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Seeking Justice

Indians Present Their Case to an International Forum

By Winona LA Duke westigard

Red is the only color of man not represented in the United Nations. Native Americans are the only people not allowed to participate in this international forum.

While Native Americans may represent a minority of the population in North America, Natives represent approximately 85 per cent of the population in South America. These two groups of indigenous American peoples are becoming increasingly unified in their battles for liberation. In February 1977, the indigenous peoples of the Americas gained representation when the U.N. conferred consultative status, as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in the United Nations, on the International Indian Treaty Council. The NGO is based in New York City, and directed by Jimmie Durham (a Cherokee). As a result of constant pleas and demands to the United Nations, the U.N. Non-Governmental Organization Subcommittee on Racism and Decolonization sponsored a conference on "Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations of the Americans." This conference was held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, September 20-23. More than 200 Native Americans from both North and South America attended (except Brazil and Paraguay, whose governments would not allow indigenous representatives to attend). Unity between two continents and over 400 indigenous nations! Delegates to the conference testified and documented all aspects of discrimination against Natives in the Americas. Finally, the Red People were heard.

People view much too romantically the changing role of the colonial government in the Americas and its impact on the native population. A crucial, but stark realization many Americans have not come to, is that Native Americans are alive and surviving in the Americas. After 500 years of persecution, our presence has been acknowledge.

Native Americans Now

Both Canada and the United States have acquired their land base through treaties and agreements. These treaties (which number more than 370) stipulated that the land and resources left to the Indians would be sufficient to ensure the survival of Indian society, and the safety of the unique Indian cultures, languages and people. With the abrogation of all these treaties by North American governments and the massacres of peaceful Indian nations, the reservations have become concentration camps surrounded by armed guards. Indian people are new fed surplus army rations, and live in migrant-type housing, which frequently has no running water or plumbing facilities. Stark tarred shacks adorn barren, dusty streets littered with bottles and soda cans.

Inside the reservation, poverty is rampant. According to a report presented at the conference. "In 1972, the average annual income of the American citizen was $4000. In 1975, it was almost $6000. For Indians in the same country, the average income in 1972 was less than $1000, and in 1975, it had not reached $2000. Unemployment among Indians ranges from 70 to 90 per cent."

Indian people are coerced into assimilating into the "melting pot" of the American society and economy; yet assimilation spells disaster for the Native culture. Economic deprivation of Indian peoples, abuse of Indian labor, and calculatedly destitute conditions ravage Indian communities and culture.

The Indian Health Service

The Indian Health Service (IHS) is a new tool of war for the American government. It was established under treaties to complement existing native medicine and to protect Indian culture from the new diseases brought by the Europeans. IHS has proved hopelessly inadequate for Indian needs. Government control became neglect of Indian people, creating widespread health problems. As the Treaty Council's Genocide Document, submitted to the conference, states, "Some 38 percent of Native children were found to have serious hearing handicaps by age four. The death rate for tuberculosis is four times as high among Indians as among non-Indians. ...On the Rosebud Reservation (South Dakota), Indians are 40 times more likely than the general population to contract strep throat and scarlet fever." Overall, the mere chance of maturing for Native Americans is small.

The document continues, "The infant mortality rate for Native Americans is about 31 per cent more than that of whites in the US...In addition to the high percentage of infant mortality...the poor status of Indian health is exemplified in comparative statistics on life expectance, which is 47 years for Native people compared to 70.8 years for the general population."

This severe health crisis is aggravated by poor quality government food supplies (which are guaranteed by treaty), allocated on the reservation. The Genocide Report notes, "More than 75 per cent of all Indians in the United States suffer from malnutrition and related diseases." The act of trying to eliminate an entire population by substandard food, housing and living conditions aggravated by poor health care is a deplorable program of action. Two nations that constantly boast of human rights policies are killing neighbors in their own backyards.

Active Genocide: Sterilization of Indian People

Since the North American governments had been unable to destroy the indigenous population through massacre, or germ warfare, a new more sophisticated form of genocide was needed.

The most effective method of destroying an entire color of man is through government subsidized and coerced control and sterilization of women. The genocide document illustrates the abuse of birth control. Twenty-four per cent of Native women have been sterilized. Nineteen per cent are of child-bearing age. For every seven babies born, one Indian woman is sterilized." In 1973 Sen James Abourezk (D-S.D.) requested a General Accounting Office report on sterilization at Indian Health Service facilities. The GAO report (B-164031-5) monitored four IHS areas. The GAO report findings state, "Between 1973 and 1976, in four of 12 IHS areas, 3406 sterilizations were performed on Native women. Of these, 3000 were between the ages of 13 and 44." The decline of Native Americans populations has barely reached a plateau, after 500 years of colonial massacres; we are not the people overpopulating this continent. By sterilizing our women, the IHS decreases the chance that our culture will continue. Our children have a right to live!

South American Indians

In recent history the massacres of Indian people in South America have been less frequent than in North America because of lower demand for the land and resources of the indigenous populations in South America. It appears that now the governments of South America are trying to compensate for their past laziness. Hunters licensed to shoot animals now pursue Natives as prey in South America, bringing back Indians as trophies. With the new Trans-Amazon highway plans, the Brazilian and other governments are performing "search and destroy" missions on the native people. A Brazilian museum advertised recently that "Indians and other beasts" could be found stuffed for display; this practice occurs at museums in urban centers throughout South America. In Paraguay, the hunting of Indian peoples is not illegal, because Indian people are not considered human beings. Who is more human?

Imported Racism

Colonialism tends to propogate. To alleviate racial tensions in Rhodesia the government has arranged for the emmigration of white Rhodesians to Bolivia. This mass population movement amounts to a government-approved and financed exportation of racism to South America. White Rhodesians have been sold Indian lands and resources to ensure the "progress and development" of the South American colonialist governments.


The name of the genocide game the Western Hemisphere governments are playing with the indigenous population is "Land and Resources." The land base is crucial to the native population, for our survival and the maintenance of our culture, but greedy multinational corporations and real estate conglomerates demand our land. The "desolate" patches of land in North America where Indian people live, given by treaty to the Indians--cover approximately 90 per cent of the uranium reserves and 50 per cent of energy resources. The vast uranium fields of both the south-western United States as well as Northern Brazil are inhabited principally by native people. Native people have lived harmoniously with the earth in the Americas for over 60,000 years, and now the economic interests of the industrial world demand to rape the earth for energy progress and promise little to the Indians in return.

When the indgenous delegates documented the persistent ethnocide of the governments of the Western Hemisphere, we were initially met with shock, which quickly turned to rage. The Non-Governmental Organization participants joined in solidarity with our struggles and goals as well as in condemnation of the policies of the Western Hemisphere countries. The world must no longer listen to Jimmy Carter's oratories on the importance of human rights, when in fact he governs the nation that has been most successful in human rights abuse. South American governments follow the North American lead; documents show their concern for human rights to be a travesty. Indigenous populations are unified. Colonialism is destined to lose the battle for land to the peoples and cultures that are native to this earth.

Winona La Duke Westigard '80 is a citizen of the Ojibwa Nation. She now serves as vice president of the American Indians at Harvard and is a staff member of the International Indian Treaty Council.

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