Transforming the Values
During the first two weeks of December 2008, delegates from Indigenous nations around the world gathered in Poznan, Poland to share their traditional knowledge with the United Nations and its member states meeting there for climate change talks. One year prior to this convergence to discuss a new vision for the survival of humankind, the UN General Assembly extended the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, when it adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (13 September 2007); at Poznan, the tribal peoples challenged the UN to make that rhetoric reality.
If the one-third of humanity the limited number of Indigenous peoples’ delegations represented now had the recognized right to exist and flourish under international law, then their voices had to be heard, their delegations welcomed, their gifts acknowledged by states’ government delegates to the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change. They were not.
In the closing statement of the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum presented to the UN conference, the delegations observed that the denial of full and effective participation in the UN discussion is an affront to the rights granted them in 2007. They went on to say that the framework itself undermines their rights, and demanded the immediate suspension of carbon market schemes and other initiatives that, “commodify the atmosphere, promote privatization, and concentrate resources in the hands of a few.” What we must do, they noted, is to “transform the values of commerce and consumerism to those of conservation, cooperation, and sharing.”
Reciprocity by the UN and its member states would entail recognizing the great gift they received from the conservation practiced by First Nations and the Fourth World. Like it or not, these invisible people –collectively described as Indigenous peoples — are still here.
Presenting a New Vision
When modern states first initiated plans for exterminating the conservation cultures of the Fourth World (replacing them with a system of states), religious fundamentalism was the motivating belief of their dominant societies. Intertwined with that belief was an unquestioning faith in market economics. Over time, a rift developed between controlling society’s “haves” and “have nots” over these doctrines, but was not fundamentally challenged until the environmental movement brought into question the basic assumptions of market theology. Today, that rift has widened with the awareness generated by the anti-globalization movement, made famous in Chiapas, Mexico when the Mayan Day Keepers stepped from a protective cave and pronounced the world economy in jeopardy, and in Seattle, United States of America, when Indigenous leaders challenged the underlying premise of the World Trade Organization.
The 2008 showdown between the UN and the Indigenous Peoples Movement in Poznan, Poland is a classic contest between faith–based fundamentalism and scientific observation. With faith in market doctrine plummeting worldwide, the proven track record of First Nations in conservation economics places Indigenous peoples in the role of teachers to the disillusioned former members of the market cult. Still in denial, market–based institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are struggling to maintain dominance by force, using the myriad UN Funds, Programmes, and Agencies they are a part of to implement their brutal schemes.
Illustrating the Indigenous precept that all things are connected, the convergence of the Indigenous movement with the environmental and pro-democracy movements signals an end to the wasteful way of life promoted by UN member states. How this plays out in terms of new relationships between such things as capital and ownership remains to be seen, but the likelihood of returning to business as usual becomes ever more remote as our collective consciousness surpasses market mania in presenting a new vision for the future of humankind.
Designing the Tools
The Indigenous Peoples Movement has been 500 years in the making, and it did not happen accidentally. The Indigenous peoples’ reemergence — demanding that the human rights made manifest in the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples be respected by all nation-states — is the result of a long preparation. That preparation required recovery from disease and genocide, as well as instruction in self-governance in order to pursue self-determination in the modern world–and that wasn’t easy.
Designing the tools needed to free themselves from states, global markets, and financial institutions took a lot of thought and hard work. Research and consultation had to be done. Education had to be conducted by and for Indigenous peoples themselves. Networks of Indigenous scholars had to be built and connected with Indigenous leaders and activists. Alliances had to be formed.
Standing on the shoulders of those who endured the era of official extermination of Indigenous peoples by forces in internationally recognized states, leaders of the Indigenous resurgence — begun under the rubric of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights – in 1979 brought together the Indigenous leadership of the globe as the World Council of Indigenous Peoples. The successor to that body, the Center for World Indigenous Studies (CWIS), is now the premier Indigenous think-tank and archival repository in the world.
For thirty years, CWIS has worked in collaboration with Indigenous institutions like the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in the US, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in Canada, the Nordic Sami Council in Scandinavia, and the National Aboriginal Council in Australia, developing the intellectual strength and historical knowledge to move forward on human rights initiatives in restoration of traditional knowledge, governance, trade, health and medicine, and environmental restoration. Indeed, past presidents Chief George Manuel and Joe DeLaCruz, of AFN and NCAI respectively, were instrumental in establishing the Center for World Indigenous Studies.
Today, these initiatives influence events on all continents in the form of consultation on analysis and strategy for achieving accords essential to Indigenous peoples’ survival (i.e. the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), developing strategies for restoring control over territories, formulating strategies for mitigating and adapting to climate change, as well as establishing new institutions for resolving conflicts. During the three decades of its existence, CWIS has helped prepare the Indigenous leaders of tomorrow by making sure they understand the dynamics of the present and lessons of the past. Carrying on that vision in the digital age is a challenge and opportunity the Center is committed to engaging.
Constructing the Infrastructure
In the 1950s, when Chief George Manuel began organizing First Nations in Canada, the official policy of the two federal governments above and below the forty-ninth parallel was to exterminate Indigenous peoples as independent political entities. Assimilation programs designed to annihilate the Indigenous cultures was actually designated “termination” by the U.S. Congress.
As the final solution of the ethnic cleansing enterprise begun by European colonies in North America, the extinguishing of tribal cultures by the governments of Canada and the United States was viewed by the Indian tribes as an act of war. How Chief Manuel and his associates in the US fought this war over the half century since then is the subject of a cinematic documentary project proposed by CWIS.
Chief George Manuel and Joe DeLaCruz were mill workers, one in British Columbia and the other in Washington State. As tribal leaders in the 1960s, they embarked on a journey that would take them to all corners of the globe, igniting a resurgence of Indigenous peoples leading to the formation of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples in 1979, and its successor, the Center for World Indigenous Studies (CWIS), in 1984. The foundation laid by Manuel, DeLaCruz, and CWIS chair, Rudolph C. Ryser, led to the creation of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982, and the establishment of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples in 2002.
In 2007, CWIS associates witnessed the passage of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Only four countries – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States – voted against the declaration. In December 2008, a new generation of Indigenous leaders journeyed to Poznan, Poland to join in the UN climate change talks, and were rebuffed.
Rudolph C. Ryser — chief advisor to the late Assembly of First Nations Chief George Manuel and National Congress of American Indians President Joe DeLaCruz – attended the World Indigenous Peoples’ Forum in Poznan. Along with Indigenous Environmental Network director Tom Goldtooth and others — including Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp – Dr. Ryser composed a statement on behalf of the gathering to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. That statement, as noted, demanded the immediate suspension of carbon market schemes and other commercial initiatives that undermine Indigenous peoples’ human rights by commodifying the atmosphere, promoting privatization, and concentrating resources in the hands of oligarchs and transnational corporations.
During the thirty years that Chief Manuel, Joe DeLaCruz, and Rudolph Ryser labored together, they and their global network of associates advised Indigenous scholars, activists and leaders working on self-governance, economic development, resource protection, and educational opportunity on all continents–busy constructing the infrastructure for their peoples’ survival. Pursued with a perseverance remarkable for its resourcefulness, the Indigenous Peoples Movement has rapidly advanced from a mode of endurance to one of resilience. The history and future of this struggle for equality, as seen through the eyes of Indigenous intellectuals and leaders, is a dramatic journey to freedom for the world’s First Nations and Indigenous peoples, a story sure to inspire and provoke soul-searching thoughts among all humankind.
As invisible peoples, the one-third of humanity comprising Indigenous societies has viewed the development by colonial societies and successor states as not only anathema to their most fundamental values, but also as suicidal for all humankind. With the advent of global economic and environmental collapse, this Fourth World point of view has now been validated.
The Indigenous Peoples Movement involves a transformation of consciousness; evolution, not revolution. The ideas, values, and spirit of the ancient seed of humanity are characterized by the law of generosity. Much has been lost in the colonial experiment, and we all have suffered from the associated traumas. The original peoples are ready, willing, and able to show the world a better way; indeed, they are prepared to lead.
When the World Council of Indigenous Peoples held its inaugural meeting during October 1975 in Port Alberni, British Columbia (on Vancouver Island), it was laying the groundwork for international Indigenous bodies that we see today, such as the Coast Salish Gathering of Coast Salish Tribes and Nations that are challenging the governments of the United States and Canada to uphold their human rights as Indigenous peoples to protect the environmental integrity of their sacred homelands and waters, treaty and aboriginal rights, cultures and life ways from annihilation by the fossil fuel industry.
In so doing, they are provoking the dominant consumer societies of the First World to make their rhetoric about climate justice a reality as well. While it’s easy to blame the fossil fuel industry for cancerous pollution and catastrophic climate change, the mindless consumption of fossil fuels, petrochemicals, and petroleum-based plastic continues to demand that they produce ever greater volumes of these carcinogenic products that threaten all life on earth.
In the end, it is our choice, whether we want to go on living the industrial life style that pollutes our world, or make the changes necessary to end the insanity of industrialized suicide.