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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Indigenous leaders from North, Central, and South America met with government and Organization of American States (OAS) functionaries March 18-20 to ask for renewed commitment to indigenous rights and the adoption of a strong American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The leaders highlighted an alarming trend of human rights abuses against indigenous peoples across the Americas, often related to efforts to confiscate and extract their natural resources. They argued for the importance of an American Declaration on Indigenous rights to strengthen the recognition of those rights and bring an end to egregious human rights violations against indigenous peoples.
The Organization of American States has been working on an American Declaration on Indigenous Rights since 1989, but negotiations over the text have slowed considerably in recent years. Though 143 countries expressed their support for indigenous rights through their adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, three important countries of the Western Hemisphere failed to do so: the United States, Canada, and Colombia.
Indigenous representatives of the Andean Indigenous Organization (CAOI), the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), the Confederation of Kichua People of Ecuador (ECUARUNARI), the Haudenosaunee People of North America, and the National Congress of the American Indian (NCAI) emphasized the symbolic and practical importance of adopting the UN Declaration and a strong American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in an age of continued violence, oppression and discrimination against indigenous peoples. The leaders met with Head Counsel to the White House, Gregory B. Craig, functionaries of the State Department, and the office of US Congressman James McGovern to discuss the United States' role in the promotion and protection of indigenous rights in the region. The indigenous representatives from Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia also met with members of the House Financial Services Committee lead by Representative Barney Frank regarding the impact of international financial institutions and extractive industry on their communities and environment. Further, they met with functionaries of the OAS, including Secretary General Jose M. Insulza, to emphasize the important role of the OAS in developing, protecting, and promoting indigenous rights in the region. On Thursday, March 19th the Indian Law Resource Center and NCAI organized a joint lunch to showcase the situations of indigenous people from Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia and facilitate a dialogue with civil society, government officials, and others.
In their meeting with Greg Craig, the group of leaders welcomed the Obama Administration's platform of change and expressed their hope for a long overdue shift in policy and attitude towards indigenous peoples. Miguel Palacin (CAOI) advocated for a new era of constructive collaboration between indigenous nations and state governments. Leader of an organization representing thousands of indigenous peoples, Palacin promised that indigenous people would come to DC in the thousands to support an Obama Administration decision to sign the UN Declaration. Haudenosaunee chiefs and NCAI representative Diana Bob praised Obama's commitment to a government to government relationship with indigenous nations, and expressed their sincere desire to once again open the door to a long untended relationship between the original inhabitants of the Americas and the United States Government. As Haudenosaunee chief, Oren Lyons of the Onondaga Nation, unfolded the beaded wampum belt that records the original treaty between the United States and the Haudenosaunee, he reminded the White House staff of the United States' commitment to the Haudenosaunee People and the long interconnected history of the two nations. Running his fingers along twin streams of blue beads, he said "These lines represent our peoples, who were meant to walk side by side for as long as the sun shines, the water flows down hill, and the grass grows green."
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