The Struggle for Recognition of the Rights of Indigenous Nations
We began a two-part series on the sovereignty of Indigenous Nations. This week we spoke with Charmaine White Face, Zumila Wobaga, who participated in the process to develop the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Charmaine recently published a book titled “Indigenous Nations’ Rights in the Balance” in which she describes the difficult process of achieving recognition of rights agreed upon by the majority of indigenous peoples and how the process of creating the declaration was full of obstacles. She analyzes the text of the final declaration and what it means for indigenous nations.
Relevant articles, books and websites:
It is Time to Recognize the National Sovereignty and Human Rights of Native Indians by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
Individual Rights Only for Indigenous Peoples at the UN by Charmaine White Face
Indigenous Nations’ Rights in the Balance: An analysis of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by Charmaine White Face Zumila Wobaga
From her early childhood, her paternal grandmother taught Charmaine White Face about the treaties that the United States and the Great Sioux Nation entered into. Her grandmother also taught her about the cultural differences between these two nations. This influence has permeated her writing and continues to affect her philosophy, thought, work, and life.
One of the few members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe to pursue a degree in the sciences, Ms. White Face completed a double major in Biology and Physical Science in 1973. She has used this education to teach environmental science at the college level.
A long-term community organizer, Ms. White Face began her organizing work thirty years ago as a volunteer on the Board of Directors for the South Dakota Indian Education Association, of which she was a member for five years. Over the years, she not only continued to volunteer her organizing skills but also worked as a professional organizer for a national environmental organization.
She also worked as an administrator for the Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She took an active role in developing tribal laws, managing departments, and administering federal programs.
Woven throughout, she has been a political columnist. Her writings have appeared in magazines and essay collections in the United States and Great Britain. She authored a book entitled Testimony for the Innocent, which is a biographical account of her experiences as the Treasurer for the Oglala Sioux Tribe. For the past twenty years, her editorials and essays have urged political reform, social justice, and environmental protection and restoration.
Through her published work, the Sioux Nation Treaty Council, established in 1894 by He Dog, a Headman, came to recognize her understanding of the sovereignty of the Great Sioux Nation. In 1994, unknown to her, the Council appointed her to be the Spokesperson’s successor—Spokesperson being a lifelong appointment. She assumed the duties as Spokesperson in 2004. Her work for the Treaty Council is to uphold the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.
Since 2002, she has been participating at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, and New York City, New York, to advocate for the Great Sioux Nation and other Indigenous Peoples. At a critical juncture in the development of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, she participated in the prayer fast/hunger strike held in December 2004 at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
In 2002, she founded a volunteer environmental and social justice organization called Defenders of the Black Hills. The organization advocates for the protection, preservation, and restoration of the environment of the 1851 and 1868 Treaty Territories. The organization is composed of members from many different Indigenous Nations as well as non-Indigenous people from the United States, Canada, and Europe.
She is currently working on cleaning up thousands of abandoned open-pit uranium mines and prospects. The radioactive dust, waste, and leaching from these sites are polluting the environment in western South Dakota and the Northern Great Plains—1868 Treaty Territory.
Ms. White Face is a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Her hobbies include sewing, reading, gardening, and old movies. She resides in Rapid City, South Dakota.