President's Message: Uniting Beyond Standing Rock

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline is a modern case study on the power of unity for indigenous peoples.  More than 300 tribal nations plus advocates from all over the world banded together to raise awareness and understanding about the importance of access to clean water, to place political pressure on the United States government, and to take actions ranging from signing an online petition to picking up the phone to urge banks and shareholders to divest from the project.

Through Facebook Livestream to top trending #NODAPL Twitter posts, the world has witnessed history of our own making. Water protectors on the front line kept hundreds of thousands updated and documented the brutal injustices by the Pipeline’s private security forces and local law enforcement.

With a President-elect who has already voiced support for the Pipeline preparing to take office next month, the fight is far from over.  We need this momentum, this consensus among indigenous nations, communities, and peoples, to last.  We need our Indian nations to continue to communicate with each other, to look for opportunities to tell our side of the story. Around the world, indigenous peoples are fighting for justice, and the struggles everywhere are similar, whether related to oil pipelines or mining, waters or lands, natural resources, human rights, unjust laws, or abuse of power by governing entities.

Right now, we have the opportunity to leverage the momentum from this recent victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and build toward a larger, lasting victory that will benefit all indigenous communities. 

The Indian Law Resource Center has been working alongside indigenous leaders to implement the promises of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Setting international human rights standards for indigenous peoples is critical to safeguarding against violations by countries. As we see the political tide shift in the United States, the Declarations will become even more important instruments for our sovereign nations.

Joining the Center and other Native nations in this work is just one way tribes can continue to work together to create positive improvements and permanent change.  We have a list of ways for tribes to participate, from presenting to the UN Human Rights Council, as the Standing Rock Sioux tribe did in September, to meeting directly with states on critical issues.  We need more tribes to engage with the UN to build international awareness, to promote respect for the rights of Indian nations, and to help shape policy that will both enhance and protect our rights.

Imagine what could be accomplished if we come together beyond Standing Rock, if our nations work in unison toward our shared goals. Together we can change minds and laws. Together we can secure our collective rights to self-determination and self-governance. Together we can honor our ancestors, guard our histories, and protect our lands. And together we can guarantee the human rights of our children and grandchildren.


Robert T. Coulter

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