OAS Pursues Declaration On Indigenous Rights In 2009

The Organization of American States is pursuing the establishment of an American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, designed to address political, social, economic, and environmental issues confronting Native peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere. The OAS Working Group in charge of the effort has identified regional concerns that an American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should reflect, supplementing the recently adopted United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Working Group is currently focused on evaluating the negotiation process and identifying specific measures that should be considered in future negotiations in creating the draft Declaration. The Group has presently identified: 1) articles of the Declaration that have been approved by consensus, 2) articles that are close to agreement between indigenous and state representatives, and 3) articles containing complex issues where consensus has not been reached. The Working Group agreed to start negotiating those articles that are close to agreement between the participants at its next negotiation session scheduled for February 16-20, 2009 preceded by preparatory meetings of the Indigenous Caucus on February 14-15.

In his statement opening the recent draft session, Chief Karl Hill of the Cayuga Nation of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Confederacy) remarked:

Today the world faces climate change and global economic crises. Much of it is caused by greed and the intent to make profit at any cost. As a result, Indigenous Peoples, their lands, territories and resources are being endangered and exploited. Thus, the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas are at the center of both of these crises. As the most marginalized peoples in the hemisphere, Indigenous Peoples stand to suffer the most from the global economic downturn and have the most to lose from the monumental and unpredictable effects of climate change. …
Indigenous Peoples are people of peace who can contribute significantly toward resolving the many crises facing humanity today. The American Declaration is of critical importance. It will address the regional challenges of Indigenous Peoples in the Americas while fully respecting the standards of the universal United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

New York Pursues Tobacco Tax Revenue From Tribes

In what is viewed as a direct challenge to Tribal sovereignty and trade rights, New York Gov. David Paterson has signed a new law to impose and collect state sales taxes on tobacco products sold to non-Indians on Tribal land. With New York facing a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, revenue officials estimate the state could realize more than $62 million in new tax collections each year from the tobacco trade on reservations.

At the press conference announcing the new law, Gov. Paterson stated:

We profess great respect for the Indian sovereign nations and we expect to continue to demonstrate that respect for them, and what we are going to do today is try to alleviate an issue that’s existed for a very long time and we won’t be able to alleviate it just today, but we hope we’re taking steps in what will be a process that will reach that goal and that end. With the current financial situation, this tax will help bring extra revenue for the state.”

The new law requires tobacco wholesalers to sign an oath, under penalty of perjury, stating that the cigarettes they sell will not be resold untaxed in violation of state law. A state appeals court enjoined a similar law in 2006 because the state had not developed a coupon system for reservation retailers to claim tax refunds on cigarettes sold to Tribal members. Gov. Paterson stated that the new law is intended to circumvent that particular issue and collect the tax without addressing it.

Seeing that we can’t get around that encumbrance, (the state) introduced legislation that we will now ask for certification under penalty of law to those wholesalers that sell without collecting taxes. That’s in simple (terms) what the bill does. This is a new approach and we hope this will be an effective approach to solve this problem.”

Business leaders in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy have vowed to collaboratively battle any attempt by New York State to interfere in the Indian tobacco trade. Mark F. Emery, director of media relations in the Oneida Nation Public Affairs Department, stated that the new law will be immediately challenged in court.

None of the state’s other efforts to infringe on sovereignty have worked, and there is no reason to believe this will work either. If the state is serious about resolving this issue, it will negotiate with Indian nations rather than constantly attacking them.”