RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES

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STATEMENT

U.S. SENATOR DANIEL K. AKAKA (D-HAWAII) ON THE

At the U.S. State Department Consultation Meeting With Indigenous Peoples July 14, 1998

Aloha kahakiaka. Good morning. Welcome to all of the indigenous peoples who have travelled great distances to be here, including those from my home state of Hawaii.

I feel fortunate that Secretary Albright will be with us today. Her interest can trigger a fresh and new approach to U.S. policy on the rights of indigenous peoples. We certainly can use her help.

The political issues confronting indigenous peoples, including those in the United States, are daunting, but they are not new. As we commemorate the International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples, I believe that the United States should be at the forefront in advocating for a strong position on the U.N. Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. U.S. policy currently is based on Federal Indian Law and the government-to-government relationship with federally recognized American Indians and Alaska Natives. However, the U.S. must also establish a mechanism to deal with other indigenous groups in this country, including Native Hawaiians, American Samoans, and Chamorros.

That is why I will be introducing legislation to establish a U.S. Advisory Committee on Indigenous Rights within the U.S. State Department to be composed of tribal leaders and distinguished indigenous peoples and individuals with expertise in the fields of human rights law, international law, foreign affairs, environmental and natural resources law, Federal Indian law, Native Hawaiian rights, insular affairs, and constitutional law.

I would also like to see the appointment of a Special Advisor on Indigenous Rights on the Domestic Policy Council at the White House. This individual will be responsible for coordinating U.S. policy among federal agencies and will work with the U.S. Advisory Committee on making recommendations to the President and the Department of State, Justice, and Interior on the rights of indigenous peoples.

One goal of the Special Advisor is to coordinate U.S. policy on the draft Declaration. A second would be to make recommendations on improving relations between the Federal government and indigenous peoples in the United States. Third, the Special Advisor will implement specific plans for increased U.S. involvement on commemorating the International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples, including greater participation of tribal leaders and Pacific indigenous peoples.

As a Native Hawaiian, I understand neglect and being on the backburner of domestic policy issues. I am hopeful that President Clinton's remarks about American Indians during his dialogue on race relations is a sign of better relations with federal policymakers.

If the United States can be a leader at the international level on women's issues, the environment, religious freedom, refugees, and other important issues, I see no reason why the rights of indigenous peoples should be any different.

With over 300 million indigenous peoples in the world, it is time that the rights of indigenous peoples be given international consideration. However, this should not be the minimum standard by which U.S. policy is based.

When the United States was created, the founding fathers did their best to establish hard fought principles of freedom, democracy, and justice. In recent times, we have taken the lead on countless of human rights issues abroad and there is no reason our country should not serve as the model nation on indigenous rights as well.

In order to do this, however, federal policymakers have to do right at home first, particularly on the issue of self-determination. Out of the five indigenous groups under U.S. jurisdiction -- American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians, American Samoans, and Chamorros -- it appears that Native Hawaiians are the only group who are denied the right to self-determination under current law. American Indians and Alaskan Natives have the federal recognition process at the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs. Other ways for federal recognition for these two groups have been through past treaties, Presidential executive orders, statutes, and case law. Under current international law, as citizens of non self-governing territories, American Samoans and Chamorros have self-determination rights to pursue full independence from the U.S., seek free association with the U.S., or remain a part of the U.S.

The only ways of remedying the lack of self-determination rights for Native Hawaiians, I believe, will be ultimately through Congressional action. However, Congress cannot do this alone. Executive Branch consultation with Native Hawaiians is a necessity. There must also be established within the Department of Interior a designated official to address the political status of Native Hawaiians and to coordinate with the Congress on potential remedies.

It is one thing to advocate U.S. policy on self-determination at the international level based on domestic law. However, since Federal Indian law does not apply to groups like Native Hawaiians, the U.S. should engage these groups in frank discussions on self- determination that are uniquely tailored to their histories and needs so that we can find ways to address these contentious issues.

In conclusion, I would simply like to reiterate that I support greater leadership by the United States on the Draft Declaration. I encourage greater participation by indigenous groups in this country during the consultation process on indigenous rights. And finally, if the U.S. is to provide world leadership on issues such as self-determination and land rights, then domestic policymakers must have a mechanism to deal with these complicated matters. That is the role that I envision for the U.S. Advisory Committee and Special Advisor on Indigenous Rights which my legislation would create.

I look forward to working with tribal leaders, Pacific indigenous groups, and the Executive Branch in making these things possible.

Mahalo nui loa. Thank you.

Forwarded by Richard Salvador.

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