The following letter was sent to the leaders of the ManKind Project from the Vice-Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on November 3, 2022.
Download a PDF version of the letter:
To: The Leaders of the ManKind Project
My name is Geoffrey Roth. I am currently an Expert Member and Vice-Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. My family is Lakota from the Standing Rock reservation. I am writing in support of the Indigenous organization SPIRIT, and to ask that you engage in dialogue with the Lakota Nation and other Indigenous groups about your organization’s commercialization of one of our most sacred ceremonies.
Article 11 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) states that:
"Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, protect and develop manifestations of their cultures, such as artifacts, designs, ceremonies, and technologies. States shall provide redress with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs."
The ManKind Project (MKP), without Free Prior and Informed Consent, has taken the religious and spiritual property of the Lakota Nation, and in direct violation of our laws, traditions, customs, and international decree.
The 2003 Looking Horse Proclamation on the Protection of Ceremonies is likely the most directly relevant traditional law on this matter. The Looking Horse Proclamation is very clear that our sacred ceremonies should be led only by those who have completed the traditional training, and that there should be no “price tag” associated with participation in this ceremony.
It appears that some of the leaders of the ManKind Project were aware that what they were doing was in violation of the express wishes of the Lakota Nation as a whole. For more than 30 years, there has been an extensive effort to hide what the organization was doing, and hide the identities of the people involved in it. At the same time, MKP’s customers were told that this was being done with the permission of the Lakota people. If at any point MKP had wanted to request the permission of the Lakota Nation, it could have done so. However, given the clear public position of the Lakota Nation on this, such permission would likely not have been granted. Avoiding transparency enabled the ManKind Project to continue to spread a story about having “permission” while in fact using one of our sacred ceremonies in a way that is expressly prohibited.
It is estimated that the ManKind Project has benefited monetarily in the tens of millions of dollars selling the “cultural, intellectual, religious, and spiritual property” of the Lakota while misrepresenting that this was done with consent. There are serious legal implications to such misrepresentation. For an organization dedicated to laudable values such as “Accountability, Integrity, and Authenticity” this seems especially hypocritical.
I strongly recommend that the ManKind Project immediately halt all use of any elements of Lakota ceremony or spiritual artifacts, and any representation of having ever had the permission or blessing of the Lakota Nation for what your organization has done. Further, I recommend that the ManKind Project engage in a meaningful Free Prior and Informed Consent Dialogue with the Lakota nations. It is my understanding that the Mankind Project has agreed to a Truth and Reconciliation process. As this is a positive step, I would caution that it will only be meaningful if it is facilitated by appropriate individuals and any outcome is adhered to. I would be happy to assist in finding a facilitator for the process.
The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is charged with ensuring the full application of the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which is inclusive of the obligation of Free Prior and Informed Consent. I would like to remind you that the United States along with 147 other countries have indicated their approval and support of the UNDRIP.
I would welcome your commitment to correct the past and engage with our Indigenous Lakota peoples.
UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues