The Pursuit of Justice

The Pursuit of Justice

Support our journalism. Become a Patron!
April 8, 2013

As I noted in my editorial Fighting Intelligently, confronting the status quo at the UN and in each of its member states can only succeed if the indigenous peoples movement strengthens indigenous nations. While NGO activism is fine, it is only useful if it supports indigenous governance. When this activism gets stuck in an obstructionist role, it becomes an impediment to indigenous self-determination.

The Center for World Indigenous Studies (CWIS), International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), and Indian Law Resource Center (ILRC) are experienced NGOs that strengthen indigenous nations by challenging the status quo at the UN, as well as by providing essential research to indigenous governing authorities.

One aspect of the divide within the indigenous peoples movement that contributed to the shambles in Sycuan at the March 1 North American Preparatory Meeting for the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, was that some American indigenous NGOs are so locked into symbolic actions, moral theatrics and ideological purity that they don’t want to be left behind, or be overshadowed by indigenous nations that are preparing to assert jurisdiction over territories and governance that is guaranteed to be a rough fight, both at the UN and within each of its member states. Some NGOs worry that foundation funding might dry up if they engage in anything more serious than moral theatrics.

While these NGOs have made contributions to public consciousness, their insecurity cannot be allowed to get in the way of indigenous sovereignty. Sycuan sorted some of that out, but these differences come with the territory, so we have to expect adjustments will continue between recognized and customary governments, as well as NGOs. There’s no way around it.

For NGO activists who limit themselves to the roles of provocateur and saboteur, indigenous institutions like the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) and United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) are sometimes viewed as adversaries. While it is fine to discuss differences of opinion on indigenous institutional policies, subverting democratic process and sabotaging institutional diplomacy — by provoking dishonest dissension — serves no useful purpose, other than to promote instigators into the limelight.

Glenn T. Morris, University of Colorado associate professor of political science, recently submitted an incoherent, polemic response to my editorial Report from Sycuan, an account of the North American Preparatory Meeting for the 2014 UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. From what I’ve been able to determine, Morris was one of the instigators who disrupted the gathering.

Along with his cohort Ward Churchill, who was fired by the University of Colorado for academic misconduct, Morris was expelled from the International Indian Treaty Council in 1986 for disruptive behavior. Seven years later, the American Indian Movement National Board of Directors expelled Churchill and Morris from AIM.

The AIM Grand Governing Council described Morris as deceitful and treacherous. “Using the American Indian Movement to give them credibility, cover and access,” says the Grand Council, “they [Churchill and Morris] have been able to infiltrate other organizations and movements nationally and internationally.”

The AIM Grand Governing Council urges its friends and supporters to expose and isolate Churchill and Morris, and help undo the harm they’ve inflicted on naive innocents in both academic and activist milieus.

Morris, an attorney, has built a career out of choreographed belligerence, and seems stuck in his obstructionist role. Evidently, his MO is so ingrained, he is incapable of seeing how his delinquent behavior is an impediment to the indigenous peoples movement, of which he purports to be a champion. His distortive response to my editorial helps to illustrate the tenor of some indigenous ideologues that challenges the movement’s success.

The target of Morris’ malevolence at Sycuan, Fawn Sharp, is well-known in Native American politics. As this Department of Interior Commission on Indian Trust Administration and Reform bio illustrates, Sharp is one of the top American Indian political leaders in the United States. As a professor of political science — specializing in the U.S. Political System and Federal Indian Law — Morris would have been well aware of who he was attacking.

Fawn Sharp, endorsed by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) as an official North American Delegate to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples Indigenous Global Coordinating Group(GCG), had previously been invited by the National Congress of American Indians to submit a letter of interest in serving on the GCG. The endorsement by ATNI — which took place at its Winter 2013 conference in January — was a matter of public record, easily located by a quick Google search online. Professor Morris was likely aware of the support for Ms. Sharp by NCAI and ATNI, prior to his sabotaging of the meeting a month later.

In the Rocky Mountain News special report on the investigation of Ward Churchill, Churchill’s antagonism toward the National Congress of American Indians is revealed as a personal resentment based on his inability to prove he has a single American Indian ancestor, even though he claimed Cherokee and Creek ancestry on his application at the University of Colorado Boulder, and received appointments, promotions and privileges based on that statement. While this issue might not be a factor in Morris’ case, his open hostility toward NCAI and indigenous governing authorities makes one wonder if – as a protégé of Churchill’s – Morris learned to game the affirmative action system at the university, then use his academic stature to attack indigenous institutions for personal aggrandizement. It certainly fits with his behavior.

Morris’ attack — by his own admission — was for the purpose of preventing Ms. Sharp from becoming a member of the Global Coordinating Group for the Indigenous Peoples Conference in Norway. What Morris’ agenda is in doing so remains to be revealed, but the net result so far is to deprive the dysfunctional WCIP process of effective leadership. Given Morris’ intentional attack on one of the most capable indigenous women in North America, his twisted accusation of me marginalizing indigenous women rings hollow.

As noted by the Indian Law Resource Center two weeks prior to the March 1 meeting in Sycuan, indigenous nations and tribes are not obligated to work through the ad hoc North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus. They can participate in the Global Preparatory Conference in Norway and the World Conference in New York as indigenous governing authorities. They don’t need accreditation by indigenous NGOs to attend. Yet, while they are not obliged to work through the caucus, it is useful for them to speak with the NGO participants, if for no other reason, to clarify indigenous roles and responsibilities distorted by opportunists and troublemakers like Morris.

As a result of the chaos at Sycuan, the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska on April 2 challenged the validity of the NAIPC report on the grounds that the NAIPC failed to complete its agenda on the official date set for the meeting in Sycuan, and since the day ended with disagreement on the process as well as content, no consensus therefore exists. Additionally, they noted that “the intentional frustration by a minority of NAIPC participants of reasonable requests for an equitable method for assessing whether consensus existed or not among all NAIPC participants was a primary reason the NAIPC failed to complete its agenda or issue a valid report.”

The Citizen Potawatomi Nation finds that the NAIPC report contains serious misstatements of facts and does not accurately reflect the decisions made by the caucus. The Potawatomi claim the report does not reflect the views of many Indian governments that participated in the caucus, that the report includes many serious misrepresentations, and “demonstrates that the caucus procedures and actions are undemocratic and unreasonable.”

In conclusion, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation repudiates the report in its entirety, and although selected to be one of the delegates of the caucus to the meeting in Alta, Norway, will not, for the above reasons, participate. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation will, however, continue to participate in the preparations for the UN World Conference in collaboration with other indigenous nations, peoples, and organizations.

As noted in his March 29 correspondence to the NAIPC, Derrick Beetso, staff attorney at the National Congress of American Indians states, “The portion of the meeting intended to prepare for the HLP-WCIP was advertized as being one day, but these issues carried over for all three days, and many of those present had to leave before the conclusion of this meeting, including NCAI. By the time the issues in this report were submitted for approval, only a small percentage of representatives were still present. Therefore, this document does not necessarily reflect consensus of those listed.”

International Indian Treaty Council executive director Andrea Carmen’s April 3 proposal to GCG appointees Debra Harry and Kenneth Deer and the NAIPC to separate content from process shows we were on target with our Report from Sycuan, and perhaps offers a partial remedial solution for the NGO participants who might have been confused about the purpose of the North American Preparatory Meeting.

After years of advocating for resolutions by the UNPFII, NAIPC found itself at Sycuan in the position of having to deal with a different process, specifically geared toward participation and decision-making that requires rules and procedures in order to bring legitimate and credible recommendations to the WCIP.

For some advocacy NGOs that are not advisory to indigenous governing authorities, this discipline was a foreign concept. To IITC, CWIS and ILRC, the undisciplined conduct by these NGOs signaled a source of weakness in the UN-established process that could undermine UNDRIP. While Carmen’s proposal might be considered by NAIPC as a way forward, despite the harm caused by a combination of poor NAIPC leadership and the intentional frustration by some of the democratic process, the sad fact remains that the calculated sabotage by Morris, et al was successful in generating animosity and mobilizing resentment at a time when unity was sorely needed.

While the indigenous nations that participated in the North American meeting at Sycuan will move on from the fiasco there, they will need to be on their guard at the Global Conference in Norway and World Conference in New York. Indigenous NGOs, like non-indigenous NGOs, are subject to confusion, corruption, and manipulation by their philanthropic funders. While indigenous governing authorities concern themselves with national and international policies affecting indigenous self-determination, they would be wise to follow the money of UNPFII delegates, appointees and grant recipients. Money doesn’t tell the whole story, but it often reveals conflicting interests that can interfere with the implementation of human rights and the pursuit of justice.

We're fighting for our lives

Indigenous Peoples are putting their bodies on the line and it's our responsibility to make sure you know why. That takes time, expertise and resources - and we're up against a constant tide of misinformation and distorted coverage. By supporting IC you're empowering the kind of journalism we need, at the moment we need it most.

independent uncompromising indigenous
Except where otherwise noted, articles on this website are licensed under a Creative Commons License