(6:00PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)
Today is International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, which is designed to celebrate indigenous people and to serve as a reminder of the many cultural, educational, health, human rights, environmental, social and economic problems still unresolved. While the world community has documents recognizing indigenous rights, it is often a paper right only, as governments and corporations continue the injustices of assaults, land seizures, environmental degradation of spiritual lands and human rights abuses.
The inhumanity is aggravated by governmental abuses not just ignored by our judiciary but often enabled by the court’s refusal to address issues or by issuing opinions that validate illegal conduct by our executive branch. This should not shock us during the Bush years, but this has endured forever, regardless of which party was sitting in the White House.
One key to changing government injustices is informing the public of these inhumane policies so that all Americans will hold our government accountable. As stated by Ben Powless of the Indigenous Environment Network:
Meanwhile, Powless thinks that certain powerful countries are unlikely to change their attitudes towards indigenous peoples unless a majority of their citizens are informed enough to hold those accountable who play a powerful role in shaping public policy.
“The wider public must understand indigenous peoples’ rights and concerns,” he said. “They must act to protect them because as the most marginalised group in this world, it spells out how the rest of us will be treated, and is also the surest way to protect our last remaining ecosystems.”
While doing research for another story, I came across this film clip that every American should watch to see how our government today treats Americans. The film involves some of the Western Shoshone, who for years have been fighting our federal government’s seizure of livestock and land for gold mining, water and nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site, which is located within the treaty-recognized territory of Western Shoshone lands. There are 60 million acres of Western Shoshone lands located in Nevada, Idaho, Utah and California. The federal government claims 90% of the lands as public or federally-controlled lands, which are then privatized for corporate raping of our environment and degradation of spiritual lands. Greedy profiteering corporations then swoop in to stake mining claims in the “third largest gold producing area in the world.”
The federal government has been doing the dirty work of corporations by assaulting people, seizing livestock, and privatizing ancestral lands for the sake of mining companies. Years ago, President Truman tried to seize the steel industry but the US Supreme Court held that was unconstitutional. Today, government seizure is permissible when done to enable, for example, mining in Mount Tenabo or storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.
The mining tears apart Mother Earth with deep, open wounds that are eerily similar to the horror of moonscapes created by Mountaintop Removal Mining. Cyanide is used in the mining process to leach the fine particles of gold from the mines that are located over groundwater basins, leaving toxic material in the environment so that gold jewelry may adorn fingers. Moreover, the mines are located on land used by the Shoshone for thousands of years for spiritual ceremonies and cultural purposes as well as the home of creation stories and traditions of acquiring knowledge. The degradation and destruction of these spiritual lands is equivalent to destroying Christian churches:
“If you were sitting in church and there was all this construction, you wouldn’t like that. You wouldn’t like people digging up the lawn of the church. You’re trying to talk to the Creator and you’ve got all these distractions.”
A film, “Our Life, Our Land,” documents the 30-year struggle of sisters Carrie and Mary Dann (now dead) to protect their tradition and ancestral lands from government seizure and mining degradation. The two grandmothers were forced into a role of political activism in order to fight for the “seventh generation that is not here yet.” As Carrie Dann stated, land is very sacred because it represents life. Thus, the federal government’s seizure of land is like taking their life, which she called a spiritual genocide or spiritual death of Western Shoshones.
The film shows an armed, brazen cavalcade raid of agents in helicopters and jeep/semi truck caravans in the dark of night and in the daylight seizing the Danns’ horses, wild horses and their cattle to enable corporate gold mines which are spreading through Western Shoshone sacred lands. It also shows the dead horses caused by the government’s rush to roundup without listening to warnings that the cold and low food at this time of year would kill the horses. So, horses died on the range. And, horses boarded by BLM died of starvation. All so the government could privatize their range for gold mining. We hear about foreign governments seizing private land by force and raise our voices. But, the silence in America when our government does the same is almost deafening.
A few years ago, the Western Shoshone filed a petition with the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) because they had “exhausted all other legal options” to “prevent the U.S. government from taking over their ancestral lands.” Think about that please. The need to seek justice in America by petitioning an international tribunal.
Relying upon an international antiracism treaty (1969 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination), the Western Shoshone challenged the US government’s claim that it owned 90% of Shoshone lands. Under US law, the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley or, the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, confirmed Shoshone rights to the land. In the case of the Danns’ sisters, the federal government displayed peace and friendship by suing the sisters for trespassing on their own land, a trespass that is defined by taking away your rights in a court where you can not testify and the treaty or governing law is not even mentioned.
The federal government claimed that they lost their lands by gradual encroachment. After the US signed the treaty, it then obtained de facto “title” to the lands not by law, but by simply “treating” the land as federal land. When the Danns’ case reached the US Supreme Court, the court did not even address how this title had been transferred from the Danns to the US because the Secretary of the Interior had accepted the money award on their behalf. The court concluded that the Danns had been paid, which took away their right to argue before the court that they had title to these lands. Thus, a shuffle of money between two federal agencies constituted the “sale” of the Shoshone land to the government.
In 1979, the US Supreme Court held that the treaty accorded DC “trusteeship over tribal lands:”
The federal government justified its position by saying that tribe members had abandoned traditional land tenure and practices and cited “gradual encroachment” by non-natives as evidence to claim much of the land as federal territory.
In the CERD forum, the Western Shoshone maintained that “gradual encroachment” was simply a racist US policy used to steal lands. CERD agreed, noting that the federal claim to land “did not comply with contemporary international human rights norms, principles, and standards that govern determination of indigenous property interests.” (CERD report) CERD stated that it had “credible information” that the US had deprived the Shoshone of the traditional rights to land. CERD “assailed the U.S. government for violating the tribes’ rights” contrary to the international antiracism treaty.
CERD directed the US government to “cease all commercial activities on tribal lands, including mining operations” and “urged the United States to immediately freeze, desist and stop any further actions against the Western Shoshone people, including legislative efforts to privatize their land” until a settlement is reached on the status of the lands and issues resolved in a manner that respects their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
Naturally, the US is ignoring CERD.
I’m not sure how many people will celebrate International Day of the World’s Indigenous People today, but we can remember the voices of two brave women.