Thursday, September 20, 2007

United Nations: Native declaration

At the United Nations, the world has solemnly committed itself to better treatment of native populations. Well, most of the world, except for some of those that have the most responsibility for relating to indigenous populations.

Yup. The Bush administration and three other diehard governments -- Canada, New Zealand and Australia -- couldn't bring themselves to support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Far be it from us to ponder thoughts of any special ethnocentrism in largely English-speaking lands; Britain, Ireland, Jamaica and other countries didn't oppose the statement. Appropriately, the four no voters squirmed, straining to explain concerns about technicalities, language and possible conflicts with their own laws, even though the declaration generally wouldn't be binding.

It took more than 20 years for the declaration to receive Thursday's approval from the U.N. General Assembly. You would think that, even under the Bush administration, this country, with one of the largest native populations, would have found a way to be a part of the progress and celebration.

U.S. delegate Robert Hagen did put the administration on record as committed to respect for tribal governments and their rights. "My government will continue its vigorous efforts to promote indigenous rights domestically," he said. But with a new world standard, even federal, state and local authorities will have to do better as they deal with tribal rights. The U.N. declaration is a step toward greater mutual respect and progress on behalf of all.

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