Individual Rights Only for Indigenous Peoples at the UN


Since 1984, the Sioux Nation Treaty Council has been sending delegates to the various committees of the United Nations seeking the upholding of lawful and viable treaties made between the Great Sioux Nation and the United States. Meeting after meeting were attended such as the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, the Commission on Human Rights, and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

As separate committees were created to specifically deal with Indigenous problems, the delegates again attended meetings of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Working Group on the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, only to leave time and time again totally frustrated with the focus on individual human rights and not the rights of nations. How many other delegates from Indigenous nations throughout the world also left such meetings in total frustration?

What better way to divide and conquer when one straw can be so easily broken, while a fistful of straws is so much harder to break. Not only is this a divide and conquer tactic, but it is also a fast track on the assimilation road. Many Indigenous nations in North America are some of the smallest nations in the world. The fast track to total assimilation into the American or Canadian culture means certain genocide for those nations.

In Nation-States such a Guatemala where more than 51 percent of the total population is Indigenous, then individual human rights make sense. But for small nations such as the Great Sioux Nation located in the center of North America, individual human rights, under the auspices of the United States, means certain genocide. Last summer, when the Chairperson of the Human Rights Council stated that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is only enforceable under domestic law then we are right back where we started nearly 38 years ago. The domestic law for us is American federal law.

We attended the years of debates on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and were very saddened when the Draft Declaration that was approved by Indigenous Peoples was cast aside. This new Declaration that has been praised by many is not the one the majority of Indigenous people approved.

Upcoming is the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus in mid-March which will be giving their input into the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples meeting in May. It is not a meeting of Indigenous nations from North America, but includes organizations, committees, individuals, who are blindly being led to guarantee the success of these divide and conquer tactics by the United Nations tofocus only on individual human rights.

One of the ancient ways of our nation was that the needs of the whole outweigh the needs of the few or the one. The needs of the Great Sioux Nation outweigh the needs of a band, or a family, or an individual.

The human right of independence and freedom for our nation was the reason we started going to the United Nations in the first place. We are a nation, not an organization, an association, or a people. Our place as a nation in the family of nations needs to be recognized or our genocide is complete. What kind of a force would each of us wield if we all focused only on the human right of independence and freedom for our nations?

As the world is slowly learning, there is no such thing as “sustainable development”, only the way that Indigenous nations lived in their respective geographic environments for thousands of years can human beings live without harming Mother Earth. The same is true with human rights. Our individual nations took care of their own human rights. Why was it so surprising to the first explorers who contacted Indigenous nations to find out that there were no orphans, or domestic violence, or shunning of the elders? Because the Indigenous nations, in existence for thousands of years, already knew about "human rights."

It’s time that we refocus the message being given to the United Nations and continue to advocate for the rights of our nations to be independent and free, not for individual human rights. We will take care of our own individual human rights as our ancestors did according to a much wiser and civilized way of living.

Charmaine White Face, Zumila Wobaga, is a spokesperson for the Sioux Nation Treaty Council.