I am traveling in the Philippines this month, so my blog will deviate a bit from the local Seattle-area perspective. Embracing the view from abroad, I wonder how many Americans know about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? More to the point, how many of us know that the USA is one of a handful of countries that have not yet endorsed this Declaration?
In all fairness, the USA has not been the only country to express concerns. The Declaration required two decades of painstaking international negotiations before it was finally adopted in 2007. Some of the most controversial aspects of the Declaration relate to land. For example: “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired” (Article 26). Failing that, indigenous peoples have the right to restitution or compensation (Article 27). They also have the right to expect thatprior treaty obligations will be honored (Article 37).
In short, this Declaration confronts a lot of very tough issues. Some of the principles are difficult to implement, and the stakes are high. Even so, 147 countries have endorsed the Declaration. Doesn’t it seem strange that the USA, a country which views itself as a champion of human rights, has voted a firm ‘no?’ I’ll conclude with that question, in hopes that it might make all of us Americans, including myself, a little uncomfortable.
To read the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, check out: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf