Friday, December 17, 2010

U.S. to Support UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

President Obama announced yesterday at the White House Tribal Nations Conference that the U.S. will now lend its support to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Declaration is a non-binding treaty designed to protect the human rights of indigenous peoples.  It incorporates rights in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration, and international human rights law, and specifically protects the right to self-determination and cultural rights, among others.  The Declaration was adopted in 2007 over the opposition of the United States and three other member states. 

President Obama announced on April 20, 2010, that the U.S. would reconsider its position on the Declaration.  (Two days later, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples told the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues that "[t]he [worldwide] violations of indigenous peoples are deep, systemic and widespread.")  There's apparently little publicly available information on the review; DOJ's Office of Tribal Justice mentions it here, and the State Department mentions it here.  The Office of Legal Counsel opined in 1996 that the U.S. government could establish the kind of government-to-government relationship that it currently maintains with federally recognized Indian Tribes with "other appropriately constituted indigenous communities within the jurisdiction of the United States."  But otherwise there's no publicly available OLC opinion on the Declaration.  The only bill in Congress to support the Declaration stalled in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

It's not clear what "support for the Declaration" means to the administration, where the Declaration is non-binding and where many of the rights contained in it (like many of the rights contained in other international human rights instruments) exceed those provided under (or required by) the U.S. Constitution.  President Obama committed--and came through on--opening up the government to Native Americans and Native American concerns, but full compliance with the Declaration would go several significant steps further.  Given the non-binding nature of the Declaration, its rights (which exceed our own constitutional rights and traditional practices), and the government's historic treatment of Native American peoples, it seems likely that "support for the Declaration" means something like "treat the Declaration as aspirational"--a move toward recognizing the rights contained it, but stopping short of treating it as mandatory.


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As a delegate to the United Nations Permanent forum on Indigenous issues [UNPFII], I am glade to see the US support of the Declaration on the rights of indigenous people [DRIP]. OK now lets get real, non binding and with the right to alienate land, I too would sign the DRIP if I was Obama.

This will be the definitive understanding in the world as to how this instrument is going to work. Many members of the UNPFII believe this declaration has the force of something like the US Constitution. So I believe this will be the best way to try the quality of the forums work. I would warn people that the language we originally proposed has be removed and watered down. What does this obligate nations to do? Do member nation gain standing on private property of so-called Indigenous peoples?

I think we will find that the rejection of this process growing in South America will be the new protocol for Original nations asserting rights. I really hope I am wrong, Auwe

Kai Landow-Aupuni Hawaii

Posted by: kai landow | Dec 18, 2010 7:19:11 AM

Does the Declaration guarantee the right of individuals to contract with employers at whatever rate that they mutually and peacefully agree? How about the right to not fund charitable endeavors that happen to be the favorites of the bureaucrats in charge? If so, maybe we should sign up and get BACK some of the rights that we used to have in this country?

(Although I struggle with the concept of "indigenous people" long do you have to be in an area to be indigenous"? Seems like only those who live in Mesopotamia would qualify. Certainly no one in North America or Australia can call themselves indigenous.)

Posted by: Warren Norred | Dec 18, 2010 8:51:39 AM

The U.N. Declaration for Indigenous Peoples is an example of how us Natives are treated. They think we are ignorant and have a very low ability to learn. I have read several comments on this subject and I have found the low life greed that the dominate class has is ignorant and dumb. First, Native Americans were created on our home land and the immigrants came from overseas. This has been proven but not talked about through the Y-Chromosome tests done in the 1980's and Native Americans on the west coast are from Hapla Group "B" making us the oldest living people in the world. Indigenous means exactly that. The immigrants here have no respect for anyone but themselves and watch out for number one no matter who it harms. The U.N. Declaration is a great start at respect and honor.

Posted by: Horse Robinson | Feb 16, 2011 3:12:36 PM

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