More than three years ago, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples after decades of advocacy by Indigenous rights activists. The result was a document that embodies progressive principles of human rights, collective rights, environmental justice and more. In October 2007, just days after the Declaration was adopted, MADRE Communications Director Yifat Susskind wrote:
Passage of the Declaration was propelled and informed by the perspectives of Indigenous women, whose priorities are reflected throughout the text. The result is a Declaration that links the economic and social well-being of Indigenous Peoples at large to the rights of Indigenous “elders, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities.” The understanding that economic viability depends on broad recognition of human rights is one that could benefit all people working to build a more sustainable future.
In 2007, four countries voted against it: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US. They did so seeking to prevent Indigenous Peoples from using the Declaration to advance claims to land, resources and rights that they are denied. But in the years since, one by one, these four countries have let their opposition drop. Just a few weeks ago, Canada joined Australia and New Zealand in voicing support for the Declaration, responding to the pressure and advocacy of Indigenous Peoples.
Yesterday, President Obama announced that the US would finally sign the Declaration, ending the country's status as the last remaining hold-out and boosting recognition of the Declaration. Nonetheless, When Canada signed on, it attached conditions and reservations to limit the impact of the Declaration, a move the US may attempt to repeat. In his announcement, Obama said:
"And as you know, in April, we announced that we were reviewing our position on the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And today I can announce that the United States is lending its support to this declaration. The aspirations it affirms, including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native peoples, are one we must always seek to fulfill."
MADRE joins Indigenous rights advocates ready to hold him to that promise.