2010-12-16 "U.S. Will Sign Declaration Recognizing Indigenous Rights" by Nancy Roberts
The United States is the only country that has not signed the U.N. Declaration of Indigenous Rights; there are signs this could change. The Declaration rejects discrimination against indigenous people, estimated at numbering 370 million in some 70 countries. The Declaration "emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations."
Hardly controversial, it is also non-legally binding.
The Declaration was signed by 145 countries in 2007, with only four countries voting against: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the U.S., mostly objecting around land claims and to ambiguities in the declaration. Since then, all but the U.S. have come round, with Canada signing just last month [http://triballink.org/2010/11/canada-endorses-the-united-nations-declaration-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples/].
The Obama administration announced in April that it is reviewing its position on the Declaration [http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE63J6C020100420].
Indigenous people around the world suffer disproportionately high rates of illness, poverty, crime, and other human rights abuses, according to the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs. In the U.S., a Native American is "600 times more likely to contract tuberculosis and 62 per cent more likely to commit suicide than the general population." [http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/social/suffering-indigenous-people.shtml]
This week marks the second White House Tribal Nations summit since Obama's took office, as representatives from the 565 federally-recognized tribes meet with the President and administration officials on December 16. While some Native American leaders are unhappy at the slow pace of change, others hail the President's actions on Native American rights and legal issues, including the recent settlement of a land trust class action suit with a $3.4 billion compensation fund. Last October the federal government settled a $760 million case with Indian farmers.
The Obama administration has made strides in Native American rights; signing the Declaration would be one more example of their good faith.
UPDATE - December 16 In a step forward for relations between Native Americans and the federal government, President Obama today announced that the U.S. will sign the U.N. Declaration of Indigenous Rights. The President made the announcement at a conference of Tribal Nations held today in Washington. The accompanying State Department statement affirmed: "US support for the declaration goes hand in hand with the US commitment to address the consequences of a history in which, as President Obama recognized, 'few have been more marginalized and ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans -- our first Americans.'"