Tag Archives: Indigenous women

Giving Back for Native American Heritage Month

Paint It RedMost people in the United States automatically equate November with Pilgrims & “Indians” and Thanksgiving, and while the tide of cognizant adults is turning, there are still millions of people in the USA who do not acknowledge our country’s horrific, genocidal, colonial history. I’ve written about Native American women’s activism in the States before, but today I want to bring your attention to Native American Heritage Month, and a few things you can do to help improve the lives of Native Americans still reeling from centuries of slaughter, forced migration, forced assimilation, and modern political policies like forced sterilization that deepen the mistrust indigenous folks have against white colonizers. While we all might not be able to give back the land our ancestors stole, there are a number of other things we can do to support our Original American neighbors. Today is also the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the kickoff of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

Thankskilling

While the sentimentality of a holiday to show gratitude for what we have is nice, we can’t deny the roots of Thanksgiving, which is why many Native American families and activists see the holiday as anything but something to be thankful for. The most important thing you as an individual can do to combat the mistruths we’re taught in school is to educate yourself and others as to the realities facing Native communities on a daily basis. It’s also important to be honest with children of all colors and races about the origins of our country and our holidays. One way to show your support for indigenous communities is to wear red on Friday, November 27th, and use the hashtags #NativeLivesMatter and #IdleNoMore on social media.

Day of Mourning

Native children, as they have under the Bureau of Indian Affairs for decades, also face incredible obstacles in achieving an education. Suicide rates amongst Native youth are astronomical, but all young people of color are much less hopeful to live to age 35 than their white peers. With South Dakota frequently taking Native American children from their families to place them in foster care (because the state earns money for every child under state care) the Lakota People’s Law Project is demanding that President Obama take action. You can sign their petition here.

Refugees_

Another petition you should sign is this one to stop the flooding of Winnemem Wintu’s last sacred location. While Obama has been lauded by many as a leader on environmental issues for not allowing the Keystone XL pipeline project to be built, there’s always room for improvement, and a delegation of more than 45 indigenous leaders from across the continent are making their way to Paris for the UN Climate Talks. Environmental issues are a major factor impacting the health, sovereignty and survivability of many Native American tribes. The President is also the target of demonstrations this weekend to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, an American Indian Movement (AIM) activist charged with the murders of two FBI agents and the fierce AIM activist Anna Mae Aquash.

Kahnawake

Unfortunately, despite an incredible history of strong, warrior women and equality for all sexes/genders in many Native cultures throughout the continent, murders of Native American and First Nations women are still rampant and sex trafficking regularly occurs with impunity. Follow the controversy with #MMIW which stands for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Native American women also deal with domestic violence and sexual assault at astounding rates. No better example of “the personal is political” exists than that of environmental degradation of fracking in North Dakota and its impact on the levels of violence against women and girls in the area. But Native women definitely aren’t giving up; they’re fighting back by creating safe spaces like Tewa Women United, the Four Directions Clinic on the infamous Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and the first-ever Native American birthing center, planned to open in New Mexico within three years. With only 14 Native American certified midwives throughout the entirety of the US, you can see why such a project is necessary–donate to it here.

Tweet TruthI owe my initial understanding and appreciation of other cultures to an elementary school classmate’s family. They are Me-wuk, and in my small public school in Northern California, took every opportunity they could to educate our class and our school. Native dancers came and performed for us and we took field trips to learn about them. Officially replacing the derogatory name “Digger Indians” placed on them by the invading gold miners, Miwok became the tribe’s official name in 1924. Although I have written before about how language shapes our realities, and I talk a lot about the importance of naming, labels and respecting identities, many readers may not know that I have a degree in Linguistics. I’ve studied 7 languages, including two indigenous languages, Nahuatl–the language of the Aztecs, and Miwok. Studying indigenous languages is a revolutionary act, especially because of the abhorrent relationship between Native Americans and their languages that white colonizers perpetuate to this day.

Map

Studying a new language can give us a totally new understanding, by making us view the world through a different lens. In the course where I studied Miwok, other students were studying other languages, and I learned that many Indigenous languages group nouns based on shape–round, flat, long, etc. It’s also important to consider that many Native cultures understand their actions as affecting Seven Generations, and thus feel personally and politically obligated to take both their ancestors’ accomplishments and their offsprings’ futures into account. One way to ensure that Native Americans in our communities are not “in the past tense” is to do whatever we can to keep their unique languages from dying.

Marie's Dictionary

Marie Wilcox (right), the last fluent speaker of Wukchumni

National Geographic’s Enduring Voices Project shows that two areas of the United States are currently suffering from high to severe threat levels for the extinction of unique Indigenous languages, although even languages like Lakota with 6,000 speakers are still not safe. The Pacific Northwest is home to 54 Native languages, but many of them are on the verge of dying out completely. A Canadian project working to combat this is First Voices, which maps and archives Indigenous languages with soundbites and written dictionaries. Further down the coast the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival work with UC Berkeley to document languages, and also created an incredible Master Apprentice Program for individuals to learn directly from speakers of Native languages. The other area of the United States where Indigenous languages are threatened with extinction is the Oklahoma-Southwest region, home to 43 different languages, including Euchee, a language isolate, meaning it doesn’t belong to any language family. Euchee only has five remaining speakers–to donate to the Euchee Language Project consider a recurring gift to Cultural Survival.

 

Cartoon

I know I’ve included a lot of plugs for donations in this post, but really it’s the least you could do. The Dolores Project homeless shelter could use your help as well. If giving money is totally not an option at this point though, supporting Indigenous artists in all media is a good place to start. You can play the unique Never Alone, the first Alaska Native videogame, buy fashions from these Native designers instead of appropriating their themes from big box stores, listen to these seven rising Native American musicians, learn from this intrepid mapmaker and his incredible work, and support Matika Wilbur’s photography with Project 562. If you’re in Santa Fe in mid-August, be sure to check out the Indigenous Fine Arts Market. There are also tons of Native American authors you can read and learn from. Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach was really poignant for me. If you’d rather watch your storytelling, here is a list of 84 films by and about women of color, and if you’re branching further south, 4 documentaries about indigenous Mexicans. Now go forth, and dismantle colonialism!

Wilbur_SelfPort_ Tulalip News

Photographer Matika Wilbur (c) Tulalip News

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Day 30- Indigenous Rights

Indigenous women all over the world face discrimination on multiple levels on a daily basis and historically were systematically targeted for extinction through rape and slaughter. Indigenous women may utilize many labels to identify themselves such as Native, First Peoples, First Nations, Aboriginal, etc. but for continuity’s sake I will use the label Indigenous throughout this post. I was unaware that March 21 is celebrated as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, but it is, and was celebrated by Dialogue Between Nations, “an interactive global communications network and an educational forum….”

Earlier this month we have seen examples of Indigenous women’s activism in the US, Peru, and Oceania. While the challenges of each individual woman across the globe are specific to her life and circumstances, some issues almost universally affect Indigenous women. According to Wikipedia some 300-350 million Indigenous people, making up roughly 6% of the total population, inhabit more than 70 countries around the world and represent more than 5,000 distinct peoples. Climate change, gender-based violence, poverty, legal obstacles, and linguistic discrimination are the most common issues affecting Indigenous women worldwide.

Linguistic discrimination: As a linguist the rate of extinction of Indigenous languages physically pains me; as a humanitarian the loss of the worldviews associated with these languages is traumatizing. Many, if not most Indigenous peoples are denied their right to speak their native languages, and this fact plays a role in all other forms of discrimination against Indigenous women from housing and education to health care and democratic representation. The amazing group Cultural Survival is one of many that focuses on linguistic justice, among other issues, in the fight for Indigenous rights.

Climate change and environmental issues: This 1995 declaration by Indigenous women at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing explores the effects of biocolonialism on Indigenous women. There is a long history of discrimination against the Igorot peoples of Cordillera in the Philippines, especially with regard to land rights, unsustainable farming, and soil erosion. This article discusses the potential impact of REDD+ on Indigenous women. United Nations Radio has aired this piece about deforestation and property rights of Indigenous women. In honor of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network issued this statement underscoring the needs of Indigenous women in relation to the environment.

Gender-based violence: For all its positive traits, Canada’s dirty little secret are the disappearances of Indigenous women that are chronicled by Amnesty International and many other organizations. The ongoing saga of the murder of Native American activist Anna Mae Aquash is chronicled by Indigenous Women for JusticeWomen’s Campaign International explains the violence that Arhuaco and other indigenous women of Colombia face due to internal conflict here. Amnesty International also speaks out against sexualized violence against Indigenous women in the US.

Poverty: Also in 1995, in Guatemala, this Agreement on the Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples was drawn up. The New York-based Indigenous Women’s Fund of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum has a concise and thoughtful plan of action for helping Indigenous women from around the world overcome the poverty that has been imposed on them. International Funders for Indigenous Peoples is also an international funding organization working for Indigenous peoples’ rights. This concise article from genderaction.org highlights the problems Indigenous women face as a result of “gender-blind” approaches to finance from International Financial Institutes. From here you can download Indigenous & Tribal People’s Rights in Practice produced by the International Labor Organization.

Health issues: The UN Population Fund, UNFPA, has produced this report on empowering Indigenous women with regard to reproductive rights. Another group dealing with reproductive justice for Indigenous women is the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center. The Indigenous Portal is one group that recognizes the interconnection of Indigenous peoples’ land degradation and lack of reproductive justice.

Human Rights and legal obstacles: Native Planet is one of many NGOs working for the socio-political rights of all the world’s Indigenous peoples. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will hold its 10th session May 16-27 2011 in New York. From 2002, this paper highlights some of the issues faced by Indigenous women in Africa, and has recommendations for ways to improve Indigenous women’s rights. Here is a Guide to Indigenous Women’s Rights Under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), published in 2004. A 2005 factsheet on the rights of Indigenous Canadian women on- and off-reservation can be found here. Many groups in Canada, including the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, participated in the first National Aboriginal Women’s Summit NAWS I in 2007. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs recommends the now out-of-printIndigenous Women: The Right to a Voice edited by Diana Vinding. Here is a list of articles dealing with Indigenous women’s rights in Canada. This project of the UN Development Program addressed Indigenous women’s rights in Asia. Oxfam also works for the rights of Indigenous women, like Calel from Guatemala. The Aotearoa Indigenous Rights Trust works for the rights of Indigenous Maori people in New Zealand. The Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee works across the African continent for the rights of Indigenous peoples there. Finally, the Society for Threatened Peoples (Gesellschft für bedrohte Völker in the original German) tackles everything from political imprisonment and land rights to slavery and environmental degradation.


Day 25- SisterSong

To the readers who know me personally, the lack of discussions surrounding sex and reproductive rights and health has probably been puzzling. Sex, sexual rights, and sexual health are some of the areas about which I am most passionate. As Jean Kilbourne states in Killing Us Softly, sex is both more important and less important, than the advertising industry shows. I have not delved into sex/sexuality yet because it is such an intense topic and I have to be mentally prepared for it. Sunday’s blog will go in depth into the fight for sexual/reproductive rights in the US.

Today I want to introduce you to SisterSong, an amazing organization that is “building a movement for reproductive justice.” Reproductive justice is one of my favorite phrases in the English language. Put simplyRJ is “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights.” In other words, reproductive justice explores women’s sexuality and reproductive health while fighting for individuals’ rights to make fully-informed decisions regarding every aspect of life from education to employment to the environment.

SisterSong is a Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. I know that all sounds really hippy feminist, and it is, but hear me out.  Let’s break it down: women of color includes any and all women who are marginalized by the imposed, socially-constructed racial heirarchy in the US, usually anyone who is not or does not appear to be white and does not benefit from the privileges of whiteness; reproductive justice, again, is a social movement that seeks to teach an understanding of sexual and reproductive health and rights issues as it relates to the framework of oppression women face in the US, including poverty, racism, ableism, ageism, and homophobia, in addition to sexism; finally, collective underscores the need for solidarity amongst women to not fall prey to the imperialist tactic of divide and conquer, as SisterSong explains: doing collectively what we cannot do individually.

The Goose Story explains members’ clear committment to the work they are doing and how vital a community of support can be. The SisterSong community includes Southern RJ Activists, the Latina Encuentro, Trust Black Women and these member organizations. SisterSong also produces Collective Voices, “the only national newspaper addressing reproductive health created and distributed by and for women of color….” They also recommend these publications and articles.

July 14-17 this year SisterSong will host its 2011 Let’s Talk About Sex Conference in Miami Beach. The theme this year is Love, Legislation and Leadership. Sistersong also offers three different levels of RJ training which are aimed at audiences of 10-20 people.

If you would like to support the work SisterSong does to end racial oppression and sexism you have a few options: you can register for their training sessions so that you will be more prepared and able to discuss RJ with anyone who will listen; you can donate to Trust Black Women to help continue the fight against racist billboards aimed at shaming black women into not asserting their right to choose; you can donate to help preserve Mother House, the historic home offices of SisterSong in Atlanta, Georgia; or you can donate to SisterSong’s Women of Color Scholarship Program to ensure that “women of color, working class communities, immigrant communities, and young women and students” have access to information and services surrounding SisterSong’s work.


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