TU College of Law Hosts UN Official Consultation on Rights of Indigenous People

Friday, May 04, 2012

U.N. Special Rapporteur James Anaya heard reports from regional tribes.

The University of Tulsa College of Law hosted United Nations Special Rapporteur James Anaya on Thursday, where more than 30 tribal leaders presented a formal update on the current human rights conditions on behalf of their people. Anaya’s visit to Tulsa was part of a five-state tour of the U.S., marking the first official visit by a U.N. Human Rights Council expert designated to report on the rights of indigenous peoples in this country.

James Anaya"My commitment is to help to shed light on your stories, on your perspectives, to give them greater attention, at least within the U.N. system and hopefully within the United States government,” Anaya said.

“I am committed to conveying, as well as I can, the expressions of concern, the expressions of hope, the expressions of aspiration that you have shared so kindly with me here today."

In 2007, the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples established a framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of indigenous people around the world. Mr. Anaya’s visit is the first formal assessment of progress that has been made to date and will establish areas in need further attention based on first-hand accounts from the tribal leaders.

"Special Rapporteur Anaya's presence here is an historic event not only for Oklahoma, but for all Indigenous Peoples from across our state and region, and for the nation," said G. William Rice, associate professor of law at The University of Tulsa College of Law, co-director of the TU Native American Law Center, and Associate Justice of the Supreme Courts of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the Sac and Fox Nation in Kansas.

"Noting the progress that has been made since the U.S. endorsed the Declaration in 2007 offers encouragement, but this official visit brings necessary attention to the considerable challenges that remain for Indigenous Peoples in this country and for the government's continuing progress in its efforts to meet the minimum standards set out in the Declaration."

Tribal leaders were invited to submit verbal or written status reports on behalf of their tribes with regard to the following issues and barriers related to each:

  • The right to self-determination, including political status, externally imposed requirements, and  recovering lands lost through forced allotment, sales and other federal policies

  • The right to freely pursue tribal social development

  • The right to freely pursue tribal cultural development

  • The right to freely pursue tribal economic development, including governmental impediments to tribal economic development, issues regarding sovereignty over natural resources, taxation of tribal businesses, protection of tribal intellectual properties

  • Other important issues related to the 2007 declaration

Dr. Kay McGowan, professor of Native Studies at Eastern Michigan University talked about the painful legacy of boarding schools instituted by the federal government in the early 1900's that has shown ripple effects to this day.

"Now we have the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which allows us to do many good things and rectify the wrongs done by the United States government against our people,” McGowan said. “It's our declaration, let's make it work."

The importance of the consultation was evident in the words spoken by those addressing Mr. Anaya. "I came here today to represent my people. I could say a lot of things that are heartbreaking," said George Thompson, Mekko of Hickory Grounds.

"We want to continue to teach our children the ways of our ancestors. Even though we were removed from our traditional lands, we made our home here. To be able to be in front of the United Nations' representative today is an honor for me. I am glad you are here today and can hear and understand the concerns of my people."

Following Anaya’s visit to the TU College of Law, he traveled to Washington D.C. to present his findings in the U.S. at a press conference. Anaya will also report at a forthcoming session of the Human Rights Council.

Shari Erwin