Indigenous Identity-It Is In Our Daily Lives
Can an Indigenous youth be identified through the colour of one’s skin? Through the languages that slip off of their tongue in ceremony? Through the fact that they live in a village in a rural setting surrounded by rainforest and culture? Or is it through governmental legislation that defines ones Indigenous “identity?” A number on a status card will not lead me to accept the near extinction of my mother tongue, nor will the small amount of land that my people cannot practice their full traditional livelihood on. My identity comes from the roots of the trees, the stories that I hear of my ancestors, and the visions I gain of the future generations. My identity is embedded within my veins, and circulates in the streams that surround my community. My identity is simple; it’s in my daily life.
The United Nations recently held an Expert Group Meeting (EGM) on Indigenous Youth through the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMPRIP.) The critical focal point for this meeting was on identity, challenges, and hope for Indigenous youth, with a specific focus on articles 14, 17, 21, and 25 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The meeting was held in New York City from January 29th-31st. Being selected to represent North American Indigenous youth at this EGM seemed daunting, impossible, and somewhat unimaginable. Yet, after a month of collecting statistics, stories, and truths from Indigenous youth around North America, I gained a common understanding. The truth of identity wouldn’t come from the American and Canadian governments census data, it wouldn’t come from the numbers of those with or without status, it wouldn’t come from the articles within the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples(UNDRIP), the truth of identity would come from the stories. The grassroots stories that speak of ceremony and oral tradions. The stories of being Anishinaabe, Lakota, Haudenosaunee, Cree, Chippewa, Oneida, Coast Salish, Tlingit, Dene, Blackfoot, Mi’kmaq, Inuit, Metis, or whichever nation one identifies with. This was identity.
Reporting on North American Indigenous youth, the parallel of the importance of language was integral to many stories. Whether it was in relation to speaking the language, having the ability to write the language, or learn the language in an open school setting, was paramount to the well-being of Indigenous youth, and non-youth, alike. Opening the meeting with the Anishinaabe Kwe song was grounding, and encompassed the reality of language being instrumental in regards to the identity of Indigenous youth in North America. Yet, the next few days came with more stories; stories from Latin American countries of Peru and Guatemala, stories from Australia, Finland, Uganda, Russia, India, Canada, and the United States. Many of the stories started with Indigenous mother tongues, it was number one in identity.
Yet, the difficulty of our non-Indigenous counter-parts providing reports from their perspective on what they’re doing to “help” Indigenous peoples pulled at my heart and pushed me towards shame. The lies that escaped through clenched teeth of government officials, proudly pushing genocidal legislation and wording it in a positive light was sickening. My pulse became loud, and I knew it was the pulse of my ancestors. I had to speak up, because this was not my reality, and these government officials would not mask my identity with assimilative policies and deconstruction of my inherent rights. In this specific moment, came the voices of my Mishomis, my Nokomis, my grandparents. In a calm and caring way, I partnered the truth with wise words, and stated that the politically constructed document was filled with falsehoods and misconstrued realities to a small group of individuals. The truth was stated, in such a way, that eventually everyone in the room knew the reality of this report, that this report was not the living proof of this country. The story of the IdleNoMore movement was told from the beginning to where it stands now and the legislation within the report that was so-called “helping” Indigenous peoples, was exactly what Indigenous peoples were fighting against. So, with this truth, came identity.
Identity is shown through stories, through languages, and through the truth. Identity cannot be designated through legislative agendas, through political assumptions, or implementation processes negligent of Indigenous peoples. This meeting taught me more than the mechanisms of international Indigenous human rights – it taught me the reality that our identity is simple; it’s in our daily lives.
Documents done up by all regions for the Expert Group Meeting can be found here: http://social.un.org/index/IndigenousPeoples/MeetingsandWorkshops/2012/EGM2013IndigenousYouth.aspx