Native Americans Say US Violated Human Rights


WASHINGTON April 14, 2014 (AP)

By JESSE J. HOLLAND Associated Press

A Native American group is asking the international community to charge the United States with human rights violations in hopes of getting help with a land claim.

The Onondaga Indian Nation says it plans to file a petition at the Organization of American States on Tuesday, seeking human rights violations against the United States government. It wants the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to declare that the U.S. government’s decision not to hear its lawsuit asking for the return of 2.5 million acres in upstate New York to be violations of international human rights agreements.

The nation has argued that about 4,000 square miles in 11 upstate New York counties stretching from Pennsylvania to Canada was illegally taken through a series of bogus treaties. More than 875,000 people live in the area, which includes Syracuse and other cities.

U.S. courts have refused to hear the lawsuit asking for the return of their land, with the Supreme Court turning away a final petition in October.

Onondaga Nation lawyer Joe Heath, left. ((AP Photo/Mary Esch))
Onondaga Nation lawyer Joe Heath, left. ((AP Photo/Mary Esch))

“The problem is that we can’t get the governor to sit down with us and the United States to live up to its treaty rights,” said the Onondaga Nation’s attorney, Joe Heath.

While in Washington, the group plans to display a belt that George Washington had commissioned to commemorate one of the treaties that was supposed to guarantee the Onondaga their land and “the free use and enjoyment thereof.”

The group says it is not seeking monetary damages, eviction of residents or rental payments. Instead, it wants a declaration that the land continues to belong to the Onondagas and that federal treaties were violated when it was taken away. Onondaga leaders have said they would use their claim to force the cleanup of hazardous, polluted sites like Onondaga Lake.

The petition against the United States was brought by the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which is made up of the Onondaga, Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga and Seneca Nations.

It could be years before the commission decides whether to hear the nation’s complaint, Heath said. Even then, there is nothing that could force the government to follow international recommendations, Heath said. The hope is that public pressure would bring state and federal officials to the table.

“Yes, they can just ignore it but there’s only so long we think can they do that,” said Heath.

Even if nothing happens, they will have made their stand, they said.

“We’re here, we’re speaking out and they know where we stand,” Onondaga Clan Mother Freida Jacques said. “Maybe you won’t write it in history, but we’ll know we made this effort and we’re not letting the people down.”


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NICWA And NCAI Applaud United Nations’ Anaya For Calling on U.S. To Protect Veronica’s Human Rights

U.N. Expert Says ‘All Necessary Measures Should Be Taken’
Source: National Congress of American Indians
Portland, Ore. and Washington, D.C.—The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and Angel Smith, an independent attorney appointed by the District Court of the Cherokee Nation and “Next Friend in the filing,” are applauding  today’s action by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya calling for state, federal, and tribal authorities in the United States to take all necessary measures to ensure that the well-being and human rights of Veronica Brown, the four-year-old Cherokee child at the center of a highly contentious custody dispute, are protected.
Anaya’s office in a release today pointed out that the Indigenous rights are guaranteed by various international instruments subscribed to or endorsed by the United States, stating, “I urge the relevant authorities, as well as all parties involved in the custody dispute, to ensure the best interests of Veronica, fully taking into account her rights to maintain her cultural identity and to maintain relations with her indigenous family and people.”
NICWA, NCAI, and Smith, who had brought their concerns to the Special Rapporteur’s attention, hailed the announcement as corroboration of the concerns raised both in the federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Veronica in July and in ongoing legal matters in Oklahoma.
Among the possible human rights violations is the forced removal of Veronica from her Indian family and tribal nation without adequate protection or recognition of her right to culture. Such removal violates her right to culture, education, family, and tribal nation as guaranteed by Articles 7 and 8 of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
The executive directors of two leading national organizations, NICWA’s Terry Cross and NCAI’s Jacqueline Pata, called for the national conversation about the case to focus on Veronica’s human and civil rights.
“These rights are being violated by the failure of the courts to provide Veronica, her tribal nation, and her extended family with opportunities to be heard regarding her best interests,” said Cross. “What the U.N.’s involvement indicates is that we must all agree to turn our focus back to Veronica. When we do, it becomes disturbingly clear that the courts have utterly failed to protect what is guaranteed to her by international law and established treaties, best adoption practices, and in my opinion, basic tenets of decency. Her rights have been violated, pure and simple.”
“We commend the Special Rapporteur for engaging on this issue—it’s a vital step for protecting all Indigenous children throughout the world. It’s important to note that these are violations of international laws recognized and ratified by the United States long ago, not external forces weighing in on domestic laws,” said Pata. “Veronica, and all similarly situated Indian children, families, and tribal nations, have deeply felt interests in maintaining their individual and collective rights to family, culture, and community. These basic human rights, along with the fundamental principles of self-determination, non-discrimination, due process, and equality, must be protected.”
Smith agreed, stating, “Of course the facts of these matters are heart aching. Even so, it is important and required that when considering Veronica’s rights and protections to acknowledge that, as an Indigenous child, she holds the rights of continued connection to her family, her culture and community. It has been tragic that, in the media firestorm following this case the last two years, so little attention has been paid to Veronica’s basic human rights. These are rights and protections due her—due to Veronica—and are independent of any other individual involved in these matters. Veronica’s rights and interests must be considered.”
Smith continued, “If she were any other child, in any other case, her present situation, needs, and rights would be considered and would have been part of the determination. Today, Veronica is a four-year-old little girl with her own view of her daily world and her own identity. She has her own words, and her own voice. It is time Veronica is heard because it is, after all, Veronica’s life.”
About The National Congress of American Indians
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information visit

US Government Under Fire at Permanent Forum Ahead of World Conference

Gale Courey Toensing, Indian Country Today Media Network

Indigenous organizations attending the 12th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) criticized the United States federal government for trying to make an end run around the human rights affirmed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Declaration) and voiced concern that state actions will sideline Indigenous Peoples at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples scheduled for September 2014. The UNPFII took place at the U.N. in New York from May 20-31.

In a day long discussion on the World Conference during the Permanent Forum on May 28, speakers expressed opposition – and indignation – at a statement made by Laurie Shestack Phipps, advisor for economic and social affairs of the United States Mission to the United Nations, regarding the federal government’s position on the Declaration.

Phipps’ statement, or “intervention” as it is called at the U.N., was presented May 22 in opposition to a suggestion that the Permanent Forum establish a monitoring and complaints mechanism for the Declaration. But most offensive to indigenous organizations was Phipps’ reiteration of parts of the State Department’s white paper of December 16, 2010 – the day President Barack Obama announced that the  U.S. was “lending its  support” to the Declaration.

“We would like to take this opportunity to note that the Declaration is a non-binding, aspirational document,” Phipps stated. “We would also like to reiterate the U.S. government’s view that self-determination, as expressed in the Declaration, is different from self-determination in international law.”

The statement set off a red alert among North American Indigenous Peoples when it was first announced. “We’ve been involved in these issues for a while now and making sure that the United States doesn’t try to domesticate the international Declaration—that’s going to be the challenge,” Penobscot Indian Nation Chief Kirk Francis said at the time. And the statement outraged people again at this year’s Permanent Forum. (Related story: Next Step: ? Implementation)

“The most objectionable [part of the U.S. statement] was their reiterated position that the rights of self-determination as recognized under international law for ALL PEOPLES is somehow a different right for Indigenous Peoples,” Roberto Borrero (Taino People of Boriken – Puerto Rico), said in an impassioned statement that he read on behalf of the International Indian Treaty Council. “At that time [2010] Indigenous Peoples did not accept this attempt to redefine international law as affirmed in the U.N. Charter and the Covenants, or to diminish the internationally recognized minimum standard of the Declaration. We do not accept it now.”

The IITC statement acknowledged that the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples has the potential to move forward the full and effective implementation of the inherent rights affirmed by the Declaration. But IITC and other indigenous organizations are concerned that some states might use the World Conference “in an attempt to diminish, qualify or redefine the rights affirmed in this hard fought minimum standard, or to limit the intended scope of its implementation,” Borrero said.  “We are firmly resolved and will stand united with the Indigenous Peoples of the world to ensure that this will not happen.  Discrimination must not be tolerated in any body or process of the United Nations which is based on the fundamental principles of international human rights law and the tenants of the U.N. Charter which include non-discrimination.”

The IITC has asked the Permanent Forum to issue a formal statement expressing its concern and joining with Indigenous Peoples in rejecting discriminatory attempts by the U.S. or any other state to diminish the rights affirmed in the Declaration by the U.N. and at the World Conference. “This is an historic opportunity for full and effective implementation, in good faith and partnership,” Borrero said. “The time for racial discrimination and all doctrines which justify it is the past. Their proper place is in the dustbin of history. “

Indigenous representatives from Africa, Asia, the Arctic, North America, Central and South America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe Russian Federation, Central Asia and Transcaucasia, and the Pacific as well as the Indigenous Women’s Caucus and the Indigenous Youth Caucus, both of which presented interventions at the Permanent Forum, will attend a preparatory conference in Alta, Norway June 10-12 to consolidate indigenous Peoples’ strategies and positions for the World Conference, which is described as “a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly.”

Kenneth Deer, representative of the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus (NAIPC), said the caucus agreed to take part in the World Conference under certain conditions, including advancing “the rights of Indigenous Peoples as peoples and nations with rights equal to all other peoples, that we have and confirm the inalienable right to self determination as recognized in various international instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights … as well as our rights to our lands, territories, resources, treaties, languages and cultures.” He said the Alta Conference outcome document should assert these rights and support the implementation of the Declaration and that the NAIPC will review the document “to determine what positive and negative impacts it could have and also to assess NAIPC’s involvement in the World Conference.”

Steve Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape), an Indian Country Today Media Network columnist, presented an intervention on behalf of the Indigenous Law Institute that began with an acknowledgment that the U.N. building stands on the traditional territory of the Lenape, Munsee and Delaware ancestors. Mincing no words, Newcomb said that the U.S. position for a ‘different” right of self determination for Indigenous Peoples in international law “is racist and predicated on ancient theological-political bigotry” – namely the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed Christian nations to claim as their own land that was not inhabited by Christians and to kill or enslave the indigenous inhabitants or those lands. The World Conference “will not result in positive and fundamental reform for our Nations and Peoples unless it is used as an opportunity to engage in the kinds of moral discussions that took place in the 16th century … regarding Aristotle’s theory of natural domination or slavery and whether our ancestors were human. The difference today, of course, is that we have our own voice,” Newcomb said.

Tonawanda Seneca Chief Darwin Hill read a statement on behalf of an umbrella group including the National Congress of American Indians, United South and Eastern Tribes, the California Association of Tribal Governments, 72 Indigenous nations and seven Indigenous organizations. Violations against indigenous are actually increasing in some states, Hill said. And the Declaration, which is supposed to protect those rights, cannot be effective without implementing measures and without international monitoring, he said. The group recommended, among other things, creating a new U.N. body to promote and monitor implementation of the Declaration and giving Indigenous Peoples “a dignified and appropriate” permanent status through their constitutional and customary governments to participate in all U.N. activities.