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Human rights are fundamental for all indigenous people

The Chickasaw Nation is one of the thousands of tribes of native peoples who live on every continent on Earth. It’s an incredible story of survival and the power of traditional values.

For tens of thousands of years, native people have populated much of our planet’s surface. Different tribes developed in different ways, but the common denominator was living and surviving in the natural world.

That was the reality for all native people until contact with the colonial powers. Often, the encroaching power changed the environment, and the people, in dramatic ways.

We all know that over just the past 100 years, our world has changed with lightning speed. However, those changes seem almost minor when viewed in the framework of the millions of native peoples’ lives following contact.

It was just over 500 years ago that the Chickasaw Nation had its first contact with European people in our original homeland area. Those 500 years represent not much more than one day in a lifetime of native history. It is only a blink of the eye in the timeline of world history.

In 2007, the United Nations presented its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration was endorsed by the United States.

This declaration, while not a binding instrument in international law, recognizes that the treatment of indigenous people will be a significant element in improving universal human rights.

The declaration takes into account many elements of modern native life, including health, education, employment and all those things that virtually all people are interested in. More interesting is the declaration’s focus on native culture, identity, and language. For us, and for all native people, this focus is an affirmation of all those things we Chickasaws have treasured over the centuries.

Additionally, the declaration makes it clear that indigenous peoples should be fundamentally involved in “their own visions of economic and social development.” The Chickasaw Nation is ahead of the curve in those areas. We have, together, taken the initiative to develop our own businesses, as well as our own social institutions.

These are things we sometimes take for granted, but should not. We have dedicated much effort to preserve our heritage, while also engaging the modern world in the ways that prepare the Chickasaw generations that will follow us.

We must remember that not all native peoples are in the type of environment Chickasaws now find themselves. We are in the modern world while respecting and celebrating our culture and traditions. Of the approximately 400 million native peoples in the world, only a fraction enjoys the human rights and opportunities we have. It is our duty to support our fellow native people who are even today experiencing neglect, discrimination and even, in some cases, elimination.

Even in our own country, hundreds of thousands of Indian people live in the hardest of circumstances and enjoy few of the human rights many of us take for granted. The U.N. commissioned an investigation into how Indian people in America live, what their human rights really look like, and what can be done to improve the environment. Indian law professor and activist James Anaya was appointed Special Rapporteur on the situation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people.

In the U.S., Mr. Anaya visited tribes and indigenous peoples in Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. He concluded that in the U.S., Indian people “constitute vibrant communities that have contributed greatly to the life of the country, yet they face significant challenges that are related to widespread historical wrongs, including broken treaties and acts of oppression, and misguided government policies, that today manifest themselves in various indicators of disadvantage and impediments to the exercise of their individual and collective rights.”

We have achieved so much, and there is so much more yet to achieve. Human rights are fundamental rights, and each person has the right to proper treatment.

At the Chickasaw Nation, we will continue to build on our legacy of progress and success as we keep the doctrine of fundamental human rights for each man, woman, and child as our guidepost.


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