Over the last several years, we have heard apologies by both the Canadian and Australian heads of state to the Indigenous Peoples within their respective nations, and this shows at least recognition of the genocidal, discriminative, and racist actions of the past. However, the undertow here is that white, Anglo nations really don’t want to give up their power imbalance and privilege. The question now is whether there will be the ongoing national will and fortitude, by these post-colonizing nations, to respect the diversities, human rights, sovereignty of the land, and economic consequences of their oppressive actions towards the Indigenous Peoples who had these inequities perpetrated on them.
When white people use the word diversity, we often use it in the context of making education more diversity oriented, or making the workplace more diversity friendly; for us, it’s almost become a cliché or code word for saying that we are a good and tolerant people. For most of us, protection of human rights is an intellectual assertion. We live in a different time than when all of these abuses took place. We weren’t around when all of this happened—it was our ancestors, in their ignorance who acted this way, right? We can say this safely when we still live our lives within a sort of bubble of “whiteness,” when most of the people we see and interact with every day look like us. We can say it this way, to be honest, because we still maintain most of the power within our white, western society, and hate the idea of divesting it.
But, as I mentioned above, the world is much bigger than us. If we persist in attempting to view life from a white-centric point of view, we will continue to have a distorted view of the world. We have to learn the skill of de-centering whiteness. It’s like walking into a fun house expecting to see our full body in a mirror in some sort of realistic way, and seeing it in a wacky, fun house mirror; our image kind of morphs and changes, and one part seems bigger than another, and totally out of proportion. Having a diverse lens on the world means doing what we can to protect the human rights of all people, most importantly Indigenous Peoples. It means confronting the past atrocities and abuses perpetrated in the U.S, for example, on African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Irish Americans, German Americans, and most significantly Indigenous Peoples. It means grappling with the very real need for reparations in order to rectify in hardcore, tangible ways, the economic and unethical actions that were rendered to people “of the land” or others who were seen to be less-than-human. This isn’t an easy picture to see, and there is no quick pill to swallow. In short, healing and reconciliation is messy and is usually a painful, divesting process.
One major step has been taken and that is that the Organization of American States has a working committee of people who are now working on the current draft of the U.N. Resolution for Indigenous Peoples Human Rights. They will be meeting in Washington, DC in September 2008 to continue this process. As of December 24, 2012, The Organization of American States convened the Thirteenth Meetings of Negotiations in the Quest for Points of Consensus in the Indigenous People document, took place at OAS Headquarters from January 18 to 20, 2011. It was preceded by the meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus held on January 15 to 17, 2011.
Any one of us may choose to be an ally in this process. First by going to the OAS website to find out more about the current issues around Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights, and then by contacting our representatives to the OAS, going to the meetings to support the effort, writing letters to media sources, and by continuing to educate ourselves about the bigness and importance of the term diversity. Diversity is much more than a word. Words don’t mean–people mean. We are the ones who give a living reality to what it means to be a diverse world. We must construct an accurate map of the way the world is truly structured.
© Christopher Bear-Beam December 24, 2012 (originally published in the American Diversity Report, November 11, 2008