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DECEMBER 1, 1998



Thank you Mr. President.  

In the spirit of open and frank dialogue which the President has encouraged all of us to undertake during this session, I must express the profound disapointment of my delgation and, and in fact our considerable surprise at the content of the statement by the delgation of the United States of America which was presented yesterday.

In this statement, the United .States expressed its direct opposition to the firm positions taken by  Indigenous Peoples' delegations at every session of this Working Group,  positions which have been also voiced unanimously by the Indian, Alaskan and Hawaiian Indigenous Peoples' representatives  participating in the 'consultations' with US State Department officials over the last few years.

In fact, the U.S. statement openly opposed those very core principles contained in the Draft Decalration which Indigneous Peoples have unanimously identified as the most essential and non-negotiable.    By doing so, the U.S. has presented itself as a major obstacle in the path of any signficant progress towards the adoption of the Declaration during this session of the Working Group.  

In its statement, the United States challenged the fundamental principle in the Draft Declaration of  collective rights of Indigenous Peoples, implying that they are in potential conflict with the protection of individual human rights.   But as human beings, we know that our individal rights are already addressed by the full range of existing international human rights standards, declarations and conventions, and are also upheld in the current text of the Draft Declaration.        

It has been the clear intent of the Draft Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples since the beginning of its development over 15 years ago to recognize and protect fundamental rights of Indigenous Peoples such as land rights, treaty rights, cultural rights and self-determination, which are collective rights upon which our  survival as Peoples depends.   For the U.S. to challenge this basic principle which runs through the entire Draft Declartion at this point in the process is certainly not condusive to the spirit of progress and good faith relations which we bring to this table.      

Another very disconcerting element in the U.S. statement was its refusal to use the term Indigenous 'Peoples ',using instead terms such as populations, groups , people, ethnic group,   communities, etc.

As our brother representing the Aboriginal Peoples' delegation from Australia commented in his statement right after the U.S delegation spoke, there is already considerable international precedent for the use of the term 'Indigenous Peoples ' .  Even  at the UN General Assembly last year when my organization and a representative of the Indigenous Peoples' Alliance of the Tropical Rainforests formally addressed  the  UN General Assembly's  Special Session 'Earth Summit + 5', we were listed in the official General Assembly agenda as representing the major group 'Indigenous Peoples '.

What makes this ommission all the more surprising is that we had been informed by representatives of the U.S. State Department that it is now their policy to use the term 'Indigenous Peoples', although with an unacceptable qualification attached to it.   But at least the US finally agreed, after all these years, to use the word 'Peoples',  which we considered to be a hopeful sign of progress, of their willingness to show a degree of respect for the positions expressed by Indigenous Peoples in this regard, and a significant step in the right direction .  In fact, when U.S Secretary of State Madeline Albright addressed the State Departments Consultation with American Indians and Alaska Natives in Washington DC in July of this year, she herself used the term 'Indigenous Peoples' in her speech.  

I would like to ask the U.S. delegation what is the reason and purpose for the apparent reversal at this time of their  previously stated position, which to us represents a significant step backward at a time when we are critical need of progress.   With all respect, Mr. President, for the agenda and the programme of work you have outlined for this session,  I would request that you provide time for the U.S. delegation to respond directly to this question.

Mr. President,  I would furthermore like to request that the U.S government delegation clarify its reasons and intent for the insertion on two seperate occasions in their statement of 'minority rights' in the context of this  discussion on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.   The issue of minority rights is a completely distinct  and seperate. consideration under international law, and is irrelavent to the topic of Indigenous rights currently under discussion by this body.   In fact, Indigenous Peoples' rights was seperated from the issue of minority rights by the Subcommsison for the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities as far back as 1983.  

The insertion of this issue into our current dialogue by the U.S. only serves to muddy the waters, confuse, and undermine the clarity we are seeking to achieve at this critical time in the process. .  

In this regard, Mr. President, I would like to specifically ask the U.S. delegation for a clarification as to why they to referred in their statement to Article 27 of the ICCPR addressesing  the rights of 'persons belonging to minorities' but omitted any mention of Article 1 of this same Covenant, which the U.S. has ratified, and which is directly relevant to the issues under discussion by this Working Group, affirming that 'All Peoples have the right to self-determination' and 'by virtue of this right they freely determine their political status and freely persue their economic, social and cultural development.'  

The positions put forth in the U.S. statement call into question the effectiveness of the time, funds and good faith which Indigenous Nations, tribes and organizations have devoted to participating in the 'consultation' process, which we thought  included a commitment by the U.S. to listen to us and take our views into consideration as they formulated positions that directly affect our lives and survival.   That was clearly not done in this case.

Thank you for this time and for your consideration of my words , Mr. President.  In closing,  I would once again request that the U.S. delegation be provided the time to respond directly to my statement and to the questions it contains.  

Thank you.

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