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MLK - An Indigenous Perspective

Written by Sikowis (Christine Nobiss)

Right here, right now, this is the place to be in Iowa City because this is where change is happening. This is where community building is happening. If you are here tonight then I hope you are here to st

and with us and fight to dismantle the false prejudices that are producing fear and hate in Mother Earth’s children. And if you are here tonight, you are also here to help us protect and heal our Mother because she is what makes us what we are.

This is what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted. He wanted to live in a world of peace and balance. So this is what we are celebrating tonight--We are celebrating him and the path he paved for all of us to further the scope of social and environmental justice work. Dr. King may not have directly started the environmental movement, but he was certainly an inspiration to those that did. And this is because social and environmental injustice are inescapably linked. We are affected and shaped by our environments and, likewise, our environments are affected and shaped by us. When there is no balance between these two entities, justice falls to the wayside and sickness in all its forms emerges. Dr. King was aware of this problem and once said, “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

At the time of Martin Luther King and the the civil rights movement there also emerged the Red Power movement. Native Americans were also ready to make change and fight for their civil rights, which also included their sovereignty and their stewardship over the land. Many Nations were being invaded by strip mining, pesticide spraying, uranium dumping, clear-cutting, drilling and so much more. There was no balance and our people were sick in all sorts of ways. And there is still no balance, and we are still sick. However, at the time, our people decided that it was time to take a stand for themselves and for Mother Earth.

The term Red Power was coined by the National Indian Youth Council which was formed 1961. And in 1962, there began the Occupation of Alcatraz. In fact, much of the Red Power Movement can be traced back to the Occupation of Alcatraz. The Trail of Broken Treaties, the BIA occupation, the Wounded Knee incident, and the Longest Walk all have their roots in this occupation. And all of these movements were born out of the desire among Natives for unity and authority in a colonized world.

Another organization that grew out of this era was the Native American Rights Fund which was founded in 1970. It is now the oldest and largest nonprofit law firm dedicated to asserting and defending the rights of Native Americans. And we owe gratitude to Dr. King for that.

As John Ecohawk, one of the founders and executive director of the Native American Rights Fund said in 2001, “Dr. King was a great inspiration to me when I was in law school back in the late 1960s. I had watched the civil rights demonstrations on television, and when I got into law school in 1967, I really saw the implications of what was happening in the civil rights movement led by Dr. King for our Native American people. Inspired by Dr. King, who was advancing the civil rights agenda of equality under the laws of this country, we thought that we could also use the laws to advance our Indianship, to live as tribes in our territories governed by our own laws under the principles of tribal sovereignty.”

Forty-six years later NARP is still fighting hard for our people, our lands, and our Nations. They are directly involved with the Standing Rock movement and every other issue that our Nations still face today. And not only do we have NARP, but Earthjustice, Honour the Earth, The Indigenous Environmental Network, and so many, many more organizations (like us) that continue to strive for justice, sovereignty and to protect our Mother. And now, in the age of Trump I am witnessing something even better. I am seeing all the social and environmental organizations in this world coming together. For instance, tonight we have Black Lives Matter here with us. Standing with us on the same issues. Who else is here?

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