UNDRIP receives US support

Date of publication: 
16 December 2010

Obama makes announcement at second annual summit

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama made major news during the second annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, announcing United States’ support for the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“[A]s you know, in April, we announced that we were reviewing our position on the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” the president said in a speech before tribal leaders Dec. 16 at the Department of the Interior. “And today I can announce that the United States is lending its support to this declaration.

“The aspirations it affirms – including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native peoples – are one we must always seek to fulfill.”

Obama said the administration will release a more detailed statement about U.S. support for the Declaration.

While not legally binding under international law, the U.N. describes the declaration as setting “an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet’s 370 million indigenous people and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalization.”

Robert Coulter, director of the Indian Law Resource Center, wrote in a column after the president’s announcement that the endorsement marks the culmination of more than three decades of hard work by indigenous peoples and other members of the international human rights community.

“Our work to ensure justice for Indian nations in this country begins in earnest with the United States’ endorsement of the U.N. Declaration,” Coulter said. “To see the promise of the declaration become a reality, we must continue to fight for laws, policies and relationships that take into account the permanent presence of Indian nations in this country, and throughout the world.”

He said the Declaration not only sets an agenda, it also serves as a “powerful affirmation” of Indian rights. He said it can be used as a guide for procedures and processes in dealing with indigenous peoples, as well as to support and advocate for positive legislation and government action relating to Indian peoples.

The U.N. General Assembly first ratified the Declaration in September 2007. The document received 143 votes in favor, with four negative votes cast – from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Since that time, Australia and New Zealand changed their votes to support.

Many Native Americans believe that adoption of the Declaration will result in significant improvements in the global situation of indigenous peoples.

According to the U.N., there are more than 370 million indigenous people in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific. Even in wealthy countries, such as the U.S., they tend to be among “the most impoverished, marginalized and frequently victimized people in the world,” according to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.

The president also used his summit speech to clarify his support for the Native American Apology Resolution, which he signed last year, after which he did not make an out-loud apology to Native Americans for the historic federal injustices noted in the legislation. Some Natives said at the time that for the apology to hold weight, he should say it out loud.

“It’s a resolution I fully supported – recognizing that no statement can undo the damage that was done; what it can do is help reaffirm the principles that should guide our future. It’s only by heeding the lessons of our history that we can move forward.”

Obama’s words came as hundreds of tribal leaders were gathered at Interior, invited to interact with high-ranking administration officials in a day-long summit.

It was the second such conference Obama has held since being elected president.

Indian leaders promised to bring a variety of policy matters to the table in an overall effort to forge stronger tribal-federal relations. Many were overjoyed to learn of the president’s support for UNDRIP, with a thunderous applause arising from Interior’s Sydney Yates Auditorium.

On hand were countless major players on the Indian scene, including Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel, IHS Director Yvette Roubideaux, and numerous tribal leaders.

One representative from each federally recognized tribe was invited to attend. Alaska and California tribes presented the vast majority of attendees, according to the White House confirmation list.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, in his opening remarks, called the gathering “a very special occasion” that represented a rarity because so many of Obama’s Cabinet staffers – seven – were in attendance.

“They are here because they believe in all of you and the nation-to-nation relationship,” Salazar said.


United States changes position to support UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Statement of Jennifer Krill, EARTHWORKS Executive Director

16 December 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C., — “EARTHWORKS congratulates President Obama on the decision today to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This represents a historic moment for Indigenous Peoples and for the United States, and an important step for Indigenous communities threatened by the impacts of mining, and oil and gas drilling.

“The Declaration states that Indigenous Peoples’ free, prior, and informed consent is required if they are to be moved from their lands or to have hazardous materials stored or disposed of on their lands. Free, prior and informed consent is also required for approval of projects, including mining, oil, and gas projects, that affect their lands. The Declaration includes the right for Indigenous Peoples to protect their religious and cultural sites and the right to the conservation and protection of the environment.

“As President Obama stated, what matters more than words are actions to match those words. We urge the Administration to now take further steps to ensure that mining, oil, and gas companies operating on Indigenous lands in the US and worldwide respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples. We encourage the Obama administration and Congress to fully endorse and implement the provisions of the Declaration in US policy .

“President Obama’s support for the rights of Indigenous Peoples is echoed by over 70 jewelry companies representing a quarter of the US market. Those companies have signed on to our No Dirty Gold campaign’s Golden Rules and its requirement that mining companies obtain community consent. EARTHWORKS demands that all mining, oil, and gas companies obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples before beginning any project.”


For More Information:

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Western Shoshone and mining
Alaska Native communities and mining
The No Dirty Gold campaign’s Golden Rules of Responsible Mineral Sourcing



Oxfam America Media Release

17 December 2010

Washington, DC – International humanitarian agency Oxfam America praised President Obama’s endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Oxfam helps indigenous communities around the world to defend their rights to land, livelihoods and identity.

The United States is the last of the four countries that originally voted against the UN Declaration to reverse its position. By endorsing the Declaration, the US affirms to the world that indigenous peoples have the right to be free from discrimination and forced assimilation, and the right of self-determination.

“The rights of indigenous people are often overlooked, ignored and violated, particularly when it comes to large-scale oil, gas, and mining projects,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “Today’s endorsement by President Obama will strengthen indigenous people’s rights to make decisions about how their land is used and to be free from discrimination.”

While large-scale resource projects may bring opportunity for citizens of the nations where the resources are being developed, many of the poorest and most vulnerable, in many cases indigenous communities, are often excluded from the benefits that might be generated by these activities.

The Declaration enshrines the right of indigenous peoples to Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), the principle that local communities must be adequately informed about development projects in a timely manner and be given the opportunity to freely approve (or reject) a project prior to the commencement of its operations. In particular, the Declaration calls on states to consult with indigenous peoples through their representative institutions to secure their consent prior to approving projects that would affect their lands or territories and other resources. This would allow and encourage indigenous communities to fully participate in the decision making process around such projects.

“Violations of indigenous peoples’ basic human rights, such as rights to land, resources and the environment, often lead to disastrous consequences for these communities,” said Offenheiser. “We are pleased to see the US government take this long-overdue step towards addressing this situation and look forward to seeing the US government promote the principles of the Declaration, including FPIC, in its engagement with international financial institutions and other governments.”

Contact: Laura Rusu lrusu [at] oxfamamerica [dot] org or +1 202 459-3739


Oxfam America is an international relief and development organization that creates lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and injustice. Together with individuals and local groups in 99 countries, Oxfam saves lives, helps people overcome poverty, and fights for social justice. Oxfam America is an affiliate of Oxfam.

Keith Slack
Extractive Industries Program Manager
Oxfam America
1100 15th St, NW Suite 600
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: 202-496-1308

U.S. will sign U.N. declaration on rights of native people, Obama tells tribes

By Krissah Thompson, Washington Post Staff Writer

16 December 2010

President Obama said Thursday that the United States will sign a United Nations non-binding declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, a move that advocates called another step in improving Washington’s relationship with Native Americans.

Obama announced the decision during the second White House Tribal Conference, where he said he is “working hard to live up to” the name that was given to him by the Crow Nation: “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.”

The United States is the last major country to sign on to the U.N. declaration, which was endorsed by 145 countries in 2007. A handful of countries, including the United States, voted against it because of the parts of the provision that say indigenous peoples “have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied, or otherwise used and acquired.”

That language does not override national law, and Canada and New Zealand, which also initially opposed the declaration, said in recent months that they would support it.

Obama has told Native American leaders that he wants to improve the “nation-to-nation” relationship between the United States and the tribes and repair broken promises. There are more than 560 Indian tribes in the United States. Many had representatives at the White House conference and applauded Obama’s announcement.

Native American leaders said this week that they have mixed assessments of the administration’s progress. Many praised the White House focus on Indian country, but others said some problems remain entrenched.