US pledges support for UN indigenous rights declaration
US pledges support for UN indigenous rights declaration
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[JURIST] US President Barack Obama announced Thursday that the US will support [press release] the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People [text]. The declaration, adopted [JURIST report] in 2007, is a non-binding treaty outlining the global human rights of approximately 370 million indigenous people and banning discrimination against them. The US was one of four member states that originally opposed adopting the treaty, citing concerns that its text conflicted with their countries’ own laws, among other contentions. At Thursday’s press conference, however, Obama specifically expressed support for the Tribal Nations within the United States and the ways in which the government was committed to executing strategies to help meet the challenges of the Native American communities:

Our strategy begins with the number one concern for all Americans right now — and that’s improving the economy and creating jobs. … So to help spur the economy, we’ve boosted investment in roads throughout the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Reservation Road Program, and we’ve offered new loans to reach reservations with broadband. … Another important part of our strategy is health care. We know that Native Americans die of illnesses like diabetes, pneumonia, flu — even tuberculosis — at far higher rates than the rest of the population. … We’re [also] rebuilding schools on tribal lands while helping to ensure that tribes play a bigger role in determining what their children learn. … We’re also working to improve the programs available to students at tribal colleges. And I’m confident that if we keep up our efforts, that if we continue to work together, that we will live up to the simple motto and we will achieve a brighter future for the First Americans and for all Americans.

In addition, the US plans to implement strategies to attack the increasingly high crime rates that plague the Tribal Nation communities, to put more land in the hands of tribes and to upset the long-term history of government mistreatment of the Native American communities.

The US is the last member state of those in opposition to sign the declaration. Last month, Canada endorsed [JURIST report] the declaration citing [statement] encouragement from community leaders and other countries’ experiences in reversing its position on the document. The Canadian government described the move as one intended to strengthen relationships with indigenous communities. In April, New Zealand endorsed [AFP report] the declaration, as did Australia [JURIST report] in 2009.