U.S. Announces Support for UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights

Written by Tracy Solum

Topics: Frontline Communities

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President ObamaWith President Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States will “lend its support” to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the U.S. has at last joined the global consensus on this critical human rights issue.

In a decision that reverses the position taken by the Bush administration in 2007, when the U.S. voted against endorsing the declaration even as 145 nations supported it, the Obama Administration acknowledged the importance of this decision, which Indigenous, human rights and environmental organizations and activists in the U.S. have been working towards for over 30 years.

At the White House Tribal Nations Summit, Obama said, “The aspirations [UNDRIP] affirms, including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native peoples, are ones we must always seek to fulfill. . . I want to be clear: what matters far more than words, what matters far more than any resolution or declaration, are actions to match those words.”

So by lending its support to UNDRIP, just what kind of actions can we expect the U.S. to take? That remains to be seen. As Indigenous rights organization Cultural Survival points out, Obama said that the White House would release an official statement on the declaration, and until that statement is released it will be difficult to know whether his endorsement is qualified, as were those of New Zealand and Canada, or a full-fledged endorsement of UNDRIP core principles, which include:

  • The right of Indigenous Peoples to live on and use their traditional territories;
  • The right to self-determination;
  • The right to free, prior, and informed consent (known as FPIC) before any outside project is undertaken on their land;
  • The right to keep their languages, cultural practices, and sacred places;
  • The right to full government services;
  • And the right to be recognized and treated as peoples.

Let’s hope for a full endorsement of these principles and “actions to match.” As many Indigenous leaders are saying, the U.S. supporting UNDRIP is something to celebrate, but much work remains to be done.

5 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Lionel Gambill says:

    We need to go beyond recognizing indigenous people’s rights and begin to learn from them. They are closer to the earth and to natural cycles than we are. They have wisdom far more valuable than our cleverness. Many of them retain the ability of ancient peoples to grasp instantly what we struggle, often vainly, to grasp with stepwise prefrontal-lobe reasoning.

  2. Mary-Ann says:

    This is wonderful news. Yes the work has just begun. Now I’d like to see DQ University of California pick up the pieces. I’d like to see something done about the salmon coming back to the waters. I’d like to see the bones of the ancestors back to mother earth. I’d like to see the tribes unite in strength and unity. I’d like to see the ancestorial lands back in the hands of the the tribes. I’d like to see peace and healing for all peoples and the sharing with each other to save mother earth.

  3. Just as the United Nations has declared that water is a human right,

    we should recognize that any water on native lands is sacred also.

    The use of water on indigenous lands or lands anywhere in the world

    should not be used to desecrate either land , nature ,or people .

  4. Yes this is wonderful news. Our work with the New Brunswick Aboriginal People Council has been on-going for 40 years. I am an off-reserve non-status Mi’kmaq woman entitled to all the treaties. Even though I consider myself a Mi’kmaq person Ottawa does not recognize me as such. This is because I have never lived on a reserve. Only natives who have lived on a Reserve receive statues from the Federal government. Therefore, even though I am Native and told I am entitled to all the benefits of our treaties I am not entitled to the same rights and benefits available to Status Mi’kmaq.
    Also, many Mi’kmaq women lost their status when they married non-native men. While the act was changed in 1985 to avoid such sexual discrimination, it is still possible for grandchildren of Status Indians to lose their designation.
    “If you have status, you retain it. Where it is lost is in the second generation, the child “of a Status and Non-Status Native” maintains status. But if the child marries someone who doesn’t have status, their kids don’t qualify for status.”

    Because you were status, you were not considered at the same level as everyone else. Today it’s not the same, but it still has stigma. I live in a white society and I know what living with a sigma is all about! So, why would I say I am Mi’kmaq if I were not?

    Because historically the department’s aim was to assimilate all Mi’kmaq, there was a time when it could take away a Native’s status if we had a university degree. If you had a degree, you were deemed to be sufficiently assimilated, and you had to surrender your Native status.

    I’d like to see something done in Canada for all the non statues Natives. I am living for the day where my tribe, the Mi’kmaq are united in strength, unity, and as one tribe. Our ancestral land, Mi’kma’ki, should be given back to its rightful owner, since our ancestors have never sold or given our land to anyone. I would also like to see peace and healing for all Nations and sharing with each other, and this to save Mother Earth.

  5. This “Declaration on Indigenous Rights” is a very important matter. I would like to comment on one note in particular “And the right to be recognized and treated as peoples.” I personally have a housing discrimination story here in Alaska. As we move into 2012, it amazes me that this is an issue, even when the people before us already fought this battle. However, history repeats itself and I would like you all to read my article posted here. Thanks much readers!

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