Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Earlier today, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a news release expressing concerns regarding a proposed sale of land in South Dakota that has spiritual significance to indigenous peoples.
Five tracts of land in the Black Hills area in South Dakota are scheduled to be auctioned on Saturday. The tracts lie within a site sacred to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples, known as Pe’ Sla.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, called on the US Government and authorities in the state of South Dakota to start consultations with indigenous people with respect to the proposed land sale. According to Mr. Anaya, the indigenous communities are concerned that the sale of the land will result in restrictions to their access and the use of Pe’ Sla for ceremonial purposes. They are also concerned that it may lead to a road development project that would diminish the cultural and spiritual integrity of their sacred site.
“I call on all concerned parties to engage in a process of consultation to find ways in which to resolve these concerns,” Mr. Anaya said. “I believe such dialogue is necessary in order to help heal the historical injustices endured by the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples and to allow them to maintain their cultures and traditional practices for future generations.”
Mr. Anaya further stated that protecting the rights of indigenous peoples to access culturally and spiritually significant areas for them is one of the main issues that was brought to his attention during his official visit to the country three months ago. The Special Rapporteur is scheduled to present an official report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council on his visit in the upcoming weeks.
The news release provides the following history of land ownership and transfer: "In 1868, the US Government signed the Treaty of Fort Laramie with these indigenous groups which reserved their rights to the Black Hills. However, the discovery of gold in the area led to a Congressional Act in 1877 that passed ownership of the Black Hills to the US. The Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples have since then sought to recover the Black Hills."
In more recent history, the United States initially refused to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples upon its adoption in 2007. However, President Obama ordered a review of the US policy, which led to a reversal of the US position in 2010. While not binding international law, the Declaration does create standards for the treatment of indigenous peoples. Of relevance here, the Declaration stresses the duty of States to take measures to ensure the ability of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their traditional and cultural practices.