Steven Newcomb: Indian policy and 'internal' self-determination

Steven Newcomb. Photo from Finding the Missing Link

Steven Newcomb of the Indigenous Law Institute explores a White House National Security Council document from 2001 that influenced the United States' position on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:
Point number three of the U.S. National Security Council document addresses the issue of “self-determination” for Indigenous peoples. It reads: “The US delegation should support the term ‘internal self-determination’ in both the UN and the OAS [Organization of the American States] declarations on indigenous rights, defined as follows:” The document continues by clarifying the viewpoint of the U.S.: “Indigenous peoples have the right to internal self-determination.”

In the U.S. document, the word “internal” means internal to a particular Indigenous Nation of People, and “within” the “nation-state,” such as the United States. Point three of the National Security memorandum continues: “By virtue of that right [of internal self-determination], they [Indigenous peoples] may negotiate their political status within the framework of the existing nation-state and are free to pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

In international law, the right of self-determination has been expressed in this manner: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status…” The U.S.’s Trumanite network and the National Security Council changed “they determine their political status,” to “they may negotiate their political status within the framework of the existing nation-state…”

Such language from the National Security Council’s memorandum explains the basis for the U.S.’s 2010 position on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples issued by the U.S. Department of State. In that position, the State Department said: “The United States is therefore pleased to support the Declaration’s call to promote the development of a new and distinct international concept of self-determination specific to indigenous peoples. The Declaration’s call is to promote the development of a concept of self-determination for indigenous peoples that is different from the existing right of self-determination in international law.”

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb: U.S. Federal Indian Law and Policy and U.S. Double Government (Indian Country Today 4/12)

Join the Conversation