Sunday, February 28, 2010

Indigenous Peoples Reclaiming Their Rights

The 370 million indigenous people around the world are beginning to reclaim the rights they once had. Most were the victim of Social Darwinism where with natural selection the stronger subdues and subjugates the weaker. We have found this repeated in North & South America, Africa, across the Pacific and to the indigenous people in Europe and Asia. This attitude of the oppressor changed when the United Nations General Assembly adopted The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on September 13, 2007. This spurred the surge of indigenous people reclaiming their rights.[1]

Just recently the Natives in Noorvik, Alaska were regaining reinstituting ancient traditions banned by missionaries. Quakers who came to spread Christianity declared traditional dancing evil. At the Cup’ik Eskimo village of Chevak, native dancing was banned by the Russian Catholic Church but revived 20 years ago. When the council at Noorvik found out they would be one of the first communities to be counted by the US census, they wanted to demonstrate their native dance and culture when the federal officials arrived. Even the Christian churches are backing the shift saying that they will be going to a place in the afterlife where we all sing and dance to the Lord. The reintroduction of the dance is significant because dancing has never been done in the current location of Noorvik, which means "a place that is moved to" in Inupiaq.[2]

Native Hawaiians are also trying to regain the rights that were stolen from them in the 1893 coup by native-born descendants of US immigrants backed by US Marines and the Cruiser Boston. Congress has introduced a bill that will allow Native Hawaiians to have a separate government with federal land being redistributed to the people. After years of figurative fighting, the voices of indigenous Hawaiians have finally been heard. The bill will define “Native Hawaiians” as a distinct ethnic group that can trace its lineage directly to indigenous inhabitants of the island prior to 1893. Although some are still fighting the issue, the Governor of Hawaii is strongly supportive.[3]

The indigenous people of Canada also have been struggling. “The Lil'wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations' journey began in 1997.”[4] The recent Olympics have shown that they are no longer “Dime-Store Indians” and are contributors to the nation. The Canadian government had wanted to assimilate them and had outlawed their culture and their language. This is all beginning to change and the First Nations of Canada are trying to their place in the nation. The 633 nations of Canada are now trying to find a new method of partnership.[5]

In Northern New York the Akwesasne Reservation and the Kahnawake Reservation along with other tribes of the Hodenosaunee’s six nations are asserting their rights to control the membership of the nations and who can live on their reservations. They have been accused of being racist but in reality they are just trying to take back control that has been ebbing over time. “At Akwesasne, as is true on other Mohawk territories, having "status" is as precious as it is precarious. Precisely who is considered a Mohawk is a four-step process involving blood quantum, family relations, quality of character, and communal standing. At Akwesasne a person might be 100 per cent native genetically but if they do not adhere to the social standards of the community they might be excluded or expelled.”[6] The US has come to the point where they allow the Native nations a great deal of latitude over their internal affairs, however this is not the same in the province of Québec. As the Mohawks try to solidify their community at Kahnawake, the Canadians view it as racist. “One Quebec writer asked whether the evictions were ‘ethnic cleansing,’ or simply ‘downright racism.’ Federal Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl says he is ‘uncomfortable’ with the evictions. But Strahl admitted there was nothing illegal about them -- and probably nothing the government could do.”[7] It is interesting to note that Québec has no qualms with their own past and the terrible way the First Nations were treated there in the past.

We finally see Native groups reasserting their rights. Even in South America various indigenous groups are moving forward. An example is the Wayúu people who are rebuilding their culture and moving forward in modernizing their lives after being oppressed by various governments.

I applaud the efforts of the Native people around the world to rebuild their nations and to take their rightful place in the world. It is about time that the world recognizes what has occurred and what the idea of Social Darwinism has done to so many. The rest of us, non-Natives, should remember our past of imperialism and the way we destroyed entire peoples. The strongest and the majority are not always right.

[1] UN. "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People." New York: United Nations, 2007.

[2] D'oro, Rachel. Alaska Village among Native Communities Reclaiming Ancient Traditions Banned by Missionaries. Nation. Los Angeles Times, 2010. Accessed February 21,. Available from,0,4992523.story.

[3] D'oro, Rachel. Alaska Village among Native Communities Reclaiming Ancient Traditions Banned by Missionaries. Nation. Los Angeles Times, 2010. Accessed February 21,. Available from,0,4992523.story.

[4] Moore, Dennis. Canadian Aboriginal Tribes Want Benefits to Extend Beyond Olympics. USA Today, 2010. Accessed. Available from

[5] Ibid.

[6] George-Kanentio, Doug. Why Mohawks Are Kicking Non-Natives Off the Reserve. The Gazette, 2010. Accessed. Available from

[7] Cudmore, James. Are Recent Kahnawake Eviction Notices Racist? CBC News: The National, 2010. Accessed. Available from

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