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U.S. Found in Violation of Native Americans’ Rights, Anti-Racism Treaty

 

 

United Nations committee took the rare step Friday of assailing the U.S. government for violating Native Americans‘ land rights and said Washingtonhad run afoul of an international anti-racism treaty.

The independent Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said Friday it had ”credible information alleging that the Western Shoshone indigenous people are being denied their traditional rights to land” and asked federal authorities to cease all activities on tribal land–including efforts to set up commercial mining operations.

Native American advocates hailed the finding as a victory.

”This is a tremendous victory for the Shoshone people,” said Laura Inouye of the aid group Oxfam America. ”The UN decision acknowledges the U.S. government’s violations of Shoshone civil, political, economic, and cultural rights.”

””Hopefully, they will now be granted the justice that the US government has denied them for years,” added Inouye, whose organization had backed the Western Shoshone.

Some non-natives also refer to the Western Shoshone as ”Snake Indians” although in their own language tribe members are called Newe people.

U.S. officials were unavailable for immediate comment on the decision, which effectively challenged the U.S. government’s assertion of federal ownership of 90 percent of Shoshone lands covering about 60 million acres and stretching across the states of Nevada, Idaho, Utah, and California.

The United States recognized Western Shoshone rights to the land under the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that the pact gave Washington trusteeship over tribal lands, however. The federal government, saying that tribe members had abandoned traditional land tenure and practices and citing ”gradual encroachment” by non-natives as evidence, has claimed much of the land as federal territory.

The Western Shoshone, in their petition to the UN panel, countered that ”gradual encroachment” in fact took place as part of a U.S. policy to steal their lands, and that this constituted racism.

The 18-member UN panel of experts, set up to monitor global compliance with the 1969 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, last August asked Washington to respond to those claims. Federal authorities missed a year-end deadline to do so.

On Friday, the Geneva-based panel said Washington’s claim to the land ”did not comply with contemporary human rights norms, principles, and standards that govern determination of indigenous property rights.”

The panel cited special concern over reported federal and legislative efforts to privatize ancestral lands, to turn them over to mining and energy companies, and to open a nuclear waste dump on tribal territory without consulting and over the objections of the Western Shoshone people.

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