At the invitation of Evelyn Jefferson, chairwoman of the Lummi Indian Nation, about 40 indigenous nations met to discuss a proposed treaty that would establish a United League of Indigenous Nations.After two days of negotiation, 11 nations, including Lummi, Makah and Colville, reached agreement and authorized their delegate to sign the treaty on Aug. 1.
The treaty was developed by the National Congress of American Indians Special Committee on Indigenous Nations Relationships, which met over the past three years with the Assembly of First Nations of Canada, the Ngati Awa Tribe and the Mataatua Assembly of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the Ngarrindjeri Nation of South Australia as well as numerous tribal officials across the U.S.
Intended to serve as a framework agreement through which indigenous nations will create a political alliance and pledge to support one another in pursuit of common goals, the treaty is implemented through the creation of a United League of Indigenous Nations.
Why did the delegates assembled at Lummi act to create a Treaty of Indigenous Nations now? "Because the time is right" was a sentiment expressed in the strongest terms by all the delegates at Lummi.
Indigenous people see a tremendous threat to their remaining homelands posed by global warming and they feel compelled to act. Climate change knows no national boundaries and indigenous peoples are being impacted in their ability to sustain a way of life that is essential to their survival. They agreed that their actions can only be strengthened by joining together, by sharing information, by raising a collective voice and by insisting upon representation of their distinctive concerns before all national and international bodies dealing with climate change.
Indigenous leaders in the U.S., Canada, Aotearoa and Australia also described a concerted and organized political campaign within these Pacific Rim countries, a campaign directed against the foundation of their indigenous rights. The current Bush, Harper, Clark and Howard administrations have coordinated their policies toward indigenous nations by consistently characterizing indigenous nation rights, recognized in treaties with these various colonial nations, as "racial preferences" or "race-based rights."
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Further evidence of a coordinated campaign is seen in their joint opposition to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples before the United Nations. It is evident that these national governments share a common commitment to restrict the rights of "their indigenous people" strictly to the domestic law of each nation and oppose any U.N. policy that would recognize indigenous nation rights as a matter of international law and policy.
How will the United League of Indigenous Nations help? The League, through the terms of its chartering treaty, is a powerful statement by indigenous nations that mutually recognizes indigenous nationhood and the principles and values upon which it stands. By coming together and adopting a nation-to-nation agreement, indigenous nations affirm their inherent rights of self-determination and self-government, their indigenous sovereignty.
Further, they have created a means to unify around issues such a global warming, in order to adopt joint positions and develop common strategies. By committing themselves to join together in trade and commerce with one another, the indigenous nations will have taken the first steps needed to create a strong, international indigenous economy.
Finally, by pledging to sponsor joint research and studies by indigenous scholars on the goals and strategies of indigenous self-determination, the United League will help all members.
Alan Parker is a professor at The Evergreen State College and co-chairman of the Special Committee on Indigenous Nation Relationships for the National Congress of American Indians.
© 2007 The Seattle Post-Intelligencer