By Gale Courey Toensing
The implementation of the Declaration is beginning both in the international arena and the U.S. A good example of progress in the international arena took place last January during the continuing negotiations in the drafting of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is being created under the auspices of the Organization of American States “When there was a challenge to the proposed language, the chair said, ‘We need to fall back on the language in the U.N. Declaration on this issue.’ That may not sound like much but it was the first time that happened. And previously the U.S. and Canada always opposed using the Declaration as the minimum standards for the discussion on the American level. But they didn’t say a word in opposition this time--they couldn’t because they support the Declaration now,” Carmen said.
The Declaration was instrumental in the U.S. in another important issue this year--the protection of a sacred shell mound at Sogorea Te in Glen Cove, California, said Mark Anquoe (Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma), IITC’s administrative and communications coordinator. “There was a 109-day spiritual encampment at the site, so it was huge and it was special because it was the first time the Bay area Indian community rallied around the Declaration,” Anquoe said.
Not everyone working in the arena of indigenous rights sees that kind of progress over the past year. Steve Newcomb, (Lenni/Lenape), a columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network, says the U.S. State Department distorted the Declaration’s meaning of Indigenous Peoples’ right to self determination and needs to rectify its error before progress can be made. Article 3 of the Declaration says, “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.” Newcomb says the State Department “did not tell the truth” about Article 3 in its 15-page white paper issued December 16, 2010. “In its statement, the State Department said it was ‘pleased to support the Declaration’s call to promote the development of a new and distinct international concept of self-determination specific to indigenous Peoples. (emphasis added)
“The State Department expanded on this falsehood by saying that the ‘Declaration’s call is to promote the development of a concept of self-determination for Indigenous Peoples that is different from the existing right of self-determination in international law.” This is patently and blatantly false! This was never the understanding of the process that led to the adoption of Article 3 and its relationship to the international human right of self-determination found in the International Human Rights Covenants. By its statements of bad faith—statements it has not disavowed in the past year—the United States destroyed the very basis for implementing the key provision in the UN Declaration that Indigenous Peoples were working toward in their efforts to create positive reforms in the area of Indigenous Peoples’ human rights. This needs to be rectified as a first step in talking meaningfully about ‘implementing’ the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
Michael Leroy Oberg, Professor of History Co-coordinator of Native American Studies at the State University of New York, Geneseo, and author of Native America: A History, said Obama’s “lending of support” to the Declaration was a “nice gesture,” but he doesn’t think it will turn out to be more than that. The problems are both in the executive branch and the judiciary, Oberg said. “The meaning of ‘self-determination’ in the Declaration, is much more literal than that which has developed in the United States over the past half-century, and much less constrained by some of the long-standing and, I would argue, colonial assumptions built into American Indian policy.”
On the bright side, at least Obama hasn't given the US back to the Indians. The gap between what conservative lunatics expected and what actually happened is as wide as I thought it would be.
For more on the UN declaration, see Red Corn Testifies at Senate Hearing and Colbert Satirizes UN Declaration Scare.
Below: "The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was used successfully this year as the basis for protecting what is left of the ancient ceremonial and burial site Sogorea Te, located at Glen Cove, in Vallejo, California. Indigenous Peoples from the area participated in a 109-day encampment on the site from April until July."