Michael Wenye Li / Sun Assistant Photography Intern

Karl Hill of the Cayuga Nation discusses the history of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at a lecture on Wednesday.

September 14, 2017

United Nations Delegates Address Rights of Indigenous Groups

Print More

Though this year marks the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, two United Nations delegates from the Haudenosaunee confederacy stressed that work to acknowledge and enforce these rights is far from complete.

At a forum on Wednesday, Karl Hill of the Cayuga Nation and Darwin Hill of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation described the history of unwavering efforts to bring the act to fruition, as well as the formal process in the United Nations.

One of the key purposes of the declaration Darwin said, was for “states to honor and respect treaties they have made with indigenous peoples.”

Karl stressed the recurrence of treaty motifs by referencing a treaty with the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch which was signed to “establish a covenant of friendship, peace between people, and living in parallel with these [Dutch] new settlers.”

The genesis of this declaration can be traced to Haudenosaunee chief Levi General — known as Deskaheh — according to the Cayuga representative.

Karl talked of how the efforts for a declaration began in the early 1900s when Deskaheh made his way to Geneva, Switzerland to the now defunct League of Nations. Deskaheh’s aim was to address issues involving mistreatment of indigenous peoples and to broaden the issue internationally.

While these earlier efforts were unsuccessful, discussions about a declaration would begin anew in 1977 when indigenous leaders from around the world convened at the United Nations.

Diverging from its historical significance, Karl then spoke of the Haudenosaunee philosophy of looking ahead seven generations.

The Cayuga representative believed that action needs to be taken if the path contemporary indigenous peoples are following continues, “… if things keep going on the way that they are, we may lose our governmental structure, we may lose our religion, we may lose our languages and our traditional knowledge.”

He additionally stressed the non-binding authority of the vote. Unlike adoption by consensus, it has been difficult to enforce “because it was voted on,” thus, “it is not internationally binding.”

He concluded by affirming his satisfaction with current progress and invited more dialogue to “produce fruitful discussion” regarding indigenous peoples’ rights.

Darwin, one of the co-authors of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, also spoke on future progress for the resolution.

Darwin Hill, a co-author of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, speaks to the progress still to be made.

Michael Weyne Li / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Darwin Hill, a co-author of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, speaks to the progress still to be made.

Darwin reflected on his positive experiences with various leaders at the conception of the Declaration, a little more than two decades prior to its adoption.

He spoke of the cosmopolitan, yet cooperative and productive nature of discussion, which included modification of wording in the declaration, stating his “experiences were always positive.”

Recounting the arduous journey, Darwin concluded with a look into the future.

His hopes revolved around the United Nation’s policy enforcement through modifications in wording in the declaration, suggesting wording such as “states must do this.”

He said he desired indigenous people not only hold observer status in the United Nations, but that they actively contribute in the conversations involving their concerns.

It was noted the president of the United Nations recently proposed a motion to commence discussion on more involved indigenous presence — however, after he was met with backlash from many influential nations, the discussion was set off.

Darwin is confident that through continuation of discussion promising results will be achievable for the advancement of sovereign recognition for Indigenous Peoples and the affirmation of their rights.