Tag Archives: Language

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

Advertisements

Day 31- Connecting the Dots

As Women’s History Month wraps up today I want to express my deep gratitude for all of the support I have felt from readers over the past 31 days. I hope that you have enjoyed the discussions and have learned something. I also hope that you can see how interconnected every individual’s struggle for justice is with everyone else’s. I welcomed you all to Feminist Activism with this quote by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As I conclude my personal goal of writing everyday, I want to focus on the overarching ideas of justice and equality.

In the web of humanity everyone’s fate is intertwined with everyone else’s, so even if we personally are not facing injustice or persecution, we must stand up for those who are. Fighting to secure basic rights and freedoms for everyone will someday protect you, or someone you love. This statement by Pastor Martin Niemöller comes to mind.

Human rights covers a huge range of things, from women’s rights to access to education to the rights of the disabled to access to health care, etc. Merely fighting for each individual human being to have equal access and opportunity will not fix what is wrong with our world though. Environmental issues and the rights of other species to not only exist but to thrive need to be priorities as well, for even the most equal of societies will fall if the planet cannot sustain it.

A look into one individual’s life will clearly illustrate how dependent all living beings are on each other. Let’s look at an average white American woman: 30s-40s, two teenagers and a shelter rescue dog, one expensive abortion, Christian with no time for church, divorced because her alcoholic ex-husband broke too many of her ribs, high school graduate, working class–living paycheck to paycheck, no retirement fund to speak of, paying a mortgage, lives in the suburbs downwind from her job, tries to help take care of her disabled mother who lives in a run-down nursing home, health insurance only covers cervical cancer screenings every two years instead of the recommended annual screenings, her gay brother lives with her because he was forced out of his home when his partner passed away and their home was automatically given to the legal “next of kin,” her mid-90s car has tons of miles on it and is just as hard on her wallet as it is on the environment, and her best friend is the Mexican woman with whom she can barely communicate who is charged with her mother’s care. This story of “middle America” could go on and on.

Every aspect of an individual’s life–sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, education, class, religion, ability, language, environment, legal status, criminal record, and age–affects her/his reality. Each of these factors individually can be cause for discrimination but when more than one factor is “abnormal” the individual can feel hopeless. The norm for American society is male, white, straight, man, some college, middle-upper class, Christian, nondisabled, English-speaking, suburban, US citizen, non-convict, 30s-40s. Imagine how harsh someone’s reality is if these are the facts: female, Latino, bisexual, transgender FTM, some high school, working class, atheist, disabled, Spanish-speaking, urban, undocumented, ex-convict, 60s. Obviously this is an extreme case of being at the bottom of the food chain but this man does exist, many times over!

Let’s go back to our “average” American woman. Her Christian upbringing lead her to get married at age 20 and have children by age 22. After her youngest child went to school she tried to get back into receptionist work but found she had been out of the game too long and no one would hire her. The family couldn’t survive on her husband’s paycheck alone so she took an entry-level job at a manufacturing plant where she was often sexually harassed for being a woman and doing a “man’s job.” Despite missing work for three weeks because her husband put her in the hospital, she worked her way up in the union and, since she left her husband, luckily makes enough money to get by every month. Her brother helps with some of the bills but his employers give him just enough hours to qualify for health insurance, out of pity, because they know if he ever lost his health insurance his HIV status would make him “uninsurable.” Her children, whom she would sacrifice anything for, are in high school, sexually active, average students, mildly involved in extra-curricular activities. She’s straight but sometimes wonders what it would be like to be with a woman. Her mother’s illnesses are taking a toll on her and the Mexican caretaker at the nursing home is the only person she feels comfortable being honest with, partly because she believes the caretaker can’t understand her. She’s been having some pains in her stomach lately which could be attributed to cervical cancer or could be a result of years of inhaling pollution, but she can’t afford to take the time off work to see a doctor during normal business hours, and couldn’t afford her co-payment anyway.

We must all fight each other’s battles. My only word of caution is not to fight for what we think someone else wants, but to fight for what she says she wants, otherwise we’re repeating colonialism all over again. If you are interested in fighting injustice in any (or all) of its many forms, get involved in your community. The old feminist adage to “think globally and act locally” is still true. Always consider what effect your actions will have on the global community and start to make changes in your life and at the local level. This explanation may help.

Some organizations with whom you can explore the birdcage of oppression include The Connect the Dots Movement focused on human, animal and environmental well-being, The Connect the Dots Network which teaches green/sustainable environmental practices to social justice non-profits, 100% Renewable Energy that explains the folly in ageist discrimination in relation to the environmental movement, Counter Quo which examines how a multitude of factors compound oppression and sexual violence, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights that is a legal service that understands how race and security issues affect environmental issues, and L.O.V.E. Living Opposed to Violence and Exploitation which explores the necessary links between veganism and feminism, and on combating speciesism, racism, sexism and rape culture.

Tomorrow is April 1st and the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I will not be writing everyday but hope to be able to post at least 2-3 times per week, so check back often for new discussions, or subscribe so you’ll automatically be notified when I post something new. As always, any ideas, links, information, etc. is more than welcome. Thanks y’all. Keep fighting the good fight!


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.


%d bloggers like this: