Suzanne Jasper: Same old language from the Obama administration

"Recently the human rights record of the United States was the subject of a global review at the United Nations. The Universal Periodic Review takes place for all member states every four years. First, the country “under review” makes an oral statement to go with their written report, then other countries present comments and recommendations, then the country “under review” speaks to the recommendations. There were more than a dozen questions and recommendations to the U.S. regarding indigenous peoples and indigenous issues.

It is deeply disturbing that Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk responded by referring to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (leaving off the “s”). He also used language suggesting that U.S. federal law and policy “gives” Indian governments authority “over a broad range of internal and local issues” and that the Tribal Law and Order Act “gives” Indian tribes greater authority to prosecute crimes.

In a document titled “The Powers of Indian Tribes,” written as an Opinion of the Solicitor dated Oct. 25, 1934, there is recognition of “inherent” powers as “perhaps the most basic principle of all Indian law.” How is it that the highest United States government official for Indian Affairs in 2010 could think that federal law and policy “give” indigenous peoples rights they already have? Based on international human rights law, no government has the authority to deny inherent rights of indigenous peoples or to claim such rights are “given” to them.

To his credit, Echo Hawk acknowledged that “few have been more marginalized and ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans.” He continued, “The consequences of that history are evident today in the many challenges faced by Native Americans: Poverty, unemployment, health care gaps, violent crime and discrimination.” Egregious human rights violations occurring over a long period of time and continuing unto this day have caused today’s challenges. It would marginalize indigenous peoples further to claim otherwise.

Echo Hawk completely avoided use of the word “peoples,” which would indicate federal recognition of our legal status as peoples. He instead carefully substituted the words: “communities” and “groups,” as if that were a true picture."

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Suzanne Jasper: ‘Same old’ language from the administration of change (Indian Country Today 12/

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