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Call to revitalize ‘language of the ancestors’ for survival of future generations
by UNESCO, OHCHR, UN News, agencies
Feb. 2019
Hundreds of ancestral languages have gone silent in recent generations, taking with them the culture, knowledge and traditions of the people who spoke them. To preserve and revitalize those that remain, the United Nations has officially launched the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
Delivering inaugural remarks, Kanentokon Hemlock, a Mohawk community Bear Clan Chief from Kahnawke, paid tribute to Mother Earth.
“As indigenous people, our languages are those of the earth and it is those languages that we use to speak with our mother”, he said, saying “the health of our languages is connected to the health of the earth”, which is being abused.
“We lose our connection and our ancient ways of knowing of the earth when our languages fall silent”, he explained, stressing that “for the sake of future generations we must ensure they too can speak the language of our ancestors”.
The President of the UN General Assembly, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces highlighted the close connection between indigenous languages and ancestral culture and knowledge, saying that “they are much more than tools for communication, they are channels for human legacies to be handed down”.
“Each indigenous language has an incalculable value for humankind”, she said, calling each “a treasure laden with history, values, literature, spirituality, perspectives and knowledge, developed and garnered over millennium”.
“When a language dies,” she spelled out “it takes with it all of the memory bound up inside it”.
Indigenous languages are symbols of their people’s identity, “vectors for values, ways of life and expressions of their connections with earth”, according to the Assembly president, who called them “crucial” for survival.
Indigenous languages also open the door to ancestral practices and knowledge, such as in agriculture, biology, astronomy, medicine and meteorology. Although there are still 4,000 in existence across the globe, many are on the brink of extinction.
“This International Year must serve as a platform from which we can reverse the alarming trend of the extinction of indigenous languages”, to recover and preserve them, including by implementing education systems that favor the use of a Mother tongue, Ms. Espinosa stated.
Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, addressed the survival of indigenous people and languages under the force of colonialization.
“Today we come here having survived the colonial era which has tried to bring our elders to their knees and squash them beneath the weight of injustice”, he said.
Mr. Morales called on everyone to work together through dialogue to promote policies which help to preserve Indigenous lives, identities, values and cultures.
There are 770 million Indigenous people across 90 countries, constituting six per cent of the global population, living in many biodiverse regions, the President noted. And yet “capitalist greed” has left them among the poorest 15 per cent of the population.
Warning that greed was driving the move to annex yet more indigenous resources, he said that there was a “criminal silence” on the part of world leaders “when it comes to speaking out against these phenomena”, pointing out the hypocrisy of lecturing indigenous people about democracy and human rights, while quashing their community identities and suppressing languages at risk of dying out.
“Language is culture, language is an expression of a cosmovision and that is a way of seeing the world”, he said. “If languages disappear… the memories that they bear will disappear as well as the people that speak them”.
Encouraging everyone to “preserve the knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors”, Mr. Morales urged that a new paradigm be ushered in, one which is the fruit of indigenous peoples and “champions the Mother Earth”.

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U.S. shutdown cut deep for Native Americans
by Reuters, Indian Country Today
Jan. 2019
The Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma used a GoFundMe page and its own money to feed its many members who were furloughed or worked without pay during the U.S. government shutdown.
On their reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, the Cheyenne River Sioux used third-party funds and dipped into tribal funds to provide food assistance.
The 35-day partial government shutdown affected 800,000 federal workers, but Native Americans were especially vulnerable because they rely mostly on federal contracts for services and jobs in the Bureau of Indian affairs for incomes.
Ivan Looking Horse, a spiritual leader at the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, said they had prepared for an even longer shutdown in the midst of a harsh South Dakota winter along the Cheyenne River.
"We are the First Nations'' people. We know how to survive," he said after President Donald Trump announced an end to the 35-day partial government shutdown.
Federal workers caught a reprieve after Trump agreed to reopen the government until Feb. 15, without getting the $5.7 billion he had demanded for a border wall. Over the next 18 days lawmakers in the ideologically divided Congress will try to craft a border security bill acceptable to Trump.
For American Indian tribes and federal workers, that amounts to a period in limbo while they wait to see if a deal will be reached by the Feb. 15 deadline - or if another government shutdown will again take their paychecks hostage.
Looking Horse was cautiously optimistic. "I think they''ll come to a conclusion," he said. "This country is based on democracy and consensus and good things will come out."
Native Americans elsewhere were not so sure.
A Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) worker in the Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, said the agency would work fast to obtain federal grants for contracts to run basic services like road maintenance and land management.
"Everyone is going to be working like mad for the next 2-1/2 weeks in case he shuts it down again," said the employee, who did not want to be identified.
BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling said in an email, "Indian Affairs is excited to resume our work towards fulfilling our trust responsibility and treaty obligations for the 573 federally recognized tribes."
While stress from the shutdown - including missed home and car payments, food handouts and burning through savings - affected all federal workers and contractors, it cut much deeper for American Indians.
Generations ago, tribes negotiated hundreds of treaties with the U.S. government guaranteeing funds for things like education, public safety, basic infrastructure and health in exchange for vast amounts of their land.
The services are administered directly by federal agencies or through the tribes and contractors by means of grants.
With BIA offices closed by the shutdown, families receiving federal royalty payments for oil and gas drilling and grazing on former tribal lands did not receive checks that can be their main source of income.
About 9,000 Indian Health Service employees, delivering health care to about 2.2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives, worked without pay, according to the Health and Human Services Department''s shutdown plan.
"When our funding gets cuts, all these people are getting put on hold for the healthcare they need," said Terri Parton, president of the Anadarko, Oklahoma-based Wichita and Affiliated Tribes.
Like the Cheyenne River Sioux in South Dakota, the Wichita dipped into tribal funds to prop up social services.
After enduring government shutdowns in the 1990s, the Cherokee Nation changed its operating model from the government''s running many of its facilities to administering services themselves with federal money, said Chuck Hoskin, secretary of state for the Cherokee Nation.
The latest stoppage, the 10th with furloughs since 1976, has further eroded Native American confidence in the federal government, tribal leaders say.
At the Pawnee Nation in Oklahoma, the GoFundMe drive was launched to provide baskets of groceries to federal workers, even those who were not tribe members, struggling to put food on the table, said Jim Gray, executive director of the nation. In 16 days - the drive is no longer accepting donations - it raised $6,343, out of a goal of $10,000.
"We had to give up 99 percent of our land to hang onto this 1 percent and then in turn they were supposed to provide these kinds of services as part of that treaty agreement," Gray said.
Jan 18, 2019 (Reuters)
Indigenous people from across the globe gathered in the U.S. capital on Friday for a march drawing attention to social and environmental injustices against indigenous communities worldwide, in what organizers said was a first-ever event.
Up to 2.5 billion people depend on indigenous and community lands, which make up more than half of all land globally, but they legally own just 10 percent. Campaigners say native groups are struggling with encroachment by governments and logging, mining and agribusiness companies.
"We are here in support of the aims of indigenous peoples across the world – that is, for our safety, health, the protection of our families and our water, for the protection of our lives," Rufus Kelly, of the Nottoway Tribe in Virginia, said.
"And we want to make sure that people know we have not gone anywhere – that we are still here. We''re not extinct. We''re right here among you, and we want to share that with you."
Parallel events took place in other U.S. cities and abroad, said Jesse Phelps of the Lakota People''s Law Project, saying the D.C. march was a "big step toward the unification and amplification" of indigenous voices.
The march stems from a months-long 2016-17 protest between the U.S. government and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe over plans for an oil pipeline to cross Sioux lands in North Dakota, said co-organizer Nathalie Farfan, noting that one of Donald Trump''s first moves as president was to approve construction on the project.
"Standing Rock was a traumatic situation, but that was also the first time we saw allies come from all over to help out," Farfan said.
That type of solidarity-building has been taking place across the globe, according to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations top expert on the rights of indigenous peoples, who said she "fully supports" Friday''s marches.
"Indigenous peoples in almost all parts of the world are still suffering from racism and discrimination and gross violations of their human rights, but their persistence in strengthening their movements and communities enabled some of them to succeed in protecting their lands and territories from environmental destruction".

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