Wake Up the Indian Inside of You
by Catherine Joy Limcaco/PoorNewsNetwork
Thursday Sep 11th, 2008 1:35 PM
The 1st anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples is celebrated in San Francisco
In 1992, the American Indian community wanted the United Nations to proclaim the year to be the International Year of Indigenous People. Spain, on the other hand, was against this idea--not because they were against the recognition for indigenous people, but wanted the glory for themselves. Spain wanted to take the year to celebrate Columbus' discovery of the so-called "new world." With conflict arising, the United Nations denied the proposals of both Spain and the American Indian people and declared the year 1992 as the International Year of Science.
The United Nations declared 1993 to be International Year of Indigenous People. It may sound like a wish come true but it proved to be a bust. To their satisfaction, the American Indians argued that a decade was proper to honor the indigenous people of the world. A leader in the American Indian Movement, (AIM) Tony Gonzales affirms Indians are starting "to have a little pull at the UN."
On August 9th, 2008, I was sent on assignment to cover the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples "celebration" or better said "proclamation." So as I walked up the steep steps into the part of the city that I vaguely understand, I wonder, " How could I understand a problem if I have never experienced it personally?" In the wee hours of a Saturday morning I stood among many--both supporters and bystanders--ready to accept the task and challenge to "wake up the Indian inside" of our souls.
"Indian people have the sacred ways and secrets in our survival for the future. So wake up the Indian inside of you," proclaimed Tony Gonzales, the Director of AIM-West, the main organizer of International Day for the World's Indigenous People . The culture and history of the American Indian movement was everywhere. There were paintings on exhibit showcasing a vibrant story with a tumultuous journey. The banners that surrounded the front pedestal of the United Nations building preyed on the eyes of readers with bold messages such as "Free Leonard Peltier" while flying the American Indian flag. The music was blasting from speakers with beats and tones that may have sounded uplifting but the lyrics said otherwise.
The festivities that took place on International Day for the World's Indigenous People were set to educate individuals on matters that directly affect indigenous citizens as well the American Indians. Case in point: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly in September of 2007--recognizing the fact that Indigenous Peoples should be given their inherent rights and be able to preserve their cultural traditions. However, the United States refused to abide by these terms and thus became one of four countries that did not sign the declaration--the others were Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
With members of the community watching and absorbing the information that was being dealt, speakers were finally ready to share their own perspective on issues that affect Indigenous People. The first speaker was a gentleman who volunteered himself and offered a spectator's viewpoint: "It makes me ashamed to be a white person. Corporate and big goverments don't give a shit. We're all Indians even the white man."
Up next was Mary-Jean Robinson, a woman representing the Cherokee Nation. Robinson first recited a prayer that showed appreciation to those in the past that paved way for her future: "We thank you, the ancestors who worked so hard to pass the indigenous day." Mary-Jean would then call out the United States and spotlight the damage they have caused the world: "The U.S. is the only nation on the planet that was using weapons of mass destructions on another planet."
Is the United States really the cold-hearted, manipulative, and self-absorbed country that Mary-Jean Robinson and other members are making it out to be? Just listening to the speakers say such things was something I�ve never heard of. Growing up as a Filipina, an Americanized Filipina at that, I was proud to live in the United States, especially San Francisco. This past year, I had just turned 18 and was now given the right to vote in the upcoming presidential election. It's hard to participate in something of so much importance in this country if the people who run it don't even respect the values and rights that we hold significant in our lives.
What if the United States were to consider signing the United States Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People? "It'll have an impact on every major and national issue that has to do with indian people in this country. It refers to every aspect of our lives," says Tony Gonzales, who also serves as a consultant at the United Nations. Gonzales has devoted over 3 decades of his life to carrying the American Indian Movement into the United Nations. Gonzales should not have been responsible for taking care of the American Indians in this first place.
In the end, Gonzales states that it is up to the people to support the American Indians and the Indigenous people in the United States to challenge politicians to adopt the the United States Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.