December 30: Issaquah, Washington
Analysis and Commentary by Two Eagles (Perry Chesnut)
Secretary of State, Modoc Nation
State Department White Paper Contradicts Obama’s Statements at Tribal Nations Conference – Shows U.S. Endorsement of UNDRIP Really Means Politics and Business as Usual
By Modoc Nation, Sec. of State Two Eagles (Perry Chestnut)
On December 16, 2010, President Obama met with more than 300 tribal leaders at Blair House for the second White House Tribal Nations Conference. In his opening remarks (transcript issued by the White House Office of the Press Secretary), the President surprised almost everyone by announcing that the United States is changing the position it has held since September of 2007 concerning the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) – from a position of outright rejection to a position of “lending its support to this declaration.” The President’s announcement was met with tremendous applause. Camera flashes filled the room, and hundreds of participants captured the moment by video on their cell phones.
It is worthwhile to read the actual words the President spoke just following this announcement, worthwhile because they raised the hopes and aspirations of not only the conference participants but also all Native Americans who have heard or seen the media reports that the U.S. has changed its position and will now support UNDRIP. But sadly, as I shall point out below, the President’s promises and platitudes may turn out to be nothing more than just empty talk. First, the President’s words from the point at which he announced support for UNDRIP:
“And as you know, in April, we announced that we were reviewing our position on the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And today I can announce that the United States is lending its support to this declaration. (Applause.)
The aspirations it affirms -- including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native peoples -- are one we must always seek to fulfill. And we’re releasing a more detailed statement about U.S. support for the declaration and our ongoing work in Indian Country. But I want to be clear: What matters far more than words -- what matters far more than any resolution or declaration -– are actions to match those words. And that’s what this conference is about. (Applause.) That’s what this conference is about. That’s the standard I expect my administration to be held to.
So we’re making progress. We’re moving forward. And what I hope is that we are seeing a turning point in the relationship between our nations. The truth is, for a long time, Native Americans were implicitly told that they had a choice to make. By virtue of the longstanding failure to tackle wrenching problems in Indian Country, it seemed as though you had to either abandon your heritage or accept a lesser lot in life; that there was no way to be a successful part of America and a proud Native American.
But we know this is a false choice. To accept it is to believe that we can’t and won’t do better. And I don’t accept that. I know there is not a single person in this room who accepts that either. We know that, ultimately, this is not just a matter of legislation, not just a matter of policy. It’s a matter of whether we’re going to live up to our basic values. It’s a matter of upholding an ideal that has always defined who we are as Americans. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.
That’s why we’re here. That’s what we’re called to do. And I’m confident that if we keep up our efforts, that if we continue to work together, that we will live up to the simple motto and we will achieve a brighter future for the First Americans and for all Americans.”
President Obama wants to be clear: “What matters far more than words . . . are actions to match those words,” and action is the standard to which he expects his administration to be held. He derides the “false choice” that previous administrations have given Native Americans - that “you either had to abandon your heritage or accept a lesser lot in life,” and he rejects outright the basis of that false choice – the belief “that we can’t and won’t do better.” In perhaps the finest words of all he said: “We know that, ultimately, this is not just a matter of legislation, not just a matter of policy. It’s a matter of whether we’re going to live up to our basic values. It’s a matter of upholding an ideal that has always defined who we are as Americans. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.”
The problem with the motto “Out of many, one” is that it reminds indigenous peoples of the dark and unrelenting history of eradication that has been the policy (at times stated but mostly unstated) of the United States concerning the indigenous peoples who inhabited this land for millennia before there even was a United States. The motto reminds us of genocide, at first by slaughter and, continuing even today, by assimilation. Of course, the President did not have this in mind when he said it; he meant it in the most positive sense.
However, within hours of the President’s remarks, the U.S. State Department issued its 15-page white paper titled “Announcement of U.S. Support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - Initiatives to Promote the Government-to-Government Relationship & Improve the Lives of Indigenous Peoples.” (see attached .pdf file if the following link does not work U.S. State Department’s statement about U.S. support for UNDRIP) This document, not the President’s fine words, reflect the real position of the United States on the extent to which it has changed its position on and is willing to support UNDRIP. And folks, it isn’t good. It is so cleverly written that one commentator (Rudolph Ryser, writing for the Fourth World Eye, a publication of the Center for World Indigenous Studies) referred to it as “verbal sleight of hand.”
Let’s take a look at how the U.S. State Department, indeed, the entire Executive Branch of government, intends to “support” UNDRIP by lip service alone.
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