I am writing to urge all Irish people at home and abroad to demand that Mary Robinson, the new UN Human Rights Commissioner from Ireland, and Bill Clinton, immediately adopt the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the minimum international standard of protection for those on whose graves the wealth of Europe and the United States was built. The Clinton administration has been the international leader against the draft declaration, attempting to change or delay passage of a doucment developed over more than a decade by the non-governmental Working Group on Indigenous People(s), representatives to the Human Rights Commission's Sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.
To those of you in Ireland, I would like to dispel any notion that the North American holocaust was merely a tragic episode in American history and assure you that the anti-colonial resistance of Native people is very much alive, though obviously not as advanced as that of Ireland.
And to those of my compatriots on these shores, I urge you to reconsider identifying yourselves as "white Americans,'' as I have attempted to differentiate our historical status to the Native people with whom I live and work. If we are refugees, then we owe a debt of gratitude to our true hosts; if we perceive ourselves as settlers, then we diminish our moral claims to genuine independence. After all, what is the difference between an Irish American discounting the treaties through which the United States gained its sole legal right to these lands and an Ulster unionist dismissing the claims of the republican movement as a historical anachronism?
I would propose that the success of history's greatest genocide in reducing Native people to a tiny minority does not justify the continued denial of the treaty claims of its survivors; instead, it makes it all the more imperative that we, as exiles from and residents of an occupied land, actively support those who are paying with their lives and freedom to resist the domination of the world's most powerful nation. To this day the US does not recognise its original inhabitants as full-fledged human beings, but rather as colonial "wards" or national minorities. The US position is evidenced by the state department's refusal to acknowledge Natives as "peoples" under international law, which would uphold their right to self-determination independent of indirect rule through US laws governing the administration of "tribal governments" by the infamous Bureau of Indian Affairs.
I live near the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota, where the racist and colonial oppression by state law enforcement has worsened since tribal members have learned enough about the law to assert their sovereignty when they are dragged into state courts on the slightest pretext. With no support from their tribal governments and scandalous (mis)representation, the Anishinabe (Chippewa) people have established in state courts often unwilling to consider treaties or federal laws that the state of Minnesota has no jurisdiction to enforce its civil regulations within reservations.
Yet the police continue to impose such laws, and the same judges who ruled that they have no jurisdiction to hear such cases will sentence tribal members who fail to assert their immunity.
Those who prevail in state court almost universally suffer retaliatory harassment from police, who want to maintain absolute control, in part to uphold county governments' lucrative business of collecting fines they have no authority to issue from the impoverished reservation residents.
There have also been several deaths in police custody of activists who have struggled for land and sovereignty and of jailed young people, all of which have been ruled "suicides," with little or no investigation.
Based on my limited knowledge of my own national history, this seems very much like the British policy of criminalisation and counterinsurgency.
In short, I believe there is a commonality between the republican struggle and that of American Natives, which the Irish diaspora in the United States in particular has an obligation to support. Sinn Fein has in the past expressed its solidarity with framed Lakota political prisoner/POW Leonard Peltier, and I hope this support has not been downplayed for fear of alienating the US president as the party searches for a just peace.
Minnesota, United States