New Zealand Endorses U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; U.S.A. now lone vote against Declaration

My name is Chandos Culleen and I am junior here at UNC-Chapel Hill.  As an American Indian Studies student, as well as a student of history and journalism, I hope to bring to your attention every week a important contemporary issue regarding American Indian history, rights or culture in the Chapel Hill area, nationally and internationally.

This week, this blog will focus on an international topic that also presents interesting domestic implications.

On April 19 at the ninth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the country of New Zealand announced that it now endorsed the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

When the Declaration was first passed on September 13, 2007, 144 states voted in favor, 11 abstained and only four voted against.

Those four nations were Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S., countries with significant indigenous populations and similar histories of being former colonies of Great Britain.

However, since that time, Australia has reversed its position and now endorses the Declaration, according to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues’ website.  Further, according to this Indian Country Today report, Canada has promised qualified recognition of the Declaration.

With the recent reversals of Australia and New Zealand to give the Declaration full recognition and Canada’s promise of qualified recognition, the U.S. remains the sole negative vote from the original vote to still have not reversed its position.

According to the Forum’s website, “the Declaration is the most comprehensive statement of the rights of indigenous peoples ever developed, giving prominence to collective rights to a degree unprecedented in international human rights law.

“The adoption of this instrument is the clearest indication yet that the international community is committing itself to the protection of the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples.”

At a time when other countries around the globe are moving to recognize the Declaration and the inherent rights of their Indigenous citizens, it is important that the U.S. does the same.

By recognizing the Declaration, the U.S. would send a clear message to its citizens, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, that it respects the rights of Indigenous peoples and its obligations to them.

While some may argue that signing an international agreement such as the Declaration would change U.S. laws and make the U.S. subservient to an international body, this is not true. In a recent report by Te Karere Maori News in New Zealand, the government of New Zealand announced that affirming the Declaration will not affect their laws or government in any way.

Whether this is a good thing or whether affirming the Declaration will bring noticeable change to how governments deal with Indigenous populations is clearly a matter of debate. However, affirming the Declaration is an important statement; the affirming nation acknowledges the rights of Indigenous peoples and their right to preserve their way of life. For these reasons alone the U.S. should strongly consider its now solo stand against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


Statement of Chair of Permanent Forum:

UN Declaration:

History of Forum and Declaration:

– Chandos Culleen