May 6th, 2012
A UN special rapporteur has called for the US to restore tribal lands, including the Black Hills of South Dakota, site of Mount Rushmore.
James Anaya announced the recommendation at the end of a 12-day tour, during which he met tribal leaders and government officials.
“The sense of loss, alienation and indignity is pervasive throughout Indian Country,” Mr Anaya said.
He met with tribes in seven states on reservations and in urban areas.
The trip, Mr Anaya’s first tour of Native American lands, was to determine how the United States is faring on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
President Barack Obama endorsed the declaration in 2010, reversing a previous US vote against it.
Mr Anaya used the Black Hills, located in South Dakota near reservations that are home to the Oglala Sioux tribes, as an example of land restoration.
“I’m talking about restoring to indigenous peoples what obviously they’re entitled to and they have a legitimate claim to in a way that is not divisive but restorative,” he said.
The Black Hills are public land but are considered sacred by the Sioux tribes. The area, as well as other lands, were set aside for the tribes in an 1868 treaty.
Nine years later, Congress passed a law taking the land.
The Sioux refused to accept a 1980 monetary award from the US Supreme Court, calling for the return of the Black Hills.
The reservations near the Black Hills are some of the most poverty-stricken areas in the US, with extremely high rates of unemployment and much lower than average life expectancy.
Mr Anaya cited ongoing systemic and individual racial discrimination as common themes in his discussions with community leaders.
He said ideas that native populations were gone, wanted handouts or that their culture has been reduced to casinos were “flatly wrong”.
Mr Anaya will make formal recommendations in a report to be released in September.
The UN fact-finder said he had met members of the Obama administration and briefed the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, but was unable to meet individuals members of Congress.