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Declaration of Indigenous Rights 'must be so'

On Aug. 9 I attended the ceremony marking the International Day of the World's Indigenous People at the United Nations in New York.

Native American speakers, singers and runners captivated the audience on that sunny day with their profound messages. While sitting there I envisioned my own family gathered around the kitchen table when I was a child, talking about the Armenian genocide in hush tones filled oddly with humiliation over this atrocity that had befallen my people.

Finally, my father stammered out, ''If it did not happen, then where are all my uncles?'' And with that thought in my mind at the U.N., I realized how important the Declaration of the Human Rights of Indigenous People was for those around the world who were genocide survivors and who are marginalized and forced to live in poverty by the ruling society that surrounds them.

Some say this declaration gives people extra rights. No, the declaration gives them the symbolic protection they need just as New York state provides hate crime protection for the gay community.

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At the end of the ceremony, as the peace pipe went around the circle of those of us who had gathered there, I realized as a former human rights judge that this declaration must be enacted just as Eleanor Roosevelt's Universal Declaration of Human Rights had half a century earlier. It should be so, it must be so, it will be so.

- Michael Boyajian

Fishkill, N.Y.