Non-verbatim Transcript of US Observer Delegation Meeting with Indian, Alaskan Native and Hawai'ian representatives to the UNWGIP Geneva, Switzerland 28 July, 1994
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FROM: Rudolph C. Ryser, Chairman, CWIS
DATE: 28 July 1994
SUBJECT: U.S. Mission to the UN-Geneva Meeting with NGO, Indian
Alaskan Native and Hawaiian representatives re: US Gov.
Indigenous Policy position concerning "people(s),"
consultation with Indian, Alaskan Native and Hawaiian
leaders and coordination with the Dept. of State and the
Dept of the Interior.
Meeting Convened at the Palaise des Nacions, Conference Room Salle XX
DALEE SAMBO Indian Law Resource Center, Washington,
HOWARD BERMAN Prof. of Law,California Western School of
Law, San Diego
INGRID WASHMAWAOK Indigenous Women's Network, Lake Elmo, MN
UNKNOWN PERSON REP Fort Yukon, Alaska
DARLENE FAISA GUBUAN UN-NGO Committee on the Status of Women,
MICHAEL AUSTIN Association for Endangered Peoples,
MEHLANI TRASK Hawaii
IAN SUBARTI Assist. to Ray Yowell, Western Shoshone
National Council, NV
CINDY BUHL Bank Information Center: Indigenous
Peoples Project, Wash, D.C.
GLENN MORRIS American Indian Movement Confederation,
KEKIRNI BLAISDELL Kanaka Maoli Tribunal Komike, Ka Lahui,
RUDOLPH C. RYSER Center for World Indigenous Studies,
TINA BENSHOOF Center for World Indigenous Studies,
NALANI MINTON Kanaka Maoli Tribunal Komike, Ka Lahui,
LOPEZ-BEYDIR Kanaka Maoli Tribunal Komike
MIRIAM SAPIRO, Human Rights Counselor
Legal Affairs Dept.
U.S. State Dept,
Wash DC 20520
LESLIE GERSON, US Mission, Geneva
JOHN CROOK, Counselor for Legal Affairs
U.S. Mission, Geneva
(SUMMARY OF PROCEEDINGS - NON-VERBATIM)
Dalee Sambo: Opened the meeting by explaining that the meeting was
called due to events occurring in the United States
over the previous ten to fifteen days. In
particular, questions about the U.S. government's
position regarding the Draft Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples prompted the need for
immediate consultation. During a meeting to discuss
the Summit of the Americas between representatives of
the U.S. State Department and representatives of NCAI
and the Indian Law Resource Center remarks were made
by U.S. government officials regarding the UN Working
Group on Indigenous Populations and the Sub-
Commission meeting following which prompted immediate
consultations. A meeting of NCAI/ILRC and US
officials from the Justice Dept., Interior Dept., and
the State Department followed. During this meeting
U.S. officials were urged to undertake extensive
consultations with Indian leaders as the process
leading to UN General Assembly consideration of the
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples nears
in 1995. The present meeting is the first of the
(Introductions of U.S. Officials)
John Crook: Opened his remarks indicating that he is the
"Indigenous Affairs Specialist" in the US Mission to
the United Nations in Geneva. Indicated that the
U.S. government's review of the UN Declaration on the
Rights of Indigenous Peoples was concerned with a
positive statement of change and the U.S.
government's desire to move the Declaration along
toward its full consideration by the UN General
Assembly. Expressed his view that the questions for
1. How do we work together and avoid surprising
2. What kind of mandate should the proposed
Indigenous Peoples Permanent Forum have? What
are its objectives?
3. What actions should be undertaken in
consideration of the UN Indigenous Peoples'
He went on to say that it is a new activity for
the State Department to reach out to Indians and that
it will take some time to do this.
Washmawaok: Remarked that the Permanent Forum was very
unclear and would probably not become more clear
until more consultations to place. Raised question
about the origins of the proposal. She expressed the
view that it would be appropriate that the United
States State Department undertake extensive
consultations with Indians, Alaskan Natives and
John Crook: Offered the view that the Permanent Forum proposal
came up at the Nuuk meeting on Self-Government and
was raised by the Danish government.
Dalee Sambo: Observed that the Permanent Forum follows along the
lines of positions taken by some indigenous groups
since the Nuuk meeting on Self-Government, and that
Denmark has raised the proposal in response to these
John Crook: Asked if there were any opinions regarding the idea
that the Permanent Forum should replace the UN
Working Group on Indigenous Populations?
Washmawaok: Expressed the view that general opinion seems to
support the continuation of the Working Group on
Indigenous Populations while the Permanent Forum
should be established and operate separately.
John Crook: Expressed the view that the "UN is thread-bare" and
in light of that financial condition perhaps the
Working Group should be folded into the Forum.
Glenn Morris: Expressed the view that the "Mandate of the Working
Group is clear." so no changes should be made in its
status. He turned to another subject which was
delivered in the form of three questions: The US
Mission statement before the Working Group was
remarkable in its avoidance of the use of the (s)
following the word "people" indicating a specific
preference for the singular term, What steps or
decision led to this? What internal discussions took
place leading to this decision? (and another
question) When the Clinton Administration began there
seemed a need for a top-to-bottom review of U.S.
foreign policies. Was there a review of U.S.
policies concerning indigenous affairs at the Working
Group and in the UN, and was this review conducted in
Legal Affairs in the State Department? (and another
question) What degree of cooperation and
collaboration has the US undergone with Canada,
Australia, and New Zealand?
John Crook: Expressed the view that the debate over whether the
word "people" should have an "s" attached to it or
not is "stupid" and an unnecessary concern when the
focus should be on the substance of self-
determination. He observed that it was his view that
the "s" question was symbolic and not worthy of
serious consideration. He repeated the view that the
question of the "s" was a symbolic game that "doesn't
do us credit." He expressed his view that it was
more important to address the "implications of self-
Glenn Morris: Offered the view: "Apparently somebody in the State
Department thinks it (the "s" letter) is important!
John Crook: The "s" is only a game and has no importance, but
raising the question distracts from the important
issues. On the question of the Canadians, Australians
and New Zealand: "No" there are no coordination
activities on policy regarding indigenous issues in
connection with the Working Group. He went on to
express the view that there have been some
discussions with the Australians. He further
observed that "If we get into a negotiating process
(in connection with UN Indigenous policies) we will
want to get into" closer communications with various
Howard Berman: Observed that last year everyone heard US Observer
Delegation member Kathryn Skipper deliver the U.S.
government's statement concerning self-determination
and people(s) and they reacted with great dismay. He
offered the view that the general feeling was that a
change of administration would change the U.S.
policy. He noted that in State Department Legal
Affairs there was a memo issued that was
"discontinuous" from Kathryn Skippers statement. He
suggested that there was a "policy review" in State
Department Legal Affairs and the position of the
United States seems to have "hardened."
John Crook: Disputed whether such a review occurred and whether a
document on the issues raised by Skipper even exists.
Howard Berman: "Will there be a review?"
John Crook: Expressed the view that he hoped his "statement
suggests we are in review."
Howard Berman: Raised the question about U.S. participation in the
Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination
Against and Protection of Minorities -- indicating
that during the Cold War it was apparent the U.S. and
other countries like the U.S.S.R. gave specific
instructions to their "expert participants in the
Commission" he (Berman) wondered if the Clinton
Administration gave specific instructions to Linda
Chavez (the U.S. appointed expert formally of the
Reagan White House and Civil Rights Commission) and
"what are her instructions?"
John Crook: "She is not under instructions." * * * "She has been
left as an independent expert." On the question of
whether there will be a thorough policy review:
"there isn't going to be a review." "Meriam and I
will examine the issues, but we aren't necessarily
going to review" the policy. He noted that he and
the Mission are guided by the principle: "Action
forcing events." On the matter of how the statement
from the US Observer delegation was developed: "What
we said in the past influenced what we said
yesterday. (26 July statement). He then turned to
questions of future actions: "The next action will be
procedural" and not of an "issue" nature. The
emphasis will be to press for decision to be made in
the Sub-Commission, push ahead for Human Rights
Commission consideration of the Declaration in
February (95) and eventual UN General Assembly
consideration. "Our statements in the Sub-Commission
will emphasize procedure."
Nalani Minton: Raised the question: If your are going to look at the
issues underlying the debate about the "s" in
Peoples, "Why do you see this as a game?"
John Crook: He said he didn't mean to trivialize the question
about the "s" . . . "Using 'peoples' is taken as an
acknowledgement of the right to territorial
succession." He went on to say: this is a debate
about territory. The kind of games of bracketing the
letter (s) is not conducive to agreement on the
Nalani Minton: She observed that she did not want to trivialize the
interests of Indians, Hawaiians and Alaskan Natives
who are suffering. . .the U.S. government's position
has to do with these underlying issues and can have
major affects on their rights and so "it is not a
Meriam Sapiro: Expressed the view that "we ought to get off of the
discussion about the use of the "s." She further
said the "s" issue won't be resolved until we solve
the underlying issues.
Nalani Minton: Said: "We want to talk to the issues." and expressed
the view that this is what is important. She spoke
to the question why the "Hawaiians" weren't listed in
the U.S. Observer delegation statement dated 26 July
and why they Mission hadn't given a response to
Hawaiian issues as presented.
John Crook: "I have on my computer a communications about the
Hawaiian issues." and will be sending it to
Nalani Minton: Offered an invitation to the U.S. Observer Delegation
to view a film on the Hawaiian Tribunal "so you can
better understanding the issues."
John Crook: Wanted to know if the Tribunal had rendered a
Nalani Minton: Said: "yes" it had.
Mehlani Trask: Offered the view: "We are talking about two
processes: The UN Process and the Consultation
between the State Department and Indigenous Peoples.
She noted that while there had been some discussions
between the State Department, NCAI and the Indian Law
Resource Center there had not been any discussions
between Indian Tribes (Federally recognized and
Federally Unrecognized), Hawaiians, and Alaskan
Natives. She offer the view that:
1. There should be a mail-out from the State
Department to all Indian nations and Hawaiians
informing them about U.S. actions.
2. While the Consultations have begun (this
meeting for example) some regional
consultations and discussions should be
organized inside the United States to allow for
direct participation of Indians and Hawaiians.
She then offered her view that U.S. statements at
the Working Group had "been an embarrassment" and
there should be steps taken to avoid this in the
future. Further observed that there is a
"jurisdictional overlap" between the Department of
the Interior and the Department of State and
suggested there ought to be closer communications
between these departments. Finally observed that "we
are in the Sub-Commission next week, but I am worried
about the position the U.S. will take next week."
John Crook: Offered: "To the extent we say anything we are going
to say we want procedural movement ahead." Observed
that he, Meriam Sapiro and John Shaduck need to get
people from Interior and people here together. He
continued with the view that meetings like these need
to be conducted. "The actions forcing events will be
Dalee Sambo: Suggested that the Delegation should, in its
reporting back to State Department Legal Affairs,
urge the regional consultation process. In terms of
interdepartmental coordination, she advised that the
question of international affairs had been raised
with Ada Deer, Assistant Secretary of the Interior
for Indian Affairs.
Meriam Sapiro: Offered "It seems like a promising idea (regional
consultations)." Observed that she is in "Legal
Affairs with Human Rights responsibilities generally"
and had other responsibilities like Rwanda.
Expressed concern about the shortage of personnel and
resources in the State Department to organize
regional consultations with Indians. "There may be
(other) people who can organize meetings and invite
us." She further offered that John Shaduck and Ada
Deer have expressed interest in meeting with State
Department people to figure out the best way to do
John Crook: Observed that there are limited resources in the
State Department and the possibility of organizing
such meetings would be unlikely, but it might be
possible for people to attend prearranged meetings --
though he didn't want to say even this would be
Fort Yukon: Commented that "Alaska says 'we have fulfilled
everything in the Declaration' what do you think
John Crook: Observed that what he hopes is to arrive at a common
agreement on the content for the Declaration, though,
he further noted, it is also probable that "we will
not agree on everything."
Fort Yukon: Commented that he viewed a fundamental overhaul of
international law as being necessary to embrace the
indigenous understanding of the idea of self-
John Crook: Noted that he hoped "we can embark on a process
arriving at a document that contains a shared
understanding of self-determination" though he again
indicated that it may not be possible to agree on
everything. "I am a diplomat, I make my living this
way." He went on to say that it is important to set
out a "bench mark" to measure the conduct of the
Cindy Buhl: Asked if the Observer Delegation could supply
participants with a copy of the U.S. statement
submitted to the Working Group.
(Copies of statement were then distributed)
Nalani Minton: Returning to the question of "self-determination" she
suggested that "self-determination doesn't define
itself" we will have to participate in the
discussions. She further observed that the United
States ought to recognized that "we need actions
furthering indigenous law." She offered the view
that the "United States could be a leader" on
advancing such law.
Meriam Sapiro: Asked if Nalani could help answer the question: What
the United States government should say to other
sovereign governments on the right of self-
determination of indigenous peoples to become
independent --"do you defend the right of indigenous
people to become independent?"
Nalani Minton: Offered the view that the Department of the Interior
wants to limit sovereignty, but suggested that they
and the State Department look at what indigenous
people say and "let's look historically at what the
actual rights are."
Glenn Morris: Observed that "self-determination" as the United
States uses it in connection with Indian nations is
"an internal issue." He went on to say that "self-
determination has been stolen from the international
context" and used internally even though it is now
used to mean something different. "Is there any
international dimension to the principle of self-
determination" in terms of the U.S. government's
usage of the term?
John Crook: Offered the view that "by engaging in the
international debate we clearly see the issue as
having international dimensions." He further
indicated that he had been reading Jim Anaya's
articles and had learned a great deal about the
development of arguments concerning self-
Nalani Minton: Suggested that the Observer Delegation may take it as
a "silly request," but she nevertheless asked, in the
light of Clinton's statements, if Meriam Sapiro would
write a letter to the U.S. President urging him to
recognize the importance of "self-determination."
(Quite a lot of back-and-forth exchanges about sending a letter to
the President from the State Department and how that was not the
"normal channel" for diplomatic communications with the White House.
Suggestion was made by the U.S. representatives that perhaps Nalani
should write a letter directly to Clinton. Confusion developed about
whether someone was willing to write a letter or not and how
communications actually got to the White House, etc.)
Meriam Sapiro: Offered that she did not want to create any
unrealistic expectations and that was why she was
reluctant to raise hopes. Indicated that her cables
went to the National Security Council to Eileen
Coughlin and also to the Office of Intergovernmental
Affairs in the White House.
Nalani Minton: Persisting, she suggested that perhaps the message
should go in terms of the question of "Self-
Determination." She went on to say that most of the
people traveled a long distance to Geneva because
they couldn't get a response from the U.S.
government. She asked for their support.
John Crook: Asked if there were any more questions or comments.
Rudolph Ryser: Raised to further questions recapitulating earlier
questions that seemed unanswered: "Noting that you
(Crook) said there was not a review of indigenous
policy and that you and Ms. Sapiro were conducting
your own review, are your saying that there will be
no formal policy review on the indigenous policy by
Legal Affairs or any other part of the State
Department and that only you and Meriam Sapiro will
determine U.S. government policy on your own?"
Further suggested that the U.S. government's policy
on the principle of Self-Determination is well
developed and that since others around the table had
examined the policy, it should be quite easy for the
State Department to examine the historical
development of the policy.
John Crook: Answered that he "didn't mean his earlier answers to
be unresponsive," but that he did think there would
be a thorough review of the policy in Legal Affairs.
Rudolph Ryser: Noted that the U.S. State Department had had
extensive earlier contact with the Department of the
Interior over Indian Affairs questions in connections
with the Inter-American Indian Congress and certainly
it might be useful for the Delegation to examine the
State Department and Interior Department
communications over questions arising from the
Federation of Micronesia and Micronesia in general.
John Crook: Observed that he agreed that closer relations between
the State Department and the Department of the
Interior were necessary and that more deliberate
steps would be taken to arrange cooperation.
(The meeting was then called to an end at 7:30pm)
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