Anniversary of the UN Declaration: More Must Be Done

Recently, Indian Country Today ran a very interesting article by Robert Coulter. Coulter discusses the anniversary of the UN Declaration while delivering a particularly important message: more must be done.

Coulter starts with a historical perspective, telling his readership that about a year ago, the international community finally recognized that indigenous peoples have a permanent right to exist as peoples, nations, cultures and societies when the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on September 13, 2007.

This Declaration, according to Coulter, was:

the most significant development in international human rights law in decades. International human rights law now recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples as peoples, including rights of self-determination, property and culture.

It was particularly significant because it recognized that “indigenous peoples and our governments are a permanent part of the world community and the countries where we live."

For about 300 years, though, European colonists and the U.S. didn’t see it that way, and treated Indian nations as if they would eventually disappear – in other words, Native Americans were treated as, what Coulter calls "a temporary problem."

According to Coulter, the laws and political morality of this country have been based upon and in part justified by this belief in the eventual demise and disappearance of Native nations. That is why the law, as applied to Native Americans, was shockingly discriminatory and inequitable. On that point Coulter notes:

Arbitrary rules and serious mistreatment are made to seem plausible or even appropriate if they are merely temporary. There was, and sometimes still is, an unspoken political assumption that the victims would soon be gone and require no redress.

Despite this inequity, over the years Indian nations have been growing more numerous and more strong as self-governing societies. He says:

We are not temporary by any means. And now we are finally seeing a turning of the tide as the world community has recognized Indian and other indigenous nations as permanent governments.

However, according to Coulter, there is a turning of the tide and more must be done.

We must still fight for the recognition that Indian nations are permanent governments, not temporary, vanishing entities. Unfortunately, the United States, along with Canada, New Zealand and Australia, failed to make this acknowledgment by voting against the adoption of the declaration.

According to Coulter, to see the promise of the declaration become a reality, it is important to fight for laws, policies and relationships that take into account the permanent presence of Indian nations in this country, and throughout the world, he said.

Coulter notes that Native American persons can and should use the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a powerful affirmation of their rights. “Only through continued use will its provisions become our reality,” he said.

The impetus of Coulter’s article comes from his point about continuing to fight:

Perhaps most important, we must work harder than ever to pressure and persuade the United States and Canada to recognize and respect these rights. This can still be done. Winning U.S. support for these human rights will make them far more useful in this country.

The best way to continue the work, according to Coulter, is to gain U.S. support is to demand that the United States join in adopting a strong Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Organization of American States.

The OAS is now negotiating a powerful American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples much like the U.N. declaration. We must increase the pressure on the United States and other countries to respect our human rights and adopt a strong OAS American declaration. We must publicly expose and protest the continuing violation of our rights in the United States, and we must demand serious action in the OAS to finalize a strong and effective declaration supported by all countries in the Americas.

Coulter believes that carrying on the fight in this way is the best way to celebrate and honor the adoption of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples one year ago.

Visit OAS American Declaration for more information about the Declaration and how you can participate in this important call to do more.