UN trip yields future benefit

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DENVER – A trip to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues proved frustrating in some ways for a student delegation from the University of Colorado-Denver, but it could provide high-level rewards down the line.

Representatives from the White House and Departments of State, Justice and Interior have made general agreements to come to UCD in the upcoming academic year to discuss issues raised by the students at the U.N., said Glenn Morris, Shawnee, political science professor and director of UCD’s Fourth World Center for the Study of Indigenous Law and Politics, which co-supervised the trip with American Indian Student Services.

Although UCD students and other youth were hustled through their presentations at the U.N., they will be developing an indigenous youth position to be brought before the Permanent Forum in 2011.

“We do not want an opportunity to pursue the American Dream; we want the opportunity to pursue our indigenous dream,” said Tessa McLean, 21, Ojibwe, of Fairford Reserve in Manitoba and currently of Denver, where she is a justice in UCD’s Student Government Association and a political science major.

The youth delegation will return to the U.N. in 2011, even if the U.S. endorses the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, because “there will still be issues,” she said.

Four countries held off on endorsing the Declaration, but New Zealand and Australia ultimately approved it, while the U.S. is currently reviewing its position and Canada is taking steps toward approval. The Declaration was adopted by the U.N. in 2007 after it was ratified by 143 nation-states and after more than 20 years of negotiations.

McLean said the U.S. may “have a lot to lose” if it ratifies the Declaration, because “it will mean they’re admitting to genocide, land destruction, and treaty violation.” The U.S. could agree to have such disputes handled domestically through unspecified means rather than internationally, which might mean an appearance before the World Court, she said.

Joaquin Gallegos, Santa Ana Pueblo/Jicarilla Apache, another delegation member, noted at a related panel May 5 that the Declaration’s adoption by the U.S. “would also entail government implementation of the Declaration into its own policy regarding Indian nations” whose limited sovereignty is regulated by the BIA and other government agencies.

McLean said two other youth delegations – Global Youth Indigenous Caucus and the Native American Youth Indigenous Caucus – also attended the forum, and the Colorado delegation worked with both, primarily the latter.

Young people shared concerns about the displacement of indigenous peoples, sacred sites and lands desecration, loss of Native languages, vast health disparities, such specific health concerns as diabetes and teen suicide, inappropriate educational standards, food sovereignty, environmental genocide, and “greenwashing,” or faux claims of eco-friendliness, she said.

Morris, who has been involved with U.N. indigenous issues since the early 1980s, posed the possible trip to the students a year ago, they embraced the idea, and they met in the interim to study and prepare for it.

“When I looked at the international forums, it occurred to me that we needed to be training a new generation of indigenous diplomats, based on the fundamental principles that drove the entry of indigenous peoples into the international arena in the first place, which was a bold assertion of treaty rights, a bold assertion of international self-determination, a bold assertion of the right to be free from genocide, and of the right to control natural resources – in the 1970s and early 1980s, these assertions were unequivocal.”

Indigenous peoples around the world – some 350 million – are still primarily “out of sight, out of mind” and may still be regarded as being “in the way” of development. Ninety percent of armed conflict globally involves indigenous peoples and the states that seek to suppress them, he said.

As an Indigenous People’s Organization, the delegation submitted three position papers, one of them on the U.S. violation of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, which guaranteed ownership of the Black Hills to the Lakota and ended white settlement in the Powder River country; another on the adverse effects of development on the Navajo Nation; and a third on the impact of development on the promotion of health disparities and elevated suicide rates.

Theresa Gutierrez, Oglala Lakota, director of UCD’s American Indian Student Services, said the forum was told that development, particularly by extractive industries, “often meant the destruction of our territories.”

Native peoples in the U.S. often live in conditions of high rates of sexual violence, infant mortality, diabetes, substance abuse, mental health issues, and suicide that are “not the result of accidents or happenstance or predisposition,” she said, citing genocide, ecocide and ethnocide as “issues (that) are not hypothetical, theoretical, abstract – they are real.”

Students raised money for the trip through the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and UCD student government and Student Activities, with additional funding support from Frank Sanchez, associate vice chancellor-student affairs, and Zen Camacho, vice provost/AVC-diversity and inclusion.