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Washington in Brief

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PROGRESS SLOW BUT SURE AFTER THIRD MEETING ON INDIGENOUS RIGHTS DECLARATION

WASHINGTON - A working group of the Organization of American States met
April 28 - 30 in Washington to negotiate points of consensus on an American
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The OAS membership comprises 34 states in the western hemisphere. The
primary ambassadors (as they are termed) represent the member national
governments, which OAS serves in an advisory capacity. The nerve center of
Native advocacy within OAS is an indigenous caucus group.

An American declaration of indigenous rights, following a UN model adopted
in 1977, has been under intense discussion for several years. That process
has produced a "consolidated text" draft declaration which has been the
subject of three meetings. The indigenous caucus has proposed amendments
and revisions to the successive clauses of the document, and these have
been discussed at length by the ambassadors, Native delegates to the
indigenous caucus, and occasionally observers. On many points, differences
in perspective stem from the struggle of indigenous people to control their
circumstances and resources within states insistent on territorial
integrity and undivided sovereignty.

The process has proved slow and painstaking, with all sides mindful of the
need for a document that transcends "a paper statement of high-minded
principles," in the words of a U.S. position paper distributed April 30.
Ultimately, the U.S. paper adds, the declaration hopes to embody indigenous
aspirations to culture, identity, language, religion, land, health and
human dignity, while providing a "touchstone for states" in establishing
relations with indigenous peoples within their borders.

Much of the April 30 session went into refining Item 3 of Article 17, on
health. The "consolidated text" draft declaration offered the following:
"The states shall take measures to prevent indigenous peoples from being
subject to programs of biological or medical experimentation without their
free and informed consent."

After several hours of informed, precise, often spirited back and forthing
on indigenous caucus recommendations, Item 3 of Article 17 now looked like
this (with the bracketed passages carried over for further discussion):
"The states shall take measures to prevent and prohibit indigenous peoples
and individuals from being subject to research programs, biological or
medical [or other medical procedures] experimentation, as well as
sterilization without their prior, free, and informed consent. [Likewise,
indigenous peoples have the right to access to their data, medical records,
and documentation of research conducted by individuals and public and
private {national} institutions.]"

The debate over these changes was full indeed. Among the concerns state
ambassadors expressed were that records couldn't be demanded from a foreign
firm, and that access to all data could damage ongoing research and budget
processes. At one point, after a rather pointed exchange of views across
the table, a national ambassador pronounced himself "very concerned with
the way the [drafting and negotiation] process is going, because this
process must be sustained."

The consensus decision to break sterilization out for specific mention
turned on the argument that many indigenous women have been sterilized
unwittingly in the course of other medical procedures, an observation that
brought a comment from the chair - "As we talk we begin to understand each
other."

The consolidated text of the draft declaration, with the April changes, can
be accessed on the Internet at GT/DADIN/doc.175/04rev.1corr.1.

Shortly following this third meeting to negotiate points of consensus, on
May 3, the last formal meeting of the Working Group to Prepare the Draft
American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples took place. The
working group approved a draft resolution to continue its mandate to
negotiate consensus, with 2006 targeted as a completion date. The
resolution will be submitted to the OAS General Assembly in Quito, Ecuador,
June 6-8.

FISH AND WILDLIFE BILL GETS A HEARING

WASHINGTON - A draft bill to improve Native American fish and wildlife
management came up for full discussion before the Senate Committee on
Indian Affairs April 29. It remains in committee, where it can be expected
to incorporate many of the suggestions made at the hearing.

As written, the bill would give Native fish and wildlife management, as
well as gathering activities, a funding presence across agencies currently
required to work with tribes on resource issues, but not required to fund
them. The bill would also patch Alaska Native subsistence resource needs
into the larger scheme of federal fish and wildlife "co-management"
activities with tribes.

In the testimony of James Zorn, policy analyst for the Great Lakes Indian
Fish and Wildlife Commission, "S. 2301 would provide a federal statutory
mandate for the preservation and enhancement of tribal fish, wildlife, wild
plant and habitat management efforts. GLIFWC supports this initiative and
the underlying goal of acknowledging - as a matter of federal law - the
primacy of tribal self-regulation and self-governance of treaty-protected
natural resources, both on and off the reservation ... A key obstacle in
this context has been the inability to access Self-Determination Act
funding from agencies other [than] the Bureau of Indian Affairs where the
primary interaction is with some other federal agency. For example, the
[U.S.] Forest Service has not identified a mechanism within its organic
laws that parallels the Self-Determination Act and, for example, has been
unable (or unwilling) to provide funds for a tribal forest
ecologist/biologist to assist in the implementing [of] the National Forest
agreement. Similarly, when GLIFWC has sought the assistance of the USFWS
[United States Fish and Wildlife Service] for ceded territory spring
fishery assessments, it has been compelled to pay over $67,000 of its own
funds since 1999 to secure the agency's services."

The draft bill received several other positive appraisals, from the
Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, the Inter-Tribal Bison Cooperative
and Stevens Village, Alaska, among others.

A sour note came from the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society. Ira
New Breast, executive director, said the bill tries to accomplish too much.
She recommended a narrower scope for the bill, "identifying support
mechanisms for on-the-ground management and conservation of fish and
wildlife in Indian country. The bill needs to focus on fundamental fish and
wildlife conservation management and should not be diverted for other
purposes. While support of special and specific interests are valid in
certain areas of Indian country, S. 2301 attempts to achieve too much and
should not dilute the basic unmet needs that exist for many Indian tribes.
Legislation for core tribal fish and wildlife management programs should be
stabilized, made equitable and consistent between tribes, and not be
provided on a sporadic, competitive basis ... Resource needs that exceed
fundamental fish and wildlife conservation management needs (like the need
for enforcement officers, scientific capacity or operational assets) may be
dealt with on an alternative basis."

S. 2301 can be accessed on the Internet at www.cspan.org. To the right of
the splash page, activate the Congress Guide link, and from there link to
Current Legislation. Under Bill Number select S., key in the number and hit
search.