Saturday, September 29, 2007

Why the U.S. Did Not Adopt the United Nation Declaration on Indigenous Peoples Rights

The United Nations earlier this month adopted the historic Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It has been hailed as a small step in the fight to give indigenous peoples equal rights, cultural equity, and social justice. Sadly, three countries with large indigenous populations failed to sign the Declaration: Canada, Australia, and the United States. In the last post I set out the major points of the Declaration. In this post I will set out the major points that were the primary reason the United States did NOT want the U.N. to adopt the Declaration.

Here we go:

Recognizing also the urgent need to respect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples affirmed in treaties, agreements, and other constructive arrangements with States. (Sorry, the U.S. has consistently failed, and will continue to fail, in honoring the numerous treaties it signed with Native American tribes from the early 1800s up to 1872).

Considering that the rights affirmed in treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements between States and indigenous peoples are, in some situations, matters of international concern, interest, responsibility and character.

Encouraging States to comply with and effectively implement all their obligations as they apply to indigenous peoples under international instruments, in particular those related to human rights, in consultation and cooperation with the peoples concerned.

Recognizing and reaffirming that indigenous individuals are entitled without discrimination to all human rights recognized in international law, and that indigenous peoples possess collective rights which are indispensable for their existence, well-being and integral development as peoples. (Again, none of these are appealing to the U.S. for they have never fully honored the treaties and their obligations to Native Americans. Even today, there is still hesitation by the U.S. to recognized certain aspects of treaty rights accorded to Native Americans, such as fishing and hunting rights, cultural resource rights, and natural resource rights. When uranium is found on the Navajo reservation, when tribes try and fish salmon for their ceremonies, or when oil and natural gas are found on tribal land, often big companies with the backing of the U.S. government fail to recognize the treaty rights Native Americans have been accorded. As in all things U.S.: money trumps all.)

Here is the specific Article that the United States objected to:

Article 3: Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

The U.S., along with Canada and Australia, are unwilling to allow the indigenous peoples of these places determine their own political status, nor do they allow them to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

In the U.S., things have gotten better because Native Americans, anthropologists, activists, and concerned citizens have been speaking out for over 100 years. In the next post I'll profile the parts of the Declaration that the U.S. is now following but historically did not.

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