GroundTruth Blog

A step towards human rights

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by Kathryn Gilje

Native American basketToday Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians, called for the initiation of a new era of U.S.-tribal relations as he delivered the annual State of Indian Nations address. As he addressed tribal and U.S. government leaders in Washington, D.C., Keel noted the significance of the Obama Administration's December 16, 2010 announcement that the U.S. is "lending its support" to the The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. What's important now is implementation.

Full implementation of the principles laid out in the Declaration would be a major step forward for Indigenous communities — and for all of us interested in ending corporate control of food and agriculture, and the ensuing pesticide reliance.

The agreement protects the "right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources," and ensures that "no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of Indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent."

Full implementation of these two statements alone would mean ending the use of hazardous pesticides that accumulate in the bodies of Indigenous arctic peoples at high rates. It would also mean loosening corporate control of agriculture which both hinders Indigenous family farms and threatens subsistence practices, like harvesting wild rice that is free from contamination from genetically engineered (GE) varieties. The full protection of human rights means protecting us and the natural environment from contamination with pesticides. Period.

Upon making the announcement in December President Obama stated:

...today I can announce that the United States is lending its support to this declaration. The aspirations it affirms — including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native peoples — are one we must always seek to fulfill. And we're releasing a more detailed statement about U.S. support for the Declaration and our ongoing work in Indian Country. But I want to be clear: What matters far more than words — what matters far more than any resolution or declaration — are actions to match those words. That's the standard I expect my administration to be held to.

Australia, New Zealand and Canada joined with the U.S. to vote "no" when the Declaration was originally adopted by 144 countries on September 13, 2007. With the U.S. announcement in December, all four previously opposing States have changed their position.

According to the International Indian Treaty Council, the endorsement is a positive, necessary and long-overdue step forward, but also carries suspicious caveats. According to Indian Country Today, Obama's use of the word “aspirations” was a red alert to many tribal leaders, among them Chief Gary Harrison of Chickaloon Village Traditional Council in Alaska, who participated in many U.N. sessions during the Declaration’s development and also attended the December 16 conference. Chief Harrison elaborated:

Since Chickaloon Village is currently facing threats of unwanted coal mining in our traditional homelands, the rights in the Declaration to free prior and informed consent, self-determination, subsistence, land and resource rights are especially important to us. Implementation is what we are waiting for now.

Meanwhile, Indigenous communities and nations continue to offer inspiration on the leading edge of organic and sustainable food production and resource management. To name just a few of many examples:

  • Thousands of years of sustainable farming and food practices, building rich soil and mitigating climate change.
  • Native Harvest, that works to "continue, revive, and protect our native seeds, heritage crops, naturally grown fruits, animals, wild plants, traditions and knowledge of our Indigenous and land-based communities; for the purpose of maintaining and continuing our culture and resisting the global, industrialized food system that can corrupt our health, freedom, and culture through inappropriate food production and genetic engineering."
  • The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux natural food market, open seven days a week. Mazopiya sells clean, organic foods, leaving the chemicals and preservatives out and concentrating on the goodness of locally grown healthy foods, and safe, natural wellness products.
  • Organic, grass-fed bison in South Dakota, reducing gasses that contribute to climate change, stoppping nutrient erosion that leads to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and eliminating pesticide use on those lands.
  • White Earth Pesticide Action Network, using PAN’s Pesticide Drift Catcher to monitor the air around Pine Point School for airborne pesticides and to protect White Earth children from pesticide exposure.

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