Yesterday, on December 16, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States is now supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (the Declaration). After 25 years of development, the Declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13, 2007. At that time, 144 countries voted in favor of the Declaration, and only four countries opposed- Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.
Currently, there are more than 5,000 distinct indigenous peoples, totaling more than 370 million Indigenous persons in the world. The Declaration seeks to safeguard and promote their collective human rights and treaty rights within their respective nation-states.
The preamble of the Declaration affirms that “all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust.” Moreover, the Declaration recognizes that “indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests.”
Over the past three years, Australia and New Zealand have since announced their support of the Declaration. Canada announced its support of the Declaration on November 12th, 2010. While the United States is indeed the last of the opposing countries to support the rights of indigenous peoples, President Obama’s announcement is nonetheless being welcomed and applauded by the international human rights community and Native American right groups around the country.