Preliminary Statement: The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and International Repatriation

Please bring this issue up to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as he visits Native American communities throughout the country.

Preliminary Statement: The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and International Repatriation

Native American peoples within the boundaries of the United States, as well as Indigenous Peoples around the world, are facing human rights violations that are twofold and a holdover from the colonial era when Indigenous Peoples were subjugated and their equal rights were not legally recognized. Initial human rights violations occurred when ancestral remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony were robbed from our graves or taken from our communities without the free, prior and informed consent of our peoples and communities. These human rights violations remain today with the continued possession, display, study, or profit from our ancestral remains and cultural items without the free, prior and informed consent of our peoples and communities. The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) recognizes that: “indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples,” “indigenous peoples, in the exercise of their rights, should be free from discrimination of any kind,” U.N. documents have affirmed “the fundamental importance of the right to self-determination of all peoples,” and “the United Nations has an important and continuing role to play in promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples….”

The UNDRIP has been signed by all nation-states and has established a customary norm pertaining to Indigenous rights. Article 12 of the UNDRIP specifically states, “States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with Indigenous Peoples concerned.” Therefore, all nation-states presently acknowledge the right to Indigenous international repatriation.

Today, Native Americans face the enormous task of locating our ancestral remains and cultural items, which are presently dispersed throughout the world in repositories and private collections. There are an estimated 1-2 million Native American ancestral remains and cultural items that have been taken from our Native American peoples and now reside in repositories.

We request that the U.N. Special Rapporteur convene a “Convention on Indigenous International Repatriation,” to bring all Indigenous Peoples together to: 1) discuss international repatriation; 2) establish a U.N. Indigenous International Repatriation Committee with the purpose of: assisting Indigenous Peoples with the monumental task of international repatriation, facilitating an Indigenous international repatriation network, convening a bi-annual meeting for Indigenous Peoples on international repatriation, and appointing Indigenous Committee officers; 3) agree upon and create a Joint Declaration on International Repatriation; 4) create a model policy for the return of Indigenous ancestral remains and cultural items for international repositories, which shall be revisited every five years and amended at that time, if necessary; 5) establish a statement to be submitted to the U.N. to request that every nation-state create an inventory of Indigenous ancestral remains and cultural items, and where removal occurred, if known, with access to the inventory provided to Indigenous Peoples around the world; and 6) establish the date of the next Convention on Indigenous International Repatriation, which shall be held once a year.

                                                  –Working Group on International Repatriation, AAIA

For more information, please contact the Association on American Indian Affairs: 240-314-7155.

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