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Rights of American Indians

  Shama Mir and Morton Sklar, editors, US NGO Report on CERD: AN INFORMAL WORKING GROUP OF NON-GOVERNMENTAL  CIVIL RIGHTS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE GROUPS, THE WORLD ORGANIZATION AGAINST TORTURE USA (September 2000)

 

 

Vernellia R. Randall
Professor of Law and
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VII.THE FAILURE OF THE UNITED STATES TO UPHOLD THE RIGHTS OF AMERICAN INDIANS, ALASKA NATIVES

AND OTHER INDIGENOUS PEOPLES

prepared by

Indian Law Resource Center

The era of racial and colonial subjugation has never really ended for American Indians, Alaska Natives and other indigenous peoples of the world.Most indigenous peoples still live under the threat of having their lands taken or despoiled; of having their means of livelihood subverted; of forcible relocation; of being poisoned or killed because of the toxic contamination of their resources; of being deprived of their languages and traditions; and of violence directed at them as individuals and as peoples.Almost everywhere, indigenous peoples are the poorest of the poor. The international community is becoming increasingly aware of these problems and abuses, and significant advances are being made in the development of international law on indigenous rights.There is still too little attention paid, however, to the continuing wrongs against indigenous peoples that are condoned and encouraged under the laws and policies of individual countries, including the United States.

Fortunately, there has been progress in the United States law in protecting indigenous peoples against the most extreme, genocidal acts that they long suffered.A small number of Native American tribes and nations have achieved economic security.Unfortunately, that progress is very incomplete and spotty, and racism remains deeply embedded in the laws and policies that the United States applies to indigenous peoples.In the United States today, indigenous peoples can be unilaterally deprived of their lands and resources without due process of law and without compensation; indigenous governments can be terminated or stripped of their rightful authority at the whim of the Federal Government; treaties may be arbitrarily abrogated; and the religious freedom and cultural integrity of indigenous peoples goes virtually unprotected and frequently are violated.In other words, United States law can readily be used as a weapon against indigenous peoples.A very recent example of this threat was a resolution passed by the Washington State Republican Party to terminate tribal governments.The objective of the resolution’s sponsors was to encourage the next President to initiate another era of forced assimilation.Although the resolution was repudiated after indigenous leaders and their supporters mounted a successful public campaign against it, it was a stark reminder that United States law still permits the Federal Government to disestablish tribes and tribal governments.

Similarly, the property rights of indigenous peoples and the integrity of indigenous lands are not guaranteed under United States law.The longest occupants of this country have the least right to their land.The federal courts recently upheld the Tee-Hit-Ton case -- a Supreme Court decision setting forth the doctrine that the United States can take aboriginal Indian lands without due process and without compensation.No other community and no other racial group faces such insecurity in their property and such discriminatory treatment in the protection of their property rights.

Indigenous tribes and nations struggle to survive and meet their daily needs.In the United States, they suffer grave economic, social and political deprivation.The 1998 Report of the President’s Initiative on Race, Changing America, concluded, “On virtually every indicator of social or economic progress, the indigenous people of the United States continue to suffer disproportionately in relation to any other group.They have the lowest family incomes, the lowest percentage of people ages twenty-five to thirty-four who receive a college degree, the highest unemployment rates, the highest percentage of people living below the poverty level, the highest accidental death rate, and the highest suicide rate.…They have become America’s most invisible minority.”

The pervasive adverse effects of discrimination against American Indians is further underscored in a 1999 investigative report by the U.S. Department of Justice, American Indians and Crime, which concluded that American Indians are the victims of violent crimes at more than twice the rate of all United States residents.The report found that both male and female American Indians experience violent crime at higher rates than people of other races, and are more likely to experience interracial violence

 

 
 
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Thanks to Derrick Bell and his pioneer work: 
Race, Racism and American Law
(1993).