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Mt. Rushmore Site Should Be Returned To Indigenous Native American Tribes, U.N. Official Says

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South Dakota's Black Hills, home to the granite faces carved into Mt. Rushmore, should be restored as Native American tribal lands, a United Nations official recently said.

James Anaya, a U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, completed a fact-finding mission on Friday that included meetings with a number of Native American tribal leaders as well as White House officials. His investigation led him to suggest that the United States take additional steps to repair the nation's legacy of oppression against Native Americans. He'll officially propose the plan in an upcoming report. From the Associated Press:

Anaya said land restoration would help bring about reconciliation. He named the Black Hills as an example. He said restoring to indigenous people what they have a legitimate claim to can be done in a way that is not divisive "so that the Black Hills, for example, isn't just a reminder of the subordination and domination of indigenous peoples in that country."

The Black Hills, home to Mount Rushmore, are public land but are considered sacred by the Sioux tribes. The Sioux have refused to accept money awarded in a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision and have sought return of the land. The Black Hills and other lands were set aside for the Sioux in an 1868 treaty. But Congress passed a law in 1877 taking the land.

According to Anaya, handing over these lands would be a key step toward repairing relations with the indigenous people who once controlled them. It would also further the nation's compliance with the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a measure that President Barack Obama endorsed in 2010, reversing a previous vote.

"I have heard stories that make evident the profound hurt that indigenous peoples continue to feel because of the history of oppression they have faced," Anaya said Friday in a statement issued by the U.N. human rights office in Geneva. "Securing the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands is of central importance to indigenous peoples' socioeconomic development, self-determination, and cultural integrity. ... Continued efforts to resolve, clarify, and strengthen the protection of indigenous lands, resources, and sacred sites should be made."

Anaya will outline a full set of recommendations regarding Native American relations in a report set to be released later this year.

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