Human Rights

For too long, indigenous peoples around the world have been marginalized and subject to unjust and discriminatory legal systems of states. Large disparities in economic and political power make indigenous peoples especially vulnerable to wrong-doing. Changing and reforming the legal framework for indigenous peoples has always been at the core of the Center’s work. In 2014, we made historic strides forward at the United Nations World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.   We saw an unprecedented number of tribal and other indigenous governments participate and give voice to the needs of their communities in a way that showed strength and innovation.  The World Conference was a rare opportunity to persuade the UN to take serious action to encourage respect for the rights of indigenous peoples, including their rights to their lands and environments.

The Center brought together and supported over 150 indigenous nations and organizations to voice their priorities and take steps to solidify their place in the world community.  Together, this strong and unified delegation was successful in getting all four of their priorities incorporated into the World Conference outcome document, which included commitments by states and the UN to:

  • Create a permanent body in the UN system that will monitor and encourage implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
  • Make it possible for Indian tribal governments and other indigenous governments to participate in UN meetings on a permanent basis;
  • Give particular attention to the epidemic of violence against indigenous women, including Indian and Alaska Native women in the United States; and
  • Respect places sacred to Indian and other indigenous nations and peoples.

These commitments and others have been enshrined in a General Assembly resolution adopted by consensus of all UN countries. The World Conference outcome document is the UN’s commitment to ensure the promise of the UN Declaration is not lost. We are working with many tribal governments and other indigenous peoples to see that these UN commitments are carried out effectively.

In addition to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Center has continued to press for the adoption of an American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS is an intergovernmental organization that seeks to build collaboration among its 35 member countries of the Americas. A strong American Declaration could establish more explicit protections for indigenous peoples’ lands and resources, including subsurface resources and carbon resources. It will also provide more thorough protections for indigenous women, for indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, and for those suffering from a state’s internal armed conflict. These issues are not adequately addressed by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The negotiations to conclude the American Declaration have been resumed and we are participating actively.