Recommendations by 72 Indian Nations and Others for World Conference on Indigenous Peoples

Darwin Hill

Statement Of Umbrella Groups National Congress Of American Indians, United South And Eastern Tribes, And California Association Of Tribal Governments, 72 Indigenous Nations and Seven Indigenous Organizations

Twelfth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
(May 28, 2013)

Agenda Item: 6. Discussion on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples

Speaker: Darwin Hill, Tonawanda Seneca Nation

By the Navajo Nation, Yurok Tribe, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Tonawanda Seneca Nation, Quinault Nation, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, the Confederation of Sovereign Nanticoke-Lenape Tribe (including Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation, Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware, and the Nanticoke Indian Tribe of Delaware), the Crow Nation, Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Nez Perce Tribe, Shoalwater Bay Tribe, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, the National Congress of American Indians, California Association of Tribal Governments (32 Tribes), United South and Eastern Tribes (26 Tribes), the Native American Rights Fund, the Indian Law Resource Center, National Native American AIDS Prevention Center, Papa Ola Lokahi, the Native Hawaiian Health Board, Americans for Indian Opportunity, and the Self-Governance Communication and Education Tribal Consortium.

This statement is made by 72 Indian nations located in the United States and acting through their own governments. Also joining in this statement are ten Indian and Hawaiian Native organizations. The indigenous governments making this statement speak for their citizens or members totaling more than 515,000 indigenous individuals. These nations govern more than 19 million acres of territory, and we own more than 16 million acres of land.

We believe that the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples is an important opportunity for the United Nations to take much-needed action to advance the purposes of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, especially to promote the implementation and realization of fundamental rights. Despite the shortcomings of the process, creative and effective action must be taken by the United Nations to press for implementation of the Declaration’s principles, since violations of indigenous rights are actually increasing in many parts of the world. Violence on a horrific scale is being inflicted on indigenous communities, and increasingly it is inflicted on indigenous women, as recently reported by the Permanent Forum’s own Study on the extent of violence against indigenous women and girls and by the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas.

Without adequate implementing measures by states as yet, the Declaration is having little significant effect in reducing human rights violations against indigenous peoples, and violations appear to be increasing in many countries. Some states profess support for the Declaration, but in practice they ignore the Declaration’s requirements. The increased incidence of adverse actions violating indigenous rights is apparently due in part to growing pressures from climate change, increased demand for energy, and increased competition for natural resources in indigenous territories.

Rex Lee Jim (left), Vice President of the Navajo Nation and Darwin Hill, Chief of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation, participate at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Rex Lee Jim (left), Vice President of the Navajo Nation and Darwin Hill, Chief of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation, participate at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Sadly, we cannot yet say that the Declaration has reduced the attempts to destroy indigenous cultures and societies, or the taking of indigenous homelands and resources, or the economic marginalization of indigenous peoples. Without effective implementing measures and without international monitoring of indigenous peoples’ rights, the purposes of the Declaration cannot be achieved.

Our greatest concern is for the physical security of our people, especially women, and of our homes. Our right of self-determination is our most important right – it is the right that makes all other rights possible – and it is also our right that is most at risk – most likely to be violated. Our lands and resources and the ecosystems where we live are most precious to us because they are essential to our existence. We believe that United Nations action is critical to addressing these rights and all of the rights in the Declaration.

We offer three recommendations for action that we hope can be adopted by the World Conference.

First, we recommend that the United Nations establish a new body responsible for promoting state implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and monitoring states’ actions with regard to indigenous peoples’ rights. At least four regional indigenous caucuses have now made the same or a similar recommendation. Such a monitoring and implementation body must have a mandate to receive relevant information, to share best practices, to make recommendations, and otherwise to work toward the objectives of the Declaration. Such an implementing and monitoring body would do more than anything else to achieve the purposes of the Declaration and promote compliance with the Declaration.

Second, we recommend a three-pronged course of action to address the problem of violence against indigenous women:

a. A decision to convene a high-level conference to examine challenges to the safety and well-being of indigenous women and children and to share perspectives and best practices.

b. A decision to require that the UN body for monitoring and implementing the Declaration (recommended above) give particular attention, on at least an annual basis, “to the rights and special needs of indigenous . . . women, youth, children and elders . . . in the implementation of the Declaration”; and

c.  A decision to appoint a Special Rapporteur to focus exclusively on human rights issues of indigenous women and children, including but not limited to violence against them and on changing state laws that discriminate against them.

Finally, we recommend that action be taken to give indigenous peoples, especially indigenous constitutional and customary governments, a dignified and appropriate status for participating regularly in UN activities. Indigenous peoples deserve to have a permanent status for participation in the UN that reflects their character as peoples and governments. This is a problem that has already been studied and examined within the UN system, and now it is time to take action at last so that indigenous peoples do not have to call themselves NGOs or depend upon ad hoc resolutions to be able to participate in UN meetings, processes, and events.

The full text of our recommendations is available on the web at, and on paper in the meeting room.

We have begun conversations with states about these recommendations, and we look forward to speaking with as many state delegations as possible. We are also talking with other indigenous peoples and we are eager to hear the ideas of others. We are not inflexible about precisely what actions should be taken by the UN, and we hope that broad agreement can be reached about the general principle or idea of each of these recommendations. When the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples 2014 has decided to take action, then it will be necessary to create inclusive processes, with the full participation of indigenous peoples and indigenous governments, to elaborate these decisions and put them into effect.

We call upon all countries to make a commitment for action to implement the Declaration and to support these modest and workable recommendations for UN action.

Thank you.

Darwin Hill is Chief of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation.



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.