Dr Karen Diver: Indigenous autonomy is the way forward

My name is Karen Diver, my English name my Anishinaabe tribal name morning sky
woman I am of the bear clan from the Anishinaabe people the original people
from the head of the big water that would be Minnesota if you haven’t
figured out by the accent of course that’s the settler name for it and I was
its chairwoman there for quite a long time so I have an interesting
perspective on some of this because I was a lot of you I was the boots on the
ground with running a tribal government and in an Indigenous community and having citizens who
were also my aunties and my parents and my children and and all of the rest of
my relatives my clan affiliation and then after I was chairwoman I had the
interesting perspective of working for the settler colonizer government
I was actually the special assistant to the president under the Obama
administration for Native American affairs so I advised the President on
his Native American portfolio so you know for people who work in
traditional government in the US they couldn’t have imagined how far those
spectrums are apart right. To me it felt a little bit like infiltrating from
outside because for so long we see those systems from especially the federal and
state level they weren’t built for us right they were were there to
perpetuate the settler state but I had just come from fighting all of
those systems as a tribal leader and now I’m the man right so to speak. I wasn’t
going to go willingly and I wasn’t gonna go quietly they knew what they were
getting when they asked a chairwoman to help make federal policies around Native
American affairs I knew everything that didn’t work right
and what didn’t work was I’m actually gonna challenge that term ‘reimagining
public administration’ I think what we need to do is remember, remember who we were before because we’ve been inextricably changed by all of this contact and how it was set up to oppress minimize you know enslave whatever it may be but
we’ve done this our resiliency is that we’re still here and that we know who we
are and the people that we came from with that I need to apologize I forgot
to thank the traditional owners I was so busy trying to remember to do the right
thing to introduce myself properly I apologize thank you to the traditional
owners I give you my respect for your elders past the present and emerging
anyway for my elders past present and emerging I had I felt a burden right I
stood on their shoulders and they survived and so my job was to care take
who was there currently and look forward and fighting those existing systems
right so whether it was around natural resources and extractive industries and
what that might do to water so what do we do we exercised water quality
regulations within our homelands and any waters that flowed into us and we worked
within existing federal systems to take that jurisdiction back because that was
important to us so in terms of remembering where we came from it was
that we were caretakers of our lands and it really was about our survival and it
was about wellness in a really big way right and that we all had that role to
play whether we were healers leaders hunter gathers food so how does that
translate for the Anishinaabe people today we need to make sure
there’s good quality food pollution ruins that we have a right under our
treaties to hunt fish and gather is that treaty being honored if those fish are
contaminated or the waters are contaminated and those rights aren’t
there so we built systems to protect natural resources and
hard on our jurisdictions within those other governmental systems sometimes we
litigated sometimes we expanded our science so that we could argue with
non-native scientists that they didn’t understand exactly what was happening in
our homelands we came to learn them better than they knew them because we
invested them in them in a different way not for extractive industries to exploit
them but to care take them that’s remembering who we are that’s
indigenised in your government and finding that cultural fit like Miriam
was talking about so how does that work in with that federal system right
because we are federal entities – federal to federal and then we have those local
state jurisdictions right you know you do what you can when you talk about
co-design and co-management that only really works if the other side actually
listens and follows through and you know there’s a lot of talk about dispute
resolution and where do you go to whatever links you need to it could be
as simple as standing firm to protect their water it could be
litigating up to the Supreme Court it can be advocating within legislative
processes for new laws so it’s really kind of a battle on all fronts right at
the federal level the Obama administration was really the best
administration that what we term Indian country had ever really known in
terms of respecting tribal governments but even that was really tough right
because once again none of those systems were built up for us
but what they did respect is that they had to meet tribes were there we’re at
and that an investment really needed to be made to enable tribes to develop the
scope of those authorities if you wanted to regulate water you could and we will
provide resources and technical assistance and help you develop those
partnerships if that’s not something you want and you’d like to do something else
you’d like to take control of your tribal school funding was flexibility
the design of those things end up coming from tribes and it’s not a negotiated
process you meet minimum standards and beyond that
it falls under that tribal control so rather than a language requirement you
do language immersion in your head start program right things like that talking a
bit about the challenges of working within these larger systems and trends
nation building for us actually means occupying traditionally non-native
spaces these days we can be as strong as we can be as individual nations
operating within the US and none of that matters if we can’t hold the systems
that are there that make their rules accountable I was having some
conversations earlier saying that one of my things that I always pushed at as a
tribal leader was to tell other elected leaders and remind them that my citizens
were their citizens too and that they didn’t get to abdicate their
responsibility for taking care of my citizens based on their race or their
political status they are yours too I will tell everyone that you are a
failure in your job because you are leaving some of your citizens behind and
we need to keep saying that that these systems that are there that we did not
build still represent the citizens of indigenous communities we all know that
that doesn’t work always so take those jobs we have a lieutenant governor in
Minnesota right now that is an Anishinaabe woman their first budget came out
three days ago with huge investments into tribal communities education all of
those things that tribes want language social services hey have high
place ranking natives within their cabinet finally finally finally we’re
catching up with some of you and we have our first two Native women legislators
and the federal government they join two men that were there previously but they
weren’t real good at it well you know truth hurts but we also
see an amazing number running for state legislators legislative positions and
things like that do we want to take them over no but we should be represented
when we talked you know the earlier we talked about the levels of disparities
and if we are gonna make majority institutions work for us then somehow we
need to be heard and it hasn’t worked from the outside and so to have those
voice in the tables one of the things that this administration did in
Minnesota is every state legislator two days ago they had a sovereignty day on
the Capitol all eleven federally recognized tribes from within Minnesota
were in that room and training legislators on their responsibilities to
their tribal citizens that’s a great start right because you can’t take care
of the things you don’t know or that you’ve ignored and at least you can
figure out who doesn’t care and then you run for that seat right you find your
candidate and run for that seat so a part of all of this reimagining
government is also reimagining the majority cultures government and how do
we take our place in our power in those systems as well so that we don’t have to
be worrying about which party is in power because it doesn’t matter because
our people are there too so political activism building your own systems of
government and stretching them as far as you can but basing all of that on who
you know you are and what has been important for your people for tens and
tens of thousands of years remembering those ancestors by emulating your
ancestors thank you.

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