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The Right Direction
Elder Indigenous woman takes part in march for world peace in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico. The Indigenous Peoples’ march was led by Bishop Felipe Arizmendi on March 14, 2003, days before the U.S. began its “official” bombing of Iraq. Chiapas, Mexico 2003 photo: Langelle/GJEP
By Jay Taber
Apr 11, 2013
As I observed in See the Light, the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus is in a quandary over how to proceed after its failure to achieve a consensus at its March 1 meeting in Sycuan. With the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues expecting a report from NAIPC before its document consolidation meeting next month in Madrid, some of the NGOs participating in the NAIPC don’t know what to do.
With the Global Preparatory Conference looming in Alta, Norway in June, some NGO leaders have suggested making something up–creating the illusion of consensus where none exists. Alas, that, too, is an idea doomed in advance. While it might be uncomfortable for some to admit, Sycuan was a failure, and that is the only honest thing to report.
As evidenced by the official invitation, sent from NAIPC Co-Coordinators Debra Harry and Arthur Manuel to indigenous peoples and nations for the North American Indigenous Peoples Preparatory Meeting in Sycuan, this preparatory meeting for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples was to be held on February 28 and March 1.
Also in the invitation, is notice of a separate meeting for the NAIPC to be held March 2 and 3. There is no clarification of the different functions of the two separate meetings, nor why the caucus would be in charge of both events if one event was for both the caucus and tribal governing authorities, and one event was for the caucus only.
Nor is there any description of what the caucus is, or how it derived its powers. If ever there was a recipe for confusion, this invitation would be it.
Now that the meeting in Sycuan and its aftermath have blown up in Harry and Manuel’s faces, they seem to be attempting to salvage their failure as the coordinators at Sycuan by promoting the idea that the decisions made by a small group of NGOs at the exclusive March 2 and 3 meeting is somehow representative of North American Indigenous Peoples. It is not, and no amount of sophistry can change that. They can send their report to the UN, and pretend it is legitimate, but that would in essence be fraud.
Sometimes NGOs are so results-driven that they can’t imagine saying something so simple as we failed; we reached no consensus. Yet, that is what is necessary in order to move forward. Admit failure, then ask yourself why. That way, you can avoid failing again. It’s not the end of the world.
As Oldwoman Bear remarks at the NAIPC list serv, good points have been raised regarding a need to look at the way things are done. “As Treaty Nations,” she states, “we have long been concerned about the issue of Free, Prior and Informed Consent [and that] applies not only to state governments but to organizations that attempt to speak for Indigenous Nations without proper authorization. We are not an organization”, she says, ” we are Nations.”
As Oldwoman Bear reminds them, “Indigenous Peoples are spiritual peoples – we always have to remember who we are – as spiritual peoples – we have asked spirits to help us with the work ahead – to my mind – it is too late to start thinking about changing that decision. If we start playing around with the spirits – we can cause problems for ourselves and the future generations – so it is with great respect that I write this email – think about our future generations – think about what will happen if we constantly change our minds after the gatherings because things did not go your way – think about it – because it might be the right direction that cannot be seen in the immediate time after the gathering – so take the time and reflect – we need to think together for the future generations – that was the meaning of the ceremonies at the beginning of the gathering – it was to bring our minds together – it was not a “ceremony” for the sake of a “ceremony” – it was for a purpose – it is for us to understand and work with it. ”
As Richard C. Powless of Wolf Clan, Mohawk Nation suggests, “I still think its time we started to push for change in the international/UN/Indigenous process. Why,” he asks, “are we content to be forced to come up with just ONE position for the over 100+ Indigenous Governments in North America? The UN member states aren’t forced to come up with one position. Its time we pushed for each Indigenous Government to speak for themselves.”
Powless goes on to say, “The issue of who is or represents an Indigenous Government is our business and in itself will not be an easy task and will take some time to sort out, but it won’t happen if it doesn’t start. Maybe an interim solution,” he suggests, “is to continue with the NA Indigenous Peoples forum but also to start a North American Indigenous Governments’ forum.”
[Jay Taber is an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, an author, and a contributing editor of Fourth World Journal. Since 1994, he has served as the administrative director of Public Good Project.]