Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Choctaw Ben Carnes: US Review of UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Statement of Ben Carnes, Choctaw Nation, on the United States of America's review of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
July 13,2010

Introduction

As an Indigenous man and organizer/activist for Native rights for the past 30 years, I've carried and developed many thoughts as to the relationship this government, called America, has had with the Indigenous Peoples of this land, that we still call ours. In order for you to fully understand my perceptions, you must know that I am not an American Indian, Native American, nor am I an American. I am a citizen of the Chahta (Choctaw) Nation, but first and foremost, I am a human being.

I say this because I know the centuries of dishonor that have been shown to us through your failure to uphold treaties, the doctrines that have been used against us in your courts of law and acts of Congress that have only served to dispossess us of our lands, culture/traditions, and sovereignty.

We have endured and survived centuries of attempts to assimilate us into a Diaspora of conflicting values and principles. We've been wrongly labeled as Americans through treaties and the 1924 American Indian Citizenship Act, despite our inalienable right to define who we are. Your government has replaced our traditional forms of government with the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, and other related acts. We are only left with an unrecognizable shell of our former selves. This is not acceptable.

When Obama went on the campaign trail, we heard many promises, and what we thought was an enlightened understanding, would finally open the doors to a long awaited sense of fairness and justice. Since the day he walked into the White House, we have seen just the opposite of those false promises. We've been promised a bigger piece of the "American Pie" before, however, as Winona Laduke has explained, “We don't want a bigger piece of the pie, we want a different pie.” This concept is what government has refused to acknowledge.

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted nearly three years ago, and it is not surprising to the First Nations, the Indigenous Peoples, that Canada and the United States have failed to support it. We are well aware of the legal ramifications this will have on these governments to wield control and power over our lands and resources. We feel it is time that we are truly treated as equal Nations to Nation, as Obama has promised.

With over 560 First Nations in the political boundaries of what is known as the United States, my following suggestions will only be the tip of the mountain in the manner the US can honorably begin dealing with the First Nations in the spirit of this Declaration.

Actions for Implementation

The following points are based on a real resolution of the wrongs perpetuated against the Indigenous caretakers of this land, and any reconciliation effort must include equal participation of the traditional leaders: Chiefs, Headsmen, Clan Mothers and spiritual leaders, etc. (not the IRA tribal councils & Chiefs)

1. The reliance upon the Doctrines of Discovery, Manifest Destiny and other instruments justifying the European immigrants claiming of the lands must be repudiated and/or held invalid. This includes numerous laws and acts of Congress, but not limited to the1871 Indian Appropriations Act and the
1934 Indian Reorganization Act, and the Indian Claims Commission, including other laws/acts that have worked to the detriment of the Indigenous Peoples.

2. Recognition of the sovereignty of the First Nations, as you afford to the sovereignty of France, England or any other country. This would begin to address the issues of holding our lands, resources and funds in trust. This recognition would entail recognizing and honoring treaties made with the First Nations, and the right to exercise and enforce the authority over the jurisdiction of our lands and territories. This would imply the termination of the trust status to manage our affairs and the need to eliminate the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and establish a First Nations Embassy.

3. The colonized nations of Hawai'i, Puerto Rico and others must be liberated and restored to their proper authority and jurisdiction, just as the First Nations here will expect. Once our nationhood is established, we can finally have a voice and vote within the United Nations.

This is the only honorable thing to do for all the Indigenous nations under occupation by the US Government so they may begin determining their own future and adding their voice to world affairs.

4. Convening a constitutional convention with representatives from the First Nations, and a request from traditional leaders of the Iroquois Confederacy to guide us through the process to establish a means of co-existing with each other. This is only appropriate because it was their Great Law that the US Constitution was based upon. However, it fell short in its construction.

Conclusion

As you can understand, this is by no means an exhaustive discourse on past wrongs. It represents what the US Government can do to uphold the spirit of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and a sincere step in reconciliation with actions. Indigenous nations do not need hollow or empty apologies as we have been patronized with in the past.

These points should be a starting point for including the Firsts Nations in the governance and direction that this country should take in world affairs. I realize that if the US acknowledges the wrongs and illusionary attempts to right wrongs in the past, they would be even in worse debt than the 13 trillion plus now.

For example, the Indian Claims Commission only awarded monetary compensation for stolen lands, however the only remedy for stolen lands is the return of stolen lands. The Government has attempted to settle out of court in the Cobell mismanagement of trust case, this amounts to nothing more than a cover up by the government. There must be an accounting and investigation into where the money went, and who authorized its misuse followed by prosecution where possible.

There is also the case of Leonard Peltier, I demand that his freedom be the first offering to demonstrate the US Government’s sincerity in dealing with us. I can understand the President may have a brief from the Justice Department detailing the case as being fair and just. However, there have been legal scholars from the world over who have examined the case and found that his trial was unfair and unjust. He has been widely recognized as a humanitarian, and I would ask that the President to call for a public debate on his case. We know the truth will bring about his freedom and expose lies and criminal acts by the government.

The State Department became involved in 1984 because of international outrage that he was being denied the right to practice his spiritual beliefs. At that time, Leonard Peltier undertook a spiritual fast as the only form left to him with two other men. I'm sure you can find records of that in your files.

I believe that the US has reached a critical juncture in history with the state of the economy, the Gulf Disaster and two ongoing wars, possibly a third, that it cannot afford to dismiss the points raised in this statement. Just as when the first wave of immigrants came from Europe, they needed us to survive here, now the US needs us to help survive the dangerous circumstances that are apparent today.

We know about survival, we have survived so much in the form of assimilation, racism, and genocide. We've been marginalized outside of mainstream America, unless we put on beads and feathers and dance for the tourists. As the first environmentalists, we were dismissed as superstitious heathens. When we spoke about living in balance with the land, we were called uncivilized. Then you pointed your bayonets and cannons at our children and told us we had to move to far away lands. Yes, we understand survival, and even when you outlawed our culture and spiritual practices over a hundred years ago, those ways survived your laws and missionaries, and we still continue to come together.

We are now in 2010, 518 years after Columbus brought his mentality of greed to this hemisphere, and we have survived so much. I believe it is time that, as the First Nations, your government works with us to build a confederacy of First Nations and descendants of immigrants that will fix the mess this country is in. You will never be able to do it without us, through the form of government you practice now.

I would be more than happy to come and present additional testimony at a later date, along with assisting in developing a framework to help bring the points into reality. We are looking for substance in the implementation of the Declaration, we don't need crumbs from your leftovers, nor do we want to be further patronized. If your government truly wants to serve the people, and thereby save itself, then you need us, the Indigenous Peoples of this land.

Sincerely,
Ben Carnes
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