United Tribes News Speech Archives

Affirming the Spirit of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Remarks by
Dr. David M. Gipp, President
United Tribes Technical College
October 5, 2007
North Dakota First Nations Day
North Dakota Heritage Center, Bismarck, ND

September 13, 2007 was a very important day for indigenous peoples throughout the world and a day to celebrate. September 13 was the day the United Nations passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The vote was 143 in favor, 4 against and 11 abstaining. The countries voting against were the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

My dear friend, Chief Oren Lyons of the Onandaga Nation, was involved in developing the Declaration. It took over 30 years of intense negotiations. Many nations and the "Working Group" of indigenous nations contributed so much to the understanding of the member nations of the United Nations and staff members about the issues facing Indigenous Peoples around the globe. Their efforts also led to the establishment of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, which meets annually in May in New York City at the United Nations.

What does the UN Declaration mean to Tribal Nations in the United States?

It is a statement by the world's nations declaring that the rights of indigenous peoples are not subject to interference by the host nation.

It is a statement by the world's nations declaring that indigenous peoples have a right to a homeland, that their resources should be protected, that their culture, religion and way of life is not to be interfered with by the host nation.

It is a statement that by the world's nations declaring that each indigenous nation has a right to self-government and self-determination to determine for themselves how to develop their homelands. This is NOT the same kind of "self-determination" that the 93-638 Indian Self-Determination Act talks about. Self-determination is an inherent right of each indigenous nation.

It is a statement by the world's nations declaring that reparations should be made to indigenous nations for the harm done them by host governments so that the rights of the indigenous nations to self-determination are meaningful rights.

In the United States, the Federal government claims it has "full" or "plenary" power in Indian affairs and that it has already compensated the Tribal Nations for harm done to them. The UN Declaration says that the host government does NOT have that kind of right to control indigenous nations. Indigenous nations have the right to determine their own destiny. This is one of the reasons the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia voted against the Declaration. Those nations think they have the right to tell indigenous nations what to do under their laws. The UN Declaration challenges that presumed "right."

The Declaration is not perfect. It was a compromise and included things that weaken the ability of indigenous nations to govern themselves free of outside interference. But it is a good start to creating healthy relationships between indigenous nations and the host nations in which they are located.

What should happen next?

In coming months and years, the issues will be in the interpretation and implementation of the Declaration. Protocols need to be developed that are agreed upon by the United Nations. There is a lot of work to do in this regard.

This is our challenge in the United States how can we reshape U.S. policy about the Tribal Nations in our country to conform to the rights stated in the Declaration? I think the ideals set forth in the Declaration can be achieved, even in the United States.

For example, the United States should begin to do what it has failed to do so far.

First, the federal government should recognize inherent Tribal sovereignty over its lands and the people who live on and come onto those lands.

Second, the federal government should help indigenous nations become as self-sufficient as possible, help the tribes repurchase land within their homelands, help rebuild economies that have long been neglected, provide adequate resources for housing and health care and infrastructure and then.

Third, the United States must let the Tribal Nations decide for themselves how they want to develop further.

These are things that certainly can and ought to be done. They are not as difficult as the United States makes them out to be. These efforts, these kinds of recognitions, do not compromise the "territorial integrity" of the United States, an objection used by the four opposing countries throughout the negotiating process that delayed the adoption of the Declaration for many years.

Opportunity to Work Together

In fact, the Declaration gives the United States and the Tribal Nations within it a great opportunity to work together on these important issues, to resolve centuries of mistrust and misguided federal policy and poorly reasoned U.S. Supreme Court decisions that treat Tribal Nations and their citizens as if they had no rights except what the United States has chosen to give them.

It gives the individual states, like North Dakota, an opportunity to work out relationships with the Tribal Nations within its borders that recognize the sovereignty of the Tribes at the same time recognizing the rights of the state.

There is a lot that can be done. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Nations, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is not an absolutely binding document on the member nations of the United Nations. But like the Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, gives the host nations and the Tribal Nations within them a benchmark, a set of standards that ought to be followed. Passage of the Declaration is a great opportunity for all of us to work together to achieve common goals. As Sitting Bull said, let us work together and see what we can do for our children.

Thank you for inviting me to speak today.


Thank you.