WASHINGTON — A United Nations fact finder surveying the lives of Native Americans and Alaska Natives said Friday he'll recommend in an upcoming report that some of the tribes' lands be restored, including the Black Hills of South Dakota.
James Anaya, a U.N. special rapporteur, has been meeting with tribal leaders, the administration and Senate members over 12 days to assess U.S. implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He plans several suggestions in his report, which he said he likely will deliver to the U.N.'s Human Rights Council in September.
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.
President Barack Obama endorsed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2010, reversing a previous U.S. vote against it. It is intended to protect the rights of 370 million native peoples worldwide. Anaya is the first U.N. special rapporteur on rights of the indigenous to visit the U.S.
He met with several members of the executive branch and had the chance to brief members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. He lamented he was unable to get individual meetings with members of Congress, noting that he usually meets with members of legislative bodies of countries he is visiting.
Anaya said he heard universal cries from the Native Americans and Alaska Natives for the federal government to protect their tribal sovereignty and for more ability to control their own affairs.
He added provisions in the Violence Against Women Act, recently approved in the Senate, give tribes the ability to prosecute people who commit violent crimes against Native American or Alaska Native women, even if they are not native peoples. That provision has been opposed by some Republicans in Congress. The House is expected to move on the act as soon as next week, with Republicans possibly drafting and pushing their own version.
Anaya said he met with tribes in Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Washington State, South Dakota and Oklahoma both on reservations and in urban areas.
"In all my consultations with indigenous peoples in the places I visited it was impressed upon me that the sense of loss, alienation and indignity is pervasive throughout Indian Country," Anaya said.
"It is evident that there have still not been adequate measures of reconciliation to overcome the persistent legacies of the history of oppression and that there is still much healing that needs to be done," he said.