The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, wrapped up his investigative visits to the United States last week with a press conference on May 4 where one comment in particular is creating a bit of a stir.
During the press conference, Anaya said, “I’m talking about restoring to Indigenous Peoples what obviously they’re entitled to and they have a legitimate claim to in a way that is not devisive but restorative. That’s the idea behind reconciliation.”
His quote sparked a flurry of headlines from media outlets around the globe, including The Guardian’s “US should return stolen land to Indian tribes, says United Nations;” the conservative blog Hotair.com’s “UN wants the US to return Native American lands;” The Daily Mail’s “Could the U.S. give up Mount Rushmore? Iconic site is on list of ‘sacred lands’ UN says must be returned to Native Americans;” and the Chicago Tribune’s “U.S. must heal native peoples’ wounds, return lands: U.N.”
The quote, however, was made in connection with the Black Hills of South Dakota, which Anaya was using as an example of the harsh conditions indigenous Americans continue to face and an area that could benefit from land restoration. The restoration being referred to is that of land set aside for the Sioux tribes in an 1868 treaty, that included the Black Hills, and later taken away by Congress with a law passed in 1877 according to the Associated Press.
According to Indian Country Today Media Network’s coverage of the conference, during Anaya’s example of the Sioux tribe and the Black Hills he stated, “And a resolve to try to get back some of the land [Sioux tribes] lost hopefully that kind of thing can occur over time. That is the kind of thing that I’m suggesting as part of the process of reconciliation that there be some genuine efforts of land restoration.”
The Sioux tribes and the Black Hills area was one of Anaya’s stops over the last two weeks that took him to Indian country and urban areas in Arizona, Alaska, South Dakota and Washington.
Upon the conclusion of his visits Anaya released an end-of mission statement where he said, “In all my consultations with Indigenous Peoples in the places I visited it was impressed upon me that the sense of loss, alienation and indignity is pervasive throughout Indian country.”
Anaya’s Black Hills example of restoration was blanketed in his end-of mission statement, “Over the past twelve days, I have heard stories that make evident the profound hurt that Indigenous Peoples continue to feel because of the history of oppression they have faced. This history—as is widely known but often forgotten—includes the dispossession of the vast majority of their lands and resources, the removal of children from their families and communities, the breakdown of their traditional structures, the loss of their languages, the breaking of treaties, and numerous instances of outrights brutality, all grounded on racial discrimination.
“It is clear that this history does not just blemish the past, but translates into present day disadvantage for Indigenous Peoples in the country. The intergenerational trauma suffered by indigenous societies is deeply felt and manifested in deep social ills that afflict indigenous Americans in ways not experienced by others,” he says in his statement.
For more with Anaya, visit ICTMN Wednesday for an exclusive one-on-one interview with correspondent Jenni Monet that followed his press conference.