United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 12th Session,
Agenda Item 6, Discussion on the High Level Plenary Meeting (WCIP) on Indigenous Peoples
Presented by Steven Newcomb, May 28, 2013
Thank you Mr. Chairman,
Let me begin by paying my respects to my Lenape, Munsee, and Delaware ancestors, for it is on our traditional territory that this United Nations building stands. The Indigenous Law Institute takes this opportunity to comment on the High-Level Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly, to be called the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, which will be convened here in our traditional territory in 2014.
The UN HLP/WCIP is being framed as an opportunity to implement the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including of course Article 3 of the UN Declaration, which affirms the Right to Self-Determination. We have grave concerns about the prospect of such a High Level Plenary Meeting when states, such as the United States, take positions that are contrary to the full right of self-determination for Indigenous Nations and Peoples.
Mr. Chairman, I want to take this opportunity to state unequivocally that the Indigenous Law Institute does not accept the view or suggestion by any state—such as the United States—that the right of self-determination affirmed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is different from the already existing right of self-determination in international law. The suggestion that there is a standard and right of self-determination for Indigenous Peoples and Nations that is different from the standard and right of self-determination for all Peoples in international law is racist and predicated on ancient theological-political bigotry.
Mr. Chairman, our originally free Nations and Peoples of Great Turtle Island entered the international arena in the twentieth century because of the lack of redress in, for example, U.S. federal Indian law. Based on our spiritual work and historical investigations over the past three decades we now know that such lack of redress is founded on the doctrine of discovery and domination as enshrined in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Johnson v. M’Intosh and its assertion of a underlying title to our lands and territories “independent of our will,” based on the supposed Christian discovery of the lands of non-Christian Nations and Peoples.
To effect fundamental change we have to engage in fundamental analysis of the root causes of the domination and dehumanization that is inflicted by states on a daily basis on our Original Nations and Peoples, and that result in so much destruction. The only way for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to create fundamental reform is if we are able to use that international instrument as an opportunity to engage in the deep structure analysis of the underlying reason for the state system of the world continuing to define our Nations and Peoples as innately inferior.
This is, of course, based on fictional symbolic acts of possession and sovereignty, racism, and Christian war against our unbaptized ancestors, all in the name of “the blessings of evangelism” and “the blessings of civilization.” The Christianizing mission and the civilizing mission are two sides of the same sword blade.
Mr. Chairman, the issues being dealt with in the United Nations regarding our Original Nations and Peoples are a direct outgrowth and contemporary version of debates that took place in earlier centuries, which were also debates about the significance of the dominating and dehumanizing Vatican papal bulls of the fifteenth and early sixteenth century, issued by the Holy See.
The UN High Level Plenary Meeting to be known as a World Conference on Indigenous Peoples will not result in positive and fundamental reform for our Nations and Peoples unless it is used as an opportunity to engage in the kinds of moral discussions that took place in the sixteenth century. Those debates were engaged in by such personalities as Bartolomé de Las Casas and Juan Ginés Sepúlveda regarding Aristotle’s theory of natural domination, or slavery, and whether our ancestors were human. This difference today, of course, is that we have our own voices.