Sunday, 8 April 2012

Indigenous Peoples’ Approval of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

A lot of ink is spilled in discussing the states that have approved, abstained or opposed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Some states—notably the four states that originally opposed the Declaration: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States—have all changed their position. But very little is heard about whether or not indigenous peoples themselves have approved or opposed the Declaration.

Granted, the UN does not give them the same voice to vote on the matter as states. The UN is and looks to remain a very state-centric organisation. The on-going UN consultation on the status of indigenous peoples’ participation looks geared to make indigenous peoples more like non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and less like states—at least in relation to participation and activity in the UN.

Perhaps this will soothe any on-going state angst over the exercise of indigenous sovereignty through the United Nations. The consultation states that its aim : “to prepare a detailed document on the ways and means of promoting participation at the United Nations of recognized indigenous peoples’ representatives on issues affecting them, given that they are not always organized as non-governmental organizations”.

Indeed, no, indigenous peoples are “not always organized as non-governmental organizations”. Perhaps because they are NOT NGOs. Whether or not they should become more NGO-like in their international law participation is at best a debatable question.

Nevertheless, the Native News Network carries a story of an indigenous nation giving approval to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The article indicates that the "Pit River Tribe are the third tribe in the United States to officially affirm the declaration after Gila River of Arizona in 2008 and Seminole Nation of Oklahoma in 2010”.

This seems more state-like than NGO like. It is significant as well to understand what positions indigenous groups themselves have on the Declaration. Is its content satisfactory and acceptable? Are there reasons they might stand in opposition or neutrally abstain from an approval? It might be hoped that more publicity and visibility would be given to the actions that indigenous peoples themselves take with regard to the Declaration. Outside of the United States, for instance, have any indigenous groups taken formal measures to approve the Declaration?

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