This morning we got some news that may still be developing, but it appears that President Barack Obama has indicated that the United States will endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The news came to us from the Indian Law Resource Center. Their press release is below, and more news is available online.

Walter R. Echo-Hawk at ASU Law School, Sept. 27, 2010

In recent months, the U.N. Declaration has been discussed at least twice here in Arizona, at two events I attended at the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. The programs were hosted by the school’s Indian Legal Program, and they featured Robert Yazzie and Walter Echo-Hawk. You can read about them here and here.

An unaffiliated blog post this morning also talks about the President’s promised endorsement. The post is cautious in assessing what the endorsement will mean. President Obama made the announcement during the White House Tribal Leaders Conference.

The blog indicated the following:

Here is the press release from the Indian Law Resource Center:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 15, 2010

Op-Ed: Declaration sets new agenda for US-Indian relations

Robert T. Coulter
Executive Director, Indian Law Resource Center
 www.indianlaw.org

Today, the United States government at last officially endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and joined the international community in recognizing that American Indians and other indigenous peoples have a permanent right to exist as peoples, nations, cultures, and societies.

The United States is the last of the four countries that voted against the UN Declaration to reverse its position.  This endorsement reflects the worldwide acceptance of indigenous peoples and our governments as a permanent part of the world community and the countries where we live.  The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the most significant development in international human rights law in decades.  International human rights law now recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples as peoples, including rights of self-determination, property, and culture.

For me, the United States’ endorsement of the UN Declaration marks the culmination of over three decades of hard work by indigenous peoples and other members of the international human rights community.  In 1976, when the Six Nations and I began the work of drafting and proposing a declaration to be adopted by the United Nations, we did not know that our idea would one day be universally accepted and supported first by indigenous peoples and eventually by the countries of the world.  We knew of the terrible inadequacy of legal regimes and the gross violations of indigenous peoples’ human rights in most countries. We turned to international law primarily because of the need to overcome and improve national laws and practices and because of the desire to regain a place for indigenous peoples in the international community.

Our work to ensure justice for Indian nations in this country begins in earnest with the United States’ endorsement of the UN Declaration.  To see the promise of the Declaration become a reality, we must continue to fight for laws, policies and relationships that take into account the permanent presence of Indian nations in this country, and throughout the world.

The Declaration sets an agenda for the United States and Indian nations to design a reasonable approach to a progressive realization of the duties and responsibilities in it.  It serves as a guide for consultations among Indian and Alaska Native nations and U.S. governmental departments and agencies to improve the government-to-government relationship among Indian and Alaska Native nations and the United States.

In our work for Indian rights, we can and should use the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a powerful affirmation of our rights.  Only through continued use will its provisions become our reality.  We can use the Declaration to evaluate laws that are now on the books and for laws that may be proposed. Does the law measure up to the standards of the Declaration? Does the law or bill satisfy the requirements of the Declaration? It should. And if it does not, then it should be changed or discarded.

The Declaration can also be used as a guide for procedures and processes in dealing with indigenous peoples. Some of the most important rights in the Declaration are the right to participate in the decision-making process and the right to be consulted on important matters relating to indigenous peoples. The rights proclaimed in the Declaration can also be used to defend against proposals and actions that violate Indian rights. The Declaration can be used in this way by all people: Indian leaders, public officials, educators, and others.

The Declaration can also be used to support and advocate for positive legislation and positive government action relating to Indian peoples. In particular, the Declaration can be used as a basis for making demands that the federal government fulfill its responsibilities to tribes and carry out its obligations to promote and respect the human rights of Indian nations and tribes. Congress needs to hold hearings to examine the United States’ human rights obligations to Indians and to assess whether existing laws and policies adequately respect the rights established in international law.

Continuing to work in this way to ensure justice for Indian peoples is the best way to celebrate and honor the United States’ endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  This is a very important first step in the process.  We thank all of the advocates, leaders and government officials who have made this vision of freedom and equality a reality.

Here are two legal happenings worth noting.

The first may be of interest to every citizen whose life will be affected by the redistricting that follows on the heels of a national Census—which should be most of us.

The Brennan Center for Justice is releasing its 2010 edition of A Citizen’s Guide to Redistricting.  Fifty state governments—including Arizona’s—will soon begin redrawing legislative lines. As the Brennan Center says, “Political insiders will invariably seek to tilt the process to partisan ends.”

The new volume has tables, illustrations and maps. According to the center, “It will help citizens and journalists as we try to hold accountable this otherwise murky process.”

More information is here.

(And as a related reminder, you might seek out the documentary film Gerrymandering. More detail about it is here. And it looks like it will be shown on December 17 at The Screening Room in Tucson—but check with the theater first.)

The second event takes place in Washington, DC, but is worth noting.

Tomorrow, the Law Library of Congress will celebrate Human Rights Day with a program on “Cultural Property Rights of Indigenous People.”

As the Law Library says:

“Human rights are rights and freedoms inherent to all human beings without discrimination on the basis of nationality, ethnic origin, gender, creed, religion, language or any other distinction. The panel discussion is designed to promote understanding and recognition of the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. 

“Moderated by Law Librarian of Congress Roberta I. Shaffer, the panel will include Helen Stacy of Stanford Law School; Betsy Kanalley of the U.S. Forest Service; and Kelly Buchanan and Stephen Clarke of the Law Library of Congress.”

The event will be held at the Library of Congress at 1 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 10 in the Mumford Room, located on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building at 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington D.C. 20540.

More information is here.