Lecture discusses Declaration of Indigenous Rights

Andrea Carmen has been going to the United Nations as an expert presenter for over 30 years to advocate for indigenous peoples’ rights. Carmen, who is the Executive Director of the International Treaty Council, delivered the lecture “Making the Declaration Work for Indigenous Peoples” on Oct. 13 as part of MSU’s week of activities for Indigenous Peoples Day. The lecture shared the accomplishments, struggles and continuing efforts concerning the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Declaration was adopted in September of 2007. Although four countries initially voted against the adoption, including the United States, all have since overturned their positions. The rights outlined in the Declaration are recognized internationally for both individuals and collective groups, and serve as the “minimum standard” that states are required to uphold. These rights pertain to ancestral domain, intellectual property, land rights, language, traditional knowledge and treaty rights.

Carmen quoted activist and Iroquois Faithkeeper Oren Lyons, who said: “If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” She spoke to the challenges indigenous peoples have faced in being recognized and respected when working with the United Nations. With indigenous individuals initially being denied entry into UN buildings, Carmen detailed the “street struggle” involved in the three decades of efforts leading to a declaration that served as an acceptable standard.

Although the declaration was implemented over a decade ago, this work has not come to a close. There have been significant challenges in ensuring states are protecting these rights. Carmen stated, “No constitution gives or takes away human rights, and they can’t be given up. Rights can either be upheld or they can be violated.” Activists are currently working on efforts such as the restitution of cultural property, combatting violence against indigenous women and children, addressing environmental violence and protecting sacred places.

The lecture was followed by a discussion with the MSU students, faculty and community members who attended. Many audience members emphasized that while the Declaration was a momentous accomplishment after decades of collaborative efforts, there is still a necessity in ensuring that these rights are not violated. The event concluded with Carmen urging those passionate or interested to become involved.