by Angelo Baca
The Fourteenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meets in New York City from April 20th-May 1st, 2015. A number of issues that are of concern to Indigenous Peoples were discussed, not just during the Forum, but also before at the Global Women’s Indigenous Caucus. Among those concerns were international repatriation, issues of clean and accessible water, protection of the environment, and combating violence against Indigenous women.
This year, international repatriation is being addressed among many nations and Indigenous Peoples, as it is beginning to be brought up as a growing issue of concern and appears to be gaining traction. The U.S. State Department made a poignant commitment to help move an international protocol for international repatriation at the United Nations. Deputy Assistant Secretary Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes at the Department of the Interior made the following statement:
“The United States is committed to help recover Native American human remains and cultural property that was stolen, looted, trafficked, or otherwise acquired. The Department of State, Department of the Interior, and several tribes are partnering to recover sacred objects and/or objects of cultural patrimony offered for sale at 2013 and 2014 Paris auctions. Mindful that another auction is scheduled for June 2015 in Paris, the United States is developing a systematic approach to apply to future sales in foreign countries. We recommend that countries consider amending any domestic legislation that inhibits the recovery and repatriation of Native American cultural property. We also encourage full documentation of cultural property, which facilitates the items’ recovery and repatriation in cases of illicit removal.”
The Statement suggests that the UN acknowledge federally recognized tribes not as NGOs in future meetings, but as tribal governments, and develop new procedures “which permit the participation of indigenous institutions, communities, and other non-NGO entities.” Due to the work of many organizations and Indigenous peoples partnering together, such as the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) and the International Indian Treaty Council, the issue of international repatriation is gaining momentum and may be an issue of interest at the July 2015 meeting in Geneva.
The International Repatriation Project, the Hopi Tribe, Hui Malama, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, the International Indian Treaty Council, San Carlos Apache Tribe, and the Sault Ste Marie Tribe submitted a document to the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMPRIP) for their cultural heritage study. In it, each Native nation expressed their personal experiences regarding the egregious difficulties in international repatriation, and suggested the formation of an Expert Working Group on the issue. Native Nations are hopeful there will be movement on this issue, as it follows in a long line of major Resolutions addressing international repatriation, such as the Resolution on International Repatriation passed at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in 2012, and at the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) in 2014.