Saturday February 16th 2019

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First Declaration of Indigenous Peoples Day at the 1977 Geneva UN Conference

The Native nations from the USA sent a delegation of thirteen members plus staff and observers. In addition, the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Federation sent a separate delegation of twelve, plus several observers. Five of the US delegates were affiliated with IITC: Russell Means (Lakota), David Monongye (Hopi, Hotevilla), Phillip Deere (Muscogee), Larry Red Shirt (Lakota), and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Southern Cheyenne). AIM delegates were Pat Bellanger (Ojibwa) and Clyde Bellecourt (Anishinabe-Ojibwe). An additional fifteen Native people from the USA came as staff and observers, seven of whom were affiliated with IITC, including Peggy Phelps Means (Lakota), Bill Means (Lakota), and Winona LaDuke (Ojibwe). Others included Marie-Helene Laraque (Taino), Joe Lefferty (Sioux), Marie Sanchez (Northern Cheyenne), and David Spotted Horse (Hunkpapa). The Iroquois delegation included Leon Shenandoah, Oren Lyons, and Audrey Shenandoah (Onondaga). Four of the seven Canadian delegates were affiliated with AIM Canada, including Ed Burnstick (Cree) and Art Solomon (Ojibwe).

“One of the most important things to come out of the Geneva Conference did not get much attention at the time, even though it was the first item of the program of action in the final resolutions. It reads: …‘to observe October 12, the day of so-called ‘discovery’ of America, as an international day of solidarity with the indigenous people of the Americas.’ Why is that so important?… It means that we have made a very large part of the world recognize who we are and even to stand with us in solidarity in our long fight. From now on, children all over the world will learn the true story of American Indians on Columbus Day instead of a pack of lies about three European ships.” Jimmy Durham, 1977.

Attending 1977 Geneva UN Conference

Ted Means: Born in SD 1946 died 2011, known as affectionately as the “Gov,” veteran of Wounded Knee 1973, a member of the Run for Freedom Runners, American Indian Grassroots, Survival School Family, a Porcupine Singer, Wakinyan Singers and a long-time sundancer. Prior to his retirement, he served as director of the Porcupine Health Clinic, which he helped found.

Greg Zephier: Artist, member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), member of a blues-rock band called the Vanishing Americans during the ‘60s and ‘70s. His records, particularly those of Jimi Hendrix, the three Kings (Albert, B.B., and Freddie), and Carlos Santana, were pivotal early influences on Indigenous’ musical aesthetic.

Russel Means: 1939-2012, active in international issues of Indigenous peoples (including Central and South America, and United Nations for recognition of their rights), state and national level, and at his native Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; began acting career in 1992 on numerous television series and in several films, including The Last of the Mohicans, and released his own music CD; autobiography Where White Men Fear to Tread in 1995.

Oren R. Lyons, Jr. was born 1930 in Seneca Wolf Clan but he was adopted into the Onondaga, Turtle Clan as an adult. He is a faithkeeper of Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. He has traveled internationally representing water, environment, world peace, and issues in the United Nations.

Larry Red Shirt: from Pine Ridge Reservation, SD.; a Lakota Representative to the 1977 Geneva Council. Pine Ridge is 2.1 million acres, with 1.7 million acres held in trust by the U.S. government. Established 1889 in the southwest corner of South Dakota on the Nebraska border, larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

Francis Andrew He Crow “Kangi Bloka”: 1930-2018, from Pine Ridge Reservation and a Lakota Representative to the 1977 Geneva Council; Gordon, Neb., passed away September 13, 2018.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated as an official city and state holiday in various U.S. localities; date varies each year. At the UN and internationally it was August 9, 2018. It began as a counter-celebration held on the same day as the U.S. Columbus Day, European explorer Christopher Columbus. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is intended to celebrate Native Americans and commemorate their shared history and culture. The Minneapolis City Council unanimously voted on April 26, 2014 to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day on the same date as Columbus Day in the future. The federal, state, and city governments will continue to recognize Columbus Day on the second Monday in October, according to the resolution, but now the city will also recognize Indigenous Peoples Day on the same day.

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