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UN Week – 4/30/12

May 7, 2012

This blog entry is written by members of our blogging community and expresses those experts’ views alone.

by John and Douglas

Contents of this issue:the UN and Native Americans.

The Guardian on April 22nd reported that, on the 23rd, James Anaya, a US law professor  and the UN’s Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples, would begin a visit to Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Washington, D.C.

          I remember Anaya from the 1980s, when we were both active in the UN Human Rights Sub-Commission, he representing non-governmental organizations and I as Alternate US Member.

          The Guardian quoted Anaya as saying, “I will examine the situation of the American Indian/Native American, Alaska Native and Hawaiian peoples against the background of the United States’ endorsement of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.”

          The Guardian’s lead-off sentence declared that, “The UN is to conduct an investigation into the plight of US Native Americans, the first such mission in its history.” I would have to differ slightly with that claim.

          In the 1980s there were land rights problems between the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe. Concerned parties brought these issues to the Sub-Commission. I took an immediate interest in the subject because of family connections with Arizona. Also interested was Erica Daes, the Greek member of the Sub-Commission, a prime mover at the UN on behalf of indigenous peoples.

Mrs. Daes and I consulted on how the Sub-Commission might be able to mediate or otherwise assist in settling the differences between the two tribes. We agreed on the need for impartial on-site fact-finding. We did not agree on which of us should be designated as the fact-finder by the Sub-Commission. So we decided that we would each go, separately, to the area in question and turn in separate reports to the Sub-Commission. And so we did, with the Sub-Commission taking note of our efforts at its 1989 session in Geneva.

And now there is another innovative development regarding Native Americans. The spring issue of Quaker Action, published by the American Friends Service Committee, includes an article entitled, “Truth and Reconciliation in Maine.” It tells how in the 1800s and as recently as the 1970s, Native children were taken from their families and tribes in order to be placed in foster care or boarding schools.

Says the article, “An unprecedented truth and reconciliation process, the first of its kind in the United States, is under way among five remaining Wabanaki tribes and the state of Maine.”

Truth and reconciliation commissions have been used in a number of countries after emerging from a period of oppression. One of the best known is the process established in South Africa after apartheid was ended. The result was that South Africa was able by this means, and through the wise leadership of people like Nelson Mandela, to move past apartheid.

South African wrong-doers were able to wipe their slates clean if they came forward and confessed without holding back any of the truth. I wonder if that is not what we in the US need in order to get past our use of torture without simply ignoring or trying to forget it. Unless we surmount the psychological burden we have placed on ourselves by this practice, I fear we will have difficulty finding peace with ourselves or each other.


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