Indigenous Peoples’ Day

“I’m convinced that indigenous peoples are the moral reserve of humanity.”

Evo Morales, Aymara, President of Bolivia, Democracy Now! September 26, 2007.

Every year as October 12 approaches, there is a certain sense of dread that can be felt in indigenous communities in the Americas. That it is a federal holiday in the United States is regarded as hideous, a celebration of genocide and colonization However, beginning thirty years ago, indigenous peoples formed an international movement, demanding, for one thing, that October 12 be commemorated as an international day of mourning for the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. Informally, the day has been appropriated as Indigenous Peoples Day

This year feels different in indigenous communities asthey celebrate the great victory of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly on September 13, 2007, the culmination of a three-decadestruggle by indigenous activists at the United Nations. The UN Declaration was adopted by a majority of 144 states in favor, with only four votes against: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. Interestingly, these are precisely the four nation-states where intentional genocidal policies were pursued, policies that sought to exterminate all the indigenous peoples living in the lands seized by settlers from the British Isles. The populations of those states should be ashamed, not only of their horrific pasts, but of the present refusal of their representative governments to make amends with the descendants of thos indigenous peoples who survived these genocidal policies.

Perhaps those governments and their citizens think they do not have to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples within their claimed boundaries because the populations are small. Yet, the survival and flourishing of indigenous communities and nations is important to the future of humanity and to the survival of habitation on earth.

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly on September 16, Bolivian president Evo Morales stressed the need to understand the indigenous way of life, saying that living well in a community meant living in harmony with Mother Earth. “This new millennium must be the millennium for life, placing our bets on human dignity.” (UN webcast.)

ROXANNE DUNBAR-ORTIZ is a longtime activist, university professor, and writer. In addition to numerous scholarly books and articles she has published two historical memoirs, Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie (Verso, 1997), and Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960­1975 (City Lights, 2002). She can be reached at: rdunbaro@pacbell.net



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Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is the author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.

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