Tamara Starblanket (Spider Woman), Cree, from Ahtahkakoop First Nation in Treaty Six Territory, Canada, recently accepted the international appointment as Co-Chair of the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus (NAIPC). She was nominated by Indigenous participants from the U.S. and Canada attending the NAIPC gathering last March, there to discuss critical issues, find common ground and create a collective platform in preparation for the 15th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the UN Headquarters in New York City in May.
Starblanket is the Instructor and Program Coordinator for the Aboriginal Justice Studies Certificate Program at Native Education College. She used her education in law to prove that genocide occurred in Canada. She is the author of the forthcoming book, “Suffer the Little Children – Genocide: Indigenous Nations in the Canadian State.” Noam Chomsky said of her book, "Settler-colonialism reveals the brutal face of imperialism in some of its most vicious forms. This carefully researched and penetrating study focuses on one of its ugliest manifestations, the forcible transferring of indigenous children, and makes a strong case for Canadian complicity in a form of 'cultural genocide' – with implications that reach to the Anglosphere generally, and to some of the worst crimes of the 'civilized world' in the modern era."
We spoke with Starblanket about her new role.
What will be your priorities?
The NAIPC wants to raise awareness about state genocide against the Original Nations on Great Turtle Island. It is our responsibility and obligation to understand that our ‘original laws and instructions’ protect our Mother Earth. The effects of the residential school and boarding school system forcibly indoctrinated our Original Nations and Peoples through colonial violence. Our children were massively tortured for practicing their spiritual and cultural traditions. Examples of the torture include having needles through the tongue for a prolonged period of time, dry ice on the tongue, whippings, beatings, solitary confinement, starvation and many more other acts of genocide.
As the Original Nations, we depend on the continuance of the healthy characteristics of our societies and Nations. Instead, we pass off the colonial destruction through the generations because of the massive and widespread patterns of serious bodily and mental harm against our children that began in the residential school system. The colonial violence against the innocent has caused the high rates of the forcible removals in the child welfare system and other colonial institutions such as youth detention facilities, adult prisons and so forth. This is genocide. What’s not explained to most people is that the massive patterns of harm have manifested into our peoples and nations that do not “think, speak and write” in our original languages.
It is our responsibility to teach our children our laws and obligations that protect our Earth. Our spiritual laws are encoded in our original languages. An Elder said once that our languages are spiritual. So what we have today are people that make decisions on behalf of us that can have a detrimental impact. Examples of this include the land claims system or reconciliation process in Canada. People indoctrinated in a language that dominates the Earth will not understand that they have an obligation to protect the land for future generations. We are referring here to the assimilation of our Nations into the settler state systems. Examples of this can be the people who continue to insist that “organizations” such as the AFN and the IITC can speak on behalf of our Original Nations.
What issues were deemed the most critical for the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues this May?
The present theme “Indigenous Peoples: Conflict, Peace and Resolution,” is missing a critical component of the experience of colonial invasion and domination. As one Elder noted at the caucus meeting, we cannot have peace and conflict in the same sentence. Another integral aspect is the truth and as far as we can tell, there is no truth taking place. Our treaties are being violated daily by the claiming of our lands and the forcible removal of our children into present times. Genocide in its various forms must be a discussion at this UNPFII.
The trend of the U.N. to acknowledge only state-recognized organizations to speak on behalf of the original nations and peoples on great Turtle Island and the world over is alarming. The Permanent Forum is increasingly becoming a state-controlled mechanism that is designed to silence the critical issues of our lands and the development that occurs in our territories around the world. State-recognized organizations consent to these destructive arrangements and unfortunately do not provide the critical analysis that is necessary to challenge the on-going colonialism and genocide. Examples of this include the UNDRIP, which is a shell of the once-strong meaning it had.
This colonial domination is supported by the continued claim that we are minorities. Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination in international law. Minorities do not have the rights of self-determination. My research on genocide shows that the minority human rights framework is destructive and conceals genocide.
What is the most pressing issue from the NAIPC’s perspective?
The United Nations must stop all forced assimilation measures being imposed against the Original Nations and Peoples through the UNDRIP and domestic state laws and policies.
What injustices turned you into an activist?
My family of birth passed on from the effects of genocide in a short timespan and when they were very young. My late mother, father, brothers and sisters passed away from the impacts of the residential school system. My mother attended Prince Albert Indian Residential School, her father attended residential Thunderchild Residential Schools, and my father’s mother attended Byrtle Indian School. The effects through the generations in my family are catastrophic. Today I am the last survivor of my family of birth. The immense pain and sorrow from this experience inspired me to tell our family story.
More importantly, the Elders inspired me to take the path I am on by staying committed to our Mother Earth and our future generations. What I found in my legal research is that it is not only my family’s story but all of our stories across great Turtle Island. We are living collectively the effects of genocide and this is manifested into the suicides, drug and alcohol addictions, etc., and traumatized and dysfunctional parenting patterns that lead to the high rates of removal in the child welfare and foster care systems in both the United States and Canada and even globally. The worst impact is the disconnection from the land. The state framework and system feeds off itself by the destruction it causes against peoples and nations in the colonization process.
How encouraged are you that Canada's new Liberal government has said it will rebuild the relationships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples by including them in every decision that affects them and their land?
The problem here is the legal framework under which this ‘new relationship’ is being built. The most recent announcement that the Canadian government would like to implement reconciliation as the way forward and to begin to implement the UNDRIP is cause for great concern. It is being touted as the way forward by other Indigenous Peoples and the problem is the people speaking on behalf of us do not have our future generations in mind when making these decisions. Reconciliation is the new word for assimilation and an extension of the myth that Canada has underlying title in our territories. A synonym for reconciliation is to pacify. The synonym for pacification is to vanquish, crush, subdue, extinguish, and tame. The problem with both mechanisms is that the premise is about the swallowing up or the domestication of our nations into the state framework.
How do we reconcile a genocidal past and present that is not acknowledged as the root cause of the problem? When you start to look at it this way, it begins to become contradictory. The solution is self-determination and to implement the Peace and Friendship Treaties. We know what is best for us and our future generations. Indigenous nations and peoples also know what is best for our Mother Earth.
How satisfied are you with the government’s promised and actual actions into Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women?
The government’s response to the missing and murdered indigenous women only addresses one side and ignores the Indigenous men and boys that go missing and murdered. Public inquiries do not address the root problem. In my research, I learned that at the root of genocide are theories of racial superiority. This is evidenced by the Doctrine of Discovery, and the dehumanizing terms that were applied against our nations and peoples on great Turtle Island.
Terms such as savage were invoked to justify the claiming of our lands. Theories of racial superiority were invoked to force the transferring of our children under a genocidal legal framework. The problem with this is the colonial society and people that created these laws and policies have never addressed why they do such destructive things against other peoples and nations. The denial that goes with the truth behind these destructive behaviors is paramount. The colonizer needs to look inward and examine its own conduct as to why these are catastrophic problems. When it gets real with itself, we can begin to build peace on our great Turtle Island and the world.