Message from the Executive Director

2014 has been a momentous year for the advancement of indigenous rights around the world. Through the United Nations World Conference on Indigenous Peoples held in September, indigenous leaders were able to win major commitments by the UN and to take their rightful place in the world community.

As a result, the World Conference outcome document will lead to further implementation of the promises in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by states, strengthen arguments for law reform, and help tear down barriers that have held indigenous communities back for generations. The Center is proud to have played a leading role in the preparations for the World Conference, and we plan to continue this work as the outcome document is implemented. We are grateful for the large numbers of indigenous peoples – tribal and other indigenous governments – who have joined us in this effort and demonstrated to the world community that they are the best and most effective advocates for their citizens.

A key element included in the outcome document is a special request to give attention to the epidemic of violence against indigenous women, including Indian and Alaska Native women in the United States. We continue our effort to work with partners to educate and raise awareness about the epidemic of violence against Native women, and we are gaining ground. We witnessed the United States take steps in 2014 to change and improve federal law. In December, Congress acted quickly and repealed a section of the Violence Against Women Act that excluded Alaska Native villages from expanded criminal jurisdiction. The repeal paves the way for further reforms that are still needed to allow Alaska Native tribes to better protect Native women.

We are also working at the international level to educate bodies such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank about aligning their practices and policies with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We had a noteworthy development in this effort in 2014 through our work with indigenous communities in Oaxaca, Mexico. We helped them file a complaint to the Inter-American Development Bank, which is helping finance a massive wind farm, said to be one of the biggest planned in Latin America. The project failed to secure the participation and consent of the indigenous communities that would be directly affected by the project. We had a partial victory because the project has been relocated, but one of the indigenous communities we represent will still be affected. We will continue to monitor the situation.

We anticipate even more success in 2015. With the unprecedented support of indigenous leaders taking part in the United Nations as well as U.S. policy work, combined with the excellent staff and board we have assembled, the future of the Center is very exciting. We know the legal framework for indigenous peoples around the world is still flawed and unjust. We know that the human rights of indigenous peoples remain under attack in many countries. We know we are a long way from fully implementing the promises of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. However, with your continued support and the generous support of the Ford Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the Bay and Paul Foundations, The Christensen Fund, the C.S. Mott Foundation, The Libra Foundation, the Tides Foundation, and others, we expect to see more victories this year.

I am grateful to all of you and to our partners for joining us on this journey to preserve and protect indigenous rights around the world.

Thank you.

Robert T. Coulter, President and Executive Director