First Anniversary of Obama Endorsing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

One year ago, on December 15, 2011, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would “lend its support” to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. “The aspiration it affirms,” he said, “including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native peoples, are one we must always seek to fulfill.” 

One year later, as Indigenous Peoples, we still wait for the rest of the world to join us in celebration of this significant event. We still wait for President Obama to honor his words to fully implement the tenets of the Declaration. Though the Declaration asks that communities around the world recognize the full rights of Indigenous Peoples, we find ourselves once again grappling with issues such as the proposed Keystone XL tar sand pipeline. This tar sand development project violates the Declaration’s principles of “free, prior, and informed consent.”  

At Cultural Survival, we realize that the U.S. endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples symbolizes a significant step towards international recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples. While Cultural Survival applauds the endorsement, the position taken by the current administration should extend beyond the limitations of U.S. historical policies and practices to those that embody and guarantee full recognition of sovereignty in its deepest cultural, spiritual, and political significance. 

As we wait in hope, Cultural Survival will continue to partner with Indigenous Peoples around the world to ensure our status as human beings is acknowledged and honored. At Cultural Survival we work with President Obama’s remarks resonating in our hearts and minds: “ ... what matters far more than words, what matters far more than any resolution or declaration, are actions to match those words.” 

Suzanne Benally
(Navajo and Santa Clara Tewa)
Cultural Survival Executive Director