UBC Professor Testifies to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


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UBC Professor Dr. Sheryl Lightfoot was in Sicangu Lakota Oyate (Rosebud Sioux reservation) in South Dakota this month to provide written and oral testimony to Professor James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Professor Anaya was on an official visit to the United States. Through meetings and consultations with federal, state and Indigenous governments and representatives, he is assessing ways in which the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is currently reflected in U.S. law and policy. He will identity areas of needed reform and present a report later this year to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The Special Rapporteur is one of three UN mechanisms designated for Indigenous rights implementation.

When the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was passed by the General Assembly in 2007, only four UN Member states voting against it: the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, or what Lightfoot refers to as the “Anglosphere.”

Between 2009 and 2010 these countries each changed their positions on the Declaration and issued formal statements of support or endorsement despite the fact that neither the text or content of the declaration had changed.

Lightfoot was invited to testify by the International Indian Treaty Council and her statement centered on the United States’ “Selective Endorsement” of the Declaration. In her testimony she explained how the US has only offered rhetorical “qualified support” to the Declaration in an attempt to legitimately maintain the legal and policy status quo and avoid implementation of Indigenous rights in the US.

“Selective endorsement allows the United States to profess support while also providing itself legal cover to maintain a separate, unconstitutional, and discriminatory set of laws and legal principles,” Lightfoot argues. It “represents a serious act of discrimination and is therefore a human rights violation in and of itself.”

Lightfoot’s testimony was drawn from her article, “Selective Endorsement without Intent to Implement: Indigenous Rights and the Anglosphere” published earlier this year in the International Journal of Human Rights.

Dr. Lightfoot is an Ojibwe citizen of the Lake Superior Band of Ojibwe, enrolled at the Keweenaw Bay reservation in northern Michigan. She is currently Assistant Professor of First Nations Studies and Political Science and is a specialist in international relations with a focus on global indigenous rights and global indigenous rights movements.

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