Monday, 30 April 2012

The Distance Yet to Be Covered

The United States Department of the Interior has made a recommendation to include the Oglala Sioux Tribe as partners in management of national parkland of the South Dakota Badlands, according to a story at the Native News Network. The land that is under consideration for this partnership is already contained within the boundaries of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The article comments that:
In 2003, the Tribe formally requested government to government negotiations regarding management control of the South Unit, and the Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Tribe agreed to use the general management plan process to explore options for greater involvement in the South Unit.”

Certainly it would seem that tribal partnership in management of land that is already within the boundaries of the tribal nations is a step in the right direction. But there are peculiarities in this situation that bear considering in light of the international standards given in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I cannot but help be struck by the paradox that this partnership of management is recommended for lands that are already within the boundaries of lands set aside to indigenous peoples. The land that remains for “reservations” is greatly shrunken from the boundaries that were originally granted under treaties between the United States government and indigenous groups. The government has found reason after reason to take possession of land that had been granted under treaties to indigenous groups. These reasons invariably have to do with the discovery of natural resources on land that had been hitherto thought to be worthless. So what land remains is a far cry from what had been originally agreed upon. That the US government exercises unilateral control over vast swathes of this shrunken land is a point often lost in discussions of sovereignty, self-government and autonomy of indigenous groups within the United States.

It is worth noting provisions of Article 32 of the UNDRIP
Article 32:
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop
priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or
territories and other resources.
2. States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous
peoples concerned through their own representative institutions
in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the
approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other
resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization
or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.

That partnership between indigenous groups and the US government for national parkland management within the boundaries of indigenous lands is only now being considered—and just a recommendation at this point in time-- speaks of the distance that has yet to be covered to make the standards in the UNDRIP a reality.

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