The Declaration of Human Right and Freedoms was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 and enshrined the rights and freedoms of all human beings. It was to be the gold standard of social justice that countries of the world would acknowledge, sign and function in accordance with the principles. Coming on the heels of World War II certainly, it provided a path to sanity and a better way of living. December 10th would become the day to celebrate this more civilized way of life.
Another Human Rights Day on December 10th has passed. What is immediately apparent is not a consolidated respect for human rights but the overt examples of a complete lack. And yet I take heart in the fact that subsequent human and civil rights law have codified many of these basic rights in Canada. And the United Nations has continued to build on the work to move the human rights agenda forward, even in the face of powerful resistance.
The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted on September 13, 2007. The voices of 370 million indigenous persons over the world had been heard and the call for self-determination, rights to own and control their lands, territories and resources, and right to free, prior and informed consent, among others. The power in this was not just those countries who embraced this declaration but those who did not. It unearthed the hidden biases, the not so hidden biases, and the financial interests vying for political support.
Despite our Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada with all of its resolutions, despite a seemingly honest move to embrace and come to terms with the truth of our history, Canada did not sign on to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples until June 21, 2022. And yet… it has signed. And adopted it. The signature creates a path forward to codify this work, guarantee its application, and a path forward towards reconciliation.
Years ago, I attended Dr. Gregory A. Cajete’s talk at the University of British Columbia: Indigenous Community in a 21st Century World: The Re-Emergence of Indigenous Community Education. I have been a fan of Dr. Cajete (Tewa author and professor from Santa Clara, New Mexico), since I read Look To The Mountain (1994). Cajete grew up surrounded by four sacred mountains. In Cajete’s own words, “the Elders of the community would often admonish youngsters to “Look to the Mountain” and this metaphor has come to reflect his contemporary philosophy for indigenous education. Elders prompted younger people to “take their thinking to a higher level-as if on top of a mountain.”
The indigenous community has been a human process constructed to provide a perception of belonging that supports a sense of identity in context. In turn, it supports individual acceptance, agreement on core values, respect, accountability, reciprocity, efficacy and a move towards or away from function. Dr. Cajete uses the metaphor of “all kernels of the same corn cob” to describe the essence of unity and diversity within the building of community. The tragedy of colonization was the breakdown of community, dehumanization, isolation, and the subsequent political and spiritual fragmentation. His advice in the recreation of the cultural economies around an Indigenous paradigm necessitates:
- Learning history
- Research into principles of Indigenous ways of sustainability
- Collaboration and cooperation
- Ecological integrity
- Sustainable orientation
- Revitalization of a vision and purpose
- Cultural integration
- Respect for all
- Engaging participation in community
Cajete emphasizes that building community requires work and facilitates the perpetuation of Aboriginal people. There is an exciting indigeneous revitalization in visual art and dance relationships and a beginning of science relationships. Cahete’s background as a biologist stimulated an interest in reclaiming traditional forms of science and building processes of revitalization to recreate sustainable, indigenous communities. This is supported by botanist and Citizen of the Potawatomi Nation, Robin Wall Kimmerer. I highly recommend both of her very popular books, Braiding Sweetgrass (2013) and Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults (2022). Cajete advocates adhering to the Iroquois maxim by thinking seven generations ahead and implementing the traditional environmental and cultural knowledge unique to a group of people which has served to sustain through generations of living within a distinct bioregion. Evolving indigenous methodologies include deep dialogue, deep listening and deep reflective conversation built on the tradition of the talking stick. Indigenous people explored questions, problems and issues that were important in this way and they were witnessed by community to ensure accountability. Indigenous teachings and ways of being can help us recreate respectful and vibrant communities that are inclusive. We require learning and teaching to create the pathway toward environmental sustainability and integrated, supportive communities. The The UN Declaration of Right and Freedoms and the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been adopted t maintain our accountability. Future revitalization will require we “Look to the Mountain” on the path to reconciliation. We have work to do!