Indigenous Nations Treaty helps build alliances
LUMMI NATION, Wash. - A month before the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September, another historic document concerning indigenous peoples came into being.
On Aug. 1, representatives from 11 indigenous nations, including those in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, met on Lummi Indian Nation homelands and signed the United League of Indigenous Nations Treaty.
The first of its kind in terms of its global scale, the treaty is intended to serve as a framework through which indigenous nations will build an international political alliance for mutual support in pursuit of common goals concerning lands, trade, climate change, cultural productions, traditional and human rights.
The treaty was developed by the National Congress of American Indians Special Committee on Indigenous Relationships over the past three years, and clearly presents the nations' perspective on their inherent authority.
''In developing the Treaty, the NCAI Special Committee determined that relationships between indigenous nations are defined by the laws of indigenous nations, not by the laws of former colonial nations,'' according to the United League's Web site (www.indigenousnationstreaty.com).
''Such colonial laws are not regarded as binding on the ability of Indigenous Nations to recognize and affirm their inherent rights of self determination and self governance by entering into nation-to-nation agreements with each other for their mutual interest and benefit,'' the site says.
The treaty also unambiguously spells out the league's goals: ''to secure, recover, and promote, through political, social, cultural and economic unity, the rights of all our peoples, the protection and recovery of our homelands and for the well-being of all our future generations.''
It also asserts the sovereignty and authority of indigenous native nations across time and international political boundaries, and the signatories agree to engage in mutually benefit trade and the protection of indigenous human rights.
''I think it's a great project by our tribal leaders,'' said Alan Parker, who co-chaired the NCAI's Special Committee. Parker, a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe, is the director of the Northwest Indian Applied Research Institute and a faculty member at The Evergreen State College in Olympia. He is a former director of the National Indian Policy Center and a former chief of counsel and staff director for the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs. He received a Juris Doctorate from the University of California - Los Angeles, and has spent many years practicing law.
During the August meeting at Lummi, approximately 40 indigenous nation representatives signed the treaty, Parker said.
The United League also held a signing ceremony at the NCAI annual convention in November, Parker said.
''There was a special meeting for our group to have an opportunity to inform the greater NCAI membership and there was a good turnout,'' Parker said.
The emergence of the United League treaty meshes nicely with the U.N. declaration, Parker added.
''I think there's an importance coming from both sources. The declaration that the U.N. adopted was the work of years of indigenous leadership developing the idea and pushing it forward. And I think also the timing of interest among our own tribes is such that [the treaty] will gain support on a good basis over the next year or so. I think it's going to take time because it's a very new idea and people have to get comfortable with it.''
It's only within the past decade that this type of global alliance has become possible, he added.
''We all know that in each of these countries, Native people have suffered great wrong and in some cases very strong forms of discrimination and oppression and even outside the countries that we're representing it's even been much more dangers and difficult.''
Is there significance in the fact that indigenous nations in the four countries that rejected the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have come together to create the United League?
''Isn't that coincidental?'' Parker said, laughing. ''At the very time the U.N. was adopting this very strong statement on the support of indigenous peoples these countries voted no, but at the same time there's room for us to work our goals; and whether at any time in the near future they're going to embrace the United League of Indigenous Nations Treaty, who can say? I just don't feel the door is closed.''
The league's representatives will be taking their message on the road, seeking additional signatories, over the next year. The first stop will be at a meeting on Yakama Nation lands in January, where the group hopes to sign on the 44 affiliated tribes of the Northwest, Parker said.
''We will continue to go around Indian country in the U.S. and carry the word and encourage tribes to sign on. More is better; there's strength in unity,'' he said. ''The same will go on in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Word passes fast and something like this - I think it's going to catch fire.''