English only mandated on Indigenous person as an official observer at the United Nations Stockholm Convention
Native Movement Art and Youth Organizer, Siqiñiq Maupin (Iñupiaq) was interrupted on May 2, 2019, in Geneva, Switzerland for speaking the Iñupiaq language in her brief introduction as an official observer at the United Nations (UN) Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. She was told to speak English only, despite a 2016 United Nations resolution, (A/RES/71/178) proclaiming 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods and have harmful impacts on human health or on the environment. Native Movement and Alaska Community Action on Toxics attended the Stockholm Convention together to advocate for the elimination of Persistent Organic Pollutants that have been affecting the most vulnerable communities around the globe, specifically Indigenous peoples.
During a group discussion, Maupin began to make an intervention comment and in mid-sentence of her introduction in Iñupiaq, the secretariat interrupted Maupin to inform her it was an English only meeting. Despite sharing that her introduction would be short and would be followed with the English translation, Maupin was still told she could speak English only. Maupin acknowledged this and continued to speak in English.
“My language is a part of me, it is a part of my spiritual, physical, and mental health. In our recent past, in the generations before me, speaking our language was punishable by legal, physical, mental, and emotional abuse by U.S. government officials, clergy, and school teachers. Because our Indigenous languages were stripped from our people through colonization, they are in many ways endangered. Many Indigenous people have fought for generations to speak our languages without harm,” said Maupin.
An official apology was issued from the secretariat to Maupin, “Sorry we hurt your feelings."
The injustices presented at a gathering of nations was a fraction of the discrimination met by Indigenous peoples around the world, yet it is still unacceptable. We stand in solidarity with Maupin and all Indigenous people and hold the United Nations accountable for their actions. Language justice is a human right.
Video of Siqiñiq Maupin being told not to speak in her Indigenous language.
About Native Movement
Native Movement is an Alaska based nonprofit dedicated to building People Power, grounded in Indigenous values, for the health and wellbeing of Mother Earth and all her living beings.