Navajo Nation sends delegates to Geneva discussion: Caucus to address rights of indigenous peoples
By Alysa Landry The Daily Times
Article Launched: 09/25/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT
GENEVA, Switzerland — Four Navajo Nation delegates are joining an international discussion this weekend in the city that played backdrop to some of history's most important policy-making conferences.
The Indigenous Peoples Caucus convenes Sunday in Switzerland's second-largest city to address the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a statement authored after more than 20 years of discussion about the privileges of the globe's nearly 400 million native people.
The United Nations general assembly adopted the declaration last year with a 143-4 vote. Eleven countries abstained. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States voted against the declaration.
This year's caucus will discuss implementation of the declaration, said Shiprock Chapter President Duane "Chili" Yazzie, who serves as chairman of the newly established Navajo Human Rights Commission. Yazzie will attend the caucus, along with three other Navajo delegates.
The declaration comprises 46 articles that define the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide.
Among the rights are edicts calling for freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples who are free from acts of genocide, other acts of violence or forcible removal from their lands or territories.
The declaration also calls for indigenous peoples' rights to self-government in financial and internal affairs and freedom to practice and revitalize native culture and language.
"The intent is to develop the implementation process for the declaration," Yazzie said. "I am honored to be invited."
Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Human Rights Commission, did not return phone calls for comment this week.
Commission spokesman Tom van Winkle said no information about the possible effects of the declaration on the Navajo Nation is available.
"As far as I know, we're going as observers, and we may be asked to make recommendations as to how we would go about implementing the declaration," he said. "We don't know what to expect about how it will affect the Navajo Nation."
More than 370 million indigenous people struggle with poverty, Caucus Chairman Les Malezer said in a prepared statement. The United Nations debated the declaration for more than 20 years before adopting it in September 2007.
"One quarter of a century ago the United Nations agreed that the situation of indigenous peoples around the world was so desperate and consistently exploited that it warranted international attention," Malezer said. "Together we found out that indigenous peoples around the world shared a common situation of loss of control of our lands, territories and resources and a history of colonization."
Opponents of the declaration cited concerns about self-determination provisions, according to data released by the United Nations Department of Public Information. The declaration calls for rights of veto over national legislation and state resource management.
United States delegate Robert Hagen told the general assembly last year the declaration was confusing and open to interpretations and debate about its applications.
Hagen said the United States did support promotion of indigenous peoples' rights, however, and it would continue to foster government-to-government relationships with tribes and fight against discrimination of native people, according to United Nations records.
Yazzie said the vote against the declaration will not hurt implementation of the principles.
"It's unfortunate that the United States didn't vote for it," he said, "but I don't believe that there are any critical issues that would prohibit or prevent implementation of the declaration in the United States."
The Navajo Nation Council voted in June to staff its Human Rights Commission, an entity charged with protecting the Navajo people from discriminatory acts.
The commission, established in 2006 under the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission Act, comprises five professionals appointed by Council Speaker Lawrence Morgan.
The commission's next meeting is at 10 a.m. Oct. 3, in the Sports Banquet Room, next to the Ace Hardware in Shiprock.
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