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Walter Echo-Hawk: In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America & the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples' Law and Policy Program

Walter Echo-Hawk, legendary civil rights attorney, discusses his latest book In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America & the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, stressing the need for Native nations and peoples to band together to mount a campaign to compel the United States to fully embrace and implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Echo-Hawk, Walter. "In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America & the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples." Indigenous Peoples' Law & Policy Program, James E. Rogers College of Law, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. November 20, 2013. Presentation.

James Anaya:

“The Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program is pleased to host a range of thought-provoking speakers in multiple settings over the course of each academic year as part of our multi-faceted program of learning and outreach. This evening we are especially privileged to have with us one of the truly groundbreaking advocates and thinkers of recent decades on issues concerning Native Americans in the United States and abroad, Mr. Walter Echo-Hawk.

A citizen of the Pawnee Nation, Walter Echo-Hawk is a distinguished lawyer who for years was one of the leading attorneys of the Native American Rights Fund, a former justice of the Supreme Court of the Pawnee Nation and now the Chief Justice of the Kickapoo Supreme Court, an author with numerous influential books and articles, and an activist whose energies extend to innovative initiatives to support Native American arts and culture. His vast legal experience includes precedent-setting cases involving Native American religious freedom, prisoner rights, water rights, and rights of reburial and repatriation. His work litigating and lobbying on Native American rights goes back to 1973 and much of that work occurred during pivotal years when America witnessed the rise of modern Indian nations. As American Indian tribes reclaimed their land, sovereignty and pride in an historic stride toward freedom and justice, Walter Echo-Hawk worked at the epicenter of a great social movement alongside tribal leaders on many issues, visiting Indian tribes in their Indigenous habitats throughout North America. He was instrumental in the passage of numerous important laws like the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act amendments in 1994.

As a scholar and author, Walter Echo Hawk’s numerous published works include his acclaimed book In the Courts of the Conquerors: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided. This is an outstanding and insightful critique of the evolution of federal Indian law doctrine and its social implications. This evening we’re privileged to hear Walter talk about his most recent book In the Light of Justice: The Rise of Human Rights in Native America & the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In this book, Walter explains how the harm historically inflicted on the Indigenous peoples in the United States still commands attention because of the ongoing affects of the past on conditions today. He helps us understand why justice requires confronting the combined injustices of the past and present and he points us to tools for achieving reconciliation between the majority and Indigenous peoples focusing on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the United Nations as such a tool.

This UN declaration is an expression of standards grounded in fundamental human rights and a global consensus among governments and Indigenous peoples worldwide. It was adopted in the year 2007 by the UN general assembly with the affirmative votes of an overwhelming majority of UN member states, [and] expressions of celebration by Indigenous peoples from around the world who had been long advocating for the declaration. At the urging of Indigenous leaders from throughout the country, President Barack Obama announced the United States’ support for the Declaration on December 16, 2010, reversing the United State’s earlier position and he did so before a gathering at the White House of leaders of Indigenous nations and tribes. In his wonderful new book, Walter Echo Hawk shows us the seeds of change in the Declaration. “With the Declaration,’ he tells us, ‘we are in a rare moment of potential transformation, of a tectonic shift toward a new era of human relations that extends the promise of justice beyond the boundaries set by the past. It is a move farther along the path of greatness for which America yearns.’ This book inspires and moves us to seize that moment. Please welcome, please join me in welcoming Walter Echo-Hawk.”


Walter Echo-Hawk:

“Well, thank you so much Professor Anaya for that very kind and generous introduction. I have admired Professor Anaya for many, many years. We first met in the mid 1970s when Jim was the General Counsel to the National Indian Youth Council [NIYC] and I was on their board of directors, and at that time he was deeply involved in civil rights litigation on behalf of NIYC and international litigation and international tribunals as well way back in the early 1980s. I’ve admired your work and your groundbreaking career for many, many years in the field of international human rights law and I think that your work has really opened new vistas for our Native people here at home and I’m very, I think, indebted to you also for writing the foreword to my new book In the Light of Justice and I’m grateful for that. It just put a lot of pressure on me to do my best because I have respected your work so much over the years.

I want to thank Professor Tatum, Melissa Tatum, the Director of the Indian [Peoples] Law [and Policy] Program here, Professor Mary Guss also as well for your kindness in showing me around town, making my presence possible here this evening. And lastly, I thank each and every one of you for coming tonight to be with me here. It’s certainly my great honor and privilege to be here at the Law School. This ranking law school is well known throughout Indian Country and among my colleagues in the practice of federal Indian law as being an important center for Indian law and policy. Some of the very brilliant scholarship that has emanated here from the Law School with folks like Professor Anaya and the other faculty, all-star faculty that is assembled here at the Law School including Professor Williams, Rob Williams, have truly opened some major vistas for Indian tribes and my colleagues throughout the nation. So I’m very glad to be here, very honored to be at this center of knowledge here. I feel like I’m very at the fount of knowledge if not very close to it.

And so I’m very honored to give a presentation this evening about my book In the Light of Justice, and this book is about a brand new legal framework for defining Native American rights here in the United States. The book does basically three things. First, it examines the landmark UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that Professor Anaya mentioned. This is a landmark international human rights instrument that creates a very comprehensive stand-alone legal framework for defining the rights of Native Americans as well as Indigenous peoples worldwide. As Jim mentioned, this UN declaration was approved in the year 2007 by the General Assembly. It was endorsed by the United States government in the year 2010 so it’s technically a part of U.S. Indian policy and today 150 nations around the world have also endorsed this UN Declaration, making it the new order of the day it seems to me. Secondly, this book goes on then to compare our existing law and social policy with regard to Native Americans to these UN standards, these minimum human rights standards that is established by the Declaration to see how well our domestic law stacks up against these human rights standards. And then thirdly, the book urges our nation to undertake a social and legal movement to implement these UN standards into our law and social policy.

What I’d like to do tonight is to basically cover three areas with you this evening. First, I’d like to talk about why I felt compelled to write this book. Secondly, I want to describe briefly this declaration and this new human rights framework for defining Native American rights. And then thirdly, I want to discuss some of the findings that I made in my comparative legal analysis and some of my conclusions that I drew in this legal analysis of the declaration and especially to talk about the need for implementing these standards in our own nation here in the United States, including some of the implementation challenges that our generation or this generation will face in implementing these UN standards into our law and social policy. But before I begin, I need to add a caveat here and that is that I am not and don’t hold myself out to be an international law expert. I haven’t gone to the UN, I haven’t gone to Geneva, I did not participate in the making of this declaration and the book simply examines this declaration and its implications purely from the standpoint of a domestic practitioner of federal Indian law to look at the possibilities of this in terms of strengthening our existing law and policy. So with that, I think after I hope we’ll have time for some questions and answers and then we’ll be able to sign a few books afterwards and I think this’ll be a rare opportunity especially if James joins me in signing some books. So you’ll have the signature of both of the authors of this book. So it should be a collector’s edition for you book collectors out there.

But at the outset, I’d like to just begin with the premise of this book and that is this -- that I believe that this is a historic time for federal Indian law and policy and of course we know that federal Indian law is our current legal framework here in the United States for defining Native American rights and we know through our experience in the modern era of federal Indian law that federal Indian law basically has two sides to it. On the one hand, it has some very strong protective features that are protective of Native American rights that arise from the doctrine of inherent tribal sovereignty and the related protectorate principles that was articulated in Worcester v. Georgia, and within that protective side of federal Indian law in the last two generations our Indian nations have made great nation-building advances in this tribal sovereignty movement and we can look around the country and see the fruits of that effort all around us, and it’s been described by Charles Wilkinson as giving rise to our modern Indian nations rivaling the great American social movements, the environmental movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement in American history. But on the other side of the coin, federal Indian law also has a dark side to it as well with some very clear anti-Indigenous functions that are seen in a whole host of nefarious legal doctrines that were implanted in the body of federal Indian law by the Supreme Court many decades ago, in numerous unjust legal fictions and a significant body of the jurisprudence of racism as defined by Webster’s dictionary book can be found in some of these Supreme Court decisions that are still the law of the land today. So this dark side to federal Indian law holds us back as Native people, it makes us vulnerable and it also keeps us poor. And so we have these two sides of our existing legal framework.

But today as I mentioned is a historic time because we can now clearly see two legal frameworks for defining Native American rights. Our old legal framework of federal Indian law and then out on the horizon we can see this brand-new human rights framework out on the horizon and it reminds me of an old Pawnee song about a spotted horse that we see way far away and it’s coming our way and it makes us feel good because we know it’s bringing good things for us and that’s how this declaration is. And so we can clearly see these two frameworks now and we stand at a crossroads today between these two legal frameworks here in the United States and I think that the challenge of our generation of legal practitioners and tribal leaders and Native American peoples is to basically work to save the very best from our old framework, our most protective features and to merge that with this new human rights framework to create a stronger body of law that is more just and to make it a seamless…to merge the two frameworks into a strengthened and more just legal framework for the 21st century in a post-colonial world.

So I want to turn to my first task tonight and that is: why did I write this book? I was motivated by three reasons, the first being the need to strengthen federal Indian law. As I’ve alluded to earlier, although we’ve made great strides under our existing legal framework, I feel like we have stalled out in recent years because there’s been a gradual weakening of federal Indian law since 1985 with the U.S. Supreme Court trend towards trimming back hard-won Native American rights beginning with the [William] Rehnquist Court in 1985. Court observers tell us that Indian nations have lost over 80 percent of their cases into the present day, in some terms losing 88 percent of our cases, and that frightening statistic means that prison inmates fare better before the high court than our Indian nations. That’s caused some of our leading legal scholars to ask, ‘Is federal Indian law dead?’ And then we have this dark side to our body of law that I mentioned earlier and that compounds this problem it seems to me. Scholars have thoroughly studied this dark side to federal Indian law. They’ve identified these factors there that make our rights vulnerable today. These nefarious legal doctrines have been traced to their origins in medieval Europe. These internal tensions that are found in our body of law between self-determining peoples that have [an] inherent right of tribal sovereignty on the one hand being hostage to these doctrines of unfettered colonialism, conquest and colonialism. You can’t have these two conditions, they’re mutually incompatible so we have these inherent tensions that struggle…are pitted against one another in our body of law. And so that’s not questioned today in the year 2013 in any serious way, but we’ve lived with this body of law since 1970 at the inception of the modern era of federal Indian law. Our litigators basically took this legal framework as we found it. We didn’t create federal Indian law, we simply took this legal framework as we found it and tried to make the best of it. We tried to coax the courts into applying the most protective features of this legal framework and then simply living with this dark side. But it seems to me that now in recent years we have stalled out. I think we’ve faltered in recent years. I think Indian Country is huddled against an assault by the Supreme Court for its further weakening our legal rights and we’ve stalled out it seems to me at the very doorstep of true self-determination as that principle is broadly defined in modern international rights law and it may be that our Indian tribes have come as far as we can go under this existing regime and to go any further we’re going to have to reform that legal framework. I think there’s an axiom here and that is that a race of people can only advance so far under an unjust legal regime and that there’ll come a time where they have to turn on that legal regime and challenge it to go any further in their aspirations. And I think we may have rode our pony as far as we can and to go further we’re going to have to focus for the very first time on challenging some of the dark side of federal Indian law and strengthening our legal framework. So these problems in the law have troubled me as a lifelong practitioner of federal Indian law and I felt that federal Indian law today is in deep trouble. It needs a lifeline and perhaps this UN Declaration is that lifeline. So I felt it well worth my while to examine this new legal framework.

The second reason that motivated me to write this book was if you look around Indian Country today and in our tribal communities, we will see numerous, hard-to-solve social ills that stalk our tribal communities today. Despite our best efforts to redress these social ills, we see these shocking socioeconomic gaps between Native Americans and our non-Indian neighbors with the lowest life expectancy in the nation, the highest rate of poverty, poorest housing, serious shocking gaps in the medical treatment, mental healthcare, highest rate of violence in the nation, highest suicide rates, unemployment. These ills have lingered for so long in our tribal communities that they’re seen as normal and they threaten to become permanent. How do we account for these shocking inequities? Social science researchers tell us that these are unhealed wounds inherited from our…as historical trauma from [the] legacy of conquest; dispossession, subjugation, marginalization created these open wounds and they haven’t healed yet in the year 2013, despite our best efforts. These are the end products of our current legal regime, our existing law and policy, and I believe that this declaration is specifically designed to redress this inherit…the inherited effects of colonialism through a human rights framework. It’s a prescription for the social ills, and so I therefore thought it was worth my time to examine that framework in this book.

The third reason that I wrote this book is that the UN approval of this declaration in the year 2007, which was done in a landslide crowning victory for over 20 years in the United Nations of work by Indigenous pioneers who accessed the international realm for the very first time in a couple hundred years. This landmark achievement was basically unheralded. It caught the United States by surprise; it caught Indian Country by surprise. I feel like it caught our tribal leaders and our tribal attorneys [who] were unfamiliar with it. We hadn’t read it. It caught us with our chaps down, so to speak. And so since that time, and especially since the year 2010, Indian Country has just begun to read this document for the very first time and our tribal attorneys to read it and educate ourselves. It’s been the subject of a Senate oversight hearing. It’s been the subject of conferences at the federal bar, at NCAI [National Congress of American Indians], at tribal leaders' forums and law school conferences. And as we study this document I felt that it would be helpful to provide some baseline information about this declaration to help our self-education process on this new human rights framework, to look at some of the implications, to provide some baseline information about it, some reconnaissance-level legal analysis and that’s what this book attempts to do, to assist Indian Country and our nation in looking at this new legal framework for defining the rights of our people.

Let me turn now to: what is this UN framework? And let me just ask you, if you’ve read this raise your hand. If you’ve read this declaration, raise your hand. By golly, I’m glad James has read it. That’s a pretty nice substantial fraction. But many places where I ask that question, very few hands will go up.

So I just want to make about seven fundamental points about this new human rights framework. The first, the point is that it…in 46 articles, it lays out the minimum standards, minimum human rights standards for the…protecting the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous peoples worldwide -- that includes Native Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians. As Professor Anaya mentioned, it was approved by the UN in 2007, it was formally endorsed by the United States in 2010, 150 nations around the world as well.

Secondly, this document contains the authentic aspirations of Indigenous peoples in large measure because they wrote it and they negotiated it through the UN human rights framework. And if you read it as a practitioner of federal Indian law, you’ll see that all of the issues that our clients are concerned about and that we’ve litigated on and towards are contained in this document.

Thirdly, these standards as I mentioned earlier are comprehensive in nature. They address the full range of our Native American issues and aspirations. Our property rights, political rights, civil rights, economic rights, social rights, cultural rights, religious rights, environmental rights; it’s all there in this framework. And the interesting thing about it is the rights that are described in here are described as inherent, inherent human rights and I think that that’s very significant because an inherent human right means that the UN didn’t give these rights to Native people. These are rights that we already have.

So these are inherent human rights that nobody gave to Indigenous peoples, but rather they arise from our Indigenous histories, our Indigenous institutions, but were beyond reach by Native people in their domestic legal forums. What the United Nations did here was basically look to the larger body of modern international human rights law and simply pulled the norms and the human rights treaty provisions, pulled it out of this larger body and put them into this declaration and it’s showing the 150 nations of the world how to interpret this larger body of human rights law in the unique context of Indigenous peoples so that Indigenous peoples have the same human rights that the rest of humanity already enjoys. Further, these rights that are described in here, it is said that they’re supposed to be interpreted according to notions of justice, equality, good faith, democracy, a very just foundation for these inherent human rights, more just foundation than that found in the dark side of federal Indian law. Moreover, related to that, these rights are not considered to be new rights or special rights, but simply as I mentioned earlier just simply rights that are drawn from the existing body of international human rights law.

Next I’d like to talk about some of my major finding about these rights that I… conclusions that I drew in this book. Firstly, that these UN human rights standards are largely compatible with our U.S. law and policy in its finest hour. And at its very best and in its finest hour ,our federal Indian law in the 10 best cases ever decided about Indians show a fundamental compatibility with many of these standards. And those standards, if they were to become part of our body of law would simply make the very best in our legal culture more reliable and more dependable, but at the same time I also found, secondly, that many areas in our existing law and policy simply fail to pass muster under these standards, they don’t comply with these standards. And the book goes on to lay out these many, many areas that we need…where we need to uplift our existing law and policy so that they conform or are compatible with these minimum human rights standards.

The sixth point I wanted to make about this framework is that the Declaration is not a self-implementing instrument. It’s not legally binding law that federal courts must enforce, but rather the Declaration asks the United States to implement these standards in partnership with Native people, that the United States and all these other 150 nations are supposed to work with Native people to implement these standards, to provide technical assistance, to provide funding, to go forward in a nation-building kind of an effort to implement these standards. And so I think that that is a call to action to Indian Country to sit down with the government and see how we should go about implementing these standards in partnership.

I’d like to begin winding this lecture down here by looking at the need for these standards in our own country here. I think that the threshold question for all Americans of good will, including our tribal leaders and our tribal attorneys, is why do we need these standards in our own country? Aren’t we the leading democracy? Are you saying that we have injustice in our midst? Many Americans of goodwill will admit that yes, our nation was birthed on the human rights principle and we’ve got a very proud heritage of human rights that have always animated our nation from the very inception down to the present day. We’ve gone to war to protect human rights, to punish those who violate human rights, and it may be true that we haven’t always lived up to these core American human right values throughout our history in terms of our treatment of Native people here in the U.S., but are we responsible for healing a painful past when we didn’t personally have any hand in these appalling miscarriages of justice? It’s unfair to come to me when I had no part in that and ask me to heal the past. Others will ask, honestly ask, ‘Is an international law ineffective and unenforceable?’ That’s a myth that I once believed in as a dyed-in-the-wool practitioner of federal Indian law. Besides, many people just don’t like the UN. We don’t want to be bossed around by the UN or international law. Other Americans of good faith, goodwill, will say, ‘Why can’t we just rely on our existing law and policy to address these problems? After all, we have the Bill of Rights. Why not just apply the Bill of Rights and treat everybody alike and nothing more? We’ve got a comprehensive body of federal Indian law already. Why not just rely on it to fix these problems?’ And as advocates we must be able to answer each of these questions in a very persuasive way at the outset, otherwise we should fold up our tents and go home. So this book tries to answer those questions about the need for these standards in our nation. It explores answers. It looks at…it basically sees four reasons regarding the need for these standards: legal reasons, political reasons, social reasons and environmental reasons. And I hope that after you review these reasons in the book that you’ll agree with me that we do have compelling reasons and a compelling need to implement these standards here in the United States.

The first reason being a legal reason. As I mentioned earlier, to strengthen our body of federal Indian law, to reform that dark side of federal Indian law and root out the law of colonialism, the doctrines of conquest, doctrines of racism, all of these dark sides of our existing framework that have anti-Indigenous functions, to resolve our internal tensions and we have to remember that as I mentioned earlier or maybe it was later today that right now in our existing legal framework if you read our Supreme Court decisions in our foundational cases you will see that when it comes to defining Native American rights that the Supreme Court expressly eschews looking at ‘abstract principles of justice’ or ‘questions of morality’ when defining Native American rights. So this has produced an amoral body of law that is bereft of the human rights principle and I think that that has led to an amazing prevalence of unjust cases in federal Indian law. And so there is a need to reform federal Indian law to try to inject this human rights principle. I know as a litigator whenever you’re able to inject human rights into your issue, your position is immediately strengthened, and we found that when we were making the NAGPRA [Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act] statute that we were stymied in our negotiations, stalled out because of self-interest between the scientists, museums and the tribal communities until we agreed to follow the human rights principle and that kind of cracked the case and led to the passage of NAGPRA. And you can imagine if your client’s right to self-determination was considered an inherent human right, your client’s right to culture, your client’s right to accountable public media and so on and so forth, rights to protect Indigenous habitat were deemed to be inherent human rights, that’s going to put you in a much stronger legal position. So we have a legal reason here.

Secondly, we have social reasons, that is this inherited legacy of conquest that I talked about earlier, and the need to finally try to solve these hard-to-solve social ills. These are root problems that we’ve inherited in our tribal communities, cry out for healing in a national program of reconciliation and I think that this declaration is the antidote for those social ills and will enable our nation to solve them at long last and then move forward.

Thirdly, we have these political reasons to implement this declaration. Our nation has long been plagued with the Indian question or the Indian problem, ever since the United States first embarked on colonizing Indian lands and peoples. The political question has always been, ‘What do we do with the Indians once we’ve colonized everything? What do we do with them?’ And this has long perplexed our nation and historically…well, it’s a universal problem that all settler states with a history of colonialism have had to confront. How do we bring the Native people into the body politic? What’s the best approach for doing that on a political basis? And we’ve tried many approaches here in the United States. We’ve tried this Worcester framework of inherent tribal sovereignty for domestic dependent nations operating under the protection of the United States. We’ve tried Indian removal, to remove the tribes from our body politic. We’ve tried to exterminate Indians at the zenith of the Indian wars. We’ve zigzagged back to guardianship and Christianization methods to bring Native people into the body politic. We’ve tried self-government under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. We’ve swung back from there to termination to make our Indians disappear and then in 1970 swung back to Indian self-determination. So we’ve had these zigzagging policy shifts in U.S. history trying to figure out the best way to bring Native people into the body politic. The problem is that the normal mode for assimilating immigrants into our free and democratic society simply doesn’t work for Native people because we already inhabit the nation and we want to retain our Indigenous rights. Well, this declaration shows us how to do that. It tells us that we want to bring Native people into the body politic using the self-determination principle with our Indigenous rights intact, basically saying that we got it right with our Indian Self-Determination policy of 1970, that we should stay the course and do whatever we need to do to bring Native America into the body politic with all of their Indigenous human rights intact.

Fourth reason that is discussed in this book is environmental reasons. I think that there’s a healthy byproduct in recognizing and protecting Indigenous rights and that healthy byproduct has to do with this environmental crisis that our nation is confronted with. We have a growing environmental problem and a crisis that is a worldwide environmental problem that threatens human security. We see it in the mass extinction of animals and plants, the pollution of Father Sky, Mother Earth, our waters, our oceans. We see it in this climate change. We now live in a warming world thanks to the industrialized nations emitting these gases into the atmosphere. And this has caused…this crisis has caused scientists to fear a catastrophic collapse of some of our important global life systems. And so the scientists are sounding the alarm, but no one is listening. This crisis continues to get worse and not better. We can’t solve it without first getting a land ethic and [an] ocean ethic that can guide us, a moral compass to show humans and our modern society how we should comport ourselves to the natural world. And as far back as 1948, Aldo Leopold urged America, ‘Get a land ethic.’ But it’s never taken root in our nation yet. Why? We don’t have any clear guidance from our Western traditions, the Western religions, science or technology. They don’t tell us how humans should comport to the natural world. We have to look to Indigenous peoples for that, into their value system, our primal tribal religions, our hunting, fishing and gathering cosmologies and those value systems, which were the first world views of the human race that were wired into our biology as humans spread across the planet, and in that set of Indigenous value systems I think our nation will find the ingredients for an American land ethic. Without that ethic, we’re not going to be able to solve this environmental crisis and we’ve placed ourselves on the path of failed civilizations. We can’t solve it, the problem, without an ethic to guide us. It’s just simply too expensive. The problem is too severe. It costs too much money and we lack the political will to address and solve this problem. So we sorely need a land ethic and I think that there is a congruency between protecting Indigenous habitat and Indigenous land uses of Indigenous land, Indigenous cultures, empowering the Native people to protect their ways of life so that they can come to the seat at the table and maybe share some of their traditional knowledge and their value system and help us forge a land ethic. If you look at the Amazon forest, the remnants of that forest exist because of the Indigenous peoples that reside in these habitats that have been empowered to continue to live there and to defend those areas. Were it not for them, that forest would probably have long been gone. So there is that relationship between protecting and empowering Indigenous peoples and their environmental rights and addressing this environmental crisis.

So I’ve spoken too long and I want to just simply close with some quick concluding observations about the challenges in implementing this declaration and I think that I would direct your attention to James Anaya’s report that he submitted to the United States in his capacity as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In the year 2012, he conducted an official mission to the United States to consult with the United States government, to consult with tribal leaders to identify the human rights situation of Native Americans and barriers to implementing all of these human rights standards and he compiled this report in August of 2012. It’s entitled The Situation of Indigenous Peoples in the United States of America. And I would urge you to go to your computer and download it, and in fact I think we may have copies here this evening alongside my book tonight, our book I should say, in which Professor Anaya gives recommendations to the United States for steps that our nation must take to implement these standards. He concludes that we have a significant challenge in doing that, in rectifying and addressing our legacy of conquest here in the United States and it calls for changes, fundamental changes in all three branches of the federal government -- Congress, the President and the Executive Branch and our courts -- and these are fundamental changes that he is recommending that our nation take. And so it lays out a big task it seems to me for our generation and the next to implement these challenges to…I think this report is one of those rare policy analyses that come across from time to time, once in a great while, that can become a catalyst for change and so this report is a good starting place to download it and read it and I think you’ll agree that it does lay out a big task for our generation. And there’s a role for our law schools, our law professors, our law students, Native people, Americans of goodwill to come forward, our tribal leaders to come forward, to reach out for these human rights standards and work to implement them.

And I think the first step here is a…there’s a need for a focused national dialogue on the nature and content of human rights for Native Americans. And our nation has never had such a national dialogue of that nature in the same way that we looked at…our nation looked at Black America and the need for equality under the law for Black America. That was serious national conversation, but we’ve never had one when it comes to talking about human rights for Native America and our legal framework has no human rights judicial discourse in it at all and so we need to have a national discourse to understand the need for these standards in our country, to debunk the reasons not to act and I think that that’s a first step.

Secondly, I think we have to build a national campaign to implement these standards, to coax the government into developing a national plan of action through a national program of reconciliation to implement these standards in partnership with Native America. To do that…unless we do that, nothing’s going to happen and these human rights standards will remain beyond reach. So we need the internal machinery to set that in place for a campaign complete with guiding legal principles to develop this seamless new framework, employing some of our finest legal minds in our ranking law schools to help us do that, strategies and a focused public relations and public education campaign to educate the public about this, very similar to the campaign that Black America engaged in for 58 years to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. There’s lessons to be learned there in that campaign. There’s lessons to be learned from our tribal sovereignty movement that could be helpful in guiding a campaign to implement these standards in the 21st century.

And so with that brings me to my final point that this campaign has to also develop some philosophical foundation, some philosophical principles to motivate social action, social justice action and to guide our campaign into the light of justice. I don’t think we have to look far for that philosophical foundation for this campaign. We only have to look as far as to our wisdom traditions of the human race, remembering that from day one of the history of the human race has been one of atrocity, acts of genocide, warfare, catastrophes brought about by man’s inhumanity to man in the whole course of human history and along the way our ancestors developed some wisdom traditions that come to us from the world’s religions that teach us and tell us how to heal historical injuries, injuries of the kind that we have perpetrated on other people. These wisdom traditions work as sure as the rain must fall and they tell us it’s just five steps, it’s not rocket science. The first step being an injury has taken place and here we’re talking about this legacy of conquest that is still seen and felt today.

The second step is whatever tradition you come from your finest and highest teachings tell you that when you’ve injured somebody you must go to that person and apologize, prostrate yourself and ask for forgiveness. It’s a very hard step to do because we often demonize the people that we have harmed, wished them ill and it’s inconceivable, unthinkable to then go to them on bended knee and ask them to forgive us. It’s a hard thing to do, but our wisdom traditions teach us that we have to do that to relieve our guilt, to relieve their shame, to begin clearing the air for a healing process.

And that brings us to our third step in this healing process and that is to accept the apology and forgive; also very hard to do. I think one of the indicia of a traumatized community is simply they’re unable to forgive those who have trespassed against them. It’s hard to do, but it’s important that we forgive. Only the strong can forgive. It’s probably our highest, strongest human spiritual power that we have to forgive and all of our traditions teach us that we must forgive.

That third step then leads us to the…once peace is made it leads us to the fourth step in this process, acts of atonement. The burden shifts back to the perpetrator’s community to perform acts of atonement, to make amends, to wipe the slate clean as best as humans can do. We know we can’t turn back the hands of time, but we can do everything within our power as humans to make things right and I think these acts of atonement and this process are laid out in that declaration. It shows us what we must do here.

Once that step has gone through, it brings us to the last step and that is healing and reconciliation and at that point we’ve done everything that humans can do to heal, taken that high road to heal a historical injury in our midst regardless of the cause and from there we sit at the center of human compassion and we can honestly say at that point that I am you and you are me and we are one. We’ve been reunited and we can go on from there. And so I think that these wisdom traditions work in even the most heinous situations and I think we only need to look that far as a philosophical foundation for a campaign to guide us to that promised land so that we might all stand in the light of justice.”


James Anaya:

“Walt has agreed to take a few questions. You have about five, maybe 10 minutes.”

Walter Echo-Hawk:

“Okay. I was hoping to filibuster so that we wouldn’t have to do any questions, but as long as they’re easy ones but please…yeah, five minutes, questions and then we have some books compliments of the campus bookstore. Anyone? Sir.”

Audience member:

“I think it was wonderful to hear you. And you have talked about how the United Nations Declaration can help the United States of America and do you have anything in the United Nations Declaration, which could be taken from the United States? I mean is there some teachings of United States Native culture, which is endorsed by the United Nations Declaration?”

Walter Echo-Hawk:

“Well, I feel that it’s very important for the United States to take a leadership role in implementing these standards in its own backyard. As President [Dwight] Eisenhower said, ‘Whatever America wants in the rest of the world first has to take place in our own backyard,’ and we hold ourselves out to the world as a human rights champion. We’re always running to the UN to have humanitarian intervention, to get support of the UN, and so I think that we don’t want to be the last nation on earth to implement these standards. We want to be among the first and the rest of the world is already embarking upon implementing these standards and that train is leaving the station and we need to be in there because I think that we are a very strong world power, we have influence around the world and if we’re able to successfully implement these human rights standards here in our own land, in one of the hard-core settler states or settler nations, then that would provide, I would hope, precedent for other nations to do the same thing around the world. It’s getting to be a smaller globe and we need to look across our boundaries to other lands. Certainly that’s what happened in the making of this declaration when Indigenous peoples came together and went to the UN. But I think it’s important for America not to be the last country on the planet to fully implement each and every one of these standards, that we should be among the first to try to take a leadership role to redeem our place as a champion of human rights worldwide because we use this as a tool in our foreign policy. Human rights is an important tool in our foreign policy and so we need to get matters fixed in our own backyards before we can do that in a legitimate way. Ma’am?”

Audience member:

“What suggestions could you give us in regards to getting such a national campaign you’re calling for moving, to find who needs to listen, who can move things and basically who can do what? Do you have any suggestions of how to achieve this, how to support and contribute?”

Walter Echo-Hawk:

“I think that…well, I have a couple, two chapters in the book that’s devoted to that, chapters nine and 10, so you’ll have to read it. You have to buy the book and read it. I think we have to mount a social movement, maybe a mother of all campaigns. To do that we have to internally put in place the machinery to do that, we have to go to our tribal leaders, ask them to get out of the casinos for a little bit, uplift their vision to see this new framework. We need a cadre I think of tribal leaders that can lead us into the light of justice. We need to staff them with some of our best attorneys that we have that are versed in human rights law and we need to have a lot of ingredients internally to vet some of these remedies that we’re talking about. We want to be sure we’re not going to make bad law or we’re not going to weaken our rights as Native Americans that we already have, rather we want to be sure that we strengthen them. Then we have to develop a strategic law development strategy and guided by astute political strategists with a…armed also with a very vigorous public education campaign. So I’m talking about the entire race of people and all of our assets and I think that we’re in a much better place to do that, Native America, in the year 2013. We’ve come a long way. We’ve got the experience, the capability and the resources to do that. Our survival, cultural survival depends on it. And you can look back to when the national…the NAACP was founded in 1910 and they were trying to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson and they had enormous hurdles in front of them at that time and yet it took them 58 years, but they did it. And I think we’re more poised now, Indian Country, to do that, but it’s going to be…take a lot of work. I think our young attorneys have to talk…learn the parlance of human rights, international human rights because we are now in a brand-new era of federal Indian law, a human rights era. And when President Obama endorsed this declaration, it ushered in a brand new era for federal Indian law and I think that the task for this next generation is to implement that declaration. Just like back in 1970, our goal at that time was to implement the Indian self-determination policy and it took a couple generations to basically do that in full measure. As I say, I think we’ve made big advances, we’ve come as far as we can though and now we’re in this human rights era of federal Indian law and policy and I think it’s incumbent upon you younger people, it’s easier for me to say, to take that up and carry it forward. Sir?”

Audience member:

“I was wondering, you mentioned some domestic examples like NAACP sort of leading the way for Black America. You also mentioned we should be sort of the leader as the United States in implementing human rights. Are there any…the declaration granted in 2007, are there any countries that sort of set a good precedent for us to follow?”

Walter Echo-Hawk:

“Yeah, I think…was it Bolivia or which country…? It just simply passed a statute incorporating the whole declaration in one fell swoop, but I think Jim may have a better idea on that. But there’s other countries. I think each country is unique. They have their own Indigenous issues, they have their own legal cultures that they’re looking at and I think we can look around the world and benefit from the experience in other countries in implementing it and the book kind of does that in a few limited examples. But I don’t know if you have anything to offer, Jim, from your perspective? Sir, in the back.”

Audience member:

“In your perspective, what is self-determination? Is there a timeframe of that since 1970 to now or further?”

Walter Echo-Hawk:

“Well, I think that in the United States we reached our low point in 1950. In the ‘50s it was the termination era. It was a low point in Native life in our country it seems to me. The policy was termination, to make Indian tribes disappear as quickly as possible. And our activists and tribal leaders in the 1950s and in the 1960s worked as best they could to resist immediate and wholesale termination by the federal government. And their work…in the ‘60s, Vine Deloria was the Executive Director of NCAI and Clyde Warrior was the President of the National Indian Youth Council. They were articulating, especially Vine was articulating this self-determination principle to set our Indian tribes on a different path to the promised land in the civil rights movement, which was implementing Brown v. Board of Education. He articulated the self-determination policy to -- ultimately, that was approved in 1970 by President Nixon in a historic message to Congress -- and that Indian self-determination policy broke from termination and forced assimilation to transfer power back to the tribes as much as possible. And so from that point, from 1970 to the current date, I think that’s been at the center of our tribal sovereignty movement and I think it will continue to be. The UN Declaration, at the very core of this declaration is the self-determination principle, and so it shows us that our nation is sort of on the right path here with our self-determination aspiration, self-government, Indigenous institutions, tribal cultures, the right to culture. All of these are related to our self-determination or sovereignty -- political sovereignty, cultural sovereignty, economic sovereignty. And so I think that this, as far as I can see, it’s still…and it’s the centerpiece of this UN Declaration and that’s why it’s pretty compatible with our existing U.S. policy and we need to continue on that path by just simply uplifting these different areas where our existing laws fall short of the UN standards.” 

Honoring Nations: Jeanette Clark Cassa: San Carlos Apache Elders Cultural Advisory Council

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Jeanette Cassa (1929-2004), Coordinator of the San Carlos Apache Elders Cultural Advisory Council (ECAC), discusses ECAC's work and the traditional Apache core values that its member elders work to instill in the younger generations of Apache people. She also stresses the importance of tribal leaders living by those values and listening to their people.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Cassa, Jeanette Clark. "San Carlos Apache Elders Cultural Advisory Council." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Sante Fe, New Mexico. February 8, 2002. Presentation.

Jeanette Clark Cassa:

"[Apache language] Good evening and we had a good day today and may it all be well today. My name is Jeanette Cassa and I'll try to do like the Navajos do. My name is Jeanette Cassa [Apache language]. The [Apache language] is very almost extinct now. There's just a few people [Apache anguage] probably extended out to the Navajo countries. But this is what I am.

I have an outline here and I'm going to try to make it short. I'm not quite used to speaking out in public. I'm used to being on top of the mountains looking for herbs, looking for plants, and naming the animals in Apache and birds out there for the education, the school. It says here that I'm going to talk about the past. Well, my...I was born in 1929 just when my father and my mother, we were beginning to realize that there is another world that they have to get in the trend of. And my great grandmother had been a prisoner of war, my paternal grandmother. She used to tell us stories about the prisons and it was very sad out there. They were roaming in the mountains but they came back, they were settled down in the valley and they...from there my father was born and then I came in.

Just when tribal council in 1934 -- I was about five years old when they developed the constitution. And the constitution took place then, so it was developed. And the tribal council was called the administrators at first and they advised people, they worked with the people real good and they never sat...they have some letters yet that they have written and it says there that doesn't say 'I' and the chairman doesn't say, 'I.' He says, 'This council' and then he signs his name last while the councils, the district councils signed their names first. In those days they prayed and they got together and they prayed as they were developing the constitution. I believe that's why it still holds today. Only about one or two was amended in 1954.

But since I had gotten out of school I've been with the, helping out the council all the time and I felt that they were my relatives because I was an orphan. I had relatives in Mescalero, but there was quite a distance. So I grew up helping out the council. In those days the cultural principles of the...they gave advices on that according to the principles of life and whatever. Those things are gone today when you look at it, they're gone. They're gone and even in the English language, way back when Moses came there was a law put forth like the 10 Commandments. Do you ever stop to look at that? We had something like that. Don't do this or don't do that, but do this.

In the mornings when you got up you started out with your right foot, your right hand, whatever you were going to do. You were told to start with the right hand, your right foot so everything will go well with you for the day. They used to do that and then they say, 'Don't beg for things. Let it come to you or hunt for it, work for it yourself. Look for it.' Like when our people were in mountains those days they looked for food. They were constantly scratching around for food or looking, searching for food to eat so they were busy during the day. The men were out hunting, the women were at home or roasting agaves or looking for nuts and whatever they can eat. So they were constantly busy like the ants and that kept them slim in those days. And the food that they ate kept them healthy because they were natural foods.

So that's how their life was in those days and as we became...when the constitution came in, in those days we became a ward of the government. And then I went back to the reservation and as soon as I got home the council put me on the election committee so I had been with that until 1990. In 1954, I have seen two chairmen that were running who shake hands when one of them won. There [were] no harsh words; no criticizing one another, but they shook hands and that was good in 1954. After that it got out of hand. So that's where we are at today.

And the modern things that we learned that take place; I'm not as good as what Andrew [Lee]...but I do try to help anywhere, everywhere you help out. Your parents, your great grandmother told you, 'If you help out, it will come back to you in a thousand folds' is that they taught us. If you are a leader, don't hoard everything, give until you are the last one, take the last one or whatever you gave you got the smaller one and gave the bigger one away. It is not like this anymore.

There are a lot of words and teachings that have gone out of our lives everywhere, not just San Carlos. I believe it's with every tribe and even the modern world, the cities, everywhere. I had some experience in the earlier days, in 1950s the council decided that they needed to send people off the reservation to get work out there, to get a job, find a job and you were supposed to be out there and be educated. In other words, they told us, 'Be civilized' or assimilate with the public out there. So they sent us out. I have been there. I have been to San Jose, California and I've been to Dallas, Texas, but one day I decided that I needed to come home. I didn't have very many relatives at home, but I don't know why I came home, but someone told me that maybe you were meant to go home and help out. So all this time I've been doing it.

In 1990, when the NAGPRA [Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act] came in, my partner Seth [Pilsk] came out to me when I had retired from teaching at Globe High School, the Apache language, and I had retired and came home and I was sitting there. One morning he came up to me and said, 'Will you go to work with me?' I said, 'I retired'. He said, 'It's just for 18 months.' And it has has gone beyond that. It's almost 10 years, 10 years is coming up. But I went to work with him. We have worked on a lot trying to...we even worked with the [Northern Arizona University] with a science or something there was supposed to be taught in the school and we're still on that. And we're working on place names, putting every Apache name on a place where it...where the Apaches had been. So our map is just covered with black dots all over and on the side there because we couldn't put the whole name in there we just put it on the side.

That's where I am and the tribe today, the council today like here, they're here. I don't see any of my council member or maybe they're a little jealous of me, I don't know. But they do work with us. 1993 we presented a resolution. One reason we realized that we need a resolution to bring the elders council is that there are things, there are sacred things, there are traditions that are sacred, and we need permission from the elders in the community, the medicine men. So in order to work well with them we presented the resolution and they approved it. So we've been working under that. And that's what we've been doing all this time.

We do work with other companies like ADOT [Arizona Department of Transportation]. We receive letters, even from the arch science and the archaeologists that come in, but now we have Vernelda [Grant] on board as an archaeologist. So we send all those to her. And that's the reason why some other people haven't heard from us. But we've been called out everywhere and today I would say that I need to take speech lessons. I'm not as well...I'd rather be out there on the mountain and we do take people out. We have our elders' meeting and you've got to be patient with them. You have a meeting with them as a group like this, but you go over it again and visit them individually.

There's one thing we don't know anymore too and that is enduring things -- the cold, the heat, and other things -- we cannot sit still long enough. I notice that in the children as I try to bring these back, the other day. Our children are not working much anymore, too. So one forester has developed a thing where he can train the younger boys for the firefighters. So he asked me to come out there and talk to them and I did and I try to think about what I should say, but their attention span is short. So I try to make it short. I told them little stories. Like one day the firefighters got on the bus. A long time ago in the '50s the truck used to go up and down and they would honk the horn and then the men hears that whether they're drinking or not they go stand out there; some of them were drunk. But they got on the truck and they'd jump on the truck because they were able-bodied men. They were men that knew how to work. So they got on the bus. When the truck brought them to the bus they got on there, they threw the bottle away. It was time to put that bottle away and go. They got on the bus and got to wherever they were going and when they got there they fixed their bedding and they went to sleep right away, as soon as they got there. And the next morning they got up early and started work. They left the bottle behind and the job was a job and they went and did it. That's what I told the boys. It's time to put something away and get to work. There are a lot of other stories like that that I told to the boys.

But it's true about everything else. You people have... I listen to you talk and you have brought everything out, everything and maybe somebody wrote it down and everything that is needed as being a leader or working with the people. You brought everything out and mentioned it but there's one thing, when you become a leader, you kind of get tempted with things. And there's a little pool, maybe money or maybe something or maybe travel like this, you get tempted by that, and you spend more time out there and the work is back there. Nobody mentioned that one. But remember, you have to think twice before you can make a move. What's going to happen to me if I do this? There was one thing that I told the boys about that was; there was an elderly man that talked to us when I was working for the CAP office. He said, 'At 25...' He was telling us a story and he said, 'When you're away, somebody calls you and say your wife is out there or your husband is out there doing this. And you think is she really or is she home? And it gets in your way in your work and pretty soon it becomes a monster and you rush home and most likely you'll find your wife at home safe, doing all the work.' That was one...that's what this old man told me and that has been with me all this time. I thought about that. 'You'll get infatuated with someone at one time or other, but if you follow it, you're going to make a fool of yourself. You're going to lose everything and you'll just be out there all alone.' That's what he said. And so I remembered it and that's been with me all these years. I lost my husband to cancer two years ago, but that kept me straight. Things like that, the elderlies tell you.

Another one was...another one was that...he said...he said something else; stories like that. The women, my elders are full of them...will tell you a lot of things. He goes and visit the community. He involves with the community. He visits the people. So that's who we are, the elders. Today we're going to try to, no matter how hard it is, we're going to try to work, bring in the students, the young boys that are dropouts; we're going to try to work with them. We're going to try to work with the councilmen. We already do advise them, but when somebody wants, a leader wants something real bad, he will persuade someone or persuade the group to go along with him. And how do you go about that? You have to sit down and think it out and try it, getting it out there. So that's what we're trying to do. And I don't know how long it's going to last, how long NAGPRA's going to last. We do a lot of things. My secretary is Seth Pilsk. We'll think about it, we'll say about it, but he's going to write it down. We'll tell him and we'll read it over and say, 'This is not right.' Sometimes he gets angry and writes his own words, but we tell him, 'Don't do that.' So he's our secretary and he helps us, he's willing to help us. And he'll laugh and erase it out. So that's why he's with us and he's a botanist and I work with him. We have so many jobs. We've done a lot of ethnohistory with the Carlota Mines, Payson. Pretty soon we're going to Aravaipa and Winkelman. That's what we're doing and we'll be busy out there again.

We do need your help also in solving this problem about our leaders. How do we get them to work? How do we get them to listen? Will you listen to me, will you remember what it said or will you just ignore it? I said to Andrew, I said, 'The chairs are empty, go ahead and put me on.' But that's what we live by, the wisdom of the elders. There are a lot of good things what to do and what not to do. They used to say, 'Don't envy someone because it's no good.' There are a lot of things and probably your tribe is like that also. That's what we're trying to...trying to bring in and make it and work with the modern things, the modern teachings. That's what we're trying to do. I'm sorry that I'm I said, I'm not used to making speech, but I can really holler and yell out there in the forest. Thank you."

Honoring Nations: Aaron Miles: Idaho Gray Wolf Recovery Program

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Aaron Miles, Natural Resource Manager for the Nez Perce Tribe, shares the progress of the Idaho Gray Wolf Recovery Program and talks about how the program hopefully will begin to seed a change in the mindset among those human beings who share the wolves' environment.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Miles, Aaron. "Idaho Gray Wolf Recovery Program." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Sante Fe, New Mexico. February 8, 2002. Presentation.

Andrew Lee:

"We now have a presentation from Aaron Miles from the Nez Perce Tribe who is the department manager of the wildlife there, and he's going to talk about the Nez Perce Gray Wolf Recovery Program, or actually the Idaho Gray Wolf Recovery Program, which has been a phenomenally successful recovery program led by the Nez Perce Tribe and was a High Honors winner in 1999. Aaron."

Aaron Miles:

"Thank you. Thanks, Andrew. I really appreciate this video. My mentor, his name was Roger Van Houghton. He was a forester, he was of Dutch descent, and I remember him when he had his computers, you carried those big cards around to program his computer and you had to keep them in the right order. The cards were about that big around or square and it had the didn't have near the capacity of the memory that you have in these computers. And that's pretty interesting to see how kids have that technology available to them and to be able to learn like that. Like I was mentioning, Roger was a great mentor to myself.

And before I was the Natural Resource Manager, Jaime Pinkham actually was the manager who had brought in, had been a part of the wolf recovery effort initiating this with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. You'll see in my slides here some of the more aspects of who I am I guess. I'm more of a fisherman, so you'll see some of the tribal elements in this, because the way our treaty reads is that we have the exclusive right for taking fish and then all other privileges, hunting and all that, come in after the fishing right. So wildlife and all that stuff is tied to our fishing rights. It's kind of a weird little set up because you think culturally, all animals are equal, all two-legged humans, we're all equal to the animals and so. Why don't we get started?

First of all, I'd like to first go over the introduction and the Nez Perce history a little bit more so you understand the dynamics of wolf recovery a little bit in conjunction with Nez Perce culture. And then I'll get into more of the logistics of Nez Perce, the contract with the gray wolf recovery from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I'll give you an up-to-date report on what we're doing right now. And then I think also kind of going over some of the...understanding the value differences between Indian versus non-Indian entities and the politics. And then kind of get into the larger picture of really looking at repairing, mitigating Nez Perce country, and so that we have a diversity of species within our country and the benefits as well.

So the first part, my administration, I have around anywhere from 90 to 100 employees right now. I have six division directors. I have everything but fisheries. In fisheries, Jaime Pinkham is now the new Fisheries Manager for the Tribe and so I work with him. And then there are several places where I represent the tribe at the Intertribal Timber Council, I'm a board member of that board. And the State-Tribal Working Group, the states and tribes work collaboratively to make recommendations on clean-up efforts for the Department of Energy and so we meet with them [DOE] quite a bit. And now we're trying to get...administer the Integrated Resources Management Plan. And then I lobby, I work with my policymakers, the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee and many of you met Justin yesterday I believe.

First of all, I've got to get started off really understanding Nez Perce culture, Nez Perce history a little bit. In 1855, how we became politically established was Chief Looking Glass, old Chief Looking Glass was hunting buffalo in Montana, buffalo country -- we'd been battling the Mandan, Hidatsa, the Blackfeet and all over for the buffalo resource. And one of the things during that time, the governor then, Isaac Stevens, wanted to negotiate a treaty with the Nez Perce Tribe and so that was held at Walla Walla, Washington or the Washington Territory. And so we had actually come in, there were 2,000 Nez Perce warriors who had actually stopped hunting and come in for this treaty. And during that time, it was not about conquering the Nez Perce, the Umatillas, the Yakimas, it was not about conquered because the cavalry only had a few...they didn't have a large number of soldiers there so it was was...the tribes could have taken them out easily. It was about perpetuating our rights...reserving our rights for the future and which now I'm the seventh generation from the Treaty of 1855 signers. Chief Looking this is the Young Looking Glass who fought in the Nez Perce War. There is not a picture of his father who signed the Treaty of 1855. As you can see, this is the circle of influence that the Nez Perce had in regards to hunting, gathering, fishing. And so what you see is the original reservation here in 1855 and you had the northeast Oregon, you had the Wallowa Band, this is where Chief Joseph comes from. And so our rights going into buffalo country to be able to hunt and then fish with our sister tribes on the Columbia River. And then battling...we fought a lot with the Shoshone Bannock down in southern Idaho.

Before the treaties or before this reservation was formed, Lewiston's right here, so you had a lot of non-Indians waiting for the opening of the reservation. What they were doing was illegally going on to the reservation and looking for gold, looking at our resources, and so there were a number of things that were unexploited at that time. This is the reservation that Joseph refused to go to and so the Nez Perce War of 1877 escalated. We were actually...Joseph and the Wallowa Band were actually heading to the reservation and two young warriors before they actually got the reservation had retaliated and killed a couple of non-Indians because they had murdered their fathers and so retaliation escalated the War of 1877, so the first battle takes place in Salmon River Country. And my great-great grandfather Two Moon and Ollicot led the first battle in which we had won most of them throughout the Nez Perce war, but the Bear's Paw is where we surrendered. And this is a picture of Big Hope Battlefield, and you can see where they placed the Howitzer up above here when they had snuck up on the Nez Perce, our encampment. The encampment was down here and that day they killed 60 to 90 women and children. It was the first act of genocide by the U.S. government on the Nez Perce people. They had blatantly come after our women and children...had smashed in the heads of all the infants just to prove a point to us and to get us back to Lapwai on the reservation. And so when the Howitzer would...the cannons would land and hit...cannonballs would hit out there in the encampment, shrapnel would blow everywhere and would kill people. And my great-great grandfather Two Moon was actually down in this area and he was one of the first...he had killed three or four soldiers that day. We had the guns in my grandpa's place for quite a while and their house burnt down and so we lost not only a number of resources from the tribe, but even the cavalry. And so the Nez Perce chased back the cavalry and made them retreat during this time. And Yellow Wolf, Chief Joseph's nephew, had actually...they went up...they only got two shots off, I believe, with the cannonball and they had dismantled that Howitzer and buried it and so it only took just a matter of minutes for the warriors to make the cavalry retreat.

And then Chief Joseph, Hinmatoylokekt, leads, he's the leader of the Nez Perce, which we had many chiefs, Chief Looking Glass, White Bird, Toohoolhoolzote and so he surrenders at Bear Paw [Nez Perce language] and my history there great-grandfather was born the year after, James Miles, who was born at Fort Walsh. Some of my family had made it into Canada, into Sitting Bull's camp. That's who we were trying to reach was...we were allies with Sitting Bull and one of the things...for me I feel fortunate enough to be here today and lucky enough because the things that they did, their existence, their living and survival is the only reason why I'm here today. And so Chief Joseph, ‘I will not fight no more forever.' And then the other of the other things that he said was, ‘The earth and myself are of one mind.' And that's kind of the premise of how I look at natural resources, ‘The earth and myself are one mind.' I remember when I was going to school I had learned a lot about Aldo Leopold, I learned about the great conservationists and preservationists, but I only had to turn to my family or turn to the chiefs that have been part of our history, and so I didn't have to look very far to find guidance.

Okay, right after the War of 1877 the Nez Perce get split up, we go to the Colville Reservation, some go back to Lapwai on the Nez Perce, Umatilla, and then eventually go to Oklahoma. One of the things during this time the, here's the part that kind of, I always have a big problem with is, we were to provide testimony as Indian people to all the animals who had lost their voice when we had become in existence, so we as humans have a submissive role to animals, not dominion. And so when we have that...the ability to take an animal to feed ourselves, we are to provide testimony and to perpetuate that animal. And so during the unregulated times when ranching, mining, all these 'lords of yesterday' that Charles Wilkinson talks about in his book, they are dominating, they environmental degradation and loss of habitat, this is where it happens and then extirpation and extinction of plant and animal species takes place. And during this time a tax on tribalism began through the government programs such as the Dawes Allotment Act, the boarding school era, and the Relocation Act. So becoming no longer a tribe no more, we're becoming somewhat acclimated and assimilated to become Americans, and so the animals have no voice to speak on their behalf when we're in the boarding schools, when we're learning to just become American and have dominion over the animals.

And so during that time a lot is lost, loss of the chief system and we go to...that's actually Big Hole as well, Big Hole Battlefield. So tribalism is almost lost to Eurocentric values. Indians are demonized with predators such as the wolf and grizzly bear. Indian leadership is reduced from a proud man or woman with a role in the tribe to a hopeless reservation individual. And so a lot is lost during that time it's just 'me, me, me, I, I, I' -- it's no longer we together as a tribe. And then we also...I don't know if it's whether to combat and beat the white man at his own game, we adopt the first modern version of the constitution and bylaws of the Nez Perce Tribe, approved by the Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs and so it's ratified by our General Council and then Robert's Rules of Order takes front and center rather than coming into a meeting setting and listening to our elders first. And so, anybody can get up and talk now without...and so maybe a loss of respect takes place there. And then later on...we've been fighting a diminishment case on the Nez Perce Reservation. Right after 1893, the Dawes Allotment Act, I think it was 1897, I believe, in our history that the Indian Affairs Commissioner said, ‘No, the reservation was not diminished when it was opened up for the Homestead Act.' And so we've been facing...we have an anti-Indian group on our reservation who is saying, ‘No, you guys accepted money so that's ceding your land away and the reservation lines disappear.' And it comes over really employment issues where we're trying to employ our tribal members. We have an unemployment rate that probably reaches 40 percent at different times, but we are with, through Harvard, I've got to say this, we are actually at the table with them and they've been a great facilitator in all this. Where's Joe [Kalt] at? Oh, there he is in the back. He's been a great help to us.

And so this is what the Indian Affairs Commissioner...the Commission defines as Nez Perce country. So it goes all the way down the Montana border over into northeast Oregon so we have the exclusive right to take fish in all streams and so we can still go on the Columbia River even outside of this barrier and if there were still buffalo in Montana we'd still be able to hunt over there, which I know some other tribes don't like that. And then here's...I wanted to bring this to your attention because this is kind of the...this is the individual practice, the practice of what we always want our kids to do, to practice and exercise our treaty rights. And this is myself at Rapid River and then this is...I'm catching a fish. There's a dam, the trap, which is about maybe 200 yards up above. But we fish three different ways: with this large dip net, there's a hoop on the end and you just put it up river and go downstream, you make one sweep and that's how you catch them in your net. The other way is we have a gaff hook, it's a large hook like this and you feel around in the river and you just pull when you feel...when it feels like a thigh or something you just yank on it. And then the other way is we spear them as well. And so we had fought the Shoshone Bannock, they had actually...we have history of where they killed a lot of Nez Perce when we were fishing during this time and so fighting over the fisheries resource was also a big deal pre-European contact.

And then this is what it's really about -- it's about our kids, our youth. This is my oldest daughter. Last year she caught eight salmon. I was very proud of her. She's very much a tomboy so she wants to go hunting and fishing. And so my two youngest boys, they're not really into that yet, but they're starting to learn and this year I catch them, they're wanting to, they carry around poles with them and act like they're fishing so that's part of their experiential learning. And then my youngest son James, he's named after my great-grandfather James Miles who was born in Canada, James Joseph Miles. My daughter Celilo and Aaron, Jr. His Indian name is 'Two Moon.' So that's kind of the exercising of our rights. That's a very important part of our lives.

People always tell me, ‘Well, Aaron...' I've been confronted by individuals saying, ‘Aaron, you don't go to powwows, you don't do this, you don't do that.' And I'm like, ‘Well, you can do whatever you want if you...whatever you want in your mind that you feel that makes you Indian.' I hunt and fish, my hair's short. My grandfathers, their hair was short and I've always been...that's always been my lifestyle. I always used to listen to them in the sweathouse; they would be talking the old Nez Perce language. You could hear women's names in there sometimes. It's just part of the culture, and so there's new culture that is established during that time and it's important that you encourage your children to go in any way that they want to just as long as they're...that they have some ethics behind them.

And so, the tribal side, now we're getting into the management side of things in which the tribe contracted the gray wolf recovery effort from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1995. In 1995 what I understand, I've talked with the Wildlife Director, Keith Lawrence, he's told me during that time the State of Idaho, the legislature passed...prohibited the Idaho Fish and Game from being involved with wolf recovery so the tribe lands wolf recovery by default. They think the tribe's going to land flat on their faces and not be able to recover wolves into the State of Idaho. And so the gray wolf recovery, 250 wolves later, 17 packs, we're doing good. The wolf already knows that's his country and the bulk of it's right in Nez Perce country. And so we become the contractor and then later on, last year the Idaho State Legislature memorializes the removal of all wolves from the state. And so right now to be involved with wolf management, which we're getting into de-listing, they have to undo some of the legislation that they put on the Idaho Fish and Game to be involved. And so right now, the Nez Perce Tribe is trying to bring them along, help them along with wolf management and accept the recovery efforts. And so the tribe's successes that we've had and obstacles, Curt Mack received an award for the top 100 scientists for Audubon Society for the 20th century, the National Wildlife Federation Conservation Award, the Harvard Award, we've received.

The biggest obstacle is obtaining the social acceptance of wolves. We know the biological acceptance is much greater than what cattlemen and the row growers will allow the wolves to do. There's much more that they can grow. We've identified the train wrecks, where the livestock interactions and wolves take place and where the depredations take place, but the problem is the ranchers, since the American government put them there, they want the American government to bail them out. So they want subsidies or if there's a depredation they want the government to pay for their livestock or their cattle and so we're trying to work with them because wolf management, that's not going to happen. There's not going to be no compensation plan for them. Right now Defenders of Wildlife, they pay for, like if a calf is killed by a wolf, they'll pay full weight, calf weight, as if it was, even if it was real small, just born, they'll pay that price for the rancher and even depredations that even look suspect that may or may not have been killed by a wolf, they'll still pay for it. And so the ranchers have a lot of...I'm not sure if it's incentives, but there's a lot that's going for them in this. Right now, we believe that the environmental groups are going to probably sue in this...the wolf recovery effort because it first called for 10 breeding pairs in the State of Idaho, 10 breeding pairs in Montana, 10 breeding pairs in Wyoming and so it's a 30 breeding pair aggregate and right now the State of Idaho is taking up the bulk of, with 17 pairs and Wyoming and Montana still are lagging, I think, I believe seven or eight, seven packs and I think Wyoming's down to like five and so they have to have 10, 10 and 10 and so that's what the environmental groups are saying or the Nez Perce is saying, ‘We know it's not going to happen in Montana and Wyoming so we've got to get everybody on the same page to get the wolves delisted' because we need more social acceptance. We need the state to be involved rather than just ignoring the whole issue.

The biggest thing in this effort that I've learned... Well, you've got to understand the value differences between Indian and non-Indian, tribalism versus individualism. Ranchers are worried about their economy, their check book, their...and it's not's not about us, it's just about me, that type of mentality and the definition of 'natural' from a tribal perspective versus non-tribal. When I went to my first wolf oversight committee meeting, one of the things that I was really in awe about was everybody except the biologists were around a table talking about wolves. So you had ranchers, you had livestock was even farmers around the table and so it was like, ‘Well, where's the biologists, where's...' We've gotten to a point where how much local control can you have? So local that you just take biologists out of there and people who really care about the resources. And so learning...and also learning from the past versus sustaining the present. And so the tribes are very much...and it goes down to the tribal Garden of Eden versus the state's Garden of Eden. What is the picture that the tribe would like to see versus the state? Well, the tribe would like to see the rolling hills with pine back on those hills where the state would rather see rolling hills of wheat. And so our difference...there are so many differences that we have between the state and the tribe. And then the definition of American from Indian versus non-Indian, that's just the whole...they believe that America is all about us, and here the bulk of the land is federal land that the wolves occupy and it's all taxpayers, just not the State of Idaho taxpayers that fund wolf recovery and are part of what we want in America. And so it's also a selfish point of view in my eyes. But still, nonetheless, we're the contractor; I still got to work with individuals that have definite differences between the tribe...among the tribe. And so that leads me to are we going to start mitigating in a holistic manner all of Nez Perce country, the things that we typify as 'the West'?Some of the things that we...the things I have to continue working with private landowners, changing the mindset for the highest economic return. I believe that's probably what guides the natural resources in the State of Idaho. Collectively protecting our ways of life, and what I mean by that, last week I met with the Idaho Cattlemen's Association and the...growers for the first time and I told them, I said, ‘You know, we as Indian people are very much in the same boat as you. As ranchers and farmers where maybe sometimes people perceive that as a way of the past, the dying out and we need to stick up for each other rather than looking out ways how we can get rid of each other because for us we want ranchers to accept that wolves are here, they're here to stay and this is the animal, this is the icon that was with the Nez Perce Tribe when we were flourishing economically, everything about us culturally, socially, politically before the white man was here. So we want you guys to understand that this is an important species to us spiritually, and that it's important for you to accept this animal. If you're claiming that you're five, six generations in this country, then you will accept these ways as well, not just the agrigarian part of your livelihood. It's all about the hard-working individual being able to overcome these obstacles. That's really what our heritages are about.'

Benefits of wolf recovery: so we're restoring the west. We're restoring the image of the hardworking individual with Indians, with wolves, with the predators and then learning to live with our neighbors is the biggest deal. I mean, we're so close to non-Indians, but we haven't been able to come that close, not until JFK [Kennedy School] came into, or Harvard School came in and help us out, sit down with the North [Central] Idaho Jurisdictional Alliance. We've never been able to sit down with them. I sat down with an individual who made a public comment who said, ‘bloodshed is inevitable.' He was referring to that sometime we're going to go into battle with the Alliance and so that's how far we have gotten from that point. And then the other thing is, for us elk populations become healthier. You've got a healthier ecosystem. There's some things we don't understand about wolves yet, whether they're additive or compensatory. We don't know if they're taking additional elk or additional livestock or are they just bumping out another predator so there's less of another predator deprivating on livestock and elk. One of the things that I thought was kind of humorous is the state, they actually...they want slower moving elk, they want the most elk they can have in the State of Idaho and so they can sell the greatest number of out of state tags and so the Idaho Fish and Game, their very existence is based upon money, it's not about science. And so we're learning more about them as we go through wolf recovery and it just...they want accessible elk and it's kind of a crazy thought in my mind.

And then the spiritual significance of [Nez Perce language]; [Nez Perce language] is 'wolf' in Nez Perce, restore it to the Nez Perce people. And above all, our belief in perpetuation and protection of the [Nez Perce language] is the creator, his natural resources. It's not about us, it's about how we can get the spirit animals back that belong to the Nez Perce when we used to perform [Nez Perce language], when the spiritual elements to the tribe, that we know we were facing a lot of social ailments, social-economic conditions. When I was growing up in Lapwai, we had an unemployment rate of about 80 percent. There were more dogs in Lapwai than there were human beings. There was so much going on. I'd have to walk by two bars every day when I'd walk to school and there'd be fights breaking out and it was a rough time in our tribe's history, and to be reduced from this very respected individual in a community to someone who's now just an alcoholic. Through our natural resources, that's how we address these issues and some people look at them that way or some people just seem them as totally different. And I hope that with what, I'm able to leave you here today that natural resources, that's who we are as Indian people. Without them, we're almost like we're just another regular American and we've been fighting for that right to be different for so long. We weren't a part of the civil rights movement by and large 'cause we were fighting for the right to be different with our reservations and be unique, and so that's really what America's about today and so I think America is learning that sometimes my ways are un-American, but they have to accept us whether they like it or not and learn to live with us and vice versa."

Wilma Mankiller: What it Means to be an Indigenous Person in the 21st Century: A Cherokee Woman's Perspective

Indigenous Scholars Lecture Series

Former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation Wilma Mankiller discusses the common misperceptions that people have about Indigenous people in the 21st century, and the efforts of Indigenous peoples to maintain their identity, cultures, values, and ways of life.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Mankiller, Wilma. "What it Means to be an Indigenous Person in the 21st Century: A Cherokee Woman's Perspective." Vine Deloria, Jr. Indigenous Scholars Lecture Series, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 30, 2008. Presentation.

Thank you very much Tsianina [Lomawaima] for inviting me and for working on all the details to get me here. And I also want to thank Teresa wherever Teresa is who’s been in charge of taking care of a lot of logistics and has done a great job. And how I came to be here is that I mentioned to Tom [Holm] one time -- we’re both on this commission that he mentioned -- and I mentioned to him how much I love Arizona. And I told him. ‘If I ever had to live any place other than my home and the Cherokee Nation, I’d live in Arizona.’ And he said, ‘Well, we need to get you to Arizona then.’ And so I also wanted to thank Tom for the invitation to come here today and be with all of you. And I want to thank you. I was just mentioning to Tom how honored I am always when I do public speaking that people would leave their home and their family and their other activities and come to spend an evening just so we can have dialogue together and get to know one another, and I really appreciate that very much and want to express that appreciation to you.

For me it’s an incredible honor to offer remarks about what it means to be an Indigenous person in the 21st century as a part of the Vine Deloria series of events that are occurring here on campus. Many of us who had the privilege of knowing Vine are still trying to figure out how to live in a world without his physical presence and I believe that we can best honor him by doing exactly what this university is doing and that’s continuing to challenge the stereotypes and the misperceptions about Native people that still exist in this country. I also think that we can honor him by getting up every morning and making sure that we stand for something larger than ourselves. I think that’s a way of honoring Vine. And I also think that we can honor him by continuing the fight, his fight, our fight for treaty rights and for tribal sovereignty and also continuing the fight for our cultural survival.

So let me begin by saying that I don’t speak for all Indigenous people or even for all Cherokee people. The thoughts that I share with you tonight are derived entirely from my own experience. And most of my remarks tonight will concern Indigenous people of this country, but I have visited Indigenous people in lots of other places including China. There are very distinct ethnic communities in China, in Ecuador, in South Africa, in New Zealand and in Brazil. There are over 300 million Indigenous people in virtually every region of the world including the Sami peoples of Scandinavia, the Maya of Guatemala, numerous tribal groups in the Amazonian rainforest, the Dalits in the mountains of southern India, the San and Qua in southern Africa, aboriginal people in Australia and of course the hundreds and hundreds of Indigenous people in Mexico, Central and South America as well as here in this land that is now called America. There is enormous diversity among communities of Indigenous people, each of which has its own culture, language, history and unique way of life. Indigenous people across the globe share some common values derived from an understanding that their lives are part of and inseparable from the natural world around them.

Onondaga faith keeper Oren Lyons who spoke here recently once said, ‘Our knowledge is profound and comes from living in one place for untold generations. Our knowledge comes from watching the sun rise in the east and set in the west from the same place over great sections of time. We are as familiar with the land, river and great seas that surround us as we are with the faces of our mothers. Indeed we call the earth [Native language], Our Mother, from which all life springs. This deeply felt sense of interdependence with all other living things fuels a duty and a responsibility to conserve and protect the natural world that is a sacred provider of food, of medicine and spiritual sustenance. Hundreds of seasonal ceremonies are regularly conducted by Indigenous people to express thanksgiving for the gifts of nature and to acknowledge the seasonal changes and to remind people of their obligations to each other and to the earth.’

And the stories continue. In many Indigenous communities around the world, traditional stories embody the collective memory of the people. These stories often describe how things were in the distant past, what happened to cause the world to be as it is today and some stories project far into the future. The prophecies of a number of Indigenous groups predict that the world will end when people are no long capable of protecting nature or restoring its balance. Two of the most widely quoted prophecies are those of the Hopi and the Iroquois, both of which have long predicted that the world will end if human beings forget their responsibilities to the natural world. These prophecies seem particularly important in this era of increasing alarm about the catastrophic effects of climate change and questions, even questions about the long-term survival of humankind. Indigenous people are not the only people on earth who understand that they’re interconnected with all living things. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said, ‘At some point during this journey, we lost our feeling of connectedness to the rest of nature. We now dare to wonder, ‘Are we so unique and powerful as to be essentially separate from the earth?’’

There are many thousands of people from different ethnic groups who care deeply about the environment and fight every day to protect the earth. The difference between non-Indigenous environmentalists and Indigenous people who live close to the land is that Indigenous people have the benefit, the unique benefit of having ceremonies that regularly remind them of their responsibilities to each other and their responsibilities to the land. So they remain close to the land not only in the way they live but in their hearts and in the way they view the world.

To me, sometimes when I talk to mainstream environmentalists it’s almost like environmentalism is an intellectual exercise. The difference when you talk to people who, traditional Indigenous people who live close to the land is that they feel that the connection to the land and their responsibility to take care of it is a sacred duty, it’s not an intellectual exercise. When women like Pauline Whitesinger, an elder at Black Mountain or at Big Mountain, and Carrie Dann, a Western Shoshone land rights activist speak of preserving the land for future generations, they’re not talking about just future generations of humans, they are talking literally about future generations of all living things. That’s a profound difference. Pauline and Carrie live with the land and they understand the relative insignificance of human beings in the totality of the universe.

When all human beings, Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people lived closer to the land, there was a greater understanding of the interdependence between humans and the land. Author and feminist Gloria Steinem observes that ‘Once, indeed nearly for all the time that human beings have walked this earth, you and I would have been living very differently in small bands, raising our children together as if each child were our own and migrating with the seasons. There were no nations, no lines drawn in the sand. Instead there were migratory paths and watering places with trade and culture blossoming wherever the paths came together in patterns that spread over the continents like lace.’

So what’s happened in the non-Native world is that there’s an absence of the stories and the ceremonies to remind them, and so they have no memory of that time when they lived very close to the land and were responsible for one another and for the land. They’re not only distant from the land and from themselves, they have little understanding of their place in the world.

I remember one time being, I live in a very rural area at the end of a dirt road within the Cherokee Nation and so very conscious of seasonal changes and of things that are going on in the natural world. And I remember once being in New York City at the magical time of dusk and watching the people. Not a single person on a crowded street in New York City looked at or acknowledged the sunset over the Hudson River or even, I imagine, thought about the gift of another day. It made me wonder how many urban dwellers, millions of urban dwellers go about their lives without ever really seeing or thinking about the miracle of the sun rising in the morning and setting again in the evening.

Aside from a different view of their relationship to the natural world, many of the world’s Indigenous people also share a sometimes fragmented but still very present sense of responsibility for one another. Cooperation has always been necessary for the survival of tribal people and even today in the more traditional communities cooperation takes precedence over competition. It’s really quite miraculous that a sense of sharing and reciprocity continues into the 21st century given the staggering amount of adversity Indigenous people have faced. Within many communities at home and I think in tribal communities around the country the greatest respect, the most respected people are not those who have amassed great material wealth or achieved great personal success. The greatest respect is reserved for those people who help other people, people who understand that as Indigenous people we’re born into a community, a specific tribal group and that our entire lives play themselves out within a set of reciprocal relationships. The people that understand that are the most respected people.

There’s evidence of this sense of reciprocity in some Cherokee traditional communities. My husband Charlie Soap leads a widespread self-help movement among the Cherokee in which low-income volunteers work to build walking trails, community centers, sports complexes, water lines and even houses. This self-help movement, in which everybody gets together and helps each other, taps into the traditional value of cooperation for the sake of the common good.

Besides a connection to the land and this sense of reciprocity, the world’s Indigenous people are also bound by the common experience of being ‘discovered’ and subjected to colonial expansion into their territories that led to the loss of an incalculable number of lives and millions and millions of acres of land and resources. The most basic rights of Indigenous people were disregarded and they were subjected to a series of policies that were designed to assimilate them into colonial society and culture. Too often, the policies resulted in poverty, high infant mortality, rampant unemployment, substance abuse and all its attendant problems.

The stories are shockingly similar all over the world. When I first read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which chronicled the systematic destruction of an African tribe’s social, cultural and economic structure, it sounded all too familiar. Take the land, discredit the leaders, ridicule the traditional healers, send the children off to distant boarding schools; very familiar story. And then I read a report called The Stolen Generation about aboriginal children in Australia who were forcibly removed from their families and placed in boarding schools.

My own father and my Aunt Sally were taken from my grandfather by the U.S. government and placed in a government boarding school when they were very small, very young. So that story is very familiar to Cherokee people and to tribal people all over the world. Indigenous people everywhere on the planet are connected both by our values and by our oppression.

When contemplating the contemporary challenges and problems faced by Indigenous people worldwide, it’s important to remember that the roots of many contemporary social, economic and political problems can be found in colonial policies and those policies continue today across the globe. In the Amazonian rainforest, Indigenous people are continually battling large scale destruction of their traditional homes in the forest by multi-national mining, oil and timber companies. Some small Amazonian Indigenous communities are on the verge of extinction as the result of the murder of their leaders and the forced dispersal of their members. And to make matters worse, some well-meaning environmentalists who should be natural allies focus almost exclusively on the land and appear not to see or hear the people at all.

When I was in Brazil, one of the people there was quite humorous and he said, ‘There was a time when a lot of famous musicians, American and English musicians, would wear T-shirts that said 'Save the Rainforest.'‘ And he said, ‘You never once saw a T-shirt that said 'Save the People of the Rainforest.'‘ Though the people of the forest, the people who live in the forest and have lived there for thousands of years possess the best knowledge about how to live with and sustain the forest.

When you think about it, of the fact that folks focus on the land and not the people, it’s not surprising really because Indigenous people are not in the consciousness of many, of the people in the larger society. There’s too little accurate information available about us, available in educational institutions, in literature, in films or in the popular culture. I believe that the battle to protect the human and land rights of Indigenous people is made immeasurably more difficult by the fact that so few people know much about either the history or contemporary lives of our people and without any kind of history or cultural context, it’s almost impossible for outsiders to understand Indigenous issues. And the information that is available is often produced by non-Native people; some of which is enormously helpful. Some of the anthropological work has helped tribes restore, some tribal people restore their languages and that sort of thing. So some of the non-Native literature is enormously helpful, but too much of it is written by people who spend 15 minutes in a tribal community, become an expert, and then go out and write a book or produce a film.

So there’s a lot of inaccurate information out there. And the lack of accurate information creates a void, which is often filled with nonsensical stereotypes, which either vilify Indigenous people as troubled descendants of savage peoples on the one hand or they romanticize them as innocent children of nature, spiritual but incapable of higher thought on the other hand. Whether the stereotype romanticizes or vilifies people, it’s still very harmful I believe.

Then the stereotypes about Indigenous women are particularly appalling. While the role of Indigenous women in the family and the community, now and in the past, differs from community to community, women have always played very significant roles in most tribal societies. Yet in the media and in the larger society the power, the strength, the complexity of Indigenous women is rarely acknowledged or rarely recognized.

I believe that these public perceptions of tribal people will change in the future because Indigenous leaders now understand that there is a direct link between public perception and public policy and they understand that they must frame the issues for themselves. If Indigenous people don’t frame the issues for themselves, their opponents most certainly will. In the future, as more Indigenous people become filmmakers, writers, historians, museum curators and journalists, they’ll be able to use a dazzling array of technological tools to tell their own stories in their own voice in their own way.

Once a journalist asked me whether people in the U.S. had trouble accepting the government of the Cherokee Nation during my tenure as principal chief. I was a little surprised by the question. The government of the Cherokee Nation predated the government of the United States and the Cherokee Nation had treaties with other countries before it executed a treaty with one of the first U.S. colonies. So that question really surprised me.

During the colonial era and before, many tribal leaders sent delegations to meet with the Spanish, with the English and French in an effort to protect their lands and rights. And these tribal leaders, they would travel to foreign lands with a trusted interpreter and they took maps that had been painstakingly drawn by hand to show their lands to other heads of state. They also took along gifts, letters and proclamations. And what’s very painful now is to look back in history and see that though the tribal leaders themselves, when they traveled to these other places, thought they were being dealt with as heads of state and as equals, historical records indicate that they were sometimes viewed as objects of curiosity and sometimes a great deal of disdain though they themselves, the tribal leaders, were very earnest.

The journalist with the question about Cherokee government needn’t apologize for her lack of knowledge about tribal governments in the U.S. Many people in the U.S. know very little about us though they’ve been living in our former towns and villages now for hundreds of years.

Again, it’s impossible to even contemplate the contemporary lives or future of Indigenous people without some basic knowledge of tribal history. [I’m going to skip some of this history because you probably know all of this.] Tribal governments in the U.S. exercise their range of sovereign rights and it’s interesting because one of the most common misperceptions in the larger culture is that all tribal governments are the same or even worse that all Indian people are the same or that we speak some kind of common ‘Indian’ language. And so one of the tasks I think we have is to remind people that each tribal government is unique and that different tribal governments exercise their sovereign rights in different ways. And some tribal governments have gaming facilities, some have a number of cooperative agreements with the state governments, other tribal governments believe that we are giving up sovereignty to execute any kind of government with a statement government so they don’t engage in those governments. And there are some governments like the Onondaga that have, do not do any kind of gaming, don’t believe in gaming, and they don’t receive any kind of federal funding at all, none. And so they, and they have their traditional government that they’ve had since the beginning of time. But by and large there are many tribal governments in this country now that have their own judicial systems -- most do -- operate their own police force, they run their own schools, they administer their own clinics and hospitals and operate a wide range of business enterprises and there are now more than two dozen tribally controlled community colleges. And the interesting thing is that all these advancements that tribes have made benefit everybody in the community not just tribal people. And the history and contemporary lives and future of tribal governments is intertwined with that of their neighbors.

And even within there’s a lot of difference between various tribal groups, each of which is very distinct, has its own culture, language and history but even within tribal groups there’s a great deal of diversity. And in our tribe, members of our tribe, the Cherokee tribe, are very stratified socially, economically and culturally. There are several thousand Cherokee people that continue to speak the Cherokee language and live in Cherokee communities in rural northeastern Oklahoma. On the other end of the spectrum, there are enrolled members of the Cherokee Nation who’ve never even visited the Cherokee Nation and so there’s a great deal of stratification in our tribe and I believe in other tribes as well.

Each Indigenous community is unique just as each community in the larger society is unique. Outside our communities, I think too many people view Indigenous people through a very narrow, one-dimensional lens and really we’re very interesting and very complex and we’re certainly multi-dimensional human beings that rarely do people outside of our communities see us in that way.

So what does the future hold for Indigenous people across the globe and what challenges will they face moving further into the 21st century? I think that to see the future of Indigenous people one needs only to look at the past. If we as a people have been able to survive such a staggering loss of land, of rights, of resources and lives, how can I not be optimistic that we will survive whatever challenges lie ahead in the next 100 or even 500 years and that we can project far into the future and still have viable Indigenous communities. If we’ve survived what we’ve survived so far, I’m confident we can survive whatever lies ahead. Without question, the combined efforts of government and various religious groups to eradicate traditional knowledge system has had a profoundly negative impact on the culture as well as the social and economic systems of Indigenous people. But again, if we’ve been able to hold onto our sense of community, our sense of interdependence, our generosity of spirit, our languages, our culture, our ceremonies, our medicine, despite everything, how can I not be optimistic about the future? And though some of the original languages, ceremonies and medicine has been irretrievably lost, the ceremonial fires of many Indigenous people across the globe have survived all the upheaval. Sometimes Indigenous communities after major upheaval and removal have almost had to reinvent themselves as a people but they’ve never given up their sense of responsibility to one another and to the land. It is this sense of interdependence I believe that has sustained tribal people thus far and I believe it will sustain them well into the future.

The world’s changing, but we can adapt to change. Indigenous people know about change and have proven time and time again they can adapt to change. No matter where Native people go in the world, they take with them a strong sense of values, a strong sense of who they are and so they can fully interact with the larger society and participate in the larger society around them but still have a sense of themselves. If you look at some of the people like Vine Deloria, or [N.] Scott Momaday, who won a Pulitzer Prize, or the Chickasaw gentleman, who was an astronaut, or the women who, including Maria Tall Chief, who became prima ballerinas, no matter where those people went they took with them a strong sense of who they are.

One of the things that I remember interviewing for my book LaDonna Harris and one of the things that she said strike me. She said, ‘You know, when I was living in Washington as a Senator’s wife, I did the same thing as other Senate wives did.’ But she said -- it didn’t matter who all was talking to her or what situation she was in -- 'I was Comanche and when, whatever was going on around me, I filtered that through my Comanche values and my sense of who I was. I could live in Washington in a similar house as the other Senate wives and do similar things but I never lost my sense of who I was as a Comanche woman.’ She said, ‘I’ve always hated that term that we live in two worlds.’ She said, ‘My world is that I’m a Comanche woman.’ So it was very interesting and I think a lot of people do that. And for the young people here today that are contemplating careers, it doesn’t matter whether you become a physician or a professor or a lawyer or if you live away from your homelands and can’t participate regularly in ceremonies. You can take with you the knowledge and the values wherever you go.

I believe that one of the great challenges for Indigenous people globally and particularly here in the U.S. will be in the future and now will be to develop practical models to capture, maintain and pass on traditional knowledge system to future generations. When we all lived close to one another, it was easy to pass on the knowledge. Many tribal groups even had people who were designated to remember things. It was their job to remember things and pass them on. But since people are very mobile and the world’s changed so much, we have to come up with new models to capture and maintain the knowledge and pass it on to future generations. There’s nothing in the world, nothing that we can learn anywhere that can replace that solid sense of continuity and knowing that a genuine understanding of traditional knowledge brings. We have to preserve that and we have to pass that on to future generations. There are many communities that are working on discreet aspects of culture such as language or medicine, but in my view it’s the entire system of knowledge that needs to be maintained and not just for Indigenous people but for the world at large.

Perhaps in the future Indigenous people who have an abiding and deeply held belief that all living things are related and interdependent can help policymakers understand how completely irrational it is to destroy the very natural world that sustains all life. Regrettably, in the future the battle for human and land rights will continue but the future does look somewhat better. Last year, after 30 years of advocacy by Indigenous people, the United Nations finally passed a resolution supporting the basic inherent rights of Indigenous people. The resolution by the way was passed over the objections of the United States government. The challenge I think for people working in international work now will be to make sure the provisions of the resolution are honored and the rights of Indigenous people all over the world are indeed protected. And the efforts of tribal governments in this country to take full advantage of the self-governance and self-determination policies of the U.S. government are once again a testament to the fact that Indigenous people simply do better when they have control of their own lives.

In the case of my own people, we’re an example of what happens when you have control and then when you lose control. In the case of the Cherokees, after we were forcibly removed by the United States military from the southeast to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, we picked ourselves up and rebuilt our nations. We started some of the first schools west of the Mississippi, Indian or non-Indian, and built schools for the higher education of women. We printed our own newspapers in Cherokee and English and were at that time more literate than our neighbors in Texas and Arkansas and actually I think we probably still are. Then in the early 20th century, the federal government tried to abolish the Cherokee Nation and within two decades -- when we didn’t have a functioning central tribal government -- we went from being one of the most literate groups of people to having one of the lowest educational attainment levels of any group in eastern Oklahoma. And so that’s a direct testament to what happens when we have control and when we don’t have control.

For the past 35 years, we’ve been in an effort to revitalize the Cherokee Nation and now we once again run our own school and have an extensive array of successful education programs. The youth at our Indian school, the Sequoyah High School, recently won the state, the team, a student won the state trigonometry contest and several are Gates Millennium Scholars. Again, we do better when we have control over our own destiny. And a couple of years ago Harvard University completed over a decade of comprehensive research, which was published in a guardedly hopeful book entitled The State of Native Nations. The research indicates that most of the social and economic indicators are moving in a positive direction. Many tribal governments are strong, educational attainment levels are improving, and there is a cultural renaissance occurring in many tribal communities.

Within some Indigenous communities, there are conversations about what it means to be a traditional Indigenous person now and what it will mean in the future. I am an Indigenous woman of the 21st century, and I’m so glad I was born Cherokee and that my life has indeed played itself out within a set of reciprocal relationships in my family and community.

To me, being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means being part of a group of people with the most valuable and ancient knowledge on the planet, a people who still have a direct relationship with and sense of responsibility to the land and to other people.

To me, being an Indigenous person of the 21st century means being part of a community that faces a daunting set of challenges and problems and oppression and yet the communities, our communities find so many moments of grace and comfort and joy in traditional stories, in the language and in ceremonies.

I think, to me, being an Indigenous person of the 21st century, all these young smart people getting an education here at the University of Arizona, being an Indigenous person of the 21st century means trusting our own thinking again and not only articulating our own vision of the future clearly, but having within our communities and our people the skill set and the leadership ability to make those visions a reality.

Being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means -- despite everything -- still being able to dream of a future in which all people will support the human rights and self-determination of Indigenous people. We still have that dream and we still have that hope. Land can be colonized and resources can be colonized but dreams can never be colonized. I always think about the time of my grandfather and the early part of the 20th century, during that bad time when our central government was in disarray, and these people never gave up the dream of having a strong central tribal government and a strong community and they would ride horses to each other’s houses throughout the Cherokee Nation and collect money in a mason jar to send a delegate to Washington to remind the leaders in Washington of their obligation, their treaty obligations to Cherokee people. So our people never gave up their dream and will never give up their dream.

Being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means sharing traditional knowledge and best practices with Indigenous communities all over the world using the iPhone, the Blackberry, MySpace, YouTube and every other technological tool that becomes available to us.

Being an Indigenous person in the 21st century means becoming a physician or a scientist or even an astronaut who will leave her footprints on the moon and then return home to participate in ceremonies her people have had since the beginning of time. That’s what it means to be an Indigenous person in the 21st century.

And finally, to be an Indigenous person of the 21st century means to forego the feeling of going around with anger in our hearts over past injustices and it means not becoming paralyzed by the inaction we see around us or the totality of problems we face in our communities. We can’t be paralyzed by that and we can’t be angry over past injustice. I think it’s important for us to keep our view just as our ancestors did. We’re here because our ancestors thought about us and cared about us and fought for us. So it’s our job now to keep our vision fixed on the future. That’s what we need to do.

I really love my favorite proverb, which I’ll leave you with is a Mohawk proverb and because they teach their young people not to always be angry and focus on injustice or not be paralyzed by what’s going on around them, the problems they now face. So what they tell their young people is that you need to be thinking about the future and ‘it’s hard to see the future with tears in your eyes.’ I love that proverb. So I’ll leave you with that proverb, ‘ It’s hard to see the future with tears in your eyes.’ And thank you again for being here and open it up for some time for questions and answers. Thank you.


Oren Lyons: Looking Toward the Seventh Generation

University of Arizona

Onondaga Chief and Faithkeeper Oren Lyons discusses the increasingly urgent issues of global warming and climate change and points to Indigenous peoples, their core values, and their reciprocal relationships to the natural world as sources of instruction for human beings to heed in order to combat those issues.

Resource Type

Lyons, Oren. "Looking Toward the Seventh Generation." American Indian Studies Program, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 17, 2008. Presentation.

“A lot of thank you’s today and I especially want to thank my elders here who gave a blessing and reminded me as well as everybody else that we are connected to the earth very closely and we should be thankful for everything that we do. And that was our instructions: give thanks, be grateful. I want to thank the American Studies in…Indian Studies in Arizona for bringing me here, and Moran for taking the time, and Carol for trucking me about, and to David for taking care of me. And everybody’s been so great to me so I really appreciate it here. Obviously going to have to come back and spend more time. Right now, I’m just on the move, but the reason why is important. It’s my mission to bring news to you, maybe not good news, but news that you should know about and things that are going on in the world.

I come from Onondaga, upstate New York. I come from the Six Nations. English call us 'Six Nations,' French call us 'Iroquois,' and we ourselves are the 'Haudenosaunee.' Six Nations: the Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, the Senecas and the Tuscarora. We’re an old alliance, we’re a confederation based on peace and we were gathered together some thousand years ago to cease fighting amongst ourselves and to become productive in creating and working with one another bringing peace. There was a spiritual being, messenger we called The Peacemaker. He has a name and the only time we ever use that name is when we raise leaders and we raise the [Native language], what you call 'chiefs,' then you’ll hear his name, but otherwise than that we call him The Peacemaker. And he came to five warring nations at that time and I won’t go through the epic story of his life and how he arrived at the Mohawks and how he went from one Nation to the other changing these fighting men to peace. So finally gathered on the shores of Onondaga Lake, where 50 men who formerly were enemies of one another and he laid down for us the whole constitution based on peace, the principle of peace and health, of equity, justice for the people and of unity, the power of the good minds and the power of the collective working together --one mind, one body, one heart, one spirit. And we’ve prospered under that instruction over these many years.

And today I represent in the council at Onondaga the Turtle Clan. I myself am a Wolf. I’ve been borrowed from the Wolfs to the Turtle -- temporarily, they said -- that was 41 years ago. You know how Indians are. So I’ve been there for a long time and the Onondaga Nation is the central fire of the Confederacy and we still maintain our structure of raising leaders and removing leaders. We’re probably the last of the traditional governments still in charge of land. And on our nation at Onondaga, we have no Bureau of Indian Affairs; we’re independent. I just traveled from Sweden to here. I traveled on a passport issued at Onondaga and we’ve been using that passport for now since 1977. It’s an instruction in maintaining your identity, who you are, the importance of being who you are and knowing who you are, instructing your children as to who you are. And most of that comes from songs like Mr. Lopez was singing -- that’s our instruction -- to the moon. We call that our grandmother. We have close relations with the earth. The earth’s our mother. You can’t get any closer than that. And from that point on, we’ve always been instructed by the Peacemaker on many things. When he gathered the people at Onondaga on the Onondaga Lake so many years ago and he instructed us how we would sit and what our clans would be and the authorities and the duties of the women and the men and the people and how this would continue and we’ve maintained that. Now in today’s times, we’re kind of alone in this traditional government, but traditions are everywhere. Every nation has kept their traditions, even though the BIA may be there and even though there may be government authorities, the traditions are still there, songs are still there, language is still there. And the information that’s in the language is what people are seeking today, some instruction.

And so I’ve been a runner for the Onondaga Nation and then the confederacy itself and at times for Indigenous people around the world. I was one of those people who were educated and they said, ‘Well, you can talk like they do. You get out there and you tell them.’ And so I get my instructions from the councils. I don’t have any great wealth of wisdom or so forth. I just understand what I’ve been instructed with and pass that on. Our leaders, our people, don’t like to get up in front of people and speak like that unless it’s our own people. Then they can really speak. So what is the nature of my discussion today, tonight? I had the good fortune to speak to your students here and some of your faculty this morning and it kind of outlined for me what I thought I should be talking about. First of all the introduction of ourselves: the Six Nations has about 18 communities, territories, both about half in Canada and half in the United States. We’re in three states. We’re in Wisconsin, New York and Oklahoma and two provinces in Canada, Quebec and Ontario. And then we have our people all over. Met an Onondaga girl tonight at dinner. She’s over here and her family was here and it was really nice to meet one of my young people here. So we travel far and wide and the message is always the same, it’s always about peace. But today some of the things that were told to us might be helpful here.

When The Peacemaker finally had laid out the whole system for us, he said, ‘Now I’m going to plant this great tree of peace, this great white pine.’ He said, ‘It’ll be the symbol for your Nation.’ He said, ‘It will have four white roots of truth for reaching the four cardinal directions of the earth.’ And he says, ‘Those people who have no place to go can follow the root back to its source and come under the protection of the great tree of peace.’ He said, among a lot of instructions to us as leaders, ‘Prepare yourself for the work that’s in front of you.’ He gave us a lot of instructions. Some of them I’ll tell you about. He said, ‘You as leaders will now have to have skin seven spans thick, seven spans like the bark of a tree,’ he said, ‘to withstand the abuse you’re going to take as leaders. And it won’t be from your enemies, it’s going to be from your family and your friends.’ He said, ‘And don’t wait for any thanks because that’ll be slow in coming.’ He said, ‘Move on.’ He said, ‘When people are angry and they speak in a loud voice, you have to listen to what they’re saying because they’re saying something.’ He said, ‘Try to hear the message through the anger.’ And he said, ‘You cannot respond in kind. Listen. Hear what they’re saying.’ And he said, ‘When you sit and you council for the welfare of the people, think not of yourself nor of your family nor even your generation.’ He said, ‘Make your decisions on behalf of the seventh generation coming. Those faces looking up from the earth,’ he said, ‘layer upon layer waiting their time.’ He said, ‘Defend them, protect them, they’re helpless, they’re in your hands. That’s your duty, your responsibility. You do that, you yourself will have peace.’

So he told us to look ahead. It was an instruction of responsibility of what we are supposed to do. So because I stand here as a representative of our Nation, still carrying the titles, seven generations ago someone was looking out for me or else I wouldn’t be here. So each one of us are any seventh generation and ahead of us are our responsibilities. And we have to take that seriously if they are to have a good life like ours. Our people have gone through a lot of pain and a lot of misery. We’ve suffered removals, genocide, yet we’re still here today. I heard the song and I knew we were still here and everywhere you go you’ll hear those songs. So today as a human being, as a species, I don’t think we have time for being Red or being Black or being White or being Yellow or Brown. I don’t think we have time for that anymore. We have to work together. We have to put aside all of that racism that’s been so destructive, continues. We just don’t have time for that. There’s changes coming and they’re close at hand and very soon we’re going to have to gather ourselves together around the world, and mobilize in our own defense, for our own survival, as a human species. We won’t have time for wars. We’ll need all the money that’s being spent on arms for defense of ourselves and protection of all of nature.

One time, long ago, sitting in the long house when we were having one of our ceremonies, Thanksgiving, we had a visitor who came from the north. He was a Mohawk and they asked him to sing and he was singing the [Native language], the Great Feather Dance. I couldn’t understand Mohawk, but I understood some of the words and then he spoke about my family, [Native word], the Wolf, and I said, ‘What is he saying?’ Because as they sang this Great Feather Dance, there’s a preamble where the beat is slow and they sang and they talk about a lot of things before the dance starts. This was all slow. In our Longhouse, the men are on one side of the house and the women on the other side of the house. So I went down to my grandmother who was sitting there and I said, ‘Gram, what is that man saying?’ And she says, ‘Oh,’ she says, ‘it’s an old song.’ She said, ‘I haven’t heard that in a long time.’ I said, ‘He’s talking about the wolf.’ She said, ‘Yes, he is.’ I said, ‘What is it?’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘he’s talking about the road to the Creator and how beautiful it is and how we should all be walking in that direction and see the strawberries on the side of the road, the path that we’re taking.” The ‘Good Red Road’ they call it, the ‘Good Road.’ And she said, ‘What he’s saying is that on the side in a path like ours, walking beside us is a wolf, both going in the same direction.’ And I said, ‘What does that mean?’ She said, ‘Don’t know. It’s always been a mystery.’

I ponder that a lot of times and I think that he is the representative for the animal world, the spiritual way. And he’s my family, so I’m wondering what does that mean? And I think that he’s like a, well, our uncle maybe. And that whatever happens to the Wolf is going to happen to us. I think that’s what he is. He represents the earth itself and all the life on it. So when you look about and you see what’s going on today and how they’re treating the Wolf, it makes you think that we have to do better, we have to understand. Our nations, they do know about relationship and that’s what it is, it’s a relationship. Our Lakota friends and relatives they say, at the end of their prayer, ‘All our relations…all of our relations,’ and what they mean is literally all life. And when The Peacemaker was instructing the leaders so long ago, he said, ‘Now into your hands I am placing the responsibility for all life in this world.’ And he meant all the trees and all the fish and all the animals and all the medicine and all the water and everything there is, all life, and that’s a responsibility that has kept us here all these years. That’s how we’ve survived. He said, ‘Give thanks, be thankful for what you have.’ And so I see that our nations, the Indian nations, have created great ceremonies of thanksgiving, some that last for days, of thanksgiving and connection with your relatives. And I think that’s what people have to do now in the world. They have to recognize that they are not independent, that they’re just a part of life and you can’t remove all the animals or cut all the trees or catch all the fish without consequence. And so here we are, today’s times facing the consequence of our lost relationship and our lost responsibility.

When we raise leaders in the Longhouse, the old style, what they call the great condolence, it’s a long day. We go through all the laws, all the instructions, instructions to the leaders, instructions to the clan mothers, to the faith keepers, to the chiefs, and then instructions to the people. And it’s the longest instruction when it comes to the people. The people receive the most instruction because they have the most work to do. Leaders are there to help guide you, to be responsible, to initiate positions but the people are the ones that do the work, they’re the ones that have to be the nation. In our language, we don’t have a word for 'warrior.' That’s an English word and it comes from Europe and they were fighting over there. I’ve been traveling over there and I looked at their history, centuries and centuries of fighting. There’s great battlements over there, there’s castles, there’s amazing instruments of war. In Oslo, Norway, there’s a battlement and it starts way back somewhere around the 10th century and each year they made it bigger and bigger and soon it was big enough to hold horses and soon it was big enough to hold battalions of men and it just got bigger and bigger. And I looked on the walls and I saw the armaments and the shields, the axes, the battle axes and they were chipped and broken, heavy swords were nicked and the shields were sliced. And I said, ‘These people fight. These people fight hard.’ I said, ‘It must be hard to be that kind of a life where all you do is fight from one generation to the next.’ We call our men '[Native language].' '[Native language]' means ‘those men without titles who carry the bones of their ancestors on their backs.’ That’s what we call our men, not warrior, '[Native language],' responsible beings, strong men, strong. And they were [strong] or else we wouldn’t be here. And the women right there with them, strong women. Strong families, good instruction, close relations, carried us for a long time until we run across technology of war, weapons and guns, powder.

I won’t go through all that, but all that’s in our history, all that’s in the past and here it is today. And interesting that I’m standing here representative of the Haudenosaunee talking to you about peace and how do you get peace and how do you find peace. You find it by being thankful for what you have and you find it for being grateful for what you have and being in defense of what you have and being closely related to the life that sustains us. We’ve become so independent from the earth itself that we think we are independent and that’s brought us to this point here where we are. Now we’re about to see what the real authority is and how inconsequential we are. We have to work together now. We have to put aside all of this and we have to raise leaders about peace. We have to raise leaders who are going to look out for the people, who are going to look out for the earth and for the lands and the waters. The cod fishing up here off the east banks of the United States is broken; cod is broken. Cod that were once five feet long, hundreds of pounds, down to one and two pounds, fishing them right off the bottom. Can’t fish the cod anymore. Herring, we’re losing the herring. We’re polluting the oceans themselves. We’re polluting the earth itself. We’re leaving a legacy for our children which is really destructive. The high incidents of asthma in children in the east is amazing now, all the kids got asthma and that comes from bad air, that comes from pollution.

And so the instructions that our people had a long time ago still reverberate, long-term thinking, decision making, long-term thinking and you come across the discussion today about bottom lines. What is a bottom line? That’s an economic term, it means the bottom line. Is it a profit or is it a loss? It’s an economic term, that’s what bottom line means. Somebody asked me one time, they said, ‘Well, what’s your bottom line? Everybody’s got a bottom line.’ It caught me a little off guard. I said, ‘Gee, I never thought about that. What is our bottom line?’ And I thought about it awhile. I said, ‘You know, we don’t have a bottom line.’ He says, ‘Everybody’s got a bottom line.’ I said, ‘No, no, no.’ I said, ‘We don’t have a bottom line.’ I said, ‘We live in a cycle, a circle.’ I said, ‘We just go around and around. There’s no bottom line.’ He didn’t have an answer to that, but that in fact is the way it is. Our ceremonies go around the lunar clock, we reach the end it starts over again.

I was talking to the Mayans, our brothers down there in Central America, and I was saying to them, ‘Well, you guys have a calendar that’s coming to an end in 2012.’ ‘Yes,’ they said, ‘that’s true.’ I said, ‘Well, what’s going to happen? What’s going to happen when the calendar comes to an end?’ ‘Well,’ they said, ‘these are 5,000-year calendars so we’ll just start another one.’ Yeah, they made me feel that way too, a little relief there. They did say, though, they said, ‘However,’ they said, ‘there will be a period of enlightenment.’ ‘Oh, what is that, enlightenment?’ ‘Well, you see something.’ I’m thinking, ‘A period of enlightenment, what could that be?’

Well, I thought of this man that was working very hard, decided he was going to take a day off and he was out there on Long Island. Good fishing out there off the Montauk Point in Long Island, big fish out there, come right around the corner. So he said, ‘Well, I’m going to go fishing today, the heck with everything.’ So he went, nice boat, way out there. Hot day. He said, ‘The water looks good. I think I’ll jump in the water, take a little swim.’ So he did. He’s swimming around there, a little ways away from the boat and then he sees this big fin coming towards him, big fin. ‘Oh, no,’ he said. He’s looking at the boat, looking at the fin figuring, ‘how much time have I got?’ Well, that’s a moment of enlightenment. So I hope it’s not going to be that way for us.

The other thing The Peacemaker said was, he said, ‘Never take hope from the people.’ It’s a good instruction. Never take hope from the people. He said, ‘Find a way, find a way.’ So this is hard today, find a way. I’ve been on this road now about global warming for some time and human rights. I’ve been working for our human rights and maybe that’s another section of discussion we should have. In September 2007, September 12th of 2007, Indigenous peoples of the world weren’t peoples. We were populations. In the vernacular of human rights and political discussions in the United Nations, we were always referred to as populations because populations don’t have human rights. Peoples have human rights and for 30 years we’ve been battling in this United Nations for that to be recognized that we are people. And I wondered and I wondered, ‘Why is it or how could it be that there is a declaration, the universal declaration on human rights, so should we not be included and why aren’t we people and why aren’t we included?' Because all those 30 years we’ve been at the U.N., we’ve been developing our own declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples. They would not accept the term 'peoples.' They never used that term, we did. They didn’t. And 'peoples' with an 's'. 'People' is a generic term, it means everybody. But when you say 'peoples' with an 's', ah, now you’re talking about Tohono O’odham, you’re talking about Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Apaches, Senecas. You know there’s 561 Indian nations in this country today. That’s a lot of peoples and there were many, many more than that that are gone forever. Still there’s quite a few of us. Here we are. So 'peoples' with an 's', we were fighting to be recognized. Well, on September 13th, the next day, the United Nations adopted the Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with an 's'. We made a huge step on the political scene of this world. Of course we always knew we were peoples but that’s a political term and highly charged. We learned that. When you start fussing around there with language, we learned about terminology, what tribes mean, what bands of Indians mean. That’s why we say we are nations. We are nations! The buffalos are nations. They are nations. The wolves are nations. That’s who we are. Yes! But they didn’t think so and we were subjugated.

And how is that, how can that be, how can you take a whole Indigenous people of the world and subjugate them to something less than human? Well, that was done in 1493 by the papal bulls of the Roman Catholic Church and they said in this directive, this bull, they said, this was the pope, ‘If there are no Christian nations in this new lands that you’ve discovered, then I declare those lands to be terra nullius, empty, empty lands,’ old Roman law, terra nullius, ‘Furthermore, if there are people there and they are not Christians, they do not have right of title to land. They have only the right of occupancy.’ And there, one year after the discovery of a whole hemisphere by fiat, it was taken by a declaration from a pope in Portugal. How about that? And we’ve been struggling ever since. We’ve been struggling to come out from underneath that. King of England said, ‘Well, I’m as good as a pope. I like that idea. Works for me.’ So he issued the same directive, 1496 to the Cabots, colonizing the new land. ‘By my authority the land is yours.’ Over here of course, here we were, happily planting. We were planting corn and they were planting flags. Big difference. It was pointed out today, this morning in our session, someone had noticed that just a few months ago that the Russians had taken a submarine up to the North Pole and planted a flag at the North Pole. Anybody remember that? Now why do you think they did that? It’s the Doctrine of Discovery. They took a lot of trouble to get a submarine and go to the bottom, find the North Pole and put the Russian flag there. They were claiming land. And if you remember, when the United States landed on the moon, what was the first thing they did? I think I saw a flag standing there wasn’t it? First thing. Doctrine of Discovery: it’s operational today. So you say, ‘How can that be?’

Well, it became installed in U.S. federal law in 1823 in Johnson vs. McIntosh and the issue was Indian land and Judge [John] Marshall, a very famous judge said, and it was not Indians fighting over lands, it was two white men fighting over Indian land, saying, ‘Boys, boys, boys. You’ve got it wrong,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry, that land doesn’t belong to the Indians,’ and recited the Doctrine of Discovery. And he went back and he quoted the King of England and the Cabots and installed that into U.S. federal law. 1955; Tee-hit-ton Indians made a land claim and they were defeated by the Doctrine of Discovery [in the] Supreme Court of the United States. Gitxsan Indians made a land claim, British Columbia 1991, not very long ago, and they lost the case to the Canadian government based on the Doctrine of Discovery. Last year, small town Sherrill, New York, suing the United Nation of New York for taxes, went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court said, ‘Yes, Oneidas, you owe them money based on the Doctrine of Discovery.’ So you think that’s an old law? It’s operational today. That’s why we’re having all this hard time. So it’s racist and it’s also religious law, what you call…a country that proclaims that religion and state are separate. Not under those rules they’re not. How can that be?

Well, we’re studying that. We challenged the 'Holy C' because that’s the root of it all naturally and supported by all Christian nations because that became what they call the Law of Nations. They just made up a law and said, ‘Let’s all get in on it,’ so we lost our land. And if you go to court, you’re going to wind up right there. So there can’t be any justice in the court for us. So the paradigms have to change. When people realize that things are so bad and you understand what’s right and what’s wrong, then you have to change the paradigm itself. Common usage, well, if it’s wrong, it’s wrong. So we’re challenging now the Holy C and we did have a meeting. I gave a strong position on treaties and the Doctrine of Discovery last year at the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the United Nations and 10 minutes after the Holy C came up to us and said, ‘We have to have a meeting,’ because they have a seat at the United Nations. I don’t know why, but the Roman Catholic Church has a seat there. And they said, ‘We’ve got to have a meeting.’ So we said, ‘Fine. Fine. 500 years, about time isn’t it?’ So we went upstairs and we met with their leaders, the bishop, very well versed and he had his lawyers with him and he said, ‘What is it that you want?’ I said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to do something about this Doctrine of Discovery because it’s causing us great pain in the courts today, right now.’ He said, ‘Well, we don’t…we’ve disavowed that many times.’ I said, ‘Well, it’s not good enough. It’s not good enough. You’re going to have to do something better, more profound.’ And he said, ‘What would that be?’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it would be good if your pope confessed to the Indians and Indigenous people that he was wrong, that the Church was wrong; a confession from the pope.’ I said, ‘You people believe in that confession pretty much, don’t you? Good for the soul they say. How about that?’ ‘Well, there’s got to be a better way,’ they said.

So we are in discussion with them. They did write a letter back but in the meantime we’ve talked to Pace University and they have agreed to do a moot court on the Doctrine of Discovery so we’re going to vet this issue. Right now they’re preparing a position to be made at the United Nations in Barcelona, Spain, this fall on the issue of the Doctrine of Discovery. And I would like to see a hearing held in every one of those Christian nations; France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, England, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Sweden. There’s your Christian nations and every one of them should be taught their own history because they don’t know about it, American people don’t know about it but the governments do, they know. So the battle is on. Be that as it may, and we will strive on, but I think before we see the result of that we’re going to be engulfed in global warming and it’s going to take our attention off of everything else except what we’re going to face as humanity.

I was working with a group called the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders for Human Survival. Through the ‘80s, ‘90s we were meeting on that issue [global warming] and there were very luminous individuals there like Mother Teresa, the Dali Lama and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Al Gore. Al Gore was talking back then. He was saying, ‘Hey, problem here.’ And we met and we met [in] Moscow hosted by President [Mikhail] Gorbachev, who’s a great environmentalist by the way, knows what he’s talking about. In 1991, we said, ‘Well, how long are we going to meet here? We’re going to meet, just meet, meet, meet and we don’t come to a conclusion, let’s get to a conclusion.’ So in Tokyo, we came to a conclusion and it was four words. After all these meetings, all these years, we came down to four words: 'value change for survival.' If you don’t change your values that are running this world right now, you’re not going to survive. You can’t run on the values you’re running on right now. You’re going to have to change it. You’re going to have to look to the Indians for that change. Thanksgiving, sharing. You’re going to have to share. Not accrue; share everything, big time. We’ve got a chance. We’ve got a chance. Just the fact that you’re all here. If you’re going to wait for leaders to lead you, see you on the other side. You have to do it yourself. You’ve got to do the leading. You have to step forward and you’ve got to speak up in defense of your families and your lives in the future. You don’t have time. Things are just going to get worse. Talk to the Inuits or the hunters up in Alaska they’ll tell you, ’Whoo hoo, it’s bad up here. Dogs won’t go out on the ice. Hunters don’t know whether they’re going to come back.’ They’ve got to go. They’re subsistence hunters. They’ve got to go but whether they come back is always a question now. They say the same thing in Greenland, same thing in Nunavut. It’s really…you can see the change up in the Arctic Circle better than any other place because it’s really moving at a very fast pace and it’s accelerating.

Now, this is the other thing that you have to keep in mind. The process that we’re engulfed in is a 'compound' action and if you ask what a compound is, compound is what Professor Einstein said was the most powerful law of the universe, a compound. We have two compounds going on right now. One is the ice melt and the other is human population. When I was 20 years old in 1950, there were 2.5 billion people in the world. Here we are 58 years later and there’s 6.7 billion people in the world. That’s a compound, unsustainable and growing as we stand. Every four days there’s another million people born. Did you know that, every four days? That means food, water, shelter and land for every one of those individuals. We’re pressing the caring capacity right now. That’s a reality. It’s hard news, but you’ve got to hear it. And so what do we do? Ah, that’s the question. So you do, you know what you do, you gather your people in a circle, your families, your community and you say to each other, ‘All right, let’s have a meeting here. Let’s have a meeting and let’s decide what we’re going to do.’ And you will, you will decide and you will find a way when you sit and talk to each other like that because that’s how we always used to do. The people will decide. So the fate of our own lives and of the future is in our hands, no one else’s and it doesn’t do me or anybody else any good to say, ‘Well, I told you so.’ That doesn’t mean anything. But mobilization, yes, and this country, the United States has the greatest possibility for change than any other country in the world. We use one quarter of the world’s resources. We’re less than six percent of the population of the world and we use one quarter of the world’s resources. Well, just our change will help a great deal. But that’s the values. You have to make up your mind.

In our meetings overseas talking about energy, a big issue water and energy, because water’s life, water’s food, energy. Well, for so long we were just level -- if you notice, you see the graphs -- for millions of years here we are, human beings just going along like this. And then suddenly about the beginning of the Industrial Revolution they called it, the graphs changed and they start going this way. They start climbing about 1850; both the population and…they’re just together. So what does that mean? It means at one time we were living by the energy of the sun for one day and we could only use one day’s energy. We couldn’t save it, couldn’t store it, there was no electricity, you had to work with the sun and we did. That’s how we planted, that’s how we harvested. We worked with the sun, one day at a time so we couldn’t exceed, there was no way. Well, when we discovered electricity, ooh, things changed. Now there was refrigeration, now there was storage, now there was energy storage and the more energy we made the more we used and if we make more energy today we’ll use more. Why? Because that’s our values; so we have to change our values then. Can we do it? Well, I say yes but that’s really your answer, not mine.

I mean we live at Onondaga, eh, we’re like you guys. We’re pretty close, the same kind of lifestyle but we do keep our ceremonies and we do know who we are and we do give thanks and I think that’s what you’re going to have to do. You’re going to have to find your ceremonies again, you’re going to have to find a way to give thanks, to get your relationship back, to understand how close you’re related to the trees that you’re cutting down, your grandfathers. There’s renewable if you know how to do things, if you’re judicious. Old Indians used to have a game; it was a game everybody played. And you’d be traveling back in the old days and make a camp beside a stream somewhere, river, good place to spend the night, you’d make a camp. Then the next day you would leave but before you left you would put back every leaf, every twig so that the next person coming along would have to look and look and look to see whether somebody was there. It was a game. It was a game about being thankful. It was a way to understand how to keep things so they wouldn’t even know you were there. What a good game. What a peaceful way to deal with Mother Earth. That was our style.

So we have to think about things like that. We have to work with one another, we have to be much more friendly than we always were and we have to share. That’s the biggest issue, share. It goes against the grain of private property, goes against the grain of capitalism, but that’s brought us to where we are today. So if you want to hang onto that, there’s consequence. Our options are fewer and fewer every day. Every day we don’t do something we lose a day. We’re approaching the point of no return when no matter what we do will not matter at all ever. We turn our fate over to the great systems of this earth who will regulate, who’ll regulate our population, will regulate the temperature of the earth and we will be involved there as a consequence. So this is what I’m telling you and I’m not an alarmist, but I have been running this road for a while now and I think people have to know the truth and this administration that’s presently in control has been really negligent about giving the truth of the situation of the earth itself because it interferes with business. Well, Telberg, they said, ‘Business as usual is over. You can’t do business as usual, you just can’t.’ And it’s going to be cooperation rather than competition. You’re going to cooperate. If you’re going to survive it’s going to be cooperation rather than competition. It goes against the grain of this great industrial state here but nevertheless it’s a reality: share, divest, share.

You’re going to have to deal with Africa. You’re going to have to look after Africa. What happens to Africa happens to us. You have to feed people where they live, you have to provide for them, otherwise they’re here. They’ll go where the water is; they’ll go where the food is. So great migrations pushed by circumstance is what we’re looking at. Anyway, I think that we have maybe another Katrina, the fires that you’ve been enduring here, they’re not going to go away, they’re just going to get worse. Fires are here, floods, wind, grandfather. We call them grandfathers, soft winds, but they’re powerful; they’re coming. And let’s hope we have foresight and I say let’s hope we have the will, the fortitude to take on the responsibility of value change for survival. We have to inspect ourselves, every one of us, myself included and we’ve just got to do better. We have to enlighten ourselves, we have to learn, we have to understand what is coming, then you can deal with it. We’re always instructed, ‘Don’t put your head down, never put your head down, keep your head up and keep your eyes open and look and see. Always keep your head up.’ That’s where we are right now. There’s something in the wind, we know that, so we have to find out specifically what it is.

So in that regard, I’ll be a little practical here, I’ve been…I use these books myself and, let me see, here’s one, 2008, called the State of the World: Innovations for a Sustainable Economy. Good ideas in there; practical approach to reality. You can find this book. It’s only about $20. It’s the 25th anniversary of the World Watch Institute and they have a huge science section and they’ve been collecting this information and every year they just add more on so they’re right up to date. Good book to educate yourself. It’s available for $20; you can spare that.

Here’s another one. Plan B, what’s that tell you? Plan B, we’re already in Plan B. Lester Brown. Okay, this is this year. Oh, man, this guy’s got it down. You get through this thing you’ll know what they’re talking about. But he doesn’t leave you without hope. He gives a lot of direction, a lot of ways to move and what to do so you’ve got to keep your head up and you’ve got to move and you’ve got to take…we don’t have time, time’s a factor now in everything really.

Okay. Let’s see what else we’ve got here. Oh, here’s one. Pagans in the Promised Land: Doctrine of Discovery. This is the hottest one. It’s just come out. You can get it on Amazon. Pagans in the Promised Land, this is the Doctrine of Discovery and this really discusses laws and all of the information here. Steve Newcomb. A young man came to us, elder circle 1991 carrying stuff under his arm saying, ‘Hey, you guys got to see what I got here.’ And that’s when we found out about the Doctrine of Discovery. Now it’s…we’re in consultation.

Here’s one: Voices of Indigenous People. This is the first statements that we made at the U.N. [in] 1993, the first time we addressed the United Nations. 1972, I was with a group of people who were trying to get to the United Nations and they wouldn’t let us across the street. We couldn’t go across the street. There was a phalanx of police and we had to be on this side of the street looking at the U.N. building, 1972. 1993, I was the first one to address the general assembly on the dais of the U.N. So the progress, hard fought progress to get there. But these are the words of the leaders of Indigenous people around the world, pretty much the same today as when they were done. But what’s good about this book here is it has the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in its pure form. Now the one that’s passed has been modified. We lost traction here and there but we did keep our main principle but we did lose some. But the original is right here in this book. So some day maybe you’ve got the time to see what that is.

Here’s another one. It’s written by Lindsey G. Robertson called Conquest by Law. This is again the Doctrine of Discovery. And here was a guy that was just curious about it. He got some names and he said, ‘Gee, I ought to follow what happened to these people.’ And he found out that the law firm that was fighting this case had all of these papers and that they put it in a big trunk, it was going to go to England. So he found the family in Ohio and he said, ‘Can I find out where you sent those…that trunk of papers on the Doctrine of Discovery, Johnson vs. McIntosh?’ They said, ‘Well, it never went. It’s downstairs in the cellar.’ So that’s what this book is. So stuff like that, stuff we didn’t have before we do now and things have got to change and fairness to everybody. I’m going to leave some of this stuff with the University.

Do you know that in March of this year that the State of Arizona supported the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a state? Did you know that? That’s a great event, first state in the Union to do that. I have it right here. I was here or up there in…so you can be proud. Here’s the event that’s in here. It also has a complete description of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as it is now. So I’m going to leave that here, people can copy [it] and you can look at statements made.

What else here? I know we have somewhere…oh, here we are. Statement: The ice is melting in the north. This was a statement that was given by the Indigenous people at the United Nations in the year 2000, eight years ago we said, ‘The ice is melting.’ Now they didn’t listen to us then but here we are halfway there but we’ve still got time. So I’ll leave this with you as well. So you’ll have something to work with and maybe it’ll be the great State of Arizona that changes everything, who knows and why not? You’ve got to start somewhere. You’ve got a lot of Indigenous people here, you’ve got a lot of Indian nations here still hanging in there.

So I think that’s enough for tonight, don’t you? I mean I don’t know what you were expecting. But we’re all in it together. There’s one river of life, we’re in our canoe, you’re in your boat, we’re on the same river. What happens to one happens to the other. So it’s in our hands; that’s the end of my message, I think. It’s up to us to organize. They’re doing it in Europe, big time so you’re not going to be alone. You’re not going to be alone. They’re looking for allies. We’re looking for allies. So as a runner from the Haudenosaunee, well, I’m walking now, I don’t run much anymore but I bring you this message as a fellow human being and as a man with a mission and I think it’s a good fight. I think it’s a good fight and I like a good fight. Let’s do it, let’s get on…let’s get on with it. Educate yourself. I’m leaving some stuff here and organize, sit in the circle, talk. Don’t just do something; make sure it’s a good move. Talk it over, work together because unity…

When The Peacemaker brought the five nations together he took an arrow and he broke the arrow, then he took five arrows for the five nations and he took the sinew of the deer and he bound those arrows together, he bound them together hard and then he said, ‘Here is your strength, to be united, one mind, one body, one heart, one spirit, your strength.’ We’re brothers and sisters, we can change blood. That’s how close we are.

Take your time, take your reflections and think about it and ponder it and talk and talk and work your way careful into a good move, strong move. Tell all your relations.” 

Greg Cajete: Indigenous Paradigm: Building Sustainable Communities

University of Arizona's Department of Language, Reading, and Culture

Greg Cajete, Director of Native American Studies at the University of Mexico, shares his more than three decades of work and research on Indigenous epistemologies for human and ecological sustainability, and discusses the need for scholars, academic institutions, and others to fully embrace these time-tested epistemologies as effective tools for combatting major issues such as climate change and global warming.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Cajete, Greg. "Indigenous Paradigm: Building Sustainable Communities." Department of Language, Reading and Culture, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 23, 2007. Presentation.

“Thank you, Candace and thank you Native students here at the University of Arizona for inviting me once again to give a presentation to your group and also to this group. As we say in my language [Tewa language], ‘Be with life, see that is the way it is.’ And I use this greeting, this way of opening my presentation today to sort of highlight, I guess, what I’m going to say to you and what I’m going to present to you in the context of this presentation. A lot of the work that I’ve been doing really within the last six years has been really around the notion of how do we develop a place for Indigenous thought, perspective, understandings within mainstream education. So hence, my role and my taking up the challenge of being the Director of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico and actually attempting, not only with myself but also with some colleagues, to introduce in a kind of basic way this paradigm, these thoughts, these ideas into a Native/Western-based Native studies program.

So you can see that part of this has to also be about creating space and place within the academy, within the western academy for the thoughts and the ideas and the diversity of thought and idea that Native people have and have always had and have always brought to universities such as the University of Arizona and the University of New Mexico. And so my work today really is revolving around partly being an administrator. And all of those of you who have ever been an administrator know what that means. It really means lots and lots of time and meetings and working with political entities and coming forward and doing your presentations in hope of getting some money from some source to continue your program. The other part of it is internal work, which really requires you working with a variety of entities, particularly students and other faculty members to create a kind of openness first of all and secondly a kind of mechanism that allows you to begin to, in a sense, bring forward some of the ideas that are a part of what I call the Indigenous paradigm. And I’ve been working on this work actually for about 33 years now. It’s going to be 33 years that I’ve been ‘in the trenches’ as we say, a teacher starting really at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the high school science teacher and also the basketball coach and evolving into with the Institute into their college program, becoming the Dean of the Center for Research and Cultural Exchange there at the Institute and then also being the Chair of their Cultural Studies program before moving to the University of New Mexico 11 years ago now.

Part of my reason for taking on the leadership of the Native Studies program at the University of New Mexico is I felt that it was a time and a proper time to bring forward some of the ideas and perspectives that I had been working on as a cultural educator, as a Native educator within the secondary ranks and also within tribal college, as was the case with the IAIA [Institute of American Indian Arts] and bringing that into a university setting. And it’s not been without its challenges, it’s not been without much, much work but I think it’s becoming a point or a place where at least at the University of New Mexico where at least the Indigenous ideas and perspectives are becoming a part of the regular dialogue and discussion among students and Native faculty who are at the University of New Mexico. So the next stage of that is to make it a part of the dialogue of the University as a whole, which I think is probably going to be happening soon.

So my presentation today really is about what I would consider kind of my new work although it’s actually old work. It’s actually taking up some of the ideas and perspectives that I wrote in my first book Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education, in which I sort of began to take a look at what was indeed Indigenous education, what were its sources, what kinds of components did it have, what is the epistemology if you will of Indigenous education and how can we use it as a foundation to begin to create new curriculum from and in a sense to engender a kind of process of thinking that would allow the Indigenous perspective to have a place within mainstream education. And so Look to the Mountain is about philosophy, it’s about epistemology, it’s about a lot of things that deal with what I would consider foundational, philosophical, epistemological understandings that Indigenous people share not only here in the United States but actually worldwide with regard to language, with regard to community, with regard to understandings and relationships to environments in which they live, with regard to the arts and with regard to spirituality and with this whole notion of education.

And that then led to another book that I wrote, which is Native Science from a Native American Perspective which outlines some of the kinds of content that I began to use in a curriculum that I developed at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe those 33 years, beginning those 33 years ago. And in Native Science, what I talk about really is the Native ecological mind if you will, the perspectives and understandings that Native people have and have developed a knowledge base around that has sustained them through many generations within the context of the communities and the places in which they have lived. So the thoughts and ideas of Native Science are really about looking at and trying to understand and trying to bring forward some of those foundational ideas, those essential ideas into a dialogue and into a kind of context of education for the 21st century. And what I talk about in Native Science is really the understandings that Indigenous people have about their relationship not only to each other but to the world around them and especially to the cosmos. And so while I use primarily examples from Native communities in the United States and a few from Mexico and Canada, a lot of the thoughts and ideas and perspectives and orientations actually could be utilized for tribal peoples from Africa, from Asia, from Australia, from New Zealand and so on. [Okay. That makes a difference, doesn’t it?] So given that, given that understanding, what I want to do is give you some thoughts and perspectives related to that but let me finish these books up first.

After writing Native Science, I realized that a lot of people were beginning to talk about how to create curriculum that integrated or introduced Native content into the teaching of science and then I thought, ‘Didn’t I write something about that a few years ago?’ So I didn’t actually write my book on Native science modeling until about 1999 and it actually is my dissertation in a kind of synopsized form and sort of represents the idea, the concept and also a model that I had developed and utilized at the Institute of American Indian Arts. And so the book actually was a book about probably that I should’ve written first. Because the usual thing is that you do your dissertation and then you try to find a publisher and then you try to publish that. In those days, in 1986, you were hard pressed to find a publisher that even understood what you were talking about in the context of this kind of culturally based education perspective. So in those days it actually was pretty difficult so it wasn’t until 1999 that I actually got Igniting the Sparkle written into a book form. So for those of you that are educators, this is the book that’s kind of the recipe book that if you’re looking for some thoughts and ideas about how do you actually take these ideas of culturally responsive science and make them real for Native students in the classroom, this would be the book for you.

I don’t have a copy of my other book which is called A People’s Ecology, which is actually more along the lines of the presentation I’m going to give you today, but it’s called A People’s Ecology: Explorations in Sustainable Living and that’s published by, I believe the publisher is Clear Light Publisher for that. So hopefully you’ll also take a look at that. My last book, which actually did not get distributed very easily because my publisher, Kivaki Press, actually went out of business so I’m left with having to move this book around, but it’s called Spirit of the Game: An Indigenous Wellspring in which I take ideas and perspectives of Native games and begin to build a pedagogy of curriculum around them. And so what I find myself doing these days is actually beginning to create what I’m hoping is a kind of series of books and representations of the Indigenous thought and the Indigenous paradigm within these various kinds of contexts of education and hoping that people such as yourselves, students such as yourselves will take the challenge to sort of bring forward those ideas in your own ways, in your own perspective, in ways that make sense for you within the communities and schools that you teach in and to make them real once again within the context of Native life and Native education in the 21st century.

So with that I want to invite you to this presentation, "Indigenous Paradigm: Building Sustainable Communities," because what I’ve notice in all these years of working in this field is that there’s a kind of paradigm that’s beginning to form among Indigenous people, Indigenous scholars. And that paradigm is a paradigm that is both ancient and also new in many respects in the sense that it’s bringing forward some of the ideas and the principles and the understandings and the histories that Native people have always had and making them real in the 21st century. And so that evolving paradigm is something that Indigenous scholars around the world are participating in in a variety of different kinds of contexts and in a sense creating this kind of body of work and if you will in academic circles a kind of theoretical base essentially that Indigenous people are beginning to form that they can now begin to work from in a variety of different kinds of context; education, health, economics, governance and sustaining Indigenous communities ecologically and socially, culturally and spiritually and otherwise.

So the presentation today talks about that, that perspective, that understanding and I want to sort of take you through really for me it’s a kind of going back to some earlier thoughts and ideas, bringing them forward and working with them. So it’s a creative process on the part of myself as a scholar as I do this. But recreating Indigenous education is really for me one of the most important kinds of undertakings if you will in the sense that what we’re attempting to do is really begin to take a look at teaching and learning, which is transformative and anticipates change and innovation within the context of Native communities, Native education and more particularly within the minds of Native students. As I say there, ‘Indigenous education can integrate and apply principles of sustainability along with appropriate traditional environmental knowledge.’

The whole notion of sustainability is really important I think to understand today and one of the reasons why I’ve taken up this work again reminding you that part of my training is actually as a field biologist and that I’ve been following kind of the environmental crisis for 33-plus years. And the understandings we have now for instance with regard to global climate change, to the evolving environmental crisis, these kinds of considerations and understandings and the indicators that this was happening within the global living sphere that we call Mother Earth is and was there 33 years ago. The footprints, the evidence was beginning to evolve, we began to see the melting of certain glacier formations, especially in the Andes and beginning to see changes in climate and environment. A lot of this was happening 33 years ago and I remember as an undergraduate biology student studying global climate change and some of the possibilities that were being considered as ramifications of that kind of change.

So now we find ourselves in the year 2007 with no more excuses and literally with the evidence in such overwhelming amounts that global climate change has been happening, is happening, that human beings are largely responsible for it and the kinds of societies that we have created, the focus on fossil fuels and also our lifestyles, all of these have contributed really to this mounting evolving crisis. What we find ourselves in as education institutions and also as educators is that we haven’t necessarily anticipated this kind of process, this kind of challenge and certainly our institutions in many ways are not prepared to teach students in ways that are necessary to begin to have a real understanding of how to address some of the issues and the problems that global climate change will begin to gradually bring to us. So we’re finding ourselves in the midst of having to change in terms of a society, in terms of the way that we view and understand education but not really knowing how to change in many ways and not really understanding the ways that we need to begin to think and rethink the process of education today.

So my thesis has been and continues to be that Indigenous societies have always had a form of education that in a very practical and very direct way ensured that communities remain sustainable through environmental change and also through environments and maintained also a kind of relationship with the natural world that ensured that sustainability was really a possibility. And I’m thinking and I’m saying essentially that in today’s society, we have to begin to revisit some of these older traditions of knowledge, of education, of ways of being in community in order for us to begin to understand what we need to do in order to in a sense become sustainable within our environments once again. It’s a huge challenge and I think we’re just at the very beginning of realizing how huge it is and it is going to have an impact on all of our educational institutions and the way that we view education as a whole.

So I’m saying essentially that Indigenous education forms a foundation for community renewal and revitalization. So for Native communities this is…there’s even more, an even larger imperative. In many ways in Native communities we’ve been torn and have a history with education that is less than positive and we’re really just beginning to move into a stage where we’re able to at least have access to higher education, we have access to professional kinds of positions in government, in economics but it’s just at the very beginning process. And as we move into that, there’s always been the question, ‘How much of myself, my tradition, my community do I bring with me as I move into this world, this world of western education?’ But for me Indigenous education is one of the foundations of this community renewal and revitalization and this particular slide I think represents for me that understanding because it is about a kind of relational thinking, a relational position that you take both individually and as a community that ensures a kind of process of reciprocity and mutual relationship that ensures survival over the long period of time.

We’ve heard this many times in many phrases, in many ways, in many linguistic forms that Indigenous people have, ‘We are all related, we are all related, we are all related.’ And that idea of Turtle Island, which has been used many times as an ecological metaphor, which in biological circles has…is associated with what we call the Gaia Hypothesis, the idea that the earth is this one gigantic living system and that we live within that living system, that we’re related within that living system. Things that we do as human beings does have an impact in that greater living system which we call the earth. And so those ideas and those concepts, while in Western biology many times it was debated if there was even such a thing as a global system such as Gaia, such as the Greeks called 'Gaia.' Well, I think climate change and the effects of climate change really does show that the whole earth is enveloped in this living, interactive system and it’s a living system and we’re a part of that living system. And of course if you study Indigenous traditions, Indigenous languages, Indigenous stories, you begin to see that theme played over and over and over again represented from numerous kinds of perspectives that we are all related.

And so those ideas, I think, have to become a part of the new epistemology, I think you would say, that begins to guide us as educators, as institutions, as communities, because the truth is that our survival may depend on it, ultimately that our survival as human communities in this biosphere earth depends on it. So given that challenge, what do you do, because if you’re training people for a paradigm of economic development that in a very short time will probably not exist, at least not in the way that people are being trained for that. If you’re training people for positions or community development concepts that in very short time may not be in vogue, it may be totally obsolete, what then do you have to fall back on from the standpoint of educational strategy? So this is why I’m saying that the ideas that Indigenous people have are important. Traditional and environmental knowledge can provide models and creative insights necessary to renew communities, revitalize human communities and economies.

I think also we have to begin to take a look at how and also as I say up there, a long and hard look at the current educational, economic and community development policies, planning and processes which may many times make us complicit with the status quo and so this is a debate that happens certainly within the institution and certainly it’s a debate that happens among my faculty and my students is being complicit with your own, in a sense, demise, in some cases as it’s sometimes referred to. But I think that more it has to do with the orientation or the paradigm that we work from and beginning to take a look at that paradigm seriously and really, really, really thinking about it in terms of how it allows us or doesn’t allow us to become the kinds of sustainable entities that we wish to become. And so that’s the reason for that idea of complicity.

For me, as Director of Native American Studies, the problem becomes, how do I develop new Native studies, programming, courses, perspectives that build on this evolving paradigm that’s based on sustainability? And so the new kinds of things that it brings forward have to do with new kinds of courses, new kinds of delivery of courses, new ways of looking at courses, new connections of courses and faculty and community. How do you make that connection work? Again, a new kind of Native studies education predicated on guiding Native students towards this vision of health, renewed and revitalized, sustainable and economically viable Indigenous communities. So a lot of what is happening today in Native contexts and circles has to do with this concept of building Native nations. So when you go around and you talk with tribal entities, tribal governance, tribal communities and individuals within those communities, the overwhelming focus and intention is how do we sustain our communities in the face of a variety of different kinds of challenges. How do we self-determine within a political environment that doesn’t necessarily recognize our legal and our communal kinds of mandates to self-determine or wish to self-determine? So these are the kinds of issues that then become a part of the discussion about what is nation building, Native nation building in the 21st century? It’s not just about economics, it’s not just about governance, it’s not just about education but what is underlying all of those understandings and to understand that you have to go back and ask yourself the questions, ‘Well, what did Indigenous societies found their understandings of all of these different entities on, why were they doing it, what was the underlying kind of motivation for having systems of governance and having economies and having these systems of education?’ Well, it’s probably…more than likely it was to sustain one’s self. It goes back to sustainability. It goes back to sustainability. And sustainability is connected to another philosophical idea that we call ‘being with life’ or ‘life perpetuating,’ perpetuating the life of a community. So I began this session with the words ‘Be with life or with life…,’ which is basically the same as saying, ‘sustain life,’ and it’s a term that’s used in many Indigenous settings to create a mindset, a way of looking at what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

So understanding this, I think, is a very important piece of this puzzle that we’re putting together with regard to, ‘What is the Indigenous paradigm and how is it related to Indigenous sustainable community development?’ We know that…when you study Indigenous cultures around the world, we know that there are certain kinds of characteristics of Indigenous sustainable communities that come at you all the time, that sort of reflect in a variety of ways and part of it has to do with this focus or refocus or constant focus on some sort of ecological integrity. Meaning that what you do as a community in some ways or another comes right back to some sort of an ecological connection, ecological sustaining connection to the environment, to the places, to the plants, to the animals, to the world in which you live. And so this is a part of that Indigenous epistemology and part of it is really start from the premise that what you do has integrity and honors life-giving relationships.

So now translating that ecological integrity into an action kind of statement and so if you were to ask the question, ‘Well, how do we develop Indigenous sustainable communities, what are their characteristics, how do we emulate that?’ Well, start with the premise that what you do has integrity and honors life-giving relationship. So what does that mean, how do you teach for that, how do you reflect that in the way you create your institutions, your economies? A sustainable orientation: building a process, which sustains community, culture and place. If you hear Native people talk both historically and also in contemporary settings, what you’re hearing many times when they talk about their communities, when they talk about the places in which they live, that’s what they’re saying; building a process which sustains community, culture and places, that connection.

Also, vision, purpose, vision and purpose. See what you can do in the light of revitalization of community. There’s things that can happen both individually and collectively that in a sense revitalize, that bring life back to something within the community. So if you begin to educate for those kinds of ideas, those kinds of actions, those kinds of ways of being in the world once again, those will more than likely happen. So we have today things like community-based education, we have things like service learning, we have a variety of different kinds of ecological restoration projects going on in a variety of different contexts, which in an of their essence bring life back to something, they revitalize something. And so that vision and purpose, see what you can do in the light of revitalization of community becomes a very important, imperative. Because what you work with when you’re developing sustainable community is you’re working with a culture, community and its resources and you begin to see those within the context of this greater challenge, this greater impetus of creating and teaching for sustainable community.

We know -- and as Native peoples we have always had -- a kind of spiritual purpose that has been and continues to be a kind of foundational understanding that we carry with us in a variety of contexts of education. So spiritual purpose especially has a very important role in this process of revitalizing Indigenous community. So this idea of cultural integration: actions which orient or originate, rather, through spiritual agency that stems from connections to a cultural way of being. That idea of Indigenous spirituality, it also has a practical purpose and it always has had a practical purpose. And that was to keep in the minds of a community that what you’re doing not only has spiritual purpose but it goes right back to that process, that understanding of being with life, seeking life or in some ways revitalizing, to revive or to bring life back to something. And so it also includes respect for all. Actions stem from respect for and celebration of community. This idea of respect, mutual respect, respect not only for each other in communities but also respect for the land, its plants, its environments, its whole environment if you will. And then engaging participation of community, the community is both the medium and the beneficiary of activities.

So the idea of education being of a community base first and foremost in Indigenous thinking, in the Indigenous paradigm, becomes a very, very important component of what I would consider the new kind of Indigenous education, which is largely community-based, not university-based; big difference between university base and community base. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have community in universities because you can and you do all the time, we create communities in universities, and what we’ve tried to do at the University of New Mexico Native American Studies is we’ve tried to create an Indigenous learning community that parallels the communities that the students and the faculty do come from. But what I’m talking about here is really that true Indigenous education happens within and through and around and with the Indigenous communities that it’s meant to serve.

If you study Indigenous education around the world, you begin to find that what moves it is relationality, that it’s based on a relational philosophy that relationship becomes one of the key principles of how things happen, how things get learned within those communities, how things get related to literally. And so when you take a look at Indigenous cultures around the world, it becomes a kind of tour of relationality in all of its many faces, all of its many representations. And so when you teach for relationality, it’s a very different kind of mindset than teaching for let’s say independence or rather individualistic kinds of endeavors or individualism. When you teach for relationship, you’re actually teaching for an understanding of how best to not only create relationship but extend it, maintain it and make it the foundation of all the things that you do. And so building upon and extending relationships are essential, process of this develop. Restoring and extending the health of the community is also part of that process ‘cause relationships can be positive or negative, can be healthy or not so healthy so relationship also has two sides to it. And you have to understand that part of what we’re doing is trying to create and maintain and extend relationships that are life giving so all of those things become important. Initiative should generate…the initiative should generate dynamic and creative process, the idea that relationship takes work, that it’s not just something that happens but rather is something that you have to work for and you have to constantly nourish because it’s a living process in and of itself.

There’s this business of commitment to developing the necessary skills, commitment to community renewal and revitalization, commitment to mutual reciprocal action and transformative change, that idea of commitment to each other and communities. There’s also the characteristic of Indigenous sustainable education in which the focus is to educate for the recreation of cultural economies around an Indigenous paradigm, so when we begin to look at things like economic development in the context of Native communities and we’re taking a look at some of the kinds of issues and challenges of global climate change, the dwindling resources, a variety of different kinds of ecological issues, then you have to begin to look at what it is that can begin to help people recreate some of the cultural ecologies or the cultural kinds of economies that once were a part of their life and their livelihood. So this is one of the reasons why Native people today, especially those that have a land base and resource base, fight so tenaciously let’s say for their fishing rights, fight so tenaciously for their hunting rights, fight so tenaciously for their gathering rights, fight so tenaciously for their rights to be…to continue let’s say traditional, environmental and/or lumbering practices or agricultural practices. All of that is based on this sentiment you see and this understanding. So begin by learning the history and principles of your own Indigenous way of sustainability, explore ways to translate that into the present, research the practical ways to apply these Indigenous principles and knowledge basis. So this is some of the kind of work that you would do in the creation of and moving forward to this kind of paradigm, if you will, of education.

Basic, shared Indigenous principles include many things. It’s place-based, resourcefulness and industriousness, collaboration and cooperation, integrating difference in political organizations, alliances and confederation building, trade and exchange. These are things that Native people have always done in the context of the kinds of ways in which they’ve created their sustainable communities alongside other sustainable created communities by Indigenous people. So in other words, Indigenous people have been creating these communities all along, but they haven’t been creating them in isolation. They’ve been creating them in relationship to other Indigenous communities, other regions, other places. And so we have a history of this, this relationship.

So what are some of the challenges to Indigenous sustainability today? In other words, if we were to create Indigenous communities, what are some of the kinds of issues that we would face immediately in attempting to do that? Well, establishing political self-determination is one of the issues that we continue to work with and continue to have to in some ways defend and find ways to express. Decolonization and culturally responsive education; decolonization in the sense that it’s a kind of re-education process for us as Indigenous people to begin to take a look at some of our own complicity and some of the issues of colonization and trying to begin to not only understand that but to reverse that. And part of the ways that you reverse that is through culturally responsive education, beginning to take a look at that paradigm seriously, express it, maintain it, extend it.

Also taking a look at economic exploitation, diverse and competing ideologies in some of the political restructuring that happens in Native communities and happens as a result of federal Indian policy, that mitigate against communities creating themselves or recreating themselves as sustainable communities. Other issues include the very fact that we have individual diversities among Native peoples, identity redefinition, creating formal and informal institutions also become a part of the task of in a sense retooling ourselves and retooling our view of ourselves towards this Indigenous paradigm. Challenges also include the cultural, the social, the political and the spiritual fragmentation that all of us experience in communities and also in different kinds of situations of community building. Creation of formal and informal institutions, which advance sustainability: some universities, some colleges, some tribal colleges are beginning to do some of this kind of work but much work needs to be done because it does require new kinds of courses, new kinds of configuration of courses, in some cases even maybe new institutions that begin to look at this kind of advancement of sustainability. Challenges also include flowing with heterogeneity, complexity and differentiation. As modern people living in a modern society today, Indigenous people have been affected by all of these challenges of differentiation and changes of perspective and understanding. So we have to begin to look at that and see how that has affected us.

And then also in many cases it’s also a matter of political restructuring both internally and externally. But what do we have going for us? You can’t just leave it there and say, ‘Well, these are all the challenges, let’s just give up and forget about it.’ The fact is is that as Indigenous communities we do have resources that we can actually draw on now and these include things like our extended family, clans and tribes, which are still functional in many Native communities, which are organizations of people, related people. We do have still community in bits and pieces in places. We also have places and regions in which those communities are situated and which can be affected in a sustainable way. We have political, social, professional and trade organizations that can be mobilized in a variety of ways to support sustainability of communities. We have had always co-ops, federations and societies which have developed around the ideas of how to perpetuate in many cases community activities and even the corporation, which can be sustainable if founded on principles of sustainability. Now that’s a controversial statement that I make there because some would say you can’t teach corporations new tricks. Well, the corporation believe it or not is actually a kind of community. It’s a very, very self-centered community maybe -- focused on maybe just one goal -- but the fact is that it is a community. Corporations function as communal entities and so beginning to take a look at what is the sustainable corporation. Does it exist, can it exist? I dare say that it probably has to begin to exist if our future is going to be one that is going to be sustainable. In other words, corporations do have to become more sustainable and more…and have more ownership towards community goals. And so there’s a whole group of people that are beginning to write about, ‘What is the sustainable corporation? Can it even exist?’

So finally Indigenous food traditions, Indigenous family, Indigenous communities, Indigenous relationship, Indigenous health, Indigenous education, these are all areas, these are like different seeds. Remember I showed you some corn cob and there were seeds on it and there were different kinds of…hues of the kernels of the corn. They were different, but they all were on the same corn cob and that principle in biology is called unity and diversity. You have a unity in the form of the community itself but you have diversity in terms of the individual kernels of corn which will turn into individual corn plants. Well, the fact is that we have individual kernels around which ideas, concepts and education around Indigenous sustainability can actually be taught, can actually be experienced, can actually be extended and ultimately it’s coming back to that old, very ancient notion of a celebration of life or an extension of life. ‘Be with life’ was what I started the presentation with and that idea is I think an idea that has never grown old. It may have been subsumed by other kinds of understandings, other kinds of ways of looking at things, other perspectives, but the fact is that human beings live in communities and part of the real deep instinct, I think, that we have as human beings is that we extend life and that we’re a part of this greater life process, which is the earth’s life process.

And so this is a vision of education. I’m not saying that it exists in any place right now, maybe in a few Indigenous communities that haven’t been too assimilated. It may exist somewhere in the world. It doesn’t necessarily exist in its pristine form as it once existed and I’m not really saying that we need to go back to that way of living but we have to understand what that way of living had to teach us. And I think more particularly the principles of knowing and understanding what it takes to be sustainable in a world that is under great crisis today and will continue to be under great crisis in the succeeding generations. So it’s both a challenge, it’s both a vision, it’s a perspective, it’s new work that I think myself and others are beginning to undertake. It’s really almost like a research question. What is the sustainable, Indigenous community? Can it exist, does it exist, where does it exist, how can it exist? And more particularly the education question is how do we educate for that or at least educate towards that? Because I think ultimately the next generation of scholars, of foundations of education have to be ecologically sound, they have to be about environmental sustainability. It can’t be just a marginal kind of undertaking but rather it has to be I think an integral part of education in the 21st century. And I will bet you that you’ll begin to see not only writing and not only new kinds of ideas coming forward because now they have to around these issues, around these perspectives.

So for Indigenous people, what is Indigenous education? And it’s something I started in my dialogue in Look to the Mountain. Where have we been? Which is our traditions, our ways of life and understanding those. Where are we now? Which is really the context in which we all find ourselves with the challenges, with the kinds of institutions and then we have to have a vision of where we’re going to go in the future. What are the possibilities and what are the paths that we need to get there? So that’s what Look to the Mountain was. Look to the Mountain was a metaphor for, ‘Where have we been, where are we now and where can we go in the future,’ in terms of Indigenous education. So I leave you with that question. It’s a hard question. It’s not an easy one. It requires multiple heads to think about it. It requires a community to do it.

There was the old saying that I used in Look to the Mountain that ‘Indigenous education is about finding one’s face,’ which is to find one’s identity, that’s what we call identity today, ‘find one’s heart,’ which is that passionate sense of self that moves you to do what you do, ‘to find one’s foundation,’ which is in today’s language vocation, that kind of work that allows you to most completely express your heart and face, and that all of that is within a relational circle. That it’s first of all relationship between yourself and yourself, which is self knowledge; relationship between yourself and your family, your clan, your tribe, the place in which you live, and then finally the whole cosmos and that it is towards an understanding of becoming complete as a man or as a woman. And you see that whole thing is a sphere and it’s a sphere of relationality, a relationship, and that’s an Indigenous paradigm that is reflected in a variety of different ways in Indigenous philosophies about what it is to be educated, what it is to be a person of knowledge. So these are ideas that I think are very important to begin to consider as we move into the 21st century and have to really rethink the way we’ve created our institutions, the way we’ve educated, the way we have been educated, the way we understand the process and the importance of community within education and the importance to in a sense come back to that.

So with that I’d like to thank you and I’m now open for questions. I should also say that since this is being filmed that the slides that I’ve shown you are actually archival slides that comes from the University of New Mexico and so those are slides that just were meant to bring your thoughts and your ideas to those points, those perspectives. They’re based on Southwestern Pueblo life and tradition but it could just as easily have been Navajo, slides of Navajo life, slides of Apache life, slides of Pawnee life, slides of Algonquin and other peoples’ lives, other Indigenous peoples from all over the world. The same ideas and concepts I think have a similar kind of play within those societies. While we are different even among Indigenous people, we do share some common ideas and understandings and I think that’s what in a sense allows us to maybe call ourselves 'Indigenous.' So with that I’ll take some questions, comments, perspectives.”


Honoring Nations: Oren Lyons: The Challenges Ahead

Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development

Onondaga Chief and Faithkeeper Oren Lyons briefly summarizes the critical, urgent challenges that global warming and resulting climate changes present to Indigenous people and all human beings, and stresses that the principles that traditionally nurtured the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the natural world can serve as a starting point to turning the tide against global warming.

Native Nations
Resource Type

Lyons, Oren. "The Challenges Ahead." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project for American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 17, 2009. Presentation.

"[Onondaga Language] Thank you for being well. Thank you for being here. And as I was reminded last night by Miriam [Jorgensen] -- where is she -- it's 11 years. It's 11 years this program has been moving. It's fast and it continues. I'm always encouraged by the innovations and by the efforts out there by our people across the Turtle Island and how things are changing. Today, we're going to be hearing from one of our people who [has] been assigned to the White House -- really changing. It's been quite awhile. And I think we have to take advantage of the opportunities that are going to be presented to us. We have to be quick now and we have to move when the opportunity arises and we have to make our own innovations, as things will change.

This past May, there was a report given by MIT and MIT has -- Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- has been studying global warming, probably the most serious of the studies since 1860 to 2090, 2100. And when they first made the report, they predicted that global warming would raise 2.5 [degrees] Celsius by 2090 and that it was moving. And that was early report. I think it was only four or five years ago. And they've studied this from 1860. Now, they made another report in May -- having newer technology and better able to assess -- the very next report, which you should get and become aware of. They said, 'Oops, we were wrong. It's going to be anywhere from five to seven point Celsius warmer.' That's a big wrong. And that's science. And if science is so far behind, then we have to pay attention ourselves to what we see and what we know. I know in the prediction,s many of our nations have been given messages and they've been given predictions, and the Haudenosaunee is one of them.

We receive messages periodically; the last one 1799. And at that time, we were told that these things were going to happen. When the messenger that was receiving this said, 'Well, if that's the case,' he said, 'Well, why bother?' And they said, 'Tell your people that the generation that allows this to happen is going to suffer beyond all comprehension. Tell your people to work hard and not let it be your generation.' So in other words, what happens to us is in our hands; it's up to us. We will determine what our own fate is, no one else. That's across the country. So pay attention to your leaders, pay attention who you put into power and authority; see that they are recommending a positive future for your children. Pay real good attention, because times are shifting and they're going to be very, very rough and coming very fast.

So when they moved up that Celsius it also moved up the time. So we don't have the time that people think we have or talk about. It's very quick, it's compounding -- two compound actions going on right now, which is determining how things are going to go. One is the compounding of human beings; we're exponentially exploding. And we went from 2.5 billion people in 1950 to 6.7 today and climbing very fast -- probably 6.8 now. And that's 59 years, 59 years and more than doubled the population of the world and it's going to do it again. That's water, land, food, security. Those are unsustainable figures, numbers. And the compounding, the other compounding is the ice melt. The ice cap in Greenland is melting and it's accelerating. Everything is accelerating and this is what we're not prepared for -- the acceleration -- and this is what the MIT report supports. Yes, there is an acceleration and it will continue, it will continue to accelerate. So just a reminder and something to think about, in the future, that our children, probably many people in this room, will be experiencing more than you thought you were going to experience. So leadership is important and fundamental principles of your nation are important and the relationship that we talked about, we heard in prayer this morning -- that relationship is fundamentally important to understand how closely we're connected with the earth. We're not separate. We're not separate. We're part of it and that's the message in these prayers, how close we are related, our relatives, our relations.

So in our efforts to maintain and raise the standards of our own living and our own territories and so forth, also pay attention to the spiritual side of things, because that's where your strength is going to be, that's where you're going to rely. It's going to be the knowledge of your grandfathers and your grandmothers -- powerful. It's now being asked around the world, people are now talking about Indian wisdom. Well, they come up to Onondaga and they say, 'Tell me some of your wisdom.' I say, 'Well, I don't know.' 'I'm Episcopalian, all I can tell you about Episcopalians,' is what they told me. But no, over the long hauls we've kept our ceremonies. We just finished the green corn, and I know in your areas you've taken care of that. And you want to do that, that's really important. That's our relationship, that's what's important. So with that I welcome you and we're looking at another year. It's a good fight, we're on the right side and I'm up for it."

Indigenous and 21st Century Nationalisms

Indian Country Today

Indigenous Peoples live within the boundaries of nation-states but usually do not conform to the cultural, political, economic institutions and identities of their host states. Most contemporary democratic nation states are created by agreement through adoption of a constitution, which spells out fundamental laws and values...

Native Nations
Resource Type

Champagne, Duane. "Indigenous and 21st Century Nationalisms." Indian Country Today Media Network. March 15, 2014. Article. (, accessed July 24, 2023)

A New Shoreline Tribal Park

Lake Superior Magazine

The 87 acres at Frog Bay in Wisconsin recently designated as a park offer views of five Apostle Islands, pristine sandy beaches at the top of Bayfield Peninsula and a rare opportunity for the public to visit tribally owned and protected lands.

Frog Bay Tribal National Park was created when the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa bought this prime Lake Superior frontage from David Johnson and his wife, Marjorie, of Madison, and hold and manage it in partnership with the Bayfield Regional Conservancy.

Resource Type

"A New Shoreline Tribal Park".  Lake Superior Magazine. January 16, 2012. Article. (, accessed February 24, 2023)

Thomas Holm: The Vanishing Indian Prof: Reflections on American Indian Studies by an Old Indian Academic

Arizona Public Media

Dr. Tom Holm (Creek/Cherokee), one of the founders of the University of Arizona's American Indian Studies program, discusses the evolution of American Indian studies programs across the country and the need for those programs to provide an environment for intellectual exchange and development for emerging Native American scholars. He also stresses the important role they play in educating non-Natives about Native American societies and the sophisticated nature of their relationships with the natural world. 

Resource Type

Holm, Thomas. "The Vanishing Indian Prof: Reflections on American Indian Studies by an Old Indian Academic." Vine Deloria, Jr. Distinguished Indigenous Scholars Series, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. April 25, 2013. Presentation. (, accessed May 13, 2013)