On December 9, 2010, President Obama announced support for the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples that was ratified by the UN General Assembly on September 3, 2007. The United States along with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand initially opposed this declaration. It has never been ratified by the United States Senate, which means that the President is not obligated to honor it. Some constitutionalists interpret that any actions taken by the President on non-ratified declarations from the UN as being unconstitutional. This may be concerning to citizens of the state of Oklahoma.
There are several articles in the UN declaration that are controversial. Article 26, Section 3 states that “States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources.” These “lands” are lands that were traditionally inhabited by indigenous peoples. The statement implies that the land should be given back to these people despite who owns it now. In President Obama’s statement, he states that since 2006 34,000 acres of land have been taken and are being held “in trust” for Native American tribes. There is no mention of where the land was taken or how it was acquired. Also, Supreme Court decisions and Congressional legislation supports the government’s ability to hold land “in trust” for all federally recognized tribes.
Article 29, Section 1 states that “indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources.” This sounds reasonable at first blush. However, the environmental angle is usually a tactic of governments to infringe on individual property rights and the sovereignty of independent nations.
For example, under guidance from the UN, property, 400,000 acres, is being confiscated from deeded property owners in the Mato Grosso in Brazil. Thousands of Brazilians are being rendered homeless and forced to leave their towns, which are being demolished. Many people had been given the deadline of January 4, 2013 to voluntarily leave their property. The land is being taken under Article 26 of the UN declaration. The Brazilian government officials state that the land belongs to the Xavante tribe, and they will return the land to the Xavantes. However, the Xavante tribe states that they have never had a traditional claim to the land that is being confiscated. The question then arises as to why the government would want to hold this land in trust for a tribe that states that it has no traditional claim to the land. The “native reserves” are instruments of billionaire Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Much of this land, 15% of Brazil’s landmass, sits over vast mineral deposits and other riches.
Another justification for the land confiscation in Brazil is “slave labor” being utilized by large farmers in Brazil. Under a law passed by the Brazilian legislature, landowners who utilize labor under “slave-like” conditions can have their land confiscated without any compensation. The definition of “slave labor” is subjective. “The Penal Code defines slave labour as reducing someone to a slave-like condition, whether by subjecting them to degrading working conditions that violate their dignity, or to exhausting work hours that prevent them from physically recovering and having a social life.” One wonders what the government plans to do with the land once it has been confiscated.
One may think it could never happen in the United States. Yet one sees that the President has already confiscated land in Arizona, Montana, and New Mexico under the guise of giving water rights to the Native tribes. All three of these states have numerous mineral resources including gold, copper, and uranium. Citizens who live on land traditionally held by Native Americans may want to be aware of this policy held by the Obama Administration, especially those who live in the former Indian Territory now known as the state of Oklahoma.