Today, August 9th, is the 18th annual International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, which was first proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994. The theme of this year’s International Day is “Indigenous Media, Empowering Indigenous Voices,” which, according to the UN’s website, “aims to highlight the importance of indigenous media in challenging stereotypes, forging indigenous peoples’ identities, communicating with the outside world, and influencing the social and political agenda.”
In commemoration of this important day, the Global Partnerships Office will be featuring a four-part interview with Nellie Adkins (Chickahominy, Diocese of Virginia), one of fourteen Anglican/Episcopal delegates who participated in the 11th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as part of the Anglican Communion’s delegation. The interview will run on this blog every Thursday August 9 – 30th. Among Nellie’s gifts are indigenous and non-indigenous media experiences. She is a former national network news editor and correspondent, and now runs Virginia Natives, a consulting company she started which provides counsel on Native American issues such as education. She is a former national chairperson of the American Indian Scouting Association and is now on their board of elders. She is also one of six women on the board of Oyate, a Native American/American Indian advocacy and education organization. Nellie sat down with Lynnaia Main, our Global Relations Officer, during the Permanent Forum in May 2012 and shared her story, thoughts, and reflections. Nellie describes herself as “walking in two worlds” on many levels: fully Christian and fully native, walking between indigenous and non-indigenous worlds, walking between the Episcopal Church and the United Nations. She has traveled to New York on several occasions at the invitation of Sarah Eagle Heart, Missioner for Indigenous Ministries, to represent the Episcopal Church and indigenous peoples at the United Nations. In 2011 and 2012, Nellie participated in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. This year, she attended for the first time the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, an annual forum of UN member states addressing indigenous issues, giving specific voice to indigenous organizations.
Over the next few weeks, Nellie will share different scenes from the Permanent Forum: what it was like to be on the floor, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Sarah Eagle Heart’s work with indigenous peoples in repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, Nellie’s experiences advocating at the UN and back home, and what it is like to “walk between two worlds,” bringing messages from home and back again.
Here is the first part of the interview with Nellie. We hope you enjoy it and that you’ll come back next week to read more!
Global Partnerships: Nellie, you’ve been here for about a week. We want to hear a little bit more about you and your experience at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. What was your role this year? And what have you been doing in the past week?
Nellie Adkins: My role was to be a support for Sarah Eagle Heart, our Missioner – to stand alongside her, to help her in any way that she deemed prudent, and to represent our collective native people here at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous People. As part of the Episcopal Church, as a practicing Christian Episcopalian, also as a traditional indigenous woman…I think that’s a message that needs to go out, because there are a lot of people who think “you’re either traditional, or you’re a Christian” and that means if you’re a Christian that you’ve completely divorced yourself from anything native… nothing could be more untrue. When the early Anglican priest from the Church of England came in and shared the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ with our people, we didn’t really have a problem with that because we only worshipped one God, Oneh, and he was Creator, he was everything, he was in everything, and when they told us about his son, who was a warrior chief, Yeshua, it made perfect sense to us and we heartily embraced the gospel.
GP: Could you describe the scene [on the floor of the UN Permanent Forum], how many people were there, what was going on? Did you recognize anyone that you know? Did you see any other indigenous people in the room? Or was it a UN event attended by lots of diplomats? Can you describe it for us?
NA: It was perhaps a different crowd of diplomats than is the norm there. I saw a lot of indigenous people from all over the world. I was particularly heartened to see a lot of Sami people from the Arctic Circle. People who were from Norge and Sweden and Suomi and who came in their traditional clothing and really had quite a bit to say…They were there en masse, and I was very heartened by their presence and many other indigenous people from all over the world. We’ve always known as indigenous people that the world is full of indigenous people. When you say someone is from Afghanistan, then everybody immediately thinks Middle Eastern culture…but there are also Kuchi people there. Every country and every area has indigenous people. So I was gladdened and heartened to see all of these people gathering with representation, and a voice…and to say some things that were truly on their hearts and to know that the majority of their issues, if we’re not going through it now, we’ve been through it. There is still a great need for people to hear us…it takes time to be heard, [and] it’s different per person as it is per tribe.
The day I went on to the floor, it was a standing room only crowd,…[an] Onandaga Haudenosonee woman, aka Iroquois from New York state, was speaking and [had] some real words of wisdom to say and to share. And I was really glad not only that she is a brilliant and articulate spokesperson in sharing her thoughts and values with the constituency, but also the fact that…the Haudenosonee/Iroquois people also have clan mothers and are heavily and totally matrilineal. [So] here is this bright, brilliant, articulate woman saying words of wisdom, pearls of wisdom. I just felt her strength, and was so heartily encouraged, and also to see that role model of women in places and positions of power where our women have always been and the men were not emasculated in the process. When you have women who are in a matrilineal position where they are making decisions about the welfare of all, that’s the kind of clear headedness that you’re going to encounter…I see the Episcopal Church as a sleeping giant in this area. I can just see [the Church] coming alongside and making a difference. [Our Presiding Bishop], Bishop Katharine is just such a strong, stalwart woman; it’s not what she says but it’s her presence – it is serene, it is guided, it’s directed. That partnering with our great mother church and everything just coming together…I can only see good coming out of this. And I’m encouraged.