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Obama Administration Endorses UNDRIP

Published: December 16, 2010, Author: Rÿser Rudolph C.

President Barak Obama endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples three years after the United Nations General Assembly adopted UNDRIP in September 2007 and after an extensive review by the US Department of State with Indian governments, non-governmental organizations and individuals.  The US position opposing the Declaration during the previous four US Administrations had largely slinked under the political radar while the US encouraged the governments of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and others do the public dirty work of challenging four principle terms: “People” (Do indigenous peoples exist as distinct peoples?), “Self-Determination” (Though the US government introduced this term into the international arena during the Woodrow Wilson administration, and the US government had issued an official policy endorsing self-determination by Indian, Alaskan Natives and Hawaiians since the Johnson and Nixon Administrations, the Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush administrations all opposed the use of this term applied to indigenous peoples inside the US. [More on this below]) “Territory” (Opposition was based on the demand by the US to use “Land Rights” which was considered appropriate and left state sovereignty as superior to indigenous people’s interests.) and “Collective Rights” (Considered by the US as a throw-back to communism.) All of these terms and the principles that go with them are written into the UNDRIP. Apparently the Hillary Clinton Department of State could see no good reason for the US government–the champion of Human Rights–to remain the only leading government to oppose the Declaration.

Since the end of World War II, the US government has seen itself as the protector of “global stability,” and a principal requirement for stability was and is considered maintaining existing state intact. Despite this basic foreign policy goal the US has participated in the promotion of decolonization efforts around the world increasing the number of independent states from about 52 in 1948 to more than 190 today.

As I noted in another column in Fourth World Eye, the US government was the main holdout in 1993 when we at the Center were working with the German, Russian and Japanese governments and ten indigenous nations including the Haudenosaunee, Tibet, Lummi, Sammi among them to organize and convene a Congress of Nations and States.  The then Russian government in transition to the Russian Federation sought to host the Congress, but during a meeting in the Russian Embassy where Russian, German Japanese and US government representatives met with yours truly, the US representative expressed doubts and cautions.  Within days, the US Department of State issued a cable to the Russian government opposing the Congress.

My conclusion then, during the years of UNDRIP development in annual Geneva, Switzerland meetings and immediately after the General Assembly vote in 2007 was that the US government remained absolutely frightened of the principle of self-determination. It had seen the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) disappear virtually over night in the winter of 1992 and from it appear (reappeared) Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and other “new states,” resulting in new and varied power centers. In a whorl wind fit of “superiority complex” the US attempted to establish itself as the preeminent world power–unrestrained by any other power. But like a child suffering from an inferiority complex hiding behind a fictive self-image of strength the US struck out at the world to demonstrate its power and found itself like the honey bear with its “fist caught in the honey hole.” The US gave license to other countries engaged in offensive wars against indigenous peoples (i.e., China: Tibet, Manchuria, East Turkestan; Russia: Chechnya; Indonesia: Papua New Guinea; Philippines: Moro of Mindinau) in the name of a “war on terror.” What had been people pushing for self-determination were relabeled by the US and other governments as “terrorists.”  Self-Determination by unconsenting peoples captured inside the boundaries of a newly formed or existing state was considered “violence against state order.”

In the 1960’s UN General Assembly members went so far as to write and adopt a non-binding resolution pledging the “non-self-dismemberment of an existing state.”  What this simply meant was that expressions of indigenous peoples seeking to exercise the widely accepted principle of self-determination would now be considered “illegal.”

In a study we conducted during the 1980s about the wars and conflicts in which indigenous peoples found themselves, we discovered 128 conflicts. Of those more than half involved efforts to reclaim territorial rights or exercising the right of self-determination.

The US government has stood at the door of freedom preventing or seeking to prevent indigenous nations from exercising the social, economic, political and cultural right of self-determination “without external interference.” The US government stood in front of the door once again in 2007.

The Obama Administration has now stated through the mouth of its president that the US government will now endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which includes Article 3 on the Right of Self-determination.  The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples article reads as follows:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

The US government, as with many others may not like the fact the indigenous peoples are “peoples,” with “territories,” and “collective rights,” but they also share with other human beings on the planet the RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION.  Thank you children.

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