NEW YORK – During the 10th annual Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues of the United Nations, on May 25, as an ambassador for the San Carlos Apache Tribal Council, Tao Etpison, Gilson Wash District Councilmember, met with U.S. officials appointed to the United Nations by U.S. President Barack Obama.
The permanent forum’s main focus was on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, “The United Nations Support for Indigenous Rights,” where indigenous peoples traveled from all over the world to bring their issues to the United Nations.
Water rights was also a highlight during the permanent forum. On May 24, Valmaine Toki, Professor of Law at the University of Auckland, New Zealand and a member of the panel of four experts, stated, “Part of the problem with respect to the recognition of indigenous rights to water is the approach by government of state. With water being viewed very much as a property right and a resource for economic gain, without any recognition of original or native title rights to water. Unsurprisingly, indigenous rights to water are not recognized within the legislation that follows from that.”She criticized policies that “do not include an indigenous perspective to water, mismanagement, over allocation to intensive agricultural practices and extractive industries—things like mining—and this obviously results in pollution of waterways, ecosystems and livelihood, causing detriment and harm to indigenous peoples.”
Councilman Etpison states, “I recently made an appearance at the United Nations in New York City for the purpose of objecting to the Southeast Land Exchange legislation (proposed 2011). This mining bill will cause substantial environmental damage to ancestral Apache lands.”
“I found the United Nations forum to be quite helpful to the Apache cause. The United Nations has a declaration supporting native rights. This declaration known as DRIP (Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) set out 46 articles supporting the rights of indigenous groups.”
“It principally set up a declaration opposing the forced eviction of indigenous people from their lands. It also protects the cultural and spiritual heritage of native peoples around the world.”
“Article 11 for instance declares that indigenous peoples have a right to practice their religion and culture."
“More significantly, Article 25 declares that indigenous peoples have the right to their lands and territories that they traditionally owned and occupied.”
“Article 29 additionally declares that indigenous peoples have a right to the conservation and protection of the environmental of their traditional lands and resources. Likewise, Article 31 declares that indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control and protect their culture. All of these declarations prohibit the mining of Apache lands as set out in the proposed mining bill.”
“The DRIP declaration of the United Nations was set up in 2007 and was adopted by all nations except the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The George Bush administration opposed the DRIP declaration.”
“However, the Obama administration has reversed this stance and now supports the declaration. It is anticipated that the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand will now join the rest of the world to endorse the DRIP declaration. This will greatly strengthen the ability of Native American Indians to enforce their rights and protect their traditional lands and resources.”
“The United Nations is the collective organization of 192 independent and sovereign nations from around the world. Formed in 1945 from the former, “League of Nations,” the organization facilitates cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights and world peace.”
“It is very active in overseeing human rights and stopping wars and exploitation of humanity. The DRIP is highly helpful to Native American Indians. The articles are a solid commitment to protect the rights and traditional lands of indigenous peoples. The Obama administration’s commitment to adopt the DRIP presents Native American Indians a unique opportunity to get world protection for their traditional lands and rights. Native American Indians may not be giving the DRIP the attention it deserves.”
“On May 20-25, several interested members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe and I traveled to New York City to make a presentation before the General Assembly of the United Nations. I had a speech prepared to deliver to the United Nations objecting to the “land exchange” mining proposal as a violation of indigenous rights. I was registered and ready to give the presentation on May 25.”
“However, shortly before appearing, I met with Brian Kidwell of the U.S. Department of State and formal representative to the United Nations. After explaining our position to Kidwell, he agreed to present our position to the Obama Administration. He asked that we provide him full details of the conflict involved. This shows that the United Nations is now an effective means for Native American Indians to get protection of their traditional lands, culture and identity. I think the case of the United Nations as a form has been severely underestimated. Our trip obtained great concern and commitment from the U.S. Department of State.”
“The San Carlos Apache Tribe has the detailed information to submit to Brian Kidwell and the State Department. A properly documented package may get us a veto from the Obama Administration should the mining bill pass both Houses.”
“The mining venture contemplated in the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange legislation of 2011 will require substantial amounts of water as the plan is to cave mine one mile deep. The water base in the area belongs to the people in this dry and arid state where water is severely scarce. We need to protect our water rights as well as to protect the quality and environmental integrity of these traditional Apache lands. We Apaches are custodians of the land and need to make every possible move to protect the area. The United Nations is one important arena of protection we can utilize.”
“I would like to say that my presentation of the Apache objection to the mining bill was taken very seriously by the U.S. Department of State. I think the Apache historical connection to the land exchange area, its cultural significance and the fact that our water rights base is located there are all important.”
“I believe that with proper information the Obama Administration would assist us in blocking the bill. Obama’s government has been quite friendly to the Native American Indians. Last year, it was stated by Susan Rice, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nationals Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues that, ‘The United States supports programs that help indigenous communities around the world. We are especially committed to promote corporate social responsibility, particularly with extractive industries whose operations can so dramatically affect the living conditions of indigenous peoples.’ (April 20, 2010 address to the United Nations).
“Barack Obama is interested in helping Native American Indians and we should take this into consideration when the next election comes in. The adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP) will greatly enhance the San Carlos Apache Tribe’s ability to protect its traditional lands and water rights. President Obama formally announced his support of the DRIP on December 17, 2010. This announcement was hailed as an important milestone in protecting the rights of the world’s estimated 378 million indigenous people.”
“It more substantially creates an endorsement of the United States to strengthen its commitment to improve the conditions of Native American Indians and to address the numerous broken promises of the U.S. government. I further feel it will help us guard and protect land resources that were previously subject to the whims of federal legislation.”
“Someday, I would like to see the Apache Nation is added as a voting member of the United Nations Council. Although small in size, we have maintained an independent existence for hundreds of years. Currently, the United Nations has no U.S. or Canadian tribes as voting members. Yet, even despite our absence as a constituent, the United Nations has an active committee to protect the traditional lands and rights of Native American Indians. We must keep this in mind and capitalize on it whenever possible.”
“In making any proposed presentation to the United Nations, my emphasis was on the water rights. The occupation land use of traditional lands here in the Southeast is integrally related to water rights. I believe the United Nations can be an important ally to us if we are ever denied water rights protections in the courts. President Jackson reversed the Cherokee despite a Supreme Court Order protecting them. This would be more difficult to do today now that we have a worldwide forum looking out for our traditional lands and rights.”
“Let us applaud Obama for his agreement to work with the United States to protect Native American Indian heritage and our traditional lands.”
“We must all remember that here in Arizona, water is the primary issue in connection with use or occupation of lands. The Mining Bill would allow the mega copper company to use huge amounts of water to extract copper one mile deep. The water they would use is our water as traditionally we have occupied and used lands. In its fervor to adopt the Mining Bill, I don’t believe the U.S. Congress has really considered the waters rights issue at this level. It is our responsibility as guardians of these lands to properly inform the U.S. Congress and the general public about the water rights violation.”
“I firmly believe that the Apache’s historical connection to the land exchange area, its cultural significance and the fact that our water rights base located there are all important and essential to our existence as Apache people from past to present.”
“The San Carlos Apache Tribal Council has passed resolutions to oppose this mining bill and I will continue to stand up for the indigenous rights of our Apache people.”
Meanwhile, Terry Rambler, Chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, applauded Councilman Tao Etpison, Tribal Archaeologist, Vernelda Grant and her husband, Gilbert Pataneo and Michael Hill for their participation at the United Nations gathering to address indigenous issues.
Chairman Rambler concludes, “I would like to thank the members of the San Carlos Apache Tribal Council, the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, the National Congress of American Indians and other national organizations for their continued support in opposing the proposed Southeast Arizona Land Exchange Bill. You are all in our prayers.”