The Ongoing Traumatic Experience of Genocide for American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States: The Call to Recognize Full Human Rights as Set Forth in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
American Indian Law Journal, Vol. III, Issue II, Spring 2015
30 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2015 Last revised: 2 Aug 2019
Date Written: June 2, 2015
The power of myth and storytelling is well-known in American Indian communities. Oral traditions continue to have vitality and relevance in those communities as a means of providing instruction on the tribal worldview, philosophy and the accepted norms of human behavior in relation to each other and to other living beings. In the relationships between Tribal Nations and the United States, myth and storytelling have been and continue to be powerful tools in perpetuating the subjugation of and human rights violations against American Indians in judicial decisions, American history textbooks, and the mainstream media. The dehumanization of American Indians is a tradition that stems from the founding of the United States. The so-called "founding fathers" engaged in myth and storytelling at the creation of the new settler nation-state on North American soil. For Native peoples, the challenge in correcting foundational governmental and nation-building myths is ongoing and at times, deeply frustrating. However, the consequence for Native peoples not taking up the challenge is to succumb to externally imposed derogatory labeling, that results in self-denigration, and ultimately, lifelong victimization.
By bringing the principles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration) to life in the United States, American Indians and Alaska Natives can address the derogatory myth and storytelling at the core of U.S. history. The UN Declaration sets forth a minimum standard of human rights for Indigenous peoples around the globe. Some of the most powerful principles in the UN Declaration include the rights for Indigenous peoples to counter settler-nation myths with their own version of history and truthtelling. Additionally, nation-states, such as the United States, have an affirmative obligation under the UN Declaration to prevent "[a]ny form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against" Indigenous peoples. Most students in the United States can graduate from high school without ever learning about contemporary tribal governments, the eras of United States Indian policy, or the ongoing human rights issues that impact American Indians over generations. By actively seeking out American Indian Studies courses on university campuses, a small number of college students can gain basic knowledge on the history, literature, and legal relationships of American Indians in the United States. According to an informal survey conducted by the author on the American Associations of Law Schools (AALS), out of 202 ABA accredited law schools 94 offered an Indian Law course on a regular basis in 2012-2013, roughly 46.5%. The importance of this subject area cannot be overstated for American Indians in the United States. Most United States citizens do not know that a basic principle of federal Indian law is that the United States Congress exercises plenary authority over American Indians. Although United States citizens elect members of Congress to represent them, most United States citizens know very little about this authority or how it is asserted over American Indians.
Part I of this article will discuss the early contact between Native Americans and Europeans. The European and, later, United States justifications for the genocide, dispossession and impoverishment of Native Americans will be discussed. Part II will review the legal justifications employed by United States Presidents and leaders to systematically dispossess American Indians of their lands and resources. The shift from political alliances to military massacres of American Indians signaled the next phase of dehumanization. Following military domination, the United States has imposed a perpetual incompetency on American Indians and asserted trusteeship. This policy frames the contemporary relationship between American Indians and the United States. Part III will examine the genocidal acts perpetrated by the United States to oppress American Indians and Alaska Natives. The section will conclude with the resistance efforts of Native Americans. In Part IV, the application of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will provide human right standards for re-establishing basic human rights for American Indians through the international evolution of Indigenous peoples' collective rights.
Keywords: American Indians, Alaska Natives, Genocide, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
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