Friday, 24 August 2012

Grass-roots campaign to save Pe'Sla

James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, issued a call for consultation to occur over the proposed auction of land in South Dakota that is revered as a sacred place for the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples.

The auction has been cancelled, but the future status of the sacred land remains unclear at this time.

Pe'Sla has a unique and special place in the cosmology of the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota peoples.

Since word of the planned auction spread, there has been a concerted effort by individuals and tribes to raise awareness about Pe’Sla and to raise funds to try to purchase at least some of the land at the auction.

The call for consultation by the UN Special Rapporteur is one that is significant. Under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, there are several provisions that address indigenous rights to sacred land such as Pe’Sla.

Article 8(2)(b) requires states to have “effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for... any action which as the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources.” State obligations go much further than that, however. Article 26 requires states “to give legal recognition and protection” to lands which have been “traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.”

There can be no doubt that Pe’Sla fits the description of lands given in Article 26. The United States should heed the call to consult with indigenous groups, but its obligations transcend mere consultation. It has a duty to protect Pe’Sla.

But waiting on the United States to take actions to protect Pe’Sla might prove fruitless. To this end, an amazing grass-roots campaign was sparked, seeking donations and raising awareness about both the sacred nature of Pe’ Sla, and how the planned auction jeopardised Pe’ Sla. This campaign, organised through joint efforts of and the Rosebud Sioux .. call for donations to help raise money towards the purchase of at least part of Pe’ Sla.

The response has been tremendous, with on-going donations now totalling over $ 266,000 with a further contribution of funds from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of $1.3 million.

International instruments are often criticised for providing rights that are not practically accessible. It is hoped that the combined efforts of the campaigners to save Pe’ Sla, and the call issued by the UN Special Rapporteur will result in the protection of Pe’ Sla as required by the United Nations Declaration—an instrument now endorsed by the United States. Just as grass-roots advocacy movements were the genesis for the campaign for indigenous rights going international, it seems that grass-roots movements have not lost their importance in continued efforts to promote and protect indigenous rights.

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