Here’s an AALS podcast on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This podcast has three speakers, Tim Coulter, Angelique Eaglewoman and G.W. Rice. While listening to the podcast, it’s helpful to look at the UN Declaration, as speakers refer to various articles in their discussions.
Tim Coulter discusses how the Declaration got started, why it was started, and the innovative ideas it brought to international law. Coulter talks about how the first draft of the Declaration developed in the 1970’s: He had been practicing Indian law and realized that, among other things, any victory he might get for a client could be struck down without due process by the federal government. He realized that his native clients didn’t have the legal protections and rights that most American people have. So, he and others sought to change the law; not merely federal law—international law. For the first time, Coulter says, victims of human rights violations got to develop international human rights law.
He discusses several things the Declaration draft brought to international thinking, like collective rights and self-determination (the right of peoples within States to freely determine political status and have control over internal affairs). He says that protecting the natural world, which has long been on the priority list of indigenous people, was considered silly in Geneva in the 1970’s when tribal people went to the UN to discuss the rights of indigenous peoples.
Coulter also talks about how the UN Declaration establishes indigenous peoples as permanent entities. Western law, even before the establishment of the U.S., often operated under the notion that indigenous people would eventually disappear. (This is called the vanishing Indian myth.) If Indian people were fated to disappear, the thinking went, one needn’t establish various protections and rights to ensure they continue on and thrive.
Angelique Eaglewoman discusses the relationship between indigenous peoples in the western hemisphere. She uses bird symbols to talk about indigenous people of North America (the eagle) and Central and South America (the candor). Eaglewoman talks about trade routes and cultural exchange of pre-conquest indigenous peoples, and the common experience of forced assimilation of indigenous peoples across the western hemisphere. She discusses the beginning of the American Indian Movement of the 1970’s and how native people created the International Treaty Council so that, as an NGO, they could get into the UN. Prior to the development of the ITC, many native people were barred from directly participating in international affairs.
Eaglewoman talks about how establishing a border wall between Texas and Mexico makes it difficult for tribal people to freely travel, freely worship, to own property and to be fairly compensated for property. She suggests ways to use UN declaration to protect indigenous rights with regard to establishing border walls.
G.W. Rice talks about how in international law and the UN Declaration, the right of self-determination means the right to self govern. He wonders how to interpret the UN Declaration and how to determine when a polity is not in compliance with the Declaration. He talks about how the language of land into trust came at the end of the treaty making era and how tribes can recover lands by purchase and other means.