Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Report and Response: The Situation of Indigenous Peoples in the United States of America

James Anaya, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, made a landmark visit to the United States earlier this year to evaluate the circumstances of the indigenous peoples in the United States. His report of August 30 2012 provides a comprehensive overview of the triumphs achieved and challenges faced by these communities.

On September 18, 2012, the United States made its Response

to this report at the Human Rights Council 21st Session in Geneva.

The Response acknowledges the “high rates of poverty, illness, substance abuse, suicide, and incarceration, as well as relatively low levels of education”. The Response goes on to explain how the United States is addressing these problems, citing among other things, funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided to “renovate schools on reservations, encourage job creation, improve housing and energy efficiency; and support health facilities and policing services.”
It also references other legislation, such as the Affordable Care Act and the Tribal Law and Order Act.
Given the magnitude of challenges that some indigenous groups face, this is a tepid and rather disappointing response. It is to be hoped that this is only a preliminary response and not the whole of the United States’ reply to the Special Rapporteur’s report. Unmentioned is the pending Violence Against Women Act that would provide criminal jurisdiction for some offenses committed on indigenous homelands. Unmentioned is the UNDRIP itself and any steps that the United States is taken to implement it in the wake of its eventual endorsement. Unmentioned is any response to Mr Anaya’s call for specific steps for reconciliation, and that “unless genuine movement is made towards resolving these pending matters [specific unresolved problems of historical origins and systemic dimensions... problems [that] continue to breed disharmony, dislocation and hardship] the place of indigenous peoples within the United States will continue to be an unstable, disadvantaged and inequitable one.”

In light of that, the Response can scarcely be credited as being a response at all.

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