President Obama needs to hear from you—today. He needs to know that all Americans believe that the day has come for him to endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
This Declaration marks the first time the United Nations has agreed on a single set of values governing relations between national governments and Indigenous Peoples living within their borders. It promises that governments will respect tribal rights to lands and sacred places, and spells out Native Peoples' right to self-determination. It also prevents governments from using tribal land for military purposes. And, it prohibits any development projects on tribal lands-mines, logging, hydroelectric dams, etc- without the tribes' free, prior, and informed consent. The Declaration is a key step towards realizing full governmental recognition and respect for Indigenous Peoples' rights, including their rights to their languages, cultures, and spiritual practices.
The United States is already a party to other international treaties that protect the rights inscribed in this Declaration. Indeed, when it comes to children, women, or disabled people, those rights are specifically elaborated in separate treaties that many, if not most, countries have ratified. For Indigenous Peoples, it has taken almost 25 years to get their rights clarified in a United Nations Declaration. The question of a legally binding international treaty is not even on the table.
The United States the last country that have not endorsed the Declaration (Canada just endorsed it). President Obama is reviewing it now, but review is not enough; nor is consent with reservations. Though not having the force of treaties, Declarations are morally binding on countries. They affect the work of the United Nations, inform international and national law, and influence debates on human rights.