On November 12, Canada endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, leaving the United States as the only country to oppose the human rights instrument. The Obama Administration has begun an extensive review of the UN Declaration, and although the Administration has not yet said whether adoption of the Declaration is imminent, we remain hopeful for an unqualified endorsement of the UN Declaration within the next few months.
The Declaration will do many things to help Indian nations, according to Darwin Hill, Chief of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation. One important element is the full recognition of Indian nations as legitimate governments. Right now it is if we are on a second class status, said Hill. The Declaration may also help to right the wrongs that have been done over the last century of the loss of our lands.
The State Department conducted two consultations October 14-15, 2010 with tribal leaders and non-governmental organizations in Washington, D.C. The Indian Law Resource Center played an important role in these consultations. We held meetings before each consultation to explain the process and strategize with Native leaders and organizations. Additionally, with financial assistance provided by Connect U.S., the Center provided travel stipends for several of the tribal leaders who attended the consultations.
At the tribal consultation, leaders and representatives from approximately 20 Native nations attended. The leaders who spoke strongly recommended that the United States adopt the UN Declaration and start taking steps to address the areas in United States law and policy that fail to meet the UN Declarations standards. Tribal leaders identified land rights, including rights to sacred sites, as an area of major concern. Edward Alexander, Second Chief of the Gwichyaa Gwichin Tribe, explained how the principles in the UN Declaration could help improve the situation Alaska Natives face in their relationship with the state government. He expressed his communitys concern about the failure of the State of Alaska to recognize the existence of indigenous nations in the state and about the Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act, which transferred the ownership of their lands to for-profit corporations. Monty Bengochia, Vice Chairman of the Bishop Paiute Tribe, urged the government to change its position. He and others commented on the need for respect for the land and water rights belonging to Native communities, including more extensive authority over sacred sites. Adoption of the UN Declaration is an important step for the United States to resume its position as a leader in the area of human rights, explained Leonard Masten, Chairman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe.
Similarly, at the consultation for non-governmental organizations, all of the organizations urged the administration to adopt the UN Declaration. Most of the non-governmental organizations expressed concern that the failure of the United States to adopt the UN Declaration has stalled efforts to implement its principles within the policies of the multilateral and regional development banks. With the World Bank and other banks preparing to implement REDD + programs, which could potentially affect the land rights of thousands of indigenous groups in the developing world, it is critically important to have United States support for the UN Declaration.
At the consultations, the State Department requested feedback on five questions. Click here to see the questions and the Centers response.
The administration indicated that it would like feedback on these issues by October 31st, but that it would accept letters received later. Even though the October 31st deadline has passed, it is important to continue to press for action. If you or your organization has not already sent a letter to the Obama Administration requesting adoption of the UN Declaration, now is the time to act.
- Send an e-mail to President Obama asking him to endorse the UN Declaration.
- If you are a representative of an Indian or Alaska Native government, you can download and personalize this draft letter.
- A draft letter for NGOs and other civil society organizations is also available.
Why is the U.S, of all countries, still opposing this...? Truly shameful...
This post was modified from its original form on 07 Dec, 14:47
This morning, President Barack Obama announced that the United States endorses the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is an enormously important day for indigenous peoples. There is now a global consensus and this will improve the lives of Indian and Alaska Native nations and indigenous peoples everywhere.
Robert T. Coulter Commentary:
The United States endorsement of the UN Declaration marks the culmination of over three decades of hard work by indigenous peoples and other members of the international human rights community We can and should use the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a powerful affirmation of our rights. Only through continued use will the Declarations provisions become our reality.
The work is not over
This endorsement is a critical first step towards addressing difficult issues such as violence against Native women, land law reform and protecting the environment. It is a first step to respecting land and water rights, and protecting sacred sites. It also provides guidance to global entities like multilateral development banks, which fund development projects around the world that directly and often negatively impact indigenous communities.
Robert T. Coulter
In the span of less than two years, the four countries that voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States all changed their positions. Indigenous peoples leaders in those countries must be commended for their diplomatic efforts. Here in the United States, the White House received more than 3,000 letters in support of the Declaration, with several Indian and Alaskan Native Nations officially supporting an endorsement by the United States.
The United States endorsement of the Declaration, on December 16 of last year, was cause for celebration. With his announcement of support for the Declaration, President Obama emphasized that the endorsement wouldnt be an empty gesture, but that the administration will take actions in line with the Declaration.
The United States endorsement of the Declaration, on December 16 of last year was cause for celebration. With his announcement of support for the Declaration, President Obama emphasized that the endorsement wouldnt be an empty gesture, but that the administration will take actions in line with the Declaration.
White House staff has said repeatedly that the Administration is eager and ready to consult with tribes about how to implement the Declaration. They express a willingness to consider affirmative steps to promote the rights in the Declaration as well as corrective measures to change present law or policies. Such statements of openness have been made as well by Interior Department and State Department personnel.
According to Hillary Thompkins, Solicitor General of the Interior Department, the Interior Department is engaged in an internal review to determine how to implement the Declaration in its policies and procedures. Once the internal review is complete, officials will host consultations in several regions of the United States to get feedback from tribal representatives.
This presents a truly extraordinary opportunity for tribes to consult with the Administration about possible legislative initiatives, policy changes, possible new programs, changes in administrative practices, and long-term efforts to correct conditions that impede tribal development or that undermine tribes right to self-determination, cultural rights, and resource rights.
Indian and Alaska Native leaders from many regions have begun to make plans for taking advantage of this opportunity.
Some leaders are discussing the possibility of a nationwide campaign to implement the Declaration and to bring about long-needed changes in federal law and policy. Clearly such a campaign will call for long-term effort and strategy, but it may be possible to achieve some positive results even in the short term. Changes that can be achieved in a relatively short time are changes that can be put in place by the Administration without new legislation.
Major changes in federal law and policy will probably require that most tribes support the proposals. Native leaders are aware that it will be necessary to work together on joint proposals. We are glad to see that Native leaders are beginning to make plans to form a national campaign and bring attention to the need for comprehensive law reform.
The key factor that is crucial in the present opportunity is the White House-driven willingness of practically all federal departments and agencies to consult with Native leaders about how to implement the Declaration and make positive changes in federal law, federal policies, and government practices.
We at the Center are already working with tribes to help build a strategy for implementation and positive change. We are eager to provide legal help to Indian and Alaska Native nations that want to work for implementation and for specific changes or initiatives.
Naturally, there is much interest in advocating for changes in federal Indian law such as what the Center and others have developed in our Native Land Law Project. (http://www.indianlaw.org/content/land-law-reform-key-finding-balance-native-communities ; ,; ;,; http://www.indianlaw.org/node/289 ) The 17 draft principles of law and commentaries developed in the Native Land Law Project sketch out how the federal Indian law needs to change in order to be consistent with the U.S. Constitution and international standards, such as the Declaration. Copies of the draft legal principles and commentaries about the principles are available by contacting the Center.
The momentum is building. We need to continue advocating and creating opportunities for change to better the lives of indigenous peoples around the world.
Thank you for your interest and support.
Robert T. Coulter
hearing on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is
opportunity to work for major changes in federal policy and law
The hearing will be webcast, June 9, 2011, 2:15PM, live at www.indian.senate.gov.
The Declaration sets an agenda for the United States and Indian nations to address important issues in Indian country and to improve government-to-government relationships among Indian and Alaska nations and the United States. Robert Coulter, executive director of the Center, is among those invited to testify.
Show your support for implementing the principles of the Declaration by sending an e-letter to members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Now is the time to seek changes to federal laws and policies in order to provide just and fair treatment to all Native peoples in the Unites States.Transcripts & Petition