In July 2023, in Geneva Switzerland, the United Nations held the 16th Session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. A small delegation of 10 Haudenosaunee women attended the 100-year commemoration of the League of Nations as the Bear Clan Cayuga Chief addresses the League. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy sent only 3 representatives to attend this historic event – all men.
Women should also be represented in our delegation, though none had been officially invited. Once we secured our passports and travel arrangements, the city of Geneva sent a letter of invitation for this group of women leaders to attend the commemoration of Deskaheh's 100th anniversary and to contribute our experiences, perspectives, and culture as Indigenous women and frontline climate, human rights, and community leaders. The activities planned around our participation included guest lectures, speaking at dinners and bringing Indigenous women's visibility, inclusion, and knowledge to this week-long event.
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy is one of the oldest continuously active governments in the world based on a system of gender balance. Their governance is guided by The Great Law, established over 1000 years ago, before the arrival of Europeans to North America. The women of the Haudenosaunee Nation traditionally have equal political, spiritual, and human rights in the governance of their nation.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy signed treaties with the colonizing States regarding theuse of their territories. However, over time, these agreements were violated by the colonizing States and most of these territories were sold to settlers. The Haudenosaunee demanded respect for their rights and compensation following these expropriations.
Over 100 years ago, Chief Deskaheh sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to gain international recognition for the Haudenosaunee as a sovereign nation in the League of Nations. He was sent as one of our chiefs and speaker of the six nations Iroquois confederacy to address the League about the mistreatment of his people, and our right to live freely on our own lands, practice our own way of life and follow our own laws. His call for respect for traditional and independent governance was dismissed by what he called, "cruel Indifference."
Deskaheh’s courageous attempt to bring justice to our Haudenosaunee people is an ongoing quest that reached a benchmark almost 85 years later when the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (September 13, 2007). The rights spelled out in the document “constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the Indigenous Peoples of the world.” The Declaration protects the collective rights and individual rights of Indigenous Peoples in relation to self-government, land, education, employment, health and other areas. The Declaration also requires countries to consult with Indigenous Peoples with the goal of obtaining their consent on matters which concern them
Canada, one of the countries that blocked Deskahehs's address in March 1923 from entering the League of Nations Plenary session, continued its negation of the Indigenous rights embodied by the declaration and was joined by Australia, New Zealand and the United Stand in voting, “No.” (Other countries were allies of the Haudensaunee independence, including Ireland, Panama, Persia, Japan, and Estonia.)
The hope and expectation is that the Declaration establishes the individual and collective right of the world’s 370 million Indigenous peoples, advocating for the protections and enhancement of our cultural identities and right to self-govern, and need to control and protect the lands and territories we have traditionally owned and our right to restitution for lands that have been taken from us. A publication, called "A Basic Call to Consciousness," outlines the Indigenous fight for International recognition of the "Sacred Web of Life."
Haundenosaunee women have traditionally had an equal voice in all matters, but have been excluded (because of lack of funds) from participation in one of the most consequential global meetings on climate and Indigenous rights.
The United Nations 16th Session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
provides the UN Human Rights Council with expertise and advice on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. It assists Member States in achieving the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Expert Mechanism conducts studies to advance the promotion and protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights by:
1) Clarifying the implications of key principles, such as self-determination and free, prior and informed consent;
2) Examining good practices and challenges in a broad array of areas pertaining to Indigenous Peoples’ rights;
3) Suggesting measures that States and others can adopt at the level of laws, policies and programmes.
Each year, the Expert Mechanism holds a five-day session in which representatives from states, Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, civil society, inter-governmental organizations and academia take part.
The 16th session of the Expert Mechanism took place on July 17 – 21, at the Palais des Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland.
Inclusion and Representation of Haudenosaunee Women
in UN Climate Meeting on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Nation is the oldest continuing democracy in the world based on a system of gender balance. While the women of the Haudenosaunee Nation traditionally have equal political power in the governance of their nation, no Haudenosaunee women have been officially invited to the UN Climate meeting on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Which means that more than half the nation’s voices, perspectives, and experiences will not be represented at this important meeting.
Haudenosaunee are living in a new era but still living the same experiences as our grandmothers endured.
The lack of representation of Indigenous women representing themselves at major climate, human rights, land and governance policy meetings is a huge issue worldwide.
Decisions and laws being made regarding issues that affect us, can be no more.
Women’s rights are human rights and the statistics of missing and murdered Indigenous women are the highest in Canada, even though we are only 2% of the population. This is a national emergency. The impacts continue to be widely felt in our communities as women and children inherit the brunt of governmental policies that ignore our need to say what it is we need. Most importantly the decisions made by governments only deepens the harm when Indigenous women’s voices, perspectives, experiences are not included in the solutions.
The inclusion of our voices at this global meeting are crucial for women’s human rights, climate justice, and equal participation in the elevation and discussion of key issues and solutions.
We seek funds to send a delegation of 10 Indigenous women to the UN meeting in the city of Geneva and to participate in the 16th Session on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The activities planned around our participation include: guest lectures, speaking at dinners and bringing Indigenous women's visibility, voices, perspectives and experiences to the week-long event.