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International Indian Treaty Council Statement to the Alianza Indígena Sin Fronteras Southern Indigenous Peoples Press Conference on Border Rights,

August 17, 2006


We are very grateful for your invitation to attend the press conference today and your conference, beginning tomorrow. Unfortunately we are not able to send a representative, but we send you our solidarity and congratulations on the ongoing work to defend the rights of Indigenous Peoples from both sides of what is now the Mexican - United States border.


The International Indian Treaty Council considers this work to be vital to the human rights of Indigenous Peoples rights.  Our political, civil,  economic, social and cultural rights, which are recognized for all Peoples under international law, are being continuously violated by the current polices and practices.  Our Nations’ Treaty Rights and Freedom of Religion, guaranteed both under international norms as well as the US Constitution, are also being violated.  


We are especially concerned about the current militarization of the United States – Mexico border area and the traditional homelands of the Indigenous Peoples who now find themselves living along, and divided by, this border.  As you are painfully aware, five Indian Nations are divided by this border with Mexico.  Recently, in the state of Arizona, Border Patrol agents ran over and killed a teen-aged member of the Tohono O’dham Nation as he was walking home from a party along some railroad tracks.  The United States is now militarizing these border Indigenous lands with National Guard troops, the same troops that they send to Iraq.  


As a policy, the United States has erected steel walls along traditional migration routs, forcing migrants to cross through searing deserts. Now, even if they survive the desert they are greeted with armored personnel carriers, fully armed combat helicopters, dogs and guns.


Many if not most of these migrants are Indigenous Peoples from Mexico and Latin America seeking only an economically better way of life for their families. And many have already died from exposure in these deserts. We fear, as Professor James Riding In, Pawnee and associate professor of American Indian studies at Arizona State University, that racism is a key element in the focus on the southern border. As he stated in an interview with Indian Country Today, ''Racially, these people are being targeted in the name of national security… Canada is not under the same scrutiny; most people coming across the Canadian border are light-skinned people. Most of the people coming across the southern border are brown-skinned people, Mayans and others… they are Indians.''


In that same interview, Professor Riding praised Mr. Mike Wilson of the Tohono O’odham for his humanity and respect for life. Mr. Wilson and others of his tribe place water along the desert migrant routes. They persist in the name of humanity, and we also recognize and thank them for their spirit and their efforts.


The International Indian Treaty Council has Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic Council since 1977, and was the first Indigenous organization to be so recognized. IITC has been working to uphold the sovereignty, self- determination and human rights of Indigenous Peoples in the international arena for over thirty years.  Since 1974, the IITC has been attending and participating in session of various United Nations fora. In the initial years we began by attended the meetings of the Commission on Human Rights, that this year was replaced by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Throughout the years, the IITC has been joined by thousands of representatives of Indigenous Nations and organizations in insisting that our human rights be observed and respected by the members of the United Nations, the countries of the world. 


In 1946, when the United Nations was founded, the Western World was coming out of a disastrous World War. The founding governments agreed, and the United States was among them, that they would forego their sovereign right to deal with their citizens any way they wanted. As members of the United Nations they are bound by the rules of its Charter, and they agreed to respect and promote human rights. They gave their solemn oath “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and, reaffirmed their “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.”


For Indigenous Peoples, actions which fail to respect of human rights are not new.  In fact, the problem of immigration has been ours since 1492.  Had we been as inhumane as they are now and resisted the tsunamis of unwashed starving Europeans from the beginning, before they became a superior military force, things might be different for us now. But we signed Treaties of Peace and Friendship only to see them broken... But in spite of the centuries of oppression and extermination, we have kept our humanity and our dignity.


Louise Arbor, the High Commissioner for Human Rights recently said with regard to the situation in Lebanon, “Thus, I reminded all belligerents that war crimes and crimes against humanity may be committed even by those who believe, accurately or not, that their combat is a just one and their cause a worthy pursuit.” In the pursuit of sovereignty and national security, the United States feels free to violate the sovereignty and security of everybody else. What about the sovereignty and security of Indigenous Peoples? Indigenous Nations living along both the US/Mexico and US/Canada Borders have the right of free and informed consent to the occupation of their lands, particularly when it is a military occupation. If the government respects the right of self determination of Indigenous Peoples, as they say they do, Border Tribes must be more directly involved in those decisions that so greatly affect them.


On June 30th of this year, the new UN Human Rights Council adopted the Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples after more than 20 years of discussion and debate in the United Nations.  It is an historic step in the recognition of Indigenous Peoples' rights internationally.  Article 36 of the Declaration states:


1. Indigenous peoples, in particular those divided by international borders, have the right to maintain and develop contacts, relations and cooperation, including activities for spiritual, cultural, political, economic and social purposes, with their own members as well as other peoples across borders.


2. States, in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, shall take effective measures to facilitate the exercise and ensure the implementation of this right.


The International Indian Treaty Council congratulates the efforts of Alianza Indígena Sin Fronteras, Yoemem Tekia Foundation and other Indigenous organizations, Peoples and Nations in Arizona and elsewhere for their work on behalf of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, and their insistence that the internationally established standards of human rights and fundamental freedoms be respected and observed along and across the international borders.   We must all continue to insist that the conduct and policies of all governments, including the United States, be based on respect for the fundamental, inalienable and inherent human rights of all Peoples.


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