Statement by Shane Christensen, for the Observer Delegation of the United States of America to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Agenda Item 4 Human Rights

U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
New York, NY
May 21, 2009


Madame Chairperson and members of the Permanent Forum,
It is remarkable to be in the presence of up to 2,000 representatives of indigenous peoples, many of whom have traveled so far in order to join together for two weeks at the United Nations in pursuit of better lives for the world’s indigenous populations. It is even more remarkable to hear your perspectives, understand your concerns, and listen to your ideas. And as the United States of America enters a new era of multilateral engagement under President Obama, I want you to know that we are listening to you.

We applaud the Permanent Forum’s efforts to raise awareness and generate ideas on indigenous issues related to human rights, among other issues. In far too many places, indigenous people continue to face violations of and threats to their human rights, with discrimination a widespread and insidious problem. The efforts of this Forum to help promote and protect those human rights are vitally important, and the United States wants to collaborate with you on concrete proposals that will directly and substantially help the lives of indigenous people in all lands.

Let me share with you some of the initial steps President Obama is taking here at home, starting with the appointment of some key members of his team. Just yesterday, our Senate confirmed Larry EchoHawk, a member of the Pawnee Tribe, as our Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, whose work will be dedicated to empowering American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Yvette Roubideaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, has been confirmed as Director of the Indian Health Service, which is the principal federal health care advocate and provider for American Indians and Alaska Natives. And First Lady Michelle Obama announced that the President will appoint a high-level advisor to serve as a liaison between Native Americans and the federal government “on issues such as sovereignty, health care, education—all central to the well being of Native American families and the prosperity of tribes all across this country.”

President Obama has also provided for hundreds of millions of dollars for a broad range of programs pursuant to the recently enacted Recovery Act. Recovery Act funds will be used to improve housing, education, economic development, health, and public safety programs, to name a few.

The United States has a special relationship with the 562 federally recognized tribes who speak many different languages. President Obama has pledged to uphold the unique government-to-government relationship between tribes and the federal government. Self-determination has helped the tribes and the United States overcome many obstacles, and while challenges remain we continue to build trust leading to a full appreciation of the benefits found in working together. For example, the United States supports tribally operated police departments and courts which enforce tribally enacted laws governing conduct on indigenous lands. Tribal governments exercising legal authority as sovereigns is a key component of U.S. policy towards our indigenous communities.

Outside the United States, we sponsor a number of programs focused on assistance to indigenous communities. We are especially concerned about those who suffer from high childhood mortality rates, lack of education, low-income levels, and high rates of violence against women. In Latin America in particular, the U.S. Agency for International Development leads projects related to health, education, governance, economic growth, and the environment. Among our programs, we have trained Mayan midwives in Guatemala, strengthened the participation of Quechua and Aymara communities in municipal and national governance activities in Bolivia, supported the management of forests by the Xingu and Kayapo Indians in Brazil, and in Colombia provided assistance to Afro-Colombians affected by violence.

Those are a few of our own initiatives. We have much more work to do, and let me reiterate that we look forward to working with members and observers of this Forum on concrete proposals that will better the lives of indigenous peoples in all lands.

Thank you.


PRN: 2009/106