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Indigenous People and Our Declarations

The last several weeks, I’ve been traveling to Indian conferences and on work-related trips to Port Gamble, Muckleshoot amd Nez Perce. During the National Congress of American Indians convention, I listened to keynote presenters discussing where we are at with the implementation of the U.N. Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People and I wondered how we as tribal educators could do more with the declaration in our tribal communities.

You can read the declaration here: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/en/declaration.html

At each of the NWIC sites, that I visited I saw the UN Declaration in action. I think of the declaration as a great tree, with it’s roots our identities, it’s trunk our shared values and knowledge and it’s branches all of our unique, worldwide indigenous cultures and people, I am able then to “see” the local, national and international political and social actions that are needed to make the declaration a living document for our use in our reservation, rural and urban communities in this country. The focus on relationships and kinship, spirituality, cultures and Native languages and on bringing our own ways of knowing to the classroom and to the table is the roots of our Declaration tree. I witnessed the shared commitment of our faculty and students toward supporting an environment where students’ identities are affirmed and their ability to protect our resources and strengthen our self-governance is the focus of their education.

One young woman told of growing up in an urban community and not having the opportunity to learn much about herself as a Coast Salish person. Her tribal college education gave her access to her shared history with other tribal people, to indigenous knowledge about arts, foods, medicines, and health and helped her connect with her own relatives. This experience is a declaration of identity, it is the heart of the UN Declaration. It makes the UN Declaration more meaningful to our daily lives.

We have a high risk of losing the most precious and necessary pieces of who we are – our lands, languages and connections to the Creator. The UN Declaration is a shared statement of Indigenous people, we would do a great service to ourselves as Native people and with our allies, to pay attention to the Declaration.

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