This column is in response to the condescending, paternalistic and colonialist column by Jay Taber, entitled, “Report From Sycuan” http://intercontinentalcry.org/report-from-sycuan/, that Intercontinental Cry published on March 23, 2013. I cannot recall reading such an incredible spew of ignorant, settler-privileged drivel in several years – and from an author who curiously describes himself as an ally to indigenous peoples.
It was quite auspicious that I was reviewing some writings on white, male privilege at the time that Taber’s column was forwarded to me. This passage from an open letter from a person of color to white progressives, seemed particularly appropriate:
White privilege has trained you white [men] since the spoon that you are an authority, THE authority. You know what’s best and right, whether you say it openly or not, because you’re white….You have been educated and given messages, oh nice white progressive/radical, your entire life that people of color don’t know our history and experiences and can’t possibly have the tools to critically understand the world around us or your behavior. You practice the teaching every day that we people of color are here for your use. (http://www.peopleofcolororganize.com/analysis/opinion/open-letter-white-progressivesradicals-bring-yard-open-reply-white-progressivesradicals/)
And this passage from anti-colonial scholar Denise Breton: Settler privilege contains all the mental, emotional, and material habits associated with taken for granted white privilege….[T]he decolonizing work begins here with naming these dynamics, so that [settler society] can engage in the lifelong work of breaking their hold.”
The quotes above are spot on with Taber’s “analysis,” given that his pontifications about the meeting of the North American Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus (NAIPC) at Sycuan, Kumeyaay Territory emerge entirely from a position of male, settler privilege. Never mind that he did not even attend the meeting (I participated as a delegate); never mind that he is acquainted with only a few of the NAIPC participants; never mind that he does not even know the actual purpose of the NAIPC gathering. Don’t bother him with any of the genuine facts – he, in his infinite wisdom, “knows” who are the “bad Indians,” what our motives are, and he believes that he has the right to lecture and chastise us. Sorry, Jay, those days are over. I noticed that Taber revised his initial, even more offensive, column trying to seek cover through inserting a few short quotes from Kenneth Deer. It didn’t work.
Typical of Taber’s paternalistic braying was his implied criticism of a respected indigenous leader, Debra Harry, who has been selected multiple times to coordinate numerous gatherings and meetings, including NAIPC. Ms. Harry was fighting, on the ground, to defend her own indigenous peoples’ territories, and all of our rights to self-determination, while Taber was still learning how to spell “indigenous.” Taber implied that somehow Ms. Harry was overlord of “the shambles” at NAIPC, which somehow prevented his friends from accomplishing their “important” work. Incidentally, by what right does Taber criticize indigenous women at all, and Debra Harry in particular? I’ll tell you by what right – by no right. Who does he think he is? After centuries of murder, abuse and marginalization of indigenous women by settler men – the days of disrespecting indigenous women are REALLY over.
While we’re on the subject, Mr. Know-It-All mentioned Debra Harry by name, but did he know that she had a NAIPC co-facilitator of the meeting? He might have heard of that co-facilitator, since one of Taber’s claims to fame is association with the Center for World Indigenous Studies (CWIS), which has a library that is dedicated to the work of the late Chief George Manual. As it happens, Debra Harry’s co-facilitator was George Manual’s SON, Arthur. Didn’t know that, did you, Jay? Or, perhaps you simply forgot to mention that in your self-serving tirade. In addition to the co-facilitators, there were four rapporteurs, recording the proceedings, and every delegate was free to speak at the microphone from the floor, at any time.
Another convenient fact that Taber omits from his ad hominem rant is that Debra Harry was selected, by consensus of the group, to serve as the representative to the Global Coordinating Group for the North American region, south of the Medicine Line (U.S./Canada border) for the 2013-2014 session. This was after the candidate that was advanced by Taber’s friends was forced to withdraw her nomination because of her past work with the CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (CIA)!http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/article/quinault-president,-fawn-sharp,-receives-highest-award-from-gonzaga-alums-145004. Really, we were supposed to support the candidacy of an admitted former CIA agent (but, hey, she’s a member of NCAI, and the president of an “indigenous government”) to represent indigenous peoples from the U.S. at the international meeting in Alta, Norway in June of this year? I don’t think so. Taber didn’t see fit to mention that little point of tension at the NAIPC meeting.
Now, let’s correct a few more of Taber’s other ridiculous assertions. He states, “the whole purpose of the [NAIPC] meeting was to prepare for the world conference.” Honk! Wrong. The purpose of the NAIPC meeting is, in large part, to discuss and coordinate the work of indigenous peoples at various international fora, including the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), and the Expert Mechanism. The high level plenary meeting (to which he erroneously refers as a World Conference) was only one of several issues for discussion on the NAIPC meeting agenda.
A salient point that Taber’s informant(s) from Sycuan failed to mention to him is that NAIPC, which, incidentally, is open to all indigenous people, and which has been meeting for several years prior to the annual UNPFII meeting at the UN in New York, had not yet decided to participate in the UN high level plenary meeting (the so-called World Conference). Last year, at the NAIPC meeting in Six Nations Territory (Niagara Falls), a decision whether or not to participate in the high plenary was tabled, awaiting the completion of the Modalities Resolution (a document outlining whether or not indigenous peoples were going to be allowed to participate in the meeting). Consequently, Taber’s friends from National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and CWIS arrived at Sycuan with the fallacious assumption that NAIPC had already decided to participate in the UN high level plenary, when no consensus decision on that point had ever been reached.
The debate about whether indigenous peoples should allow themselves to be used as window-dressing by the United Nations for its high level plenary meeting is worthy of additional debate (and another column, in and of itself). Even a cursory look at the Modalities Resolution that was finalized by the UN General Assembly on December 17, 2012, indicates that the high level plenary meeting is a sham.http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/476/58/PDF/N1147658.pdf?OpenElement
And, please Jay, stop calling the UN meeting a world conference – it is not a world conference; a world conference is infinitely more comprehensive, extensive and participatory by the peoples involved in the outcomes. The fact that the state powers pushing the high level plenary meeting are using the term “world conference” as a smokescreen, should be a tip-off of what is coming. The high level plenary meeting will not discuss the right to indigenous peoples’ self-determination, and it will allow a MAXIMUM of 200 indigenous peoples from around the world to even be in the UN building — less than a dozen of those will be allowed to speak, and those will be confined to short, informal (UN code for not officially part of the final report) breakout panel discussions. The entire high level plenary meeting will be a day and a half – nine total hours – compared to the actual UN World Conference on Racism that was held in Durban, South Africa in 2001, which was nine days (not nine hours), with active, vital participation from thousands of people from around the world, who participated in producing the outcome document, The Durban Declaration and Plan of Action.
Most importantly, the outcome document for the high level plenary meeting will be drafted and adopted SOLELY by UN state members, without the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples – a violation of one of the foundational principles of the past forty years of struggle by indigenous peoples in the international arena.
The purposes of the United States, Canada, and other settler states is clear – it is to subordinate the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to the domestic laws of their invader states, and to further domesticate indigenous peoples through what they call “best practices,” into settler state legal regimes. If indigenous peoples lend even their tacit consent to such a lopsided and racist process, it will provide a rationale for states to report that indigenous peoples have acquiesced to the settler state design of further assimilation and destruction of indigenous peoples.
One reason that there was so much tension at Sycuan was that the international revolution for the rights of indigenous peoples was not begun by NCAI or NARF – both of which, incidentally, are NGOs, a term that Taber consistently uses as a pejorative. It was begun by militants, and by those Taber so derisively and racistly labeled “juveniles, unaccustomed to diplomacy,” and “those who were frustrated by the policies of governing authorities,” indigenous resisters such as the American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee, and leaders like Russell Means, who began the International Indian Treaty Council, the first indigenous presence at the UN, beginning in 1974, the Six Nations and other traditional indigenous nations who were there from the beginning, and who demanded recognition of their passports and their leaders.
It was those malcontents who penned the Declaration of Continuing Independence, who advanced the creation of the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, the UN Study on Treaties and Constructive Agreements, and the toughest language, e.g., Article 3 on Self-Determination, Article 37 on treaties, and Article 19 on free, prior and informed consent in the UNDRIP. What the rebels did not include in the UNDRIP, and would never have accepted, was Article 46, on protecting the territorial integrity of invader states. Those indigenous delegates who acquiesced to that article betrayed the original principles of the work.
This leads us to Taber’s ridiculous notion that only indigenous governments can legitimately act to implement the UNDRIP. Mr. Taber, it is a DECLARATION – anyone can decide to endorse and implement it: states, indigenous governments, NGOs, your county government, the local Unitarian Church, your corner grocer down the street – anyone. Taber’s suggestion that everyone needs to clear the decks, so that indigenous governments can implement the UNDRIP is patently absurd – nothing is stopping them from doing so at anytime, but I doubt that more than a couple of dozen have even bothered to read the document seriously.
It was not NCAI or NARF who fought for the victories above; they stood on the sidelines until the heavy lifting was completed, and regularly ridiculed and criticized those of us who were doing the international work. If some of those indigenous/tribal governments now are ready to raise the standard of indigenous liberation and genuine, international freedom and self-determination, that’s great. It’s about time – but they are not going to push aside those of us who have fought continuously for the past forty years to achieve what few victories have been won. I am not suggesting that most of those indigenous governments that were at NAIPC wanted to do so, they seemed genuinely interested in future, inclusive collaboration. If that is the case, then let’s roll up our sleeves, have the tough ideological debates, and continue the difficult work of building a more free and liberated future for all indigenous peoples.
So, Mr. Taber, you would be well-served to check your own contributions to perpetuating the settler state mentality, get a little history lesson, get your facts straight before you ignorantly spout off, stop lecturing indigenous peoples about the correct course of action for us or our peoples, and stop trying to decide for us who should be included at the table, and who should be excluded.