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indigenous rights are human rights | Smithsonian Voices


Three young Indigenous women dream of bringing positive change to Indian County in the future.

Courtesy of Lisa Long

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted and announced the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the world’s first decree of human rights. As a result, International Human Rights Day is observed and celebrated annually across the world on December 10 of each year. This year’s theme is equality and it specifically calls on society to address the rights of indigenous peoples, among other vulnerable populations.

Indigenous peoples have historically faced epic oppression and violations of their human rights. When the first Europeans arrived in the Americas, it was inhabited by millions of sovereign indigenous peoples. As more and more settlers arrived, Aboriginal people were relentlessly driven from their native lands. After the founding of the United States, laws were passed to legally support expansion on native lands at the expense of native people. From 1778 to 1868, approximately 368 treaties were made between the United States and Indian nations. By 1900, all of these treaties had been broken.

Delaware tribal chiefs holding the edges of a blanket covering the Treaty of Fort Pitt.

Delaware rulers prepare to unveil the 1778 Treaty of Fort Pitt, on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC Left to right: Denise Stonefish, Chief of the Delaware Nation in Moraviantown; former museum director Kevin Gover; Chester “Chet” Brooks, chief of the Delaware Indian tribe; and Deborah Dotson, President of the Delaware Nation. May 10, 2018, Washington, DC

Paul Morigi / AP Images for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian

Every time a treaty was made, the native people lost more land. The displacement forced the indigenous people to relocate to strange and unknown lands where they were challenged to survive. During the 1800s, reservations were established, denying Indigenous peoples access to basic democratic principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Although limited to reservations, the Religious Crimes Code of 1883 attempted to deprive natives of First Amendment protections of freedom of religion by prohibiting religious ceremonies and practices. This made it legal for Indian reserve officers and superintendents to confiscate or destroy Aboriginal religious objects.

Sign indicating the location of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School

This historical marker is a grim reminder of American history involving Indigenous children, at the grave of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Penn.

Courtesy of Dennis Zotigh

At the same time, Indigenous children as young as four years old have been institutionalized by government and Christian entities in an attempt to re-educate them towards assimilation, so that they can become “good Americans.” In these residential schools, Indigenous children were forced to abandon their Indigenous customs and languages. Under the care of the US government and Christian tutelage, thousands of Indigenous children have died without any responsibility to their parents.

Since contact, indigenous peoples have died at epidemic rates due to disease, kidnappings, wars, abuse, natural causes and attempted genocide. Entire tribes have ceased to exist and are now considered extinct. A once thriving Aboriginal population of tens of millions was reduced to just 250,000 in 1900. It was not until 1917 that the Aboriginal death rate finally slowed to catch up with its birth rate, and the Aboriginal population began to decline. slowly increase. With the growth of indigenous populations, indigenous peoples around the world have worked with their allies to advocate for global recognition of their basic human rights.

Their efforts led to the creation of the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This declaration sets out the minimum level of human rights protection that indigenous peoples need nationally and internationally to exist, survive and prosper. In April 2021, Home Secretary Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna) addressed the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to reaffirm the current administration’s commitment to supporting the United Nations Declaration. United Nations on the rights of indigenous peoples by advancing the rights of indigenous peoples at home and abroad.

The continuing COVID-19 pandemic and its variants have highlighted the continuing critical human rights situation of indigenous peoples. Within the borders of the United States, Indigenous communities struggle with transportation challenges and limited access to electricity, clean water, the Internet, law enforcement, and to health facilities. This reflects the unbalanced poverty in which many Indigenous people still live today, calling into question how such conditions continue to exist in a nation that prides itself on being a protector of human rights.

The media and lawmakers are slowly starting to address current issues important to indigenous peoples and their right to exist. Social media has also served as a forum for Indigenous citizens to share their human rights concerns. In addition, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) serves as an advocate to represent Indigenous peoples in “the enforcement of laws regarding the rights to equal protection and freedom from discrimination in voting, education, education, imprisonment and religion. NARF also helps craft laws that provide unique protections to Indigenous rights, traditions, culture, and public goods such as sacred places, peyote, eagle feathers, burial remains, and grave goods.

Elder from Onondaga looking at a mile marker post in a museum exhibit

John Richard Edwards (Onondaga) participates in the installation of the Dakota Access Pipeline kilometer post in the exhibition “Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations”. This exhibit is a powerful symbol that Native American treaties remain the law of the United States and that their stories are not over. Washington, DC, October 24, 2017.

Paul Morigi / AP Images for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian

Other indigenous rights defenders and activists are also working diligently on many human rights issues, including missing and murdered indigenous women, violence against women and children, protection of sacred sites, disparities in human rights. education and health, crime in the Indian country, poverty and homelessness, recognition of treaties. , linguistic and cultural loss, voting rights, water rights, tax jurisdiction, climate change, discrimination in employment and housing, pipelines through indigenous lands, misrepresentation and indigenous cultural appropriation, and the continuing effects of the Covid-19 virus and its variants.

Recently, the National Museum of the American Indian updated its vision and mission statement to reflect Indigenous awareness of social justice:

Equity and social justice for indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere through education, inspiration and empowerment.

In partnership with Indigenous peoples and their allies, the National Museum of the American Indian fosters a richer, shared human experience through a more informed understanding of Indigenous peoples.