Negotiations on American Declaration Provide Unique Opportunity for Indigenous Leaders

WASHINGTON —The Organization of American States (OAS), a regional intergovernmental organization that seeks to build collaboration among its 35 member countries of the Americas, has resumed negotiations on the draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The 15th negotiation was held February 9-11 in Washington, D.C.  

“It is important that indigenous representatives from throughout the Americas attend the upcoming negotiations,” said Armstrong Wiggins, director of the Center’s Washington Office. “By participating in these important sessions, indigenous leaders have the ability to directly impact the articles in the declaration to better protect their indigenous rights.”

The American Declaration will be a comprehensive, regional human rights instrument that promotes and protects the rights of indigenous peoples in North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean. The OAS Working Group on the draft American Declaration began work on the text in 1997 and hosted several rounds of negotiations before suspending work in 2012 due to lack of funding.

The Chair of the Working Group, Ambassador Diego Pary of Bolivia, has announced monthly rounds of negotiations – scheduled for March 9-11, April 22-24, and May 14-15 (to be confirmed) – with the goal of finalizing the text of the American Declaration to present for consideration by the OAS General Assembly, June 3-5, 2015. The minimum standard for the remaining articles will be the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  

Indigenous leaders celebrated in 2007 when the United Nations (U.N.) approved the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which now enjoys worldwide support.  “Because of our success at the UN, some feel that the work of indigenous peoples is now complete, but this is far from our current reality.  The realization of the American Declaration is significant; it is specific to indigenous peoples within the Americas and contains articles that go further in protecting indigenous rights than the U.N. Declaration,” said Wiggins.  The American Declaration can be used to ensure that states respect indigenous peoples’ rights through its application within the Inter-American Human Rights System. This is especially important where indigenous peoples are seeking recognition of treaty rights, land rights, protections for those in voluntary isolation or under internal armed conflicts, and protections for indigenous women and children. 

Participation by tribal nations and organizations in the United States and Canada is particularly important because both countries withdrew from actively participating in the negotiations in 2008.  It is important that both countries re-engage in the process and broad participation by tribes and organizations can help make that happen. 

Tribal leaders from the Navajo Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians were present during the February negotiation. Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim stressed the importance of broad and direct indigenous representation during the session. “I cannot speak for anyone but the Navajo Nation, and it is foolish to think that I can represent or speak for all Indian nations in North America. Tribal leaders must be directly involved in this process,” commented Jim.

Terri Henry, Councilwoman of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and board member of the Indian Law Resource Center, concurred with Vice President Jim, saying “It is imperative that tribal leaders prioritize these negotiation sessions because important decisions will be made without our input, decisions that will directly impact us at home.”  

The February negotiation successfully approved Articles XX (¶ 2), XXIX (¶¶ 2, 4), and XXXI (¶ 1) and the updated record of text was released February 20. The updated text is also available on the Department of International Law website. Approximately 20 articles remain to be negotiated and finalized, including articles concerning important rights such as the right of self-government, right to development, right to a healthy environment, and recognition of indigenous law and jurisdiction. 

The next negotiation will be held March 9-11 at the Organization of American States, 1889 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 

The Navajo Nation will host a meeting for indigenous peoples in preparation for the March negotiation. Preparatory meetings will be held March 7-8, 2015 at the Navajo Nation Washington Office, 750 First St., NE, STE 1010, Washington, D.C. Refreshments will be provided. For more information, contact Jared King, Communications Director, Navajo Nation Washington Office, at Yeego Travel Meetings + Events, a Native-owned company has negotiated low rates for hotel rooms during this meeting. For more information and to book a room, contact Yeego Travel at