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US must work to advance reconciliation with indigenous people – UN expert

Special Rapporteur James Anaya.
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
Special Rapporteur James Anaya.

US must work to advance reconciliation with indigenous people – UN expert

The United States must adopt new measures to advance a reconciliation process with its indigenous peoples and address historical wrongs that have stopped them from fully realizing their rights, a United Nations independent expert said today.

“Indigenous peoples in the United States – including American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian peoples – constitute vibrant communities that have contributed greatly to the life of the country,” the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, said in a news release on his report, made public today, on indigenous peoples in the United States.

Mr. Anaya stressed that these measures must “address persistent deep-seeded problems related to historical wrongs, failed policies of the past and continuing systemic barriers to the full realization of indigenous peoples’ rights.”

The Special Rapporteur noted that there are significant challenges, including past misguided Government policies, as well as broken treaties and acts of oppression in the past, which have left indigenous people at a disadvantage and have prevented them from exercising their individual and collective rights.

In his report, Mr. Anaya provides an overview of federal legislation and programs that have been developed over the last few decades by the US Government, and notes that these, “in contrast to early exercises of federal power based on misguided policies, constitute good practices that in significant measure respond to indigenous peoples’ concerns.”

While Mr. Anaya welcomed the new initiatives to advance the rights of indigenous peoples over the last few years, he said existing programmes need to be improved to increase their efficiency and underlined that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is an important guide to do this.

Adopted by the General Assembly in September 2007 after more than two decades of debate, the Declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

“The Declaration, which is grounded in widespread consensus and fundamental human rights values, has been accepted by the United States at the urging of indigenous peoples from throughout the country, and it is an extension of the United States’ international human rights obligations,” Mr. Anaya said. “It should be a benchmark for all relevant decision making by the federal executive, Congress, and the judiciary, as well as by the states of the United States.”

To develop his report, Mr. Anaya held consultations with US officials as well as with indigenous peoples, tribes, and nations in the capital, Washington, D.C., and the states of Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, South Dakota, and Oklahoma, both in so-called Indian country and in urban areas.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes. Mr. Anaya is scheduled to present his report on 18 September, during the Council’s current session.