Quaker Committees? Witness for Support of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

On September 13, 2007, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly. At that time only four nations voted against this Declaration: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. In 2009, Australia decided to endorse this crucial Declaration, and in April 2010 New Zealand also joined in endorsement. This leaves the United States and Canada, "super powers" of the Western Hemisphere, officially in opposition to Indigenous human rights, in their own countries, in the Americas, and globally.

It took over 20 years of international collaboration to frame the Declaration, which establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being, and rights of the world’s Indigenous peoples. The Declaration addresses individual and collective rights; self-determination; rights to lands and resources; cultural rights and identity; rights to education, healthcare, employment; the right to use and preserve Indigenous languages, and other important rights. It outlaws discrimination against Indigenous peoples and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them. It also ensures their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own priorities in economic, social, and cultural development. The Declaration explicitly encourages harmonious and cooperative relations between States and Indigenous peoples. Friends can access the actual document via UN Permanent Forum Indigenous Issues, UNPFII. Search "Declaration." Or search via http.cfsc.quaker.ca/pages/un/html.

In the Americas, Indigenous peoples, from Ecuador, Bolivia, the United States, Canada and elsewhere continue to organize and collaborate in support of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These efforts build upon the foundation of the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for which Quakers notably witnessed. At the urging of the former National Community Relations Committee, the American Friends Service Committee minuted an early support of the Declaration during the "formative years" of UN work. Baltimore Yearly Meeting Indian Affairs Committee, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Indian Committee, and Canadian Friends Service Committee’s Quaker Aboriginal Affairs Committee have written to their respective leaders, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama, to change the vitally important U.S. and Canadian positions and to endorse the Declaration; and New York Yearly Meeting Indian Affairs Committee is currently formulating its epistle to the President. Such letters are continuing, important steps in this Quaker witness.

This UN Declaration is important for all persons, not only for Indigenous peoples. At this time Vicky Tauli Corpuz, chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, reminds us, "Edmund Burke’s exhortation that the ‘price of freedom is eternal vigilance’ very much applies to us, Indigenous peoples, and to our supporters. Indeed, the price for our assertion to be recognized as distinct peoples, and to have our rights, as contained in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, protected, respected, and fulfilled is eternal vigilance."

Many Friends consider a Quaker witness on behalf of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to be a special contemporary spiritual witness for Peace, Justice, and an Earth Restored. We urge Friends to join us in seeking their discernment of this witness.

Canadian Friends Service Committee,
Quaker Aboriginal Affairs Committee Programme Coordinator Jennifer Preston and clerk, Lynne Phillips;
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Indian Committee, Kate deRiel and Elizabeth Koopman, co-clerks;
Baltimore Yearly Meeting Indian Affairs Committee, Pat Powers, clerk;
New York Yearly Meeting Indian Affairs Committee, Sybil Perry, clerk.