Young Warriors and the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Navajo Michelle Cook, 23, recently returned to the Navajo Nation from the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. Michelle also was recently was a member of a peace delegation to Iran.
Prepared by Michelle Cook
At the seventh session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, over 3,000 indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, and intergovernmental agencies gathered to discuss some of the greatest concerns and challenges facing indigenous peoples and communities. These include but are not limited to human rights violations, racial discrimination, health, education, political and international borders, migration, access to water and its privatization, the military industrial complex, lands and natural resources, women, and children. The special theme of this years Forum was Climate, Bio-Cultural Diversity and Livelihoods
Indigenous youth were very active within the UNPFII's working collectively on numerous interventions and statements.The indigenous youth found that we in particular are vulnerable to and suffer from a wide range of human rights violations.
In our conversations we spoke to our experiences that include the inability to speak indigenous languages as seen in English only policies of the United States, the inability to identify and be recognized as a people as with the Puyuma of Taiwan, to environmental degradation as seen in the nuclear pollution and chemical exposure of indigenous communities in Russia.
Indigenous youth in many parts of the world also are experiencing blatant state sanctioned genocide and are legally denied fundamental rights to life as illustrated in the ongoing human rights crisis resulting from the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of the North Eastern Region of India. Under the authority of this legislation indigenous youth, women, men, and children of Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya, and the whole region of North Eastern Indian are routinely brutally, viciously, and legally murdered at the behest of the Indian government by the hands of the Indian army. Indigenous youth from this region request that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act be immediately repealed, that political prisoners such as Irom Chanu Sharmila be released, and that the international community condemn this genocidal legislation that allows the murder of innocent people and simultaneously denies them judicial remedies and recourse to justice.
Testimony from the Middle East concerning Balochistan an area divided between Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, depicted yet another instance of cultural oppression of the indigenous peoples and youth in Iran. Ms. Monireh Sulimani an exiled Baloch from west Balochistan who works for an NGO, Balochistan Peoples Party, http://www.balochpeople.org/ said, "I have all my family in Balochistan besides mom, dad and my two younger sisters. Life in Balochistan is hard, people live under hard conditions, since most Baloch adhere to Sunni Islam and Iran is a Shia Islamistic country Baloch people are treated as third class citizens. My desire and hope I to be able to see that my cousins back in Balochistan be entitled to the fundamental rights, human rights, and right to identity".
Additionally, the situation of young Balochistan members of the Voice of Justice of the Young People's Society a Baloch cultural association was shared. Mr. Ya'qub Mehrnehad, a student, journalist and civil activist, was tried in secret and convicted to death for an unknown offence in February 2008. He has allegedly been tortured and is currently on facing the death penalty without access to his family members or a lawyer. His younger brother, Ibrahim Mehrnehad, is also in jail and was also denied access to his family or to a lawyer.
From Turtle Island (United States) Marcus Briggs one of the youngest speakers of the Muskogee language delivered the Indigenous Youth Statement on Language stating, "Language is not used solely as mean of communication, rather it encompasses intricate complexities of our identity. Language is essential in shaping our worldviews as indigenous young people, and we do not deserve, nor can we afford to walk this earth without the opportunity to embrace our own language…and right here in the United States where 'English only" legislation denies our existence as indigenous peoples". Upon hearing these words the indigenous peoples of the Permanent Forum rejoiced, the people shook rattles, and from the balcony war cries could be heard, everyone let out a roars of approval and admiration.
Another indigenous youth Mr. Jorge Quilaqueo a Machi (Shaman/Healer) of the Mapuche people of the lands now known as Chile gave his intervention stating, "We the young Mapuche who, with the help of our good ancestral spirits recommend to this Forum of the United Nation that it intercede with the State of Chile so that the latter will respect Human rights, the rights of my Autonomous Mapuche Nation and our former Parliament and Treaties, and so that it will stop attacking our Mother Earth…We are not terrorists for defending what belongs to us and to our grandparents. The State of Chile uses the tool of terrorism because it is afraid and because it knows full well that we, the Mapuche, are the owner and administrators of the territory as established by our Parliaments in peace agreements signed by the former Mapuche chiefs. So it was willed by our Father Creator". Many indigenous youth in the way of their ancestors continue to articulate rights using a western rights based systems but also using a discourse of spiritual rights and responsibilities based within indigenous legal systems and indigenous customary law.
Michael Paul Hill a Chiricahua Apache singer and spiritual activist delivered the intervention on behalf of the Lipan Apaches Women Defense stating, "on behalf of the Apache land defenders from El Calaboz ranchería, El Polvo village (Redford) and the San Carlos Apache Communities. We as Indigenous border communities with traditional territories along the now US/MEX border corridor, along with our non-indigenous neighbors in the southwestern border region of United States and northern Mexico, stand against the political and physical walls, barricades, and fencing that the United States is constructing at this very moment… There are currently over 18,000 U.S. soldiers occupying our border communities with a buildup of up to 75,000 by 2010, and an estimated 8-10,000 Mexican soldiers currently deployed in the border towns and villages positioned for crackdowns on civil society indigenous protests against the construction of a Berlin-style wall which is dissecting Yaqui, O'odham, Opata, Mayo, Cocopah communities along the border. Indigenous women are particularly targeted by violence that militarization culture imposes on the U.S.-Mexico conflict region evidenced by the 4000+ disappeared and murdered women of Juarez and other border towns… We respectfully request that the UNPFII consider our recommendations to take an intersectional approach to climate change that involves consideration of militarization, industrialization, gender, and environmental degradation in the U.S.-Mexico militarized zone of occupation and conflict. ??Ahi'i'e Ussn, ahi'i'e diyini, ahi'i'e shimaa £ebaiyé T'nde-Nnee', ahi'i'e shitaa Sumá Ndé-Nneé"(http://lipanapachecommunity/ defense.blogspot.com/).
The lands now known as the U.S Mexican border has been traditionally owned and occupied by numerous indigenous peoples for centuries. There are over thirteen self-identifying indigenous peoples including but not limited the Yaqui, Tohono O'odham, and the Lipan Apache. Within the past ten years the border has emerged as the United States and Mexico most misunderstood and obscured human rights crisis. For those communities whose lands lie on the edges of the empire it is clear that the conditions of racial discrimination and land grabbing have worsened remarkably. Without immediate direct action and intervention by both civil societies, the governments, and the United Nations the construction of the wall will cause irreparable harm to indigenous peoples residing there and hemispheric biological diversity.
The indigenous youth additionally expressed deep concerns with states falsely accusing indigenous youth activists as terrorists. This is an alarming emerging issue within the discourse of indigenous youth justice and must be critically examined on all levels as well as its implications for the indigenous rights movement as a whole.
Contrary to these false allegations, indigenous youth representatives firmly maintain that indigenous youth activists are not terrorists, but peoples, with the right of self-determination. Indigenous youth are rights holders within domestic and international law and will continue to advocate for, further articulate, and expand rights concerning our situations and cases within the international arena and United Nations system.Participating and witnessing the indigenous youth in action at the Permanent Forum was impressive and inspirational. Indigenous youth are working towards the full realization of our rights as articulated within the recently adopted United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous peoples and youth are still waiting for all of these rights to be felt fully and effectively realized on the ground.
Despite the diverse and distinct challenges we face as indigenous youth we stood and worked together for our people and our values. I am confidant that the indigenous youth will continue to challenge all forms of institutionalized and legalized racism being strong for the challenges ahead. Indigenous youth are crafting the abilities to work within the United Nation system to defend cultural, economic, social, and political rights. Developing the capacity to lead indigenous nations into beautiful sustainable futures.
Photo: Michelle Cook/Courtesy photo