By Robert T. Coulter
Without a clear public commitment to respect fundamental rights, there is not likely to be any substantial change in the federal government’s continuing discriminatory and unjust treatment of Indian and Alaska Native nations. Without such a commitment to human rights, including treaty rights and federal constitutional rights, federal programs will be little more than temporary measures that can never overcome the economic hardship and deprivation that Native peoples endure. If there were a federal commitment to fundamental justice, Native nations could have a fair chance of overcoming the generations of federal mistreatment and mismanagement.
As a starting point for improving the situation of Native nations, this country needs to affirm the fundamental rights of Native nations and individuals.
The White House should make that commitment and reverse the Bush policy of rejecting all measures for indigenous human rights. Native leaders deserve an answer Nov. 5--a real commitment to respect the human rights of Native nations--and the best way to do this is to endorse the UN Declaration. Leaders of many Indian nations in the United States have demanded this for years, and they will surely demand it Nov. 5 as well.
Despite the pretended reasons for voting against the Declaration, the U.S. representatives at the UN publicly agreed to practically all of the provisions of the UN Declaration. In the open negotiations, the U.S. delegation repeatedly voiced its support for most of the rights in the Declaration, because almost all these rights are already a part of United States law or are required by the U.S. Constitution.
Some of the provisions concerning land rights were actually proposed by the United States. The U.S. vote against the Declaration was dictated by the Bush policy of rejecting all new human rights commitments, not because of serious opposition to the provisions of the Declaration. The U.S. objections were hardly more than a cover story for voting “no” on human rights. The Obama administration should promptly reverse that stupid policy.