The Pit River Tribe of Northern California became the third tribe to officially affirm the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, declaring in a tribal resolution on April 6 that it is a “minimum expression” of their indigenous rights.
“This will provide a new framework for relations between states and Indigenous Peoples based on affirming recognition of minimum human rights standards for us as Indigenous Peoples,” Pit River Tribal Chairman Juan Venegas said.
The Pit River Tribe joins the Gila River Tribe of Arizona and Seminole Nation of Oklahoma in officially affirming the Declaration, and they are the first tribe to do so since President Obama’s qualified endorsement of the Declaration in December of 2010.
The tribe’s affirmation of the Declaration, which was cemented by a March 29 unanimous vote by the tribal council, also affirmed the tribe’s self-determination over its tribal lands and ancestral territory and is the first step in creating a meaningful consultation and resource policy, said Morning Star Gali, Assistant Tribal Historic Preservation Officer.
“This process started when the U.S. Forest Service asked us to hold trainings on consultation because they didn’t understand the process,” Gali said. “So we said let’s not put them in this position again and let’s come up with a policy based on the Declaration.”
The Declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous people, as well as their rights to preserve and practice their culture, identity and language. It also asserts indigenous people have free, prior and informed consent of developments or projects that might affect their lands as well as the right to participate in decision making, Gali said.
Articles in the Declaration will support the tribe’s effort to protect sacred sites at Medicine Lake from proposed geothermal development by the Calpine Corporation and the Bureau of Land Management, Venegas said.
The Pit River Tribe is one of the 566 federally recognized tribes and has 2,539 members and 11 autonomous bands, and more than 150 square miles of ancestral territory and total lands are held in trust for the Pit River, including a reservation and six rancherias.
The Declaration was developed by Indigenous Peoples all over the world over a 30-year process, and the United Nations adopted it in 2007, with 144 of 192 member nations casting affirmative votes. A handful of nations abstained from the final vote, a handful had absentee delegates, but only four voted against the Declaration: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. All four have changed its stance in some way since then.