AILA Indigenous Day Paper presented at the United Nations 8/9/11

 

Historically, the social, legal, and cultural protocols of Indigenous societies have been passed down to the next generations using the oral tradition of storytelling. Indigenous artistic expression and traditional culture are the fabric to the community maintaining cultural identity in urban and rural settings. The American Indian Law Alliance prepared a major paper in response to the UN-Habitat Study: “Urban Indigenous Peoples and Migration: A Review of Policies, Programmes and Practices,” (2010). The Paper was prepared for the Roundtable: “Indigenous Peoples, Sustainable Urban Development with Culture and Identity,” that convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 23 March 2010. This document affirmed the view that state policies have resulted in the dispossession and displacement of large numbers of Indigenous Peoples from their traditional lands and territories, and into “urban areas.” Our paper also pinpointed the fact that no matter where Indigenous Peoples move to in the Western hemisphere, they are still living within the traditional territory of some Indigenous nation. It is important to highlight this point so that the discussion of Indigenous Peoples’ issues and human rights in terms of “rural” and “urban” areas does not draw attention away from the historic, cultural, and spiritual connection that Indigenous Peoples continue to have with their traditional territories. And how they maintain their methodologies, cosmologies and cultural design. 

Indigenous communities, who live on their traditional homelands, or who are removed from  their traditional homelands, or who are relocated from their traditional homelands or not born within their traditional homelands, it should be noted that cultural identity is the essence of their survival.   Cultural identity cannot be compartmentalized and cannot be separated.  It is ingrained in the spiritual health, culture, and language of Indigenous Peoples.  It is a way of life.  It is vibrantly collective.  It is truth. It is the mirror to the community.

The Preliminary study on the impact on Indigenous Peoples of the legal construct known as the Doctrine of Discovery, delivered to the: Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Ninth session New York, 19-30 April 2010 Items 4 and 7 of the provisional agenda E/C.19/2010/13 Submitted by the Special Rapporteur, Tonya Gonnella Frichner  establishes that the Doctrine of Discovery has been institutionalized in law and policy, on national and international levels, and lies at the root of the violations of Indigenous Peoples’ human rights, both individual and collective, including traditional cultural rights.  

 

This is plainly clear how that construct was used when it became outlawed for Indigenous Peoples to practice their traditional prayers, songs, dances, languages, and storytelling. And it is seen again when Indigenous Peoples names and images on sports mascots, commercial products, ventures or production enterprises is often derogatory, offensive, and disrespectful. Cultural stereotyping and misuse of Indigenous images denies the complexities, methodologies, and cosmologies of Indigenous Peoples that cannot be separated from their identity and moreover a violation of their collective and individual human rights.

 

Western non-Indigenous culture has manufactured stereotypes depicting Indigenous Peoples as not civilized, backward, or uncultured while non-Indigenous western culture is presented as modern and civilized. Therefore supporting the basic principal of the legal construct known as The  Doctrine of Discovery that those who are not Christian are not human.

 

 

 

It is necessary to educate governments and policymakers to the impact that western worldviews

has had on Indigenous cultural infrastructures and initiatives that continually reflect the colonial worldview. It is critical to do this where cultural rights are non- existent and the neo classical design of the non-Indigenous western framework is perceived as a cultural norm.  We need to promote reform in the arena of arts policies and cultural advocacy to Indigenous methodologies and cosmologies that are the central core of Indigenous arts practices rooted in Indigenous cultural knowledge. 

 

 In conclusion, Human Rights and Cultural Rights are still being violated to this day because of the legal construct known as the Doctrine of Discovery.  Indigenous arts and culture, including historical memory must be integrated as a prerequisite and as a basis when building Indigenous arts and cultural projects or initiatives. Creating a new paradigm in regards to Indigenous arts and cultures is the key to sustainable communities on our lands and territories. The challenge lies in supporting with proper financial resources and promoting initiatives and organizational systems unique to Indigenous Peoples as well as asserting that Indigenous Peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect, and develop their own cultural heritage, including the visual and performing arts.