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Obama Wants to Give America Back to Indians!

Those of you over a certain age may remember the 1980s sitcom “Family Ties” and its lovable protagonist Alex P. Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox.  There was an exchange in which another character was decrying America’s poor treatment of the Indians and Keaton retorted something to the effect, “So, do you want to give it back?”

Well, apparently President Obama does!    Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association reports:

President Obama likes the “U.N. Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” He says it can “help reaffirm the principles that should guide our future.”

The State Department added helpfully that although the declaration is not legally binding, it “carries considerable moral and political force and complements the president’s ongoing efforts to address historical inequities faced by indigenous communities in the United States.”

This declaration – which carries”considerable moral and political force,” don’t forget – contains this little gem of a paragraph, in Article 26:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired,” and nations “shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources.”

In other words, President Obama wants to give the entire land mass of the United States of America back to the Indians. He wants Indian tribes to be our new overlords.

That stupid son of a bitch!  Has he not considered the consequences?

Wonkette’s Jack Stuff and LGF’s Charles Johnson belittle Fischer’s concern for America’s future but offer little reassurance that our Kenyan born secret Muslim president isn’t going to trade the country away for $24 worth of beads and trinkets.

I’m left, therefore, to the mercy of Google.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adoted by the General Assembly more than three years ago, says what Fischer says it does.  And it says all manner of other things that, while consistent with our current moral principles, would be absurd if applied retroactively.   Fortunately, after all the affirmations, recognitions, proclamations, and  acknowledgements, followed by 45 Articles that say very nice things, we come to the final article.  It negates all the others:

Article 46

1. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, people, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act contrary to the Charter of the United Nations or construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States.

2. In the exercise of the rights enunciated in the present Declaration, human rights and fundamental freedoms of all shall be respected. The exercise of the rights set forth in this Declaration shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law and in accordance with international human rights obligations. Any such limitations shall be non-discriminatory and strictly necessary solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and for meeting the just and most compelling requirements of a democratic society.

3. The provisions set forth in this Declaration shall be interpreted in accordance with the principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, equality, non-discrimination, good governance and good faith.

Emphases mine. Recall that the United Nations is a body chartered under the principle of state sovereignty.  The people who passed this Declaration are representatives of its 192 member states.  Rather clearly, then, the Declaration was not intended to give non-state actors — indigenous groups living inside state borders — power over states.  Thus far, 143 countries have voted in favor.

Another clue in this regard is that the Declaration was issued by the UN General Assembly.   It’s quite literally nothing more than a debating society.  Each of the 192 states has equal voting power and the right to bring up matters.  But anything passed by the assembly is nothing more than a recommendation.  Indeed, that’s what the State Department announcement [PDF here] meant when it stated “The United States supports the Declaration which–while not legally binding or a statement of current international law–has both moral and political force [emphasis mine].”

Nonetheless, concerns over the ambiguity of the language is what caused the Bush Administration to withhold its approval.   Ditto, initially, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand — other notable countries with similar concerns.   All of them have since signed.  ABC reports,

The US about-face came after officials determined that the language would, in fact, not conflict with US law and the complex relationship between national, state and tribal governments. Officials said they waited until a formal comment period for soliciting tribal input had expired before making the move to support the declaration.

“We think it is an important and meaningful change in US position,” said State Department spokesman PJ Crowley. “Of course, as with any international declaration we have certain reservations which we will voice reflecting our own domestic and constitutional interest. The president thinks it’s the right thing to do… Even though it is legally non-binding we think it carries considerable moral and political force.”

So, what’s the point?

Well, it’s an affirmation of existing American and international principle.  While states have sovereignty, there’s been a growing consensus in recent decades that aboriginal groups–such as our 565 federally recognized Indian tribes,  Native Hawaiians, and Aleuts–should be given a wide berth in preserving their native customs, language, legal systems and so forth. Indeed, it’s established in the United States Constitution that the tribes have a high degree of sovereignty on internal matters.  (That’s why, for example, Indians can establish casinos on tribal lands contrary to the law of the states in which they happen to reside.)

So, is this just empty political symbolism?   Pretty much.  What matters is what concrete policy steps we’re going to take.  And President Obama announced some of those at the time he said we’d sign this Declaration.

Our strategy begins with the number one concern for all Americans right now — and that’s improving the economy and creating jobs.  We’ve heard time and again from tribal leaders that one of the keys to unlocking economic growth on reservations is investments in roads and high-speed rail and high-speed Internet and the infrastructure that will better connect your communities to the broader economy.  That’s essential for drawing capital and creating jobs on tribal lands.  So to help spur the economy, we’ve boosted investment in roads throughout the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Reservation Road Program, and we’ve offered new loans to reach reservations with broadband.

And as part of our plan to revive the economy, we’ve also put billions of dollars into pressing needs like renovating schools.  We’re devoting resources to job training — especially for young people in Indian Country who too often have felt like they don’t have a chance to succeed.  And we’re working with you to increase the size of tribal homelands in order to help you develop your economies.

I also want to note that I support legislation to make clear — in the wake of a recent Supreme Court decision — that the Secretary of Interior can take land into trust for all federally recognized tribes.  (Applause.)  That’s something that I discussed yesterday with tribal leaders.

We’re also breaking down bureaucratic barriers that have prevented tribal nations from developing clean energy like wind and solar power.  It’s essential not just to your prosperity, but to the prosperity of our whole country.  And I’ve proposed increasing lending to tribal businesses by supporting community financial institutions so they can finance more loans.  It is essential in order to help businesses expand and hire in areas where it can be hard to find credit.

Another important part of our strategy is health care.  We know that Native Americans die of illnesses like diabetes, pneumonia, flu — even tuberculosis — at far higher rates than the rest of the population.  Make no mistake:  These disparities represent an ongoing tragedy.  They’re cutting lives short, causing untold pain and hardship for Native American families.  And closing these gaps is not just a question of policy, it’s a question of our values — it’s a test of who we are as a nation.

There’s quite a bit more in the speech.  But this is pretty benign stuff:  We’re going to help the tribes improve their infrastructure, schools, and health care.

Giving the land that we stole from them fair and square back?  Not so much.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. The comments on Fischer’s post are, well, shall we say, not very supportive. :-)

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  2. sam says:

    I’d support giving large swaths of Texas and Oklahoma back to the Comanche.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  3. john personna says:

    It is always funny to see the high speed rail “paired” with the high speed internet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. I think it’s generally the case that anything that Bryan Fischer writes is pretty much insane. I’m surprised he didn’t find a way to work his weird obsession with men showering together into this post.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. Herb says:

    New rule:

    If a statement begins with “President Obama wants to” and ends with something completely absurd * then that means we are participating in someone’s psychological therapy, not listening to a valuable political argument.

    (*like, for example, “give the entire land mass of the United States of America back to the Indians”)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  6. I think it’s generally the case that anything that Bryan Fischer writes is pretty much insane.

    To which I can only say: megadittos.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Ian says:

    And what, precisely, does this have to do with families, or Jesus, or values, or Jesus’ family values? He should probably stick to his organizations original mission. This branching out thingy is not working for him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Herb and @Steven,

    Not only do the two of you obviously not love Jesus, but you’re clearly opposed to America’s families. Shame on the both of you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  9. JKB says:

    I just like the fact that high speed rail is now going to stop in Indian Country. BTW, is “Indian Country” acceptable, it sounds politically incorrect to me. We’re gonna party like it’s 1879.

    BTW, Texas and Oklahoma were won in hard fought wars. If we’re going to give something back it should be Manhattan, which was obtained by cheating trusting indigenous people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  10. PD Shaw says:

    I support giving back the land since my wife is reputed to be of Cherokee ancestry. What does she get? Or would this merely be to the benefit of certain politically connected tribal leaders, not just descendants? And weren’t deals made by leaders to the detriment of the tribal members a large part of the problem to begin with?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  11. G.A.Phillips says:

    (That’s why, for example, Indians can establish casinos on tribal lands contrary to the law of the states in which they happen to reside.)

    And sell heep cheep smoke:) without the brutal laws of the tobacco Nazi limiting ones freedom of choice and earnings……..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***indigenous people.***lol, does this mean they just popped out of the ground like everyone else except for the American and the Jew?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  13. george says:

    “(That’s why, for example, Indians can establish casinos on tribal lands contrary to the law of the states in which they happen to reside.)

    And sell heep cheep smoke:) without the brutal laws of the tobacco Nazi limiting ones freedom of choice and earnings……..”

    Think of it as a business deal if it makes you feel better … I’d argue the US did far better than the Indians in the deal, so why complain about the few benefits the Indians got? And in fact, the law of the states has in it exceptions for the Indians, so they are following the law of the land.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    I am very happy for the little bit of limited US government control they have. I just want a reservation pass so I can get some freaking Smokes that don’t cost me an hours wage because some group of liberals thought it was a good idea to tax the **** out of me again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. DC Loser says:

    G.A. – Smoke as much as you like. We need you to die early and not draw any of that Social Security. Also die quickly so we won’t be stuck paying for your hospital stay and meds.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  16. michael reynolds says:

    If you can find a tribe willing to take over the running (and debt) of California, please let us know.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  17. Dave Schuler says:

    As you say, pretty benign stuff. My only concern is that I think we should avoid intra-tribal and inter-tribal squabbles. My understanding (in a subject with which I’m not terribly conversant) is that there is criticism of the present Indian Affairs policy because it tends to give advantage to the Navaho because of their sizeable population and organization.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. debbie says:

    Fischer’s been quite vocal lately. What’s his angle? Is he up for reelection or something similar?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Nancy says:

    Yet another lie designed to whip the gullible into an indignant frenzy.

    In other words, business as usual for the conservative propaganda organ.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***Smoke as much as you like. We need you to die early and not draw any of that Social Security. Also die quickly so we won’t be stuck paying for your hospital stay and meds.***

    Dude, like im gonna get social security, lol…….

    Dude, stop supporting socialism and you won’t have to……

    lol….. there must be a better way then you guys wanting to give everything away and help everyone and then crying about why you can’t force everyone to help you and crying about not wanting to help the people you don’t like like me that could actually use some.

    Dude the liberal lifestyle, and worldview ruined my life, but do you care, no!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  21. Elvis Elvisberg says:

    @Ian

    You wrote, “And what, precisely, does this have to do with families, or Jesus, or values, or Jesus’ family values?”

    It makes a little more sense when you consider the original name for their organization, the “American Pharisee Association.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. Dave PV says:

    I was with you until “Giving the land that we stole from them fair and square back? Not so much.”

    I’m Native Canadian, Kaska Dena, myself and have read much in the histories of Canada and the United States (having a historian friend, who is Ojibway, helps). There is nothing fair and square in usurping territory and overturning an existing people (hundreds of distinct peoples in the case of the Americas). I’m certainly not one to lament on past ills because I’ve read a lot on the rich histories and conflicts and complexities of Native/European/American/Canadian interaction, and nothing was ever as simple and cut-and-dry as our history books would have it.

    Other than the wholly glib statement above, I agree with the article.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. Trueofvoice says:

    Dave,

    I’m pretty sure the “fair and square” remark was sarcasm.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. davestv says:

    Mr. Joyner,

    You’re a moron. Like most college professors that PhD of yours does not mean you’re intelligent. Are you seriously still on that whole “Kenyan born muslim” thing.

    Nancy, these fools are not conservative. They are the bastardized step children of that once great word.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  25. matt says:

    davestv : Way to not read the article…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. An Interested Party says:

    The sarcasm of James must be really thick if someone confuses it for the “reality” spouted by, say, Zelsdorf Ragshaft III or G.A.Phillips, to name just two examples…

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  27. Ed Darrell says:

    “If you can find a tribe willing to take over the running (and debt) of California, please let us know.”

    California’s been run like a casino since that casino proposition passed on the ballot there some years ago — 1978, I think. Prop 13 — remember that?

    It required the entire state budget be wagered in a bet that inflation would be less than 2% per year, and that housing values would rise no faster than that, either. It may have been a sucker bet.

    The house always wins, you know.

    John Boehner and the Republicans in Congress are impressed with the payoff California got, and now propose to do much the same thing with the federal budget, betting it all that your drunken, no good ex-brother-in-law will finally get a job, and his job will provide enough tax revenues to pay off the national debt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0