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Indigenous Peoples Testify at the 139th Session of the U.N. Human Rights Committee Formal Briefing

Indigenous Peoples Testify in Geneva at the 139th Session of the U.N. Human Rights Committee Formal Briefing


October 16, 2023


Nizhoni Begay, Communications Coordinator

Palais Wilson, Geneva, Switzerland — This week, delegations of civil society organizations from around the United States are in Geneva for the 139th Session of the Human Rights Committee (CCPR) to address United States’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) for the first time in nine years. The Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) delegation shared interventions alongside dozens of U.S. civil society organizations in calling for accountability for human rights violations before the Committee. Among those who spoke from the Indigenous Justice Working Group were WPLC Executive Director Natali Segovia (Quechua), June Lorenzo (Laguna Pueblo/Navajo (Diné)) on behalf of the International Indian Treaty Council, Chief Garry Harrison (Traditional Hereditary Chief of Chickaloon Village Alaska), and Keola Kauhane Castro (Native Hawaiian). The Indigenous speakers presented on sacred sites, decolonization in Alaska, climate change, ancestral lands and sacred sites, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Girls and Two Spirit Relatives, violation of treaty rights, religious rights, and called for the demilitarization, de-occupation and decolonization of Alaska, Hawaiʻi, Puerto Rico, and Guam.

Chief Gary Harrison, who testified first, spoke on the needs of Indigenous Peoples of Alaska: “We need to decolonize Alaska. They never decolonized Alaska in accordance with the U.N. Charter Chapter 11 Article 73, where they were supposed to bring us up to our own form of government and education, etc. Only the Original Peoples of Alaska were to vote on decolonization; however, there was a law on the books that Indigenous persons had to prove they could read and write English and have 5 white people sign that they were competent to vote. Only colonists, the miners, the merchants, the military, and other ne’er do-wells like politicians were able to vote in the statehood of Alaska. Some of the effects of colonization are the lack of subsistence rights, Indigenous Peoples should have the first choice, rather than compete with the sports hunters and fishers, commercial hunters and fishers, and so-called local communities.”

June Lorenzo, representing the International Indian Treaty Council, focused the IITC statement on the violation of treaty rights and lack of protection for sacred areas: “Over 350 Nation-to-Nation Treaties, which embodied the mutual recognition of sovereignty, are the basis for many Indigenous Peoples’ legal and political relationships in the United States. The US Constitution provides that Treaties, along with the Constitution and federal laws, constitute ‘the supreme law of the land.’”

Keola Kauhane Castro (Kanaka Maoli/Native Hawaiian), presented a collective statement on behalf of the Indigenous Justice Working Group calling on the United States to demilitarize, de-occupy, and decolonize:

Aloha mai kakou, esteemed Committee Members: We call on the United States to respect the Self-Determination of the Indigenous Peoples and Original Nations of Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam. To this end, we demand the Decolonization and De-Occupation of the illegally annexed states of Alaska and Hawaii. In the case of Hawaii, our monarchy was overthrown in 1893 by the United States and Hawaii was thereafter illegally annexed and continues to be illegally occupied to this day. In 1971, the Intl Court of Justice affirmed the principle of non-annexation which the United States must respect. We also call upon and demand the demilitarization and de-occupation of the defacto colonies of Puerto Rico and Guam. Kanaka Maoli/Native Hawaiian peoples and the United Confederation of Taino Peoples, respectively-- also demand Hawaii and Puerto Rico be returned to the list of non-self governing territories eligible for decolonization. The United States must initiate and expedite a decolonization process immediately. Our Peoples and Nations have suffered for long enough. These decisions must be made with full transparency for-- and with input from-- Indigenous Peoples and Original Nations – not by US citizens residing in occupied territories. Mahalo for your time.

WPLC Executive Director, Natali Segovia, read a collective, joint statement on behalf of the Indigenous Justice Working Group:

As Indigenous Peoples and Original Nations, we face countless challenges including dispossession of ancestral lands and sacred sites, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Girls and Two Spirit Relatives, violation of treaty rights, religious rights, and militarization.

These stem from failure to harmonize U.S. legal norms with obligations under the Covenant and result from lack of equal protection.

Religious rights of Indigenous prisoners are routinely violated, and traditional practices are disallowed. Those most likely to be killed by law enforcement are Indigenous Peoples, followed by African Americans. Historically, our Peoples are excluded or underrepresented from statistics. Our women are incarcerated more than any other group in the US. Our incarcerated population is up 85% since 2000. The longest serving US political prisoner, Leonard Peltier, is Indigenous.

Despite the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) - legislation to protect federally-recognized Indigenous children– our children are routinely removed from our communities because BIA manuals lack Tribal input and ICWA training for judges is sorely inadequate.

Our communities face criminalization for traditional, Indigenous midwifery practices, reproductive healthcare, including abortion, stillbirth, and miscarriage.

Sacred areas and ancestral lands are desecrated and destroyed from lack of free prior informed consent. Indigenous Peoples are found at frontlines because our communities are considered expendable, environmental sacrifice zones.

Lack of access to clean drinking water is rampant and extractive industry projects threaten sources of water found on our ancestral lands. Militarization threatens our subsistence as in the case of jet fuel contamination by the US Navy at Red Hill on Oahu Hawaii and threats to drinking water on Guam and Puerto Rico due to military occupation.

Water is not only a resource, it is sacred. “Water is Life” is a vital truth, necessary for all future generations. Because of this, water is tied directly to our civil and political rights, the ability to self-govern and our right to self-determination.

Thank you.

The ACLU of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming along with the Water Protector Legal Collective co-led the Indigenous Justice Working Group. Others represented within the Indigenous Justice Working Group included Indigenous Peoples and organizations from around Turtle Island and occupied colonies that supplied shadow reports ahead of the CCPR 139th Session in Geneva, with some represented virtually. An informal briefing of the Committee will follow tomorrow, along with numerous side events and the formal beginning of the U.S. review.

Photo from left to right: WPLC Staff Attorney Summer Blaze Aubrey (Cherokee/Blackfeet), Monaeka Flores (Guam), and Stephanie Amiotte (Lakota), Legal Director of ACLU of ND/SD/WY (and co-lead with WPLC of the Indigenous Justice Working Group).

For more information, visit the UNHCR website and follow our page for updates.

Born out of the #NoDAPL Movement, the Water Protector Legal Collective is an Indigenous-led legal nonprofit that provides support and advocacy for Indigenous peoples and Original Nations, the Earth, and climate justice movements. For more information about WPLC and to learn how to contribute to WPLC please visit:

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