The UN is to conduct an investigation into the plight of US Native Americans, the first such mission in its history. The human rights inquiry led by James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, is scheduled to begin on Monday.
Many of the country’s estimated 2.7 million Native Americans live in federally recognised tribal areas which are plagued with unemployment, alcoholism, high suicide rates, incest and other social problems.
The UN mission is potentially contentious, with some US conservatives likely to object to international interference in domestic matters. Since being appointed as rapporteur in 2008, Anaya has focused on natives of Central and South America. The US signed up in 2010 to the declaration, which establishes minimum basic rights for indigenous people globally.
A UN statement said: “This will be the first mission to the US by an independent expert designated by the UN human rights council to report on the rights of the indigenous peoples.”
Anaya, a University of Arizona professor of human rights, said: “I will examine the situation of the American Indian/Native American, Alaska Native and Hawaiian peoples against the background of the United States’ endorsement of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. My visit aims at assessing how the standards of the declaration are reflected in US law and policy, and identifying needed reforms and good practices.”
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Meeting with a United Nations investigator, tribal leaders from across Oklahoma hoped to affect a “monumental shift” in the relationship between American Indians and the federal government. Known in U.N. lingo as a “special rapporteur,” James Anaya ended a two-week official tour of the United States with a stop at the University of Tulsa.
Speaking one after the other for four hours and sometimes speaking in native languages, more than 30 tribal leaders offered testimony on the history and current living conditions of various Indian groups. Anaya, after visiting Alaska, Oregon, South Dakota and now Oklahoma, will compile a report on how U.S. policies stack up against the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The United States voted against the declaration when it passed the U.N. General Assembly in 2007, but President Barack Obama endorsed it three years later. Still, compliance remains voluntary.
“During the 20th century, our country had a serious discourse about civil rights for African-Americans,” said Walter Echo-Hawk, an adjunct professor of law at TU. “But our country has never had a similar discourse about the nature of Native American rights. This declaration gives us an opportunity and an occasion to have a serious national conversation.”
Washington, D.C.- “In my capacity as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, I am concluding my official visit to the United States of America, which I have been carrying out over the past twelve days. During my mission, I have held consultations with indigenous peoples, tribes, and nations in Washington, D.C.; Arizona; Alaska; Oregon; Washington State; South Dakota; and Oklahoma, both in Indian Country and in urban areas. I also had a series of meetings with representatives of the executive branch of the federal government and with state government officials. I regret that my efforts to meet with members of the U.S. Congress were unsuccessful, especially given the prominent role of Congress in defining the status and rights of indigenous peoples within the United States.
I would like to thank the U.S. Department of State and other parts of the government administration for the cooperation they have provided for the mission. I would also like to express my deep gratitude to representatives of indigenous nations and peoples whose assistance in planning and carrying out of this visit has been indispensible. I am honored to have been welcomed into their communities and am humbled by the hospitality I received. I am grateful that they shared their still vibrant cultures and stories, and also their concerns with me.
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