Friday, June 10, 2011

US Senate Committee holds controversial hearing on UN Indigenous Declaration

UPDATE June 15, 2011:

Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council voices
opposition to bogus Senate hearing:

Speacial Rapporteur James Anaya
By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

WASHINGTON -- The US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs conducted a controversial hearing on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on Thursday. Few people in Indian country who were responsible for the creation, or who are pressing for implementation of the Declaration, were informed or invited to testify.

The hearing began with a controversial address by Sen. Al Franken of Minn. pointing to Indian country's natural resources and the need to develop energy. It indicates that some view the Declaration as a means to pursue the exploitation of natural resources, which includes power plants, mining and drilling in Indian country.

Sen. Franken said Indian country represents 5 percent of the land mass and has 10 percent of the nation's natural energy resources. Sen. Franken said there are opportunities for wind, solar and conventional resource development. He said tribal leaders tell him of hurdles in financing and regulatory hurdles in carrying out energy development.

The testimony comes as many American Indian councils continue to exploit natural resources, while grassroots Indian activists strive to protect Mother Earth. Indigenous grassroots groups point out how Indian coal-fired power plants are a cause of the melting of Arctic ice and global warming. They oppose the continued widespread damage from oil and gas drilling, coal mining and toxic dumping in Indian country.

Native grassroots groups are opposing tribal governments now selling water rights and allowing power plants to use excessive amounts of water, on the Navajo Nation and elsewhere. Further, they point to a century of poisoned water, air and soil and expose the scam of the carbon credit market. For the most part, their voices were not heard at the Senate hearing.

American Indian leaders did urge the implementation of the Declaration, protection of sacred places, hunting and fishing rights, protection of culture and language and the right to self governance. The hearing examined the need for new federal laws that are required to implement the Declaration.

An excellent video proclaiming that Geronimo was not killed in Pakistan was shown during the hearing. Referring to the code-name Geronimo used during the Osama bin Laden attack, the film included faces from throughout Indian country, including Ponca Casey Camp, Navajos and others. It was produced by filmmaker Ryan Red Corn, Osage from Oklahoma, and Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

During his testimony, Red Corn described how Indian women are being pressured to become sterilized. Describing land jurisdictions and crime which makes lives difficult, Red Corn said he wants to live during an era of human rights. He also described how film and media are increasingly beneficial to American Indians.

Red Corn offered hope for implementation of the Declaration. "I would like to see teeth put into it, so I can feel the effects of it at home."

Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, chair of the Senate Committee, began the hearing, with a reference to Red Corn’s film “Smiling Indians" and discussed images which portray Indigenous Peoples. “As Native people it is important to tell our own stories." He spoke of Indigenous rights and “holding ourselves and the world accountable.”

Quinault President Fawn urged funding to attend global climate conferences so that Native Americans can have an impact on the future of this planet. Fawn also urged using the Declaration to uphold hunting and fishing rights in the northwest and to ensure the right to free, prior and informed consent.

Frank Ettawageshik, executive director of the United Tribes of Michigan spoke on climate change, cultural teachings and inherent sovereignty. He said the forces of nature must be respected and the consequences of actions much be considered for the next seven generations.

Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission Chairperson Duane 'Chili' H. Yazzie called for the protection of sacred places in accordance with international law.

“There is a notion in the federal government that they know best for Native America. That is not the case.”

“The Declaration recognizes Native Americans possession of distinct rights to sacred sites since time immemorial, whereas the U.S. recognizes a few rights post-colonization.”

Yazzie spoke on the need to protect the sacred mountain, Dook’o’osliid, San Francisco Peaks in Arizona. Referring to snow making from sewage water for Snowbowl tourists, Yazzie described how polluted water would affect medicine plants on the mountain which medicine men gather for healing ceremonies.

“Western Science is not enough. We must be at the table. It is our earth and life too."

“We have something to say, we have something to offer, the key we have may not avert the impending demise of the Earth but we believe we can help to heal some of the hurt and give hope for a future," said Yazzie, describing himself as a grandfather and a farmer.

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Melanie Knight spoke on self governance and self determination. “The domestic policy of the United States should support the ability of tribal nations to make the decisions that is best suited for their own specific needs."

Knight spoke on the specific needs to revitalize the language for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma of over 300,000 people. “The revitalization of culture and language is the primary purpose of several articles in the Declaration most prominently being in Article 13."

Knight described the Cherokee language immersion school, offering an education to students in their own language. She urged working together for self determination in Indian country.

"We ask this committee to ensure and protect our rights through facilitating the inclusion of Native language, history and culture throughout all programs and activities that effect Indian country. For instance, policy changes to enable both public and private school to further language preservation efforts."

During the hearing, land rights, self-governance and consultation between the US and Indian Nations were key issues.

Sen. Akaka said the hearing was held to determine if additional legislation is needed for implementation of the Declaration. He questioned if current federal law is adequate to ensure rights within the Declaration. Akaka said while the US strives to be a human rights leader globally, it is important to begin the human rights work here at home. "That leadership must start here at home."

The Senate Committee, in its announcement of the hearing, said the hearing viewed the Declaration as an “international policy goal.” However, this is far from the standard hoped for by Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration includes the rights to aboriginal territories and ensures the right to free, prior and informed consent. Natural resources and intellectual property rights would be guaranteed in federal courts if the Declaration is honored as a legal document.

The US and Canada, the last two countries in the world who voted against the Declaration at the UN, finally voiced support for it. However, the US and Canada included language designed to prevent the Declaration from being used as a legal document to ensure Indian rights.

During the hearing, Sen. Franken questioned the Obama administration's low level of funding for Indian school construction in the US. He also said there is a great deal of frustration by Indian leaders over the bureaucracy and red tape created by the BIA.

Robert T. Coulter, executive director of the Indian Law Resource Center described constitutional rights and the need to strengthen federal laws to protect Indian lands.

James Anaya, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said legislative bodies should view the Declaration as a guide for action and direction.

“Although the Declaration is not itself a treaty, it is a strongly authoritative statement that builds upon the provisions of multilateral human rights treaties to which the United States is bound as a party, within the broader obligation of the United States to advance human rights under the United Nations Charter.”

Anaya said the courts should take account of the Declaration in appropriate cases concerning indigenous peoples, just as federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have referred to other international sources to interpret statutes, constitutional norms, and legal doctrines in a number of cases.

Anaya said, "I believe that the United States' cooperation with the international system in this and other ways will not only help to advance the Declaration's objectives in this country, but will also contribute to greater cooperation within the United Nations and worldwide to advance the rights of indigenous peoples in keeping with the Declaration.

"The United States was a principal leader in the UN's adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and has since been a leader in pursuing implementation of that Declaration. The United States can and should now play that leadership role again."

As with most government hearings, there was far too much self-congratulations, and praise of the US on the international level, and far too little serious criticism of the human rights record of the US.

Those testifying were given five minutes for oral testimony, and submitted written testimony. The written record will be open for written testimony for two weeks for comments.

For permission to repost this article, please contact the author, Brenda Norrell:

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