Unexpected but welcome news in the Guardian as a United Nations (UN) committee is about to carry out an investigation into the treatment of the citizens of the Native American nations within the United States of America.
“The human rights inquiry led by James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, is scheduled to begin on Monday.
Many of the country’s estimated 2.7 million Native Americans live in federally recognised tribal areas which are plagued with unemployment, alcoholism, high suicide rates, incest and other social problems.
The UN mission is potentially contentious, with some US conservatives likely to object to international interference in domestic matters. Since being appointed as rapporteur in 2008, Anaya has focused on natives of Central and South America.
A UN statement said: “This will be the first mission to the US by an independent expert designated by the UN human rights council to report on the rights of the indigenous peoples.”
Anaya, a University of Arizona professor of human rights, said: “I will examine the situation of the American Indian/Native American, Alaska Native and Hawaiian peoples against the background of the United States’ endorsement of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.”
Apart from social issues, US Native Americans are involved in near continuous disputes over sovereignty and land rights. Although they were given power over large areas, most of it in the west, their rights are repeatedly challenged by state governments.
Most Americans have little contact with those living in the 500-plus tribal areas, except as tourists on trips to casinos allowed on land outside federal jurisdiction or to view spectacular landscapes.
Anaya is originally from New Mexico and is well versed in Native American issues.
He will visit Washington DC, Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Oklahoma and South Dakota, and will conclude his trip with a press conference on 4 May. He will present his findings to the next session of the UN human rights council.”
Following on from a period of unprecedented rapprochement between the indigenous peoples of the US and the government in Washington under President Barack Obama, this is a very promising development, even at this most partisan of times in American politics. However even a casual examination of the facts on the ground shows how truly abysmal life is for the vast majority of Native Americans in the “Reservations” (itself a terrible and all too revealing word: wild animals are kept in reservations not human beings). It is difficult to see how this can change without a radical transformation in the political and judicial fortunes of each of the individual Tribal Nations in relation to the United States.
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