Courtesy Winnemen Wintu
Winnemem Wintu Chief and Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk is in Geneva to testify on the U.S. federal government’s discriminatory practice regarding “recognized” and “unrecognized” tribes.

CERD to Hear From Tribes About US’s Discriminatory ‘Unrecognized’ Label

Gale Courey Toensing

Winnemem Wintu Chief and Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk will give a presentation this week at the United Nations’ 85th session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) about the discriminatory nature of the United States’ label of federally unrecognized tribe.

“The label if ‘unrecognized’ dehumanizes our tribes and puts us in a ‘less than’ category even though many of us, including the Winnemem, have a well-documented history as a tribe,” Sisk said in a statement announcing her presentation.

Sisk will be among dozens of representatives of Indigenous Peoples and nations who are in Geneva August 11-16 to participate in CERD’s review of the United States’ efforts to eliminate discrimination in the nation.

CERD is an 18-member U.N. Treaty body assigned to monitor the compliance with and implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The Convention went into effect on January 4, 1969 and is one of nine major human rights treaties adopted by the U.N. Like all conventions, it’s legally binding to the 177 states that have ratified it. The U.S. ratified ICERD in 1994. All states are required to submit regular reports on how they perceive that they are implementing the Convention and the CERD examines the reports and makes recommendations. But the CERD doesn’t rely completely on the state’s self-reporting. It also reviews alternative or “shadow reports” from civil society and Indigenous Peoples. The shadow reports provide additional information and, in many cases, directly challenge the U.S. federal government’s own assessment of its compliance.

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The CERD’s review will be based on the U.S. government’s report submitted in June 2013 as well as a number of alternative or shadow reports. CERD’s last report issued in February 2008 found racial discrimination thriving in 26 areas where the U.S. government fell short on its obligations. The ICERD requires states to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination “in all its forms, including practices and legislation that may not be discriminatory on purpose, but in effect.” The report also noted that there is no independent national human rights institution to deal with racial discrimination and other human rights violations, and recommended creating one. Human rights issues currently are dealt with by the State Department where they are not immune to political manipulation.

In addition to expressions of concern about general issues of racial discrimination, such as racial profiling, the overrepresentation of people of color living in poverty and imprisoned; the use of the courts and referenda to block affirmative action; segregated schools; and the prevalence of hate speech, the report also included these observations and recommendations about Indigenous Peoples in the U.S.

The International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) submitted six Alternative Reports for this process, co-submitted by over 50 Indigenous Nations, Peoples, organizations, societies, Treaty Councils and communities, Executive Director Andrea Carmen said in a statement.

“These reports addressed core areas of discrimination and human rights violations faced by Indigenous Peoples as a result of U.S. policies and practices including desecration of sacred areas; discrimination in the criminal justice system, including for Indigenous women and youth, and denial of religious freedom for Indigenous prisoners; Treaty violations; impacts of U.S. past and current policies of removal of Indigenous children through boarding schools and foster care; impacts of uranium mining and other forms of environmental racism; and U.S. failure to comply with international processes for decolonization in Alaska,” Carmen said.

The IITC also submitted two Alterative reports which focused specifically on U.S. failure to comply with other key recommendations from the CERD’s 2008 review. These called upon the U.S. to use the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “as a guide to interpret the State party’s obligations under the Convention relating to Indigenous Peoples” and to “take appropriate legislative and administrative measures to prevent acts of transnational corporations registered in the [U.S.] which negatively impact on the enjoyment of rights of Indigenous Peoples in territories outside the United States.” The IITC’s reports provided extensive documents and examples demonstrating the U.S. lack of compliance with these recommendations.

In addition to Winnemem Wintu and IITC., other delegations  in Geneva for the CERD review include the Navajo Nation and Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, Indigenous World Association, Chickaloon Native Village, Comanche Nation, National Indian Child Welfare Association, Laguna Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment, Lipan Apache Women Defense, the Apache Alliance, and members of the U.S. Human Rights Network.

Lenny Foster, Dine Nation, is a member of IITC’s Board of Directors representing the National Native American Prisoners Rights Coalition and is also Program Supervisor of Navajo Nation Corrections Project. He is in Geneva attending the CERD review of the U.S. to present the issue of discrimination against indigenous prisoners including violations of their freedom of religious practice as well as the case of Leonard Peltier. “We thank the CERD members and CERD President Francisco Cali for their consideration of these and other very important matters which will be presented by Indigenous Peoples during the review of the U.S. this week,” he said. “We look forward to strong recommendations about how the U.S. can take action to correct these injustices. This is an historic occasion to present the issues that affect our lives as we continue to strive for self-determination and express our support for the human rights of our brother Leonard Peltier as we seek executive clemency.”

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After the review, CERD will publish Concluding Observations, including its recommendations for actions the U.S. should take to fulfill its commitment under the ICERD to eliminate racial discrimination in its policies and practices.

The CERD Concluding Observations responding to the U.S. as well as to shadow reports will be available online. The IITC website has the Alternative Reports co-submitted by IITC and background information about using the CERD to combat racial discrimination. For additional information regarding the events and activities in Geneva this week, contact Danika Littlechild, IITC Legal Counsel, [email protected].

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
This is potentially good news for the local tribe who has been trying to become a "recognized tribe" since the 70s. The PMTs (Piro, Manso, Tiwa) have been denied tribal status and most suspect that their close ties with the Mexican community is the clandestine reason.