DIGNITY: In Honor of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples chronicles my life journey with ninety museum collected photographs created over thirty years. DIGNITY features eloquent writings from icons such as Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Native American Faithkeeper, Oren R. Lyons and celebrates Amnesty International, the Nobel Peace-Prize winning organization, during its 50th anniversary year.
DIGNITY also chronicles centuries of painful struggle for Indigenous Peoples leading to the historic victory of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) recently adopted by 146 nations. DIGNITY is inspirational, bold and explicit with a critical call to action as the United States and Canada voted against this important human rights declaration even after thirty years of UN debate.
Why is it important to listen to the wisdom of the “ancient ones” – the ancestors of the planet’s first peoples? Faithkeeper Oren R. Lyons in his scholarly introduction to DIGNITY states, “A thousand years ago or more, the Great Peace Maker (of the Iroquois) came among our people.. .He said to us, ‘When you sit in council for the welfare of the people, think not of yourself, nor of your family, or even your generation. Make your decisions for the seventh generation coming so that they may enjoy what you have here today. If you do this, there will be peace.’ That is a profound instruction on responsibility that should be the basis for the world’s decision makers today.”
Indigenous peoples throughout the world have something profound and important to teach those of us who live in the so called modern world. I have long believed this to be true, even before I discovered to my delight that I was related to the San People of southern Africa. I suspect that if each of us looks far enough back into our genome we will discover that we are all indeed related.
Indigenous Peoples remind us of this fact. They teach us that the first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of creation. In Africa recognition of our interdependence is called ubuntu. It is the essence of being human. It speaks of thefact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong to the whole, to the community, to the tribe, to the nation, to the earth. Ubuntu is about wholeness, about compassion for life.
Ubuntu has to do with the very essence of what it means to be human, to know that you are bound up with others in the bundle of life. In our fragile and crowded world we can survive only together. We can be truly free, ultimately, only together. We can be human only together. To care about the rights of Indigenous Peoples is to care about the relatives of one’s own human family.
The Indigenous Peoples of the world have a gift to give that the world needs desperately, this reminder that we are made for harmony, for interdependence. If we are ever truly to prosper, it will be only together.