Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Despite Legal Protections Sacred Spaces Still At Risk: The Black Hills

It is a situation that repeats itself with depressing regularity. Despite legal protections put into place by domestic, regional and international law, there seems to be no end to the onslaught of destruction to indigenous sacred places. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides specific protections for indigenous lands. There is article 8(2)(b) which requires state to “provide effective mechanisms for prevention of and redress for... any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them [indigenous peoples] of their lands, territories or resources.”

Further, there is Article 11(2):

"States shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which
may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous
peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual
property taken without their free, prior and informed consent
or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs."

Sacred spaces are surely “spiritual property.”

Article 26 is very clear about the protections to be given to indigenous lands:

"Article 26
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and
resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise
used or acquired.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and
control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason
of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use,
as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.
3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands,
territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with
due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the
indigenous peoples concerned."

It is not disputed that the Black Hills are sacred to indigenous peoples nor that they were wrongfully taken. The United States Supreme Court, in its 1980 ruling in United States v Sioux Nation of Indians , made that clear.

Yet, according to this news report, another sacred space is being made vulnerable to destruction in the name of development. The article states that development plans are “spelling the end of one of the last quiet vestiges of traditional Lakota worship in the Black Hills, or Paha Sapa.”

What can be done to preserve sacred spaces? What good are provisions in international instruments if they are not enforceable and beyond the reach of those who need to access them? And while academic and bureaucratic debates and conversations abound on these matters, fragile landscapes continue to disappear. Surely this is unacceptable. Surely indigenous sacred spaces should be given legally required protections. Surely accessing those legal protections must not be put out of reach by those who need to avail themselves of these. But what is being done—in concrete practical terms—to make these legal provisions useable and meaningful?

Monday, 30 July 2012

Trail of Broken Promises broken again but not beat

The following post was written by Shirley Willard. She has been working with the Potawatomi since 1982 to commemorate the Trail of Death and has gotten over 80 historical markers erected on the 660 mile route. See www.potawatomi-tda.org.

By Shirley Willard, Fulton County Historian, Rochester IN
Email address wwillard@rtcol.com

On July 10 the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a new highway can be built on the wetlands at Lawrence, Kansas. A panel of three judges unanimously ruled that government environmental studies were adequate to allow major highway construction through the wetlands area.

This was a blow to the group of students from Haskell Indian Nations University who walked from Kansas to Washington, D. C. to save the wetlands. Organized and led by Millie Pepion, a junior at Haskell, they called it the Trail of Broken Promises Walk.

They began their walk May 13 and ended it June 27 when they reached D. C. They followed the Potawatomi Trail of Death from Kansas to Indiana, and visited the nearly 80 historical markers on the Trail of Death www.potawatomi-tda.org. They had a special ceremony at the Chief Menominee monument in Marshall County, Indiana, June 7.

In Chicago on June 8 they met former President Clinton and his daughter Chelsea and the United Nations ambassador. They presented their request and were assured that there will a Clinton Global Initiative at Haskell Indian Nations University next year. Both Clinton and Chelsea touched the staff with eagle feathers and touched the Indian blanket the group wanted to present to President Obama.

On June 9-10 they visited the Great Lakes Native American pow wow at Portland, Indiana, enjoying the dancing and food. A blanket dance brought in $300 for gasoline for the group. An older couple gave them two eagle feathers which they added to the staff from the Wetlands. Then they headed east.

Running short of gas money, they decided to cut the trip a little shorter than originally planned. They reached Washington D.C. June 27 and walked from Arlington cemetery to the Capitol. By June 29 most of the students headed home. Only Millie Pepion, her uncle Stanley Perry, and Leonard Lowery III stayed in D.C. where they are contacting officials and asking them to save the Wakarusa Wetlands at Haskell. She presented the draft bill to Kansas congressmen’s staff, telling in detail how important it is in many ways to save the wetlands: Indian burials, sacred site to Native Americans, clean water aided by wetlands, historic value, and more. They talked to the Committee on Indian Affairs, National Congress of American Indians, and U.S. Department of Agriculture and Forestry. But they did not get to see President Obama.

In D. C. they are staying with Rose White, who works with the National Congress of American Indians. They have been hanging out at the National Museum of American Indians for free parking, a place to relax and eat snacks, visit with other tribes, etc. “They have been real nice to us,” Millie said in a phone conversation I had with her July 12. She hopes to head for home to Lawrence, Kansas on July 15.

According to a news release, Dan Wildcat, Yuchi/Muskogee, faculty advisor to the students’ Wetlands Preservation Organization, said the verdict was like “adding insult to injury” when the court ignored Native voices about the history and importance of the wetlands. Haskell was a boarding school during a period when “our very identity was threatened and children there used the wetlands as a place to speak their language, sing their songs, and offer prayers in the days when they received corporal punishment to do so.”

Is this the end of the road? No, said Millie Pepion, “trail boss” of the Trail of Broken Promises Walk. When asked if she plans to tie herself to a tree, Millie said, “No, we will continue to negotiate in a peaceful manner that does not expose our persons to injury.”

She and people backing the saving of the wetlands have three ideas. 1. Get the wetlands included in the Haskell Historic District which includes the campus. 2. File another lawsuit. 3. Get the National Parks Service to declare it a park or a conservancy.

One other way is for the public to ask President Obama to issue a proclamation to save the Wakarusa Wetlands by making it a park or nature conservancy. If you want to help Millie and the other students who spent nearly two months walking the Trail of Broken Promises from Kansas to Washington, please send a hand-written postcard to President Obama, The White House, Washington DC 20500. Hand-written postcards are individually scored and read, but typed letters and emails not always.

You will be joining your voice with the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, which is one of 152 tribal nations represented at Haskell and several environmental organizations including the Sierra Club, the Jayhawk Audubon Society, and Ecojustice.

Friday, 20 July 2012

A Different Story: Media Stories about Contemporary Indigenous Life

All too frequently, media depictions of indigenous peoples gives a very one-sided picture of them as passive victims, and fails to capture the resilience and vibrancy of modern indigenous lives. Perhaps mainstream media and culture are more comfortable with that image of indigenous peoples, but now and again a more rounded and complete account of indigenous peoples appears.

According to this news story, the Lakota Peoples Law Project speaks favourably about the depiction of life in the Pine Ridge Reservation in the National Geographic Article, “In the Shadow of Wounded Knee.”
Both the newstory and the National Geographic article provide informative and balanced stories on indigenous life and the way in which history is a source of strength and identity in the present, not a tale of unmitigated victimhood and suffering. These are stories well worth reading, that give an unblinking and insight view into contemporary indigenous lives.

These media stories tell a different story, removing the all-too-prevalent and inaccurate portrayal of indigenous peoples as nothing but victims.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

What do you prefer: traditional medicine or chemical one?

BBC news report that a hospital in Riobamba, Ecuador, is offering patients “traditional indigenous Andean medicine alongside Western treatments”.

‘Hospital Andino’ gives the opportunity to patients to choose, according to their belief, what type of treatment they wish for: natural treatment or chemical treatment. If the patient does not choose a conventional doctor/medicine he will be referred to a "yachak" (shamans) who will run a diagnostic of the patient. According to yachak Mariano Atupana, the patient usually needs and/or comes for a spiritual cleansing and thus, the yachak would clean the patient's aura leaving the patient energetic by taking away the patients’ negative energy. Patients will leave feeling renew.

Certainly the Hospital is given the chance to people and more importantly to indigenous peoples who are often doubtful of chemical medicines (Western medicine). Finally, the report asserts that indigenous peoples are “more willing to take other medication if it goes alongside what the shamans say.” Ecuador ratified ILO Convention 169 and this example given by the Hospital is a clear commitment that the Ecuadorian country is in the right path.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The end of the road for the Wetlands? A continuation of the “Trail of Broken Promises” and failure to protect indigenous sacred spaces

Is the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on the fate of the wetlands adjoining Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, USA the end of the road? On July 10, 2012, the 3 judge panel made a unanimous ruling that would permit the construction of a road across the wetlands.

This is despite the arguments raised to preserve the wetlands as historically significant. This court ruling is not welcomed news for those who favour the preservation of the wetlands. The court's ruling fails to capture the importance of the wetlands and their connection to the history of not only Haskell, but of indigenous peoples and their relationship, past, present and future to the United States. Commentary on the wetlands has been the subject of a previous blog post.

The 10th Circuit decision can be seen as just one more event in the chain of events that devalues the sacred spaces of indigenous peoples. As detailed in this news story, Haskell students completed their “Trail of Broken Promises” walk on June 29. The walk was in support of proposed legislation that would provide additional domestic protections for indigenous sacred spaces, the Protection of Native American Sacred Spaces Act.

This fact sheet provides an overview of the US legal protections for sacred spaces, but comments that despite these, “There are numerous existing laws intended to protect Native American sacred places and even more that can be used to do so, but most of these laws are being ignored and flaunted.”

Until the laws are adhered to with regard to sacred space protection, the "Trail of Broken Promises" seems likely to continue.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

WIPO Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) – moving forward?

Meetings, meetings and more meetings....we all hope that these reunions leave us with a step closer to a goal. But, are we optimistic? On the 22nd session of the WIPO Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore (IGC) which took place from 9-13 June it seemed that we are still in standby! According to the Intellectual Property Watch, International IP Policy what was supposed to be a procedural matter by the Committee, it turned out to be an informal consultation “without reaching a compromise on the agenda”. Moreover, a panel of Indigenous Peoples emphasized the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The theme covered (or at least intended to be covered) was “Intellectual Property, Traditional Cultural Expressions and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perspectives of Indigenous Peoples.” Mr Valmaine Toki, vice-chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues sees the process of the IGC containing two issues: 1.- “The ability of Indigenous Peoples to participate meaningfully within the process; and, 2.- to recognise the intrinsic rights of Indigenous Peoples to their traditional knowledge (TK), genetic resources (GR) and traditional cultural expressions (TCEs).”

 In this regard Mr Toki recommended that there is the need to establish “an indigenous co-chair to the IGC, and establish a panel of indigenous experts on international human rights law to ensure the text aligns with those basic international human rights norms and principles.”

Source Intellectual Property Watch.