Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

July 21, 2023

United Nations Hears of Devastation for Indigenous Peoples -- And Stories of Hope

Lisa White Pipe, Sicangu Lakota, testifies before the U.N. Human Rights Council's Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo courtesy Coalition Large Tribes.

United Nations Hears of Devastation for Indigenous Peoples -- And Stories of Hope

By Brenda Norrell, Censored News, July 18, 2023

GENEVA -- The United Nations heard testimony from Indigenous Peoples around the world today, on the devastation from mining, ongoing genocide, and a story of hope from Alaska about a young French boy who helped save the Eyak language.

"There is no greater offender of tribal rights than the U.S. Justice Department," said Lisa White Pipe, Lakota, Sicangu Rosebud council member, representing the Coalition of Large Tribes, chaired by the Blackfeet Nation.

White Pipe's testimony was before the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, of the U.N. Human Rights Council, during the second day of the five-day session.

White Pipe said the U.S. government fails to abide by the Treaties and protect Native people. Technical assistance is needed for healing from assimilation and boarding schools, and more resources are needed for reconciliation and public safety.

White Pipe encouraged a visit from the Expert Mechanism to the United States to assist in efforts of reconciliation, and to strengthen efforts in maintaining languages, public safety and implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

White Pipe told said the United States needs to work in partnership with tribal communities and provide an action plan, and commit resources, to maintain Native languages and to honor the International Decade of Indigenous Languages.

"Our languages tell us who we are and how we relate to the world," she said.

White Pipe said the US must return lands seized for boarding schools, including the land used for the Rapid City Indian Boarding School in South Dakota.

"The United States has failed to address the mass dispossession of Indians of our lands occasioned by the Indian Boarding Schools Policy even though there are federal laws on the books that require reversion of those lands. The Rapid City Indian Boarding School is an example among the hundreds the US-funded and sanctioned. We call on the United States to make these land returns now." (See White Pipe's full written intervention below.)

The words of Chagossians who were driven from their homeland island in the Indian Ocean reflect the testimony today.

"Now we live a life that is not ours," said Bernadette Dugasse, Chagossian. Dugasse's people lived a life of poetry and song before their island was seized for a United States military base, with the help of the U.K.

The UK severed the Chagos Islands from the rest of Mauritius so it could lease Diego Garcia to the US for military use, and forcibly deported 2,000 Chagossians.

"We lived in harmony with our music and poetry."

Saving the Eyak Language in Alaska

It was Bill Smith, Eyak from Alaska, and chairman of the National Indian Health Board, who offered a story of hope. Smith said that speaking one's own language is an integral part of healing and health.

His mother Marie Smith was the last full-blood speaker of the Eyak language. She addressed the United Nations twice, on the desperate need to save the Eyak language. The BBC did a story on this.

On the other side of the world, a French youth, Guillaume Leduey, 13 years old, in Le Havre, France, heard her story. Guillaume not only taught himself the language but has kept the language alive by teaching Eyak online by way of Skype.

Marie Smith's Eyak name, Udach' Kuqax*a'a'ch, translates into "a sound that calls people from afar."

Quechua in Peru

Quechua in Peru: Autonomy and the Rights of Women

Katherin Patricia Tairo-Quispe, Quechua from Peru, said it was an honor to speak before the United Nations today, but as an Indigenous woman, she is not given the same honor as men.

"Being a woman, and being Indigenous is very challenging for us. Historically as women, we have been, and continue to be, abused -- not just in our homes, but by institutions, under the narratives of progress which try to eliminate us, and eliminate our way of life."

Tairo-Quispe, a scholar who was born and grew up in Sicuani, Peru, said Quechua are struggling to maintain their autonomy. Development projects, she said, must be examined carefully, using the peoples' ecological knowledge.

Mexico's tourist train, Mayan Train, Tren Maya, under construction in southeast Mexico, is an environmental disaster and already devastating Indigenous lands and cultural treasures.

The Mayan Train in Mexico: A Train to Nowhere

In Mexico, Indigenous Peoples are struggling to defend their ancestral land while their territory and natural goods face severe threats.

Adriana Garcia, representing the threatened people of the Priority Ecological Community, PEC, described the devastation underway by the construction of the tourist Mayan Train, Tren Maya, in Indigenous lands in the region of Cancun in southeast Mexico.

Garcia said the Mayan Train is a fast train with a parallel motorway. The modernization of ports is resulting in deep dredging and the widening of breakwaters. The destructive development includes ten industrial parks, which would link commercial trade between the Caribean and Atlantic, resulting in the demand for more manufacturing plants.

At the same time, there is increased drilling for oil, construction of refineries, and production of petrochemical products. The ongoing ecological devastation includes an increase in open-pit mine permits.

Garcia said that this internal colonization results in large amounts of pollution in the areas which have the greatest biological and cultural diversity in Mexico.

The development gives control to multinational companies and the United States, putting at risk the people of Mexico's sovereignty.
"These are ancestral lands of Indigenous Peoples."

Ainu in Japan: Bring Back the Salmon

Masaki Sashima, president of the Raporo Ainu Nation in Japan, spoke of the sweetness of salmon fishing. Today, very few salmon migrate up the Urauchi Tone-gawa River.

"Still, to us, they are precious salmon, we have inherited from our ancestors."

"We hope more wild salmon will come to us one day."

Sashima said in earlier times, that the river was more than 200 meters wide. Since it was divided, their fishing river is now about 50 meters wide. He hopes with scientific knowledge and consultation with the Japanese government, Ainu can bring back the salmon.

In Brazil, horrific mining is bringing death to Indigenous Peoples and ecocide to the natural world. The desperation of displacement and human rights violations were expressed by Indigenous around the world, including Khmyer from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, Indigenous in Bangladesh and Maori in New Zealand.

Indigenous from Indonesia said land is being seized for the public interest and the people are trapped in the loss of their ancestral history and genocide. 

During the statements by governments, Russia asked that the testimony not be politicized and the consultation focus on cooperation.

The government of Azerbaijani denied the mistreatment of Indigenous Armenians, calling earlier testimony about a blockade a "false narrative" and "smear campaign." Indigenous Armenians described the ongoing attacks on Monday of the U.N. session.

On September 27, 2020, Azerbaijan, with Turkey’s full military support, launched a war against Indigenous Armenians in the disputed territories of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) reports Forbes. During the 44-day war, Azerbaijan used cluster munitions, drones, and phosphorous bombs. Among other heinous war crimes, the Azeri military boasted of beheadings and torture of captured Armenians.

The war left nearly two-thirds of the Indigenous Armenian lands in Artsakh occupied by Azerbaijan. With over 5,000 Armenians killed, 110,000 displaced, 10,000 fighters wounded and 200 POWs detained illegally in Azerbaijan prisons and tortured – there are still hundreds of unaccounted Armenian MIAs.

During today's session at the United Nations, Native Americans in the United States made it clear that their calls for justice are not being heard. The violations of hunting and fishing rights were described by Indigenous in Canada, including losses of salmon fishing and moose hunting.

During the testimony today, it was the Chagossians, displaced from their island homeland in the Indian Ocean, that reflected the testimony from the ocean, forest, and mountain homelands of Indigenous around the world.

"Chagossians have never had any right to self-determination on our lands." 

© UNDP Peru
Indigenous communities in Peru are growing organic coffee to boost their livelihoods.

UN: Devastating impact of extractive industries on Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples have the ancestral wisdom to guide humanity towards a more sustainable use of the Earth’s resources, yet they are systematically discriminated against and excluded, UN rights chief Volker Türk warned on Monday, United Nations News reports.

He was speaking in Geneva at the annual meeting on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, referencing in-depth conversations he had had in recent months with Indigenous representatives during missions to Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Kenya.

He described the “unprincipled and devastating impact of extractive industries on the environment and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Their dispossession from ancestral lands, and the militarization of their territories.”

He said they had described the negative impact of the climate crisis on their communities and “the scope of systemic discrimination and exclusion.”

August 1, 2023 update: Rights of Nature Tribunal: Mayan Train must be suspended
"In its verdict, the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature condemned the Mexican state to the definitive suspension of the Mayan Train with all its components, as well as the demilitarisation of indigenous territories, for the violations of the rights of nature and the biocultural rights of the Mayan people caused by the megaproject."

In the Congo, a conservation area for gorillas has meant desperation and broken promises
An estimated 10,000 indigenous Batwa live on the fringes of Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) in makeshift villages, struggling to survive without the land, healthcare, and other support pledged in 2019 as delayed compensation for their forced eviction when the park was created in 1970.

Land defenders march in Buenos, Aires, Argentina, as government plants to push mining (August 1, 2023)

16th Session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

(July 17 to 21, 2023)

The intervention of Lisa White Pipe, Coalition of Large Tribes; Councilwoman, Rosebud Sioux Tribe

Greetings, Chair and Excellencies.

I am currently a council member for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe representing the Bull Creek Community, which is in Gregory County. I was placed in this position because of the death of my father Charles White Pipe, Jr. I have lived my entire life on my reservation, except for when obtaining my bachelor’s degree. My maternal grandfather, William Bearshield Sr., was a police officer, who was killed in the line of duty, and he has gained national recognition for his service. He is also a descendant of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. My paternal grandfather, Charles White Pipe Sr., received his last name because his grandfather was a carrier of the sacred White Pipe. He went on to give my Lakota name, Tatanka Ska Win, White Buffalo Calf Woman. My grandfather, Charles White Pipe Sr., was a WWII combat veteran and gained national recognition by receiving a posthumous congressional medal of honor as a Lakota Sioux Code Talker. Our language played an important part in saving the world in WWII.

While the United States has made recent strides to repudiate its longstanding and widespread assimilationist Federal Indian Boarding School Policy detailed in the Department of the Interior’s May 2022 Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report, the United States has failed to address the mass dispossession of Indians of our lands occasioned by the Indian Boarding Schools Policy even though there are federal laws on the books that require reversion of those lands. The Rapid City Indian Boarding School is an example among the hundreds the US-funded and sanctioned. We call on the United States to make these land returns now, as the Federal Indian Boarding Schools Policy was grossly violative of Articles 8 and 10, and continued inaction perpetuates the damage caused by those violations.

We are very concerned about other social determinants of health on our Reservations, including public safety, missing and murdered Indigenous people, behavioral health access, and lack of healing resources to address the inter-generational trauma caused by federal Indian boarding schools, such as returning the original land taken for such schools and supporting language and culture restoration.

Likewise, while Secretary Haaland has toured the nation listening to endless days of horror stories from Boarding School survivors and the descendants of victims, detailing physical, sexual and emotional abuse and even murder, the United States has failed to provide resources for healing. The federal government has exposed the deep wounds and Native people have an immediate and just right to healing resources under Article 11.

We call on the United States to establish an action plan to commit to concrete steps to support indigenous language programs in partnership with Tribal Nations. And to recognize the International Decade on Indigenous Languages and commit resources to commemorate the Decade. The request stems from the fact that our indigenous languages are central to our healing. Our languages tell us who we are and how to relate to the world. Our languages are medicine. Boarding schools cruelly beat the indigenous languages out of Native children. Restoring our languages is the start of our healing.

We call on the U.S. to take measures to support our tribes’ health in these areas, including calls on member States, such as the United States, to provide adequate funding for Native law enforcement, healthcare, education and especially trauma healing, as required by federal law and Articles 11, 21 and 23 of the UN Declaration. We call for the immediate return of Federal Indian Boarding School lands to tribes consistent with Articles 10 and 11.

As a global community, it is time to provide justice, truth, and reconciliation to indigenous peoples and provide much-needed resources for their collective healing, starting with our languages.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Lisa White Pipe, Coalition of Large Tribes; Councilwoman, Rosebud Sioux Tribe

Censored News original series

Censored News Part I: U.N. Hears of Devastation for Indigenous Peoples, and Stories of Hope

Censored News Part II: Impact of Militarization on Indigenous Peoples: Murder with Impunity from Peru to the Tohono O'odham Nation

About the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, of the UN Human Rights Council

Indigenous Peoples represent 6 percent of the global population, however, in 2021 they represented 26 percent of human rights defenders killed globally. They also suffer non-lethal attacks and other reprisals.

Sadly, we have witnessed such a reprisal at this very Council. Ms. Anexa Cunningham, a member of EMRIP, appointed by this Council, was denied return to her home country of Nicaragua after participating at the EMRIP’s 15th session last year. Eight months later, she is still in Switzerland, banished from her country and living in forced exile, which has a major impact on her, her family, and her community.

The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) was established by the Human Rights Council, the UN’s main human rights body, in 2007 under resolution 6/36 as a subsidiary body of the Council. Its mandate was then amended in September 2016 by Human Rights Council resolution 33/25.

Each year, the Expert Mechanism holds a five-day session in which representatives from states, Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Peoples’ organizations, civil society, inter-governmental organizations and academia take part.

The 16th session of the Expert Mechanism is taking place in person on 17-21 July 2023 in Palais des Nations, Geneva.

Copyright Brenda Norrell, Censored News. Written permission is required for use.

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