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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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Indigenous Peoples Rights and the United Nations: The New Declaration

The United Nations recently adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Many have hailed this as a big victory for indigenous peoples around the world. In general I agree, but I live in one of the countries that chose not to sign the Declaration. Therefore, in the next two posts I will outline the components that I see as having relevance to the United States. First, however, it is interesting to see that the main thrust of the Declaration is basically in line with what Victor and I have been discussing concerning "cultural equity."

Here are the main points from the Declaration:

Affirming that indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples, while recognizing the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such,

Affirming also that all peoples contribute to the diversity and richness of civilizations and cultures, which constitute the common heritage of humankind,

Affirming further that all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust,

Reaffirming that indigenous peoples, in the exercise of their rights, should be free from discrimination of any kind,

Concerned that indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of, inter alia, their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests,

Recognizing the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources.

It is always nice to see that one's thinking (in terms of cultural equity) is generally in line with the leading scholars and political thinkers in the field. However, there are many problems with the Declaration, especially in terms of why the United States, Canada, and other countries decided not to adopt the Declaration. The troublesome aspects of the Declaration will be outlined in the next two posts.

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