Wilma Mankiller: Challenges Facing Indigenous People

Wilma Mankiller: Challenges Facing Indigenous People

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December 6, 2008

On October 2, 2008, Former Chief of the Cherokee Nation and Indigenous rights activist, Wilma Mankiller, was in Phoenix, AZ, to give a presentation on the “Challenges Facing 21st Century Indigenous People.”

A part of the Simon Ortiz and Labriola Center Lecture series on Indigenous Land, Culture, and Community, Mankiller, talked about the diversity and uniqueness of the world’s indigenous population, as well as the common, shared sense of duty to conserve and protect the natural world.

It’s a duty that we all share, not just indigenous people, states Mankiller. It’s just that many people have forgotten that duty because their culture holds no memory of their origins or of their place in the natural world.

Discussing several other issues, Mankiller also talked briefly about the common struggle of indigenous people. This shared experience, while indicating a point of unity, also shows a need for something ‘more’ than confrontation and a verbal demand that governments and corporations respect indigenous rights.

Mankiller points to that void of knowledge, and the need to show the world who we really are. Today, as i the distant past, indigenous people are often identified with “…nonsensical stereotypes [that] either vilify indigenous people as troubled descendants of savage[s]… or romanticize them as innocent children of nature – spiritual, but incapable of higher thought,” said Mankiller. Shifting this opinion to reflect our true identity — that we are not more or less, but different — will go further toward bringing the changes we need.

Another challenge Mankiller discusses, perhaps the greatest of all, is our need “to develop practical models to capture, maintain, and pass on traditional knowledge systems and values to future generations.”

If we cannot do this, then we too will one day forget.

Mankiller’s presentation follows some opening remarks by Frank Goodyear and Wayne Mitchell, and an introduction by Dr. Simon Ortiz.

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