December 23, 2010

UN declaration = status quo

No real change in US position on Declaration

By Steven NewcombSpecifically, Article 1 of those two human rights Covenants reads: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status, and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Article 3 of the Declaration reads: “All 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.” They are in perfect alignment.

However, in 2007, the United States claimed that the collective rights expressed in the Declaration (e.g., Article 3) are not the same as Article 1 rights expressed in the Human Rights Covenants in international law. The U.S. also claimed that the U.N. Working Group had been given a “mandate,” specifically, “to articulate a new concept, i.e., self-government within the nation-state.” Yet, the U.S. government provided no document to support this claim, nor could it because the Working Group was never given such a mandate.
And:The U.S. position seems well designed to maintain the status quo of federal Indian law and policy. The United States seems determined to maintain the bedrock categories and concepts found within the symbolic universe of U.S. law and policy constructed by the United States for the reduction, control and containment of originally free and independent Indian nations.

“Christian discovery,” “conquest,” and the idea of “diminished” Indian sovereignty are some of the foundational categories of the status quo, being actively used by the U.S. court to the detriment of Indian nations. The Declaration does not do away with a dominating framework that is in violation of our inherent sacred birth rights and our fundamental human rights as indigenous nations and peoples.
Tribal recognition

By Marc DadiganWhile Obama endorsed the document (the U.S. is one of the last U.N. member states to do so), he also endorsed the government’s right to apply it only to federally recognized tribes.

“For the United States, the Declaration’s concept of self-determination is consistent with the United States’ existing recognition of, and relationship with, federally recognized tribes . . .” the paper says.

The problem here is that the system of federal tribal acknowledgment is incredibly inefficient and plagued with corruption, politics and an utter lack of transparency. I doubt there are any experts on this issue who would agree the federal recognition process would jive with the U.N.'s idea of self-determination.

So to paraphrase, the Obama administration says the U.S. government will respect the rights of this country’s indigenous people, but the government maintains the ability to decide who’s indigenous.

And it’s been well documented that the government is very bad at making these decisions.
Obama's so-called endorsement

Another of my discussions of the UN declaration:

Help me out, legal scholars. Obama says the US will "lend its support" to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. What makes this anything other than his personal, temporary, and reversible position? What happens if the next president says the US doesn't support the UN declaration?Nothing, legally speaking. The disapproval of the international community is the only consequence.That's why I want more: another UN vote, an executive order, a signing ceremony, or something. Something other than Obama's arbitrary wish or hope that the US will follow the declaration.

Obama's personal feelings about "aspiring" to the declaration don't mean anything to me. They don't have the force of law or even the illusion of it. In the long term, they're irrelevant.

Given the right-wing cheering of Bush's preemptive war and violation of the Geneva Conventions, who thinks a conservative president will ever bow to world opinion on indigenous rights? Not me.Even if we "signed" it, the consequences would be no different.Probably so, but I'd like to make it as official and irrevocable as possible. It seems strange to beg the US to sign it and then be satisfied when Obama merely "lends his support."I think it will be up to the tribes to make that happen. They should invoke it frequently; do annual reviews of compliance; analyze existing US laws for conformity to Declaration, etc. If we take it seriously, others will, too. May take a while, though.For more on the subject, see Obama Will Give US to Indians?! and US May Acknowledge Indians' Existence.

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