United Nations Investigating Native Americans’ Plight

I can’t think of a headline more guaranteed to rile up a certain segment of Americans: ‘UN to investigate plight of US Native Americans for first time.’

Not only is it an international body daring to investigate America, but it is that body delving into something which America has successfully swept under the carpet and refused to deal with, a sore which should itch but does not: the huge poverty rates and bad health rates linked to the historic treatment for over 400 years of around five million American people.

Despite the arrival of casinos, the poverty rate of all Native Americans remains at 25%. The poverty rate of Native Americans living on reservations is 39%; for whites it is 9%. Those living on ‘Indian land’ have incomes that are less than half of the general U.S. population.

Around a fifth of those on reservations make less than $5,000 annually. Places like Blackfoot Reservation in Montana have unemployment rates of 70%. The tribe with the lowest per capita income on a non-gaming Reservation are those living on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota with $4,043, not much more than the average Indian — that’s Indian from India.

Only 30% of native Americans have health insurance, and bad health — diabetes, alcoholism and much more — plagues those on reservations.

This is not some effect vaguely related to the distant past. Only last week, the U.S. government settled for nearly a billion dollars with 41 tribes on the broken promises of fair treatment of predecessor governments. These people were systematically robbed over generations, that’s what the settlement was about. The settlement follows a promise made by Barack Obama three years ago to ‘make good.’

A settlement is still to be reached with another 70 tribes. In 2009, the government agreed to a $3.4 billion settlement over past ‘mismanagement’ of trust funds, and restitution for past robbery.

But the judicial branch continues to block settlement over historic grievances, with only Justice Sonia Sotomayor resisting a Supreme Court decision last year blocking an Apache tribe’s access to documents regarding past mismanagement of funds and lands. And the GOP is still blocking the appointment of only the third ever Native American federal judge, Arvo Mikkanen.

The United Nations investigation is being led by James Anaya, a professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona who has been the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples since 2008.

Ananya has spent many years working for indigenous peoples, particularly in Central America.

He said:

“I will examine the situation of the American Indian/Native American, Alaska Native and Hawaiian peoples against the background of the United States’ endorsement of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. My visit aims at assessing how the standards of the Declaration are reflected in U.S. law and policy and identifying needed reforms and good practices.”

That 2010 decision by the Obama administration to support that UN declaration, which sets basic international standards for recognizing the rights of indigenous peoples, could have extensive implications, such as on mining rights. However it was “support” and not “endorse” — so it could mean nothing in terms of international law.

Nonetheless, the Obama administration about-face on the Bush prior decision to refuse to support the UN declaration was enthusiastically received by tribal leaders.

Among the states Anaya will visit is Oklahoma, the former Indian Territory established in the 19th Century as a concentration camp for the native populations banished from the Eastern seaboard during the infamous Trail of Tears. It was in Cushing, Oklahoma that President Obama made a speech approving the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline last month — and where protesting native Americans were literally kept caged, miles away:

“President Obama is an adopted member of the Crow Tribe, so his fast-tracking a project that will desecrate known sacred sites and artifacts is a real betrayal and disappointment for his Native relatives everywhere,” said Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Tar sands is devastating First Nations communities in Canada already and now they want to bring that environmental, health, and social devastation to US tribes.”

The United Nations is not investigating history in America’s treatment of its indigenous peoples — it is investigating what’s happening right now.

Related stories:

Native American Family Attacked in Possible Hate Crime

Did Oklahoma Ban Native American Rights?

Native American Mascot Honored at High School

Photo credit: Anti-Columbus day protest picture by chuckmoody


Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani5 years ago

There are no words for what has happened to the Native Americans - it's a Holocaust of unseen dimensions and makes pale everything else; whether it's the Armenian Holocaust, the Holodomor, the Holocaust on the Communists, Socialists, Jews, Roma, Sinti, et al during the Third Reich, the Rwandan Holocaust - none of them comes close to the the one committed against Native Americans.

Even the Holodomor, during which some 20-30 Mio people were killed, pales in comparison. There are truly no words for it.

Worse yet - up until now ... what is done to just start making good on this crime against humanity? The Jews have been compensated, some of the Armenians are being compensated (hopefully) now ... and what about the biggest crimes of all? Does it truly go down in history as an "open file"??? Where do the American people of today stand on this?

Laura T.
Laura T5 years ago

no money will ever make up for the land children & lives stolen, the rapes, discrimination, hate, & forced assimilation. we need to fight constantly just to survive...looking into it isn't nearly enough.we are indigenous tribes, sovereign nations in our own right, yet we are still treated so badly many deny their blood.

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M6 years ago

I admire the Native American tribes of the US and Canada. They have survived despite all that has been taken away (stolden) from them. At least they still have their great beliefs and most of their culture. We should be so lucky as to believe in how to treat the earth as many of the Great Chiefs and their tribes do!

Jude Hand
Judith Hand6 years ago

I'm just fine with the UN taking up this issue. (I'm also hoping that President Obama gets out of the lousy pipeline decision!)

Duane B.
.6 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Dandelion G.
Sheryl G6 years ago

This is a National Disgrace....

The American people need to realize that was has been allowed to go on, in their name, will come back and is coming back to their own families. When we do not stand up for an injustice with our brothers and sisters, then this too can come to play out on the ones who remain silent. Look at all that is taking place now with the general population, homes stolen by foreclosure due to scams, a major decline in job opportunities, wage stagnation, lack of health care for many, environments being destroyed from fracking and oil spill disasters, ruining more people's lives and livelihoods.

For those who can help, the Sioux Nation is trying to get back Pe Sla in the Black Hills, their most sacred area, to be placed once more in their protective care. A Fundraiser has been set up, this is a time and place where we all can help right a bit of the wrong.
Help Save the Sacred Land of Pe Sla of the Black Hills

wchi wink
.6 years ago

So true that America has swept under the carpet all of their dastardly deeds re. natives! It's high time to at least own up to it and try to repair what it can Today!
Right on UN for implementing this investigation!
Hope it leads to revealing the true state of native American life today...something we all should be very concerned about and implicated in!

Ralph Henderson
Ralph Henderson6 years ago

You can't sweep these things "under the carpet", it rots out the guts of the nation and the people. Things have to brought to light and made right (as much as they can be). People sit and watch their big-screen televisions, while so many sleep in dirty sheets or under piles of newspapers (and not only adults). People starve and die for lack of medical care. And that's what happens when you try to pretend your filthy deeds can be ignored. Be adults and face what is wrong, make it right, so we can live proudly and freely, all together for once, in peace.
Make it right already!

Dianne H.
Dianne Houlli6 years ago

The wealthiest country in the world. The land of the free. How much longer until the real and true Americans are given a fair deal in their land? Nothing has changed. The native people are still being diddled out of their land. Systematically made ill (either through disease, food which is rubbish and forced on them, poverty and one law for you, one law for me. Women are still being freely abused by the white population, who go unpunished. Their culture pulled apart thread by thread). Its a great credit to them that they are still here, alive and well and fighting back all the way. Holding on to their culture in spite of it all. Nothing changes but one day it must. When will the world make it happen?

Aleta F.
Aleta F.6 years ago

Native Americans have a right to the same benefits and protection as all of the rest of the citizens of this country. White America remember you are the minority now, so keep on being racist and not willing to help people that were here long before you were. The women the native americans are good, beautiful, strong need our protection from being harmed by anyone be it a another native american or another entity. Sisters buy you a big stick and learn to use it. Aim for the nuts and head.