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Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ben Carnes: Is Obama's support of Declaration a good thing?

By Ben Carnes
Censored News
While government recognized tribal leaders convened for the White House Tribal Nations Conference at the Interior Department, supporters for imprisoned activist, Leonard Peltier, stood outside in the snow and cold to remind these leaders to ask Obama to pardon Peltier. Peltier's conviction has been deemed unfair, unjust and an outrage by legal scholars, world spiritual and political leaders. At the opening, Obama announced the US would be endorsing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, belatedly.
I understand there will be those who will greet this action with long awaited joy, while others will view it with heavily guarded suspicion. It must also be understood that as Indigenous Peoples, we are not all the same, some consider themselves American Indians or Native Americans, while others do not subscribe to that notion. What makes a notable difference is that the President and Congress will consult with those it only recognizes as tribal leaders through its laws. The Chiefs, Headsmen, Clan Mothers and Spiritual leaders of the First Nations will not be.
The underlying issue is protecting the integrity of our sovereignty, through upholding treaties and honoring our culture and traditions that forms our worldview.
Last July, I wrote a statement to the State Department concerning the implementation of the Declaration, I got a form response thanking me for my input. Lip service is what it amounted to, however, that is probably more than the people standing outside of this conference will get from Obama. If Obama was truly serious about recognizing Indigenous rights, then he would sign a pardon freeing Peltier from his years of wrongful imprisonment.
My statement is below, and to read more, go to:

Obama: US will support Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Obama the Rock Star
Obama said the US will 'support' the UN Declaration -- he did not say the US will 'endorse' or 'adopt'

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News
White House photo

Enthusiastic fans of President Obama didn't pay attention to his words when Obama announced the US would "support" the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Obama did not say the US would "endorse" or "adopt" the Declaration.

Canada supported the Declaration recently, then essentially nullified it by stating that all Canadian laws have precedent.

During the second White House Tribal Nations Conference, Native Americans leaders continued their photo ops and celebrating Obama as a rock star on Thursday.

When Obama announced that the US would support the UN Declaration, few people reported his words exactly.

The support by the US has no force of law.

The United States is the last country in the world to support the Declaration, adopted by the UN in 2007. Canada was second from the bottom to support it, then only conditionally.

Although Obama calls the gathering 'the White House Tribal Nations Conference,' once again this year, Native American leaders were not allowed in the White House. Initially in 2009, it was promoted as: "Welcome to the White House."

This year, about a dozen hand-picked Native leaders (see list below) were allowed in the White House on Wednesday to meet with Obama. There are more than 560 federally-recognized Indian Nations. There was no explanation of how the selection process was carried out for the dozen leaders who were singled out.

Once again this year, Native American leaders were told to meet in the Interior Building. In the morning, Obama gave a short address to the leaders, which was primarily self-congratulations, spending less time this year than last with Native leaders.

Obama's schedule shows that he scheduled only 30 minutes on Thursday for the White House Tribal Nations Conference.

In closing, Obama spoke of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"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.

"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. That’s what this conference is about. That’s the standard I expect my administration to be held to."

Native American leaders met with other US government officials following Obama's short address, in break out sessions, to express concerns, including those about the loss of hunting and fishing rights and the destruction of sacred places.

The United States made it clear in its statement that the Declaration is not legally binding.

Among the issues of concern for Native Americans are the issues of rights to ancestral territories and free, informed and prior consent, as stated in the Declaration.

Obama said, "The United States supports the Declaration, which -- while not legally binding or a statement of current international law -- has both moral and political force. It expresses both the aspirations of indigenous peoples around the world and those of States in seeking to improve their relations with indigenous peoples. Most importantly, it expresses aspirations of the United States, aspirations that this country seeks to achieve within the structure of the U.S. Constitution, laws, and international obligations, while also seeking, where appropriate, to improve our laws and policies."

The US statement is similar to that of Canada.

In its statement of support of the UN Declaration, Canada said, "Although the Declaration is a non-legally binding document that does not reflect customary international law nor change Canadian laws, our endorsement gives us the opportunity to reiterate our commitment to continue working in partnership with Aboriginal peoples in creating a better Canada."
Native leaders meeting with Obama on Wednesday at the White House:
• Earl J. Barbry, Sr., Chairman, Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana
• Cedric Black Eagle, Chairman, Crow Nation
• Brian Cladoosby, Chairman, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community
• Karen Diver, Chairwoman, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
• Brenda Edwards, Chairperson, Caddo Nation
• Tex G. Hall, Chairman, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation: Three Affiliated Tribes
• Gary Hayes, Chairman, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe
• John Red Eagle, Principal Chief, Osage Nation
• Joe Shirley, Jr. , President, Navajo Nation
• Robert H. Smith, Chairman, Pala Band of Mission Indians
• Edward K. Thomas, President, Tlingit Haida Central Council
• Mervin Wright, Jr., Chairman, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Nevada
New York Times blog: Has Obama kept his promises to American Indians

Watch video to Obama's address on Thursday morning to conference:

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