Finally. The rest of the world will learn that the greatest, most wonderfully exceptional country on earth is, in reality, a third world backwater of a banana republic when it comes to how it treats many of its poor and indigenous people. When the USA signed on to the U.N. mission in 2010 to explore the plight of the word's native populations, little did it know it would be included in the inquiry. The Americans kind of assumed the U.N. would be concentrating on the South American populations. After all, when our president talks about poverty and human rights abuses in his periodic oratories to the General Assembly, it's always about problems elsewhere.
The domestic probe, starting on Monday, will be led by James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples. According to The Guardian's Ewan MacAskill, the investigation is likely to strike a sensitive chord amongst our elite political class:
Many of the country's estimated 2.7 million Native Americans live in federally recognised tribal areas which are plagued with unemployment, alcoholism, high suicide rates, incest and other social problems.
The UN mission is potentially contentious, with some US conservatives likely to object to international interference in domestic matters. Since being appointed as rapporteur in 2008, Anaya has focused on natives of Central and South America.
A UN statement said: "This will be the first mission to the US by an independent expert designated by the UN human rights council to report on the rights of the indigenous peoples."Anaya, who hails from New Mexico, is expected to present his preliminary findings at a press conference on May 4, prior to a formal report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Among the states he will visit is Oklahoma, the former Indian Territory established in the 19th Century as a concentration camp for the native populations banished from the Eastern seaboard during the infamous Trail of Tears. It was in Cushing, Ok that President Obama made a speech approving the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline last month -- and where protesting native Americans were literally kept caged, miles away:
“President Obama is an adopted member of the Crow Tribe, so his fast-tracking a project that will desecrate known sacred sites and artifacts is a real betrayal and disappointment for his Native relatives everywhere,” said Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Tar sands is devastating First Nations communities in Canada already and now they want to bring that environmental, health, and social devastation to US tribes.”Obama has actually gotten mixed reviews from native Americans. One Indian leader calls him the best friend the indigenous population has had since Richard Nixon advocated tribal self-determination as official United States policy. And the fact that the current president has met with Indian leaders every year and promised them that he "has their back" and appointed various task forces shows the usual Obama approach: steps in the right direction, with still a lot of work to do in the future.
However, Andrew Cohen of The Atlantic wrote a scathing article in December, calling Obama's native American initiatives a lot of talk and little to no action. Coupled with the Senatorial blockage of the judicial appointment of Native American Arvo Mikkanen, and the decision by the Supreme Court to withhold from the Apache Nation documents relevant to its legal case alleging misfeasance by the federal government, Cohen caustically allows that Obama did make a nice show of going easy on tribes who collect eagle feathers.
Is the White House pushing for Mikkanen to get a hearing? No. Is it pushing Congress to help change the procedural rules in Indian trust cases so that American Indian litigants can have more access to federal documents that pertain to their claims against federal officials? No. Those things would involve the expenditure of political capital -- and the administration has shown repeatedly its unwillingness to spend in this area.
Congress is no friend of the American Indian. Surely this Supreme Court isn't, either. And there was a need to clarify the rules on eagle feathers. But is this really the best President Obama can do? I hope an American Indian leader says to President Obama today at the White House: "Don't worry so much about adopting 'a formal policy that memorializes' common prosecution practice; worry more about why there are still only two federal judges in American history who were or are of Native American descent."If pressure by independent journalists and political activists can't get our corporocrats to do right by a forgotten group of marginalized citizens, maybe they can be shamed into it by the results of the United Nations investigation and the glare of world opinion. Then again, don't hold your breath.
|A Little More to the Left.... Please! (Reuters)|