Message from the Executive Director

THE FEDERAL LAW CONCERNING INDIAN AND ALASKA NATIVE LANDS has long been unworkable and extremely unfair by American standards of justice. We are working with Indian and Alaska Native nations in our Native Land Law Project to spell out what a fair framework of law would be. For Example, it is often incorrectly said that the “doctrine of discovery” gave ownership of all the land in this country, particularly all Native lands, to the European nation that “discovered” the area. The unfairness of this concept is obvious, and this “doctrine” has never, in fact, been the law. Nevertheless, courts and government officials routinely apply this mistaken and unfair rule.

Another example is the Supreme Court’s ruling that the federal government may take aboriginal Native lands without compensation or due process of law. Congress frequently deals with Native property by enacting legislation that would be forbidden by the U.S. Constitution if it affected anyone else’s property. This legal framework is not only in consistent with our Constitution and with human rights standards world-wide, but it has terrible consequences for Indian and Alaska Native Tribes.

Native leaders have for generations struggled to correct the enormous problems created by these unfair legal rules. This framework of law has made it practically impossible for Native peoples of this country to correct the social and economic injustices that they suffer. This legal framework, more than any other factor, is responsible for the longstanding poverty, political marginalization, and social ills that are so common in Indian Country. Changing, clarifying, and improving the laws affecting Native lands and resources are necessary if tribes are to gain effective control of their homelands and improve their economic and social well-being.

The Native landowners themselves, the many tribes, nations, and individuals with rights to lands and resources, must be the ones to make the decisions about changing the law. We look forward to assisting Indian and Alaska Native nations in achieving change in the law.

Improving the law about Native lands is one way we are using the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. After some 30 years of work to win adoption of the Declaration, it is wonderful to see that the Declaration is being embraced and implemented by millions of indigenous peoples in countries all over the world. It is enormously gratifying that the Declaration is being used by indigenous peoples in every quarter of the globe to improve their lives.

I thank again our many good friends and generous supporters. Foundations such as Lannan Foundation, Indian Land Tenure Foundation, Ford Foundation, Libra Foundation, Oak Foundation, Fanwood Foundation and many others are loyal friends and generous donors to our work. Indian nations also contribute heavily, nations such as the Onondaga Nation and the Tonawanda Band of Seneca Indians. We have many loyal contributors as well, and many people help us by giving their time and professional abilities to our work. We are grateful for the invaluable wisdom and advice that money cannot buy. We never find enough ways to thank all of these people who are contributing to the battle for human rights of indigenous peoples.

We need your continuing support especially during these difficult economic times, so that we can win more victories and keep up our work for justice. 

Robert “Tim” Coulter

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