Current Affairs Politics

Native Americans – Trapped In The USA

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.

6 comments on “Native Americans – Trapped In The USA

  1. Your point about “reservations” is incisive. I have long found it troubling that in the United States, Native American artifacts are often exhibited in museums of “Natural History,” as if indigenous Americans were “living fossils” or animals near extinction. North America has been inhabited by humans for at least 15,000 years, perhaps much longer, yet most people here know nothing about that past. Granted, this past is, (outside of ancient Mexico) technically prehistoric, in that it is not written history. Nevertheless, Native American peoples developed sophisticated cultures and even shaped the continent’s environment. When I mention the ancient city of Cahokia to people, I usually get blank stares. I think for many, it is easier to deny or ignore native history than to acknowledge its existence and the brutality visited upon it by European empires and their successor states.


    • Very true, Rhobert. There is a vast and complex history of the Native American peoples that remains largely unwritten, and for very good reasons. The modern United States prefers its myth of wild frontiers, wagon-trains and hardy settlers to the truth of the ancient civilizations obliterated with the advent of Europeans in North America.

      The term “reservation” is a particularly odious one. Sadly it is something that I have frequently seen and heard used by Anglophone supremacists here in Ireland in reference to the traditional Irish-speaking regions of the Gaeltachtaí, and with much the same racist connotations.

      Interesting article here on Cahokia.


  2. One other thing, from the state in which I live, an appalling story that will resonate with speakers of Welsh and Irish:


  3. Graham Ennis

    Why don’t the Native Americans simply erect signs on the borders of their “Reservations” that tell the legal truth? As in: Sovereign Native American Territory of the ********** Tribe.
    and: “You are now leaving he territory of the United States.”. legal, true, and honest. It would enrage the Red necks. All tribal lands should henceforth be called “Sovereign Native American Territories.” No more “Reservations”.


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