Thursday, December 4, 2008

Some guidance for Obama on Native issues

Not really guidance from me. Or - the guidance is, "Do what this document says."

The document is the Indian Nations 2009 Presidential Transition from the National Congress of American Indians.

Why yes that IS a fascinating name for a document! :) Okay, it's a bit boring-sounding, but it was pretty exciting to read. Grassroots Science sent me the report, and it read like a wish-list of things that should happen. Some highlights:

Presidential appointments
Major, top level positions for Native people was a promise from Obama during the campaign, so that is expected. But this document has some pretty specific requests (and many of them) for positions, including the creation of several positions. Which includes...

Secretary of the Interior
I mentioned this a few times in the blog before, but while most people would see this position as a "second tier" appointment, with little impact on their lives, there is a difference in the Native perspective. They state the importance pretty well, I think:

The Secretary of Interior is the primary federal official entrusted with
protecting tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, and a broad range of
responsibilities to assist Indian Nations. Our primary objective is a Secretary
of Interior who is knowledgeable and supportive of Indian Nations. It is high
time that a Native leader is appointed Secretary of Interior.

Umm... no kidding!? Now, I'm willing to be okay with a Native-friendly appointment because the Sec. of the Interior does not ONLY look after Native issues - and there are other top positions which will be entirely Native focused. Although I'd prefer a Native person appointed to this position, I'd be VERY happy with someone like former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles, knowledgeable of Native issues, and one smart cookie.

There were loads of recommendations for administration appointments, most of which I agree with. The "issues" recommendations seemed pretty thorough, including:

Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
This is something I think everyone should Google, and THEN read the factoid this document pushes out -

The United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples on September 13, 2007 with 143 nations voting in favor and only 4
nations opposed – one of them the United States.

This is pointed toward the specific Native aspects, including language (of which I think they're undershooting for.) Their is an interesting comment included in this section -

Despite the Republican Administration’s expressed support for Indian education, it proposed eliminating four Indian specific programs in the Department of Education...

Renewable Energy and Conversation Programs
A similar jab at Bush in this -

President Bush requested a substantial decrease for Tribal Energy Activities
for FY 2009, which would be funded at $1 million instead of $5.9 million enacted
in the FY 2008 budget... NCAI urges Congress to fund renewable energy and
conservation programs and activities at $8.5 million.

Just what we need at a time like this... reduction in energy funding for low-income Americans...

Strengthen the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
This is one that so many would go... uh, huh? But repatriation is something I have been seeing as more and more important these last few years. Basically, it's trying to get a lot of the stuff back that was stolen for so many years. Well, it wasn't ALL stolen - just... no, they were mostly stolen.

And by "stuff," I mean sacred objects, cultural wares, and human remains. Bodies. I have often wondered if the reaction would be different about digging up burial grounds if I were to walk down to the downtown Anchorage cemetary and start digging up people, dragging their bodies to a lab, all in the name of science.

A few years ago, we watched a video in class from the 1940's. These tourists were coming through Alaska, and the video was of them at a Tlingit shaman's grave. They were laughing and taking out some of the sacred objects from inside. Artifacts, interesting objects to them.

About the same time, my grandma shared with me an experience she had as a group of Elders from the village traveled to view a collection at a university they believed to be mostly stolen from that village. As they viewed the "art" and "artifacts," one of the woman burst into tears. She had spotted a rattle - a tool used in ceremony in Tlingit culture. She was the grandaughter of the last shaman of the village, and the last time she saw the rattle was in her grandmother's hands. To her it was not an interesting object to study - it was her connection to her grandmother, to her childhood, not to mention her culture.

Okay, off soapbox - back to business.

Military and Veteran's Policy
These are actually basic things that should be done for all veteran's - just taking it to specific points - but has gotten recent attention in Alaska lately because of Palin and the National Gaurd. The travel to and from health care benefits (very important for all these veteran's in villages without road access) was a highlight.

This barely skims the report - it's over 60 pages long - so take a look if you're interested. Even take a look if you're not! You might find some things you didn't know were important to a bug chunk of your fellow Americans.

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