skin. Feathers stray and it is best to pluck straight into a bag. Most pluckers will place the bird on their knees and pluck using a downward action. In my own family my husband has taught our sons and one in particular is better at it than the others. On Dartmoor farm labourers will be called from a neighbouring farm to help in the plucking which takes time and happens two weeks before Christmas.

Interestingly whilst discussing turkey plucking with my neighbour he talked about his ancestry and said that he could trace his family back to before the ‘Conqueror’ came in 1066. The evidence being a rhyme told to him by another Commoner. ‘The Cruises, Crockers and the Copplestones when the Conqueror came they were all at home.’ Oral traditions are often used by indigenous peoples to connect themselves to their land. He asked why he was not counted as a member of an indigenous peoples. My answer was complicated and one which will be discussed in this blog in the future.

Written by Fiona Batt.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Welcome to our first set of posts focusing on cultural heritage

To celebrate the Christmas festivities we are preparing a set of post regarding our traditional culture and its links with what is going to be an exciting blog full of socio/legal news regarding indigenous peoples.

For a start, you may think that Christmas has nothing to do with Indigenous Peoples – Christianity was not known until the Colonization, and you are correct. However there are many traditional issues that are celebrated this time of year which are part of our cultural heritage. In this line, UNESCO’s refers to Intangible Cultural Heritage as to be “practices and expressions transmitted from generation to generation such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or traditional craftsmanship." Therefore, we have seen the recognition of food, songs, dances and the like as being part of the cultural heritage of Humanity.

Can’t wait to hear the news? Join us by subscribing via e-mail.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Page under construction

We are very excited to start this new blog soon.

We will be posting over the festivities making sure you have something to do.