On September 17, 2007, after 30 years of debate and discussion, the United Nations passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Only 4 countries voted against the resolution, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Since then New Zealand and Australia have endorsed the resolution. In March, Canada’s Governor General, in the Speech from the Throne (the Canadian equivalent of the State of the Union) endorsed the resolution and committed Canada’s official support.
The United States, now the only nation still in opposition, has announced a series of hearings through the Secretary of State’s office to review the U.S. position. These hearings began June 21 and will continue through October. After three plus decades, one has to wonder what there is left to discuss for the better part of another year. Every nation in the U.N. has now conceded at least a neutral position on this basic affirmation of human rights to indigenous peoples. Eleven nations abstained on the original vote and most of these have since expressed support.
The hearings target tribal leaders, non-governmental organizations and federal agencies for input. There is no explanation as to why NGO’s should be consulted on granting basic human rights to an entire group of people. For that matter, the question remains as to why federal agencies should have the power to withhold those rights or abridge them.
It is fashionable in liberal circles to blame so many things on the Bush Administration, and they rightfully deserve much of that blame. However, these tactics began long before that and continue beyond it. The current progressive leadership in the House, Senate and White House have certainly drug their feet in righting the wrong where indigenous people are concerned. Last fall, the Interior Department announced the settlement of the Cobell case for mismanagement of Native funds. The suit was settled for less than 10 cents on the dollar of what was owed and still has yet to be paid out.
Now, the United States, standing alone in opposition to human rights for First Nations wants another year to discuss the resolution. My friends in Indian Country are cautiously hopeful. They are also cognizant of the propensity for this country to issue politically correct press releases while withholding meaningful action.
This review is a long overdue step in the right direction. It is, however, only a step. It must be followed by many more steps. As the ceremony season continues across Indian Country many prayers and sacrifices are being offered up for a sincere and true completion to this matter.