Does the United States Care about Indians?
Indigenous people around the world are celebrating the final adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. However, four nations went on record before the General Assembly saying they opposed the adoption of this non-binding resolution: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. Eleven other nations abstained.
The four countries that voted no claimed that the resolution was unacceptable to them because it violated ideals of "fairness" (Australia), "equality" (New Zealand), and was overly "vague" and "redundant" (Canada). The United States agreed with these other three nations and added that it was upset because it felt it had been left out of the final negotiations in drafting the declaration.
What is especially galling about these justifications is that the writing of the declaration has been going on for OVER 22 YEARS! You would think that if the rights of indigenous peoples really mattered to these governments, they would have worked harder to craft a resolution they could support.
You can find a FAQ about the declaration here. The general idea behind it is to affirm the equality of indigenous people, as well as the right for indigenous groups to work with governments to preserve their languages and cultures. Provisions that particularly rankled some countries dealt with giving indigenous culutres more control over land, territories, and natural resources near ancestral homelands. Indigenous leaders have pointed out that many of the world's untapped resources, such as oil, fresh water, and minerals are found in traditionally indigenous lands. Finally, the declaration tries to open the path for the consideration of reparations for the colonization, exploitation, and oppression of indigenous peoples.
There are many people in philosophy who argue against these kinds of provisions as well. For those who subscribe to political liberalism, human rights are owed to individuals, not collective groups. How do we deal, for instance, with the case in which Maori groups in New Zealand requested that women curators not handle certain sacred objects for display in museums because this violated their cultural norms? Isn't that asking the larger society to adopt values that go against the ideal of gender equality? For resources in thinking about the "ownership" of culture and ideas, see this website on intellectual property and indigenous people.
Also listen to the Engage interview with Allison Davis White-Eyes on indigenous rights today.