TOPICS: Native rights declaration

The United States is considering whether to endorse a major U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for the recognition of the rights of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples over their lands and resources.

“The position on [this issue] is under review,” Patrick Ventrell, spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the U.N., said about the Barack Obama administration’s stance on the non-binding U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Approved by a vast majority of the U.N. member states in September 2007, the General Assembly resolution on the declaration was rejected by the George W. Bush administration over indigenous leaders’ argument that no economic or political power has the right to exploit their resources without seeking their “informed consent.”

Three other “settler nations” of European descent, namely Canada, New Zealand and Australia, also voted against the declaration, which states that indigenous peoples have the right to maintain their cultures and remain on their land. However, last month, the new left-leaning government in Canberra reversed its position, announcing support for the declaration.

Indigenous rights activists in the United States say they want the new liberal democratic government in Washington to make a similar move to address the grievances of native communities who have long been subjected to abuse and discrimination. According to many scientists, the traditional knowledge and cooperation of indigenous communities are vital elements in the global fight against climate change and loss of biodiversity.

During his election campaign, President Obama repeatedly said that he cared about the issues facing Native American communities and insisted that they could trust him on pledges that are now being watched closely.

Before Obama became the first-ever non-white president of the United States, the country faced scathing criticism from a Geneva-based U.N. rights body for its treatment of the indigenous communities and objectionable use of their traditional lands.

In the United States, there appears to be some signs of policy shift with regard to the U.S. government’s relations with the American Indian communities. Some representatives of indigenous tribes are currently working with Obama as advisors. — IPS