|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks before the State Department's Fourth Annual Meeting with American Indians and Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Other Indigenous Americans
July 14, 1999, Washington, DC
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
As Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Frank. I'm pleased to welcome everyone on the second day of these consultations. I know that many of you came a long way to be here -- in more ways than one.
This is the State Department's fourth annual meeting with American Indians and Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other indigenous Americans. And I'm very happy to be able to speak to you for the second year in a row.
Since last year's consultations, the international community has devoted enormous energy to the issue of what constitutes fair treatment of minority populations and indigenous peoples worldwide -- and to deciding, by contrast, what treatment simply cannot be tolerated.
Not too long ago, such questions were mainly the province of academics and human rights lawyers. But lately, they have demanded the attention of heads of state, foreign ministers -- and generals, as well.
I have heard about President Clinton's meeting this spring with representatives of the North Plains tribes. I know about the petition they presented him expressing support for his stand against ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
And I was especially moved when I found out about the moment in that meeting when one particular tribal leader stood up to say that both his uncles had served America with distinction in wartime; that his great great-grandfather had been slaughtered by the 7th Cavalry at Wounded Knee; and that he now had only one son, whom he loved very much -- but that if his son was needed to go fight against ethnic cleansing and murder based on race or religion, he would be proud for him to go stand for the United States and for the humanity of every human being. The tribal leaders made an unforgettable point with the President that day. And they reminded us in Washington why we need these consultations to do a vital part of our job.
Some of the most shameful episodes in American history have involved the treatment of your ancestors. Thankfully, the worst is behind us. But much more has to improve before economic and educational opportunities, healthcare and housing are as abundant in Indian country as they should be. That's why the President traveled to Pine Ridge Reservation last week, to spur that process along.
Now, there's not a great deal the State Department can do to improve the situation of America's indigenous peoples in those direct ways. We're not the Interior Department or Justice or HHS; and Lord knows, we're not the Congress.
What we are is diplomats; what we can do is represent this country effectively abroad. That means shaping a foreign policy that represents not just some Americans, but all of them -- including the first Americans.
It means taking into account your concerns on matters such as natural resources and cultural and tribal issues.
And it means acknowledging that international human rights standards are not just tools for hammering away at other countries, but also mirrors we can hold up to our own shortcomings and challenge ourselves, in the words of the Framers, "to form a more perfect Union."
Twenty years ago, the plight of indigenous peoples was relegated to the margins of international diplomacy. Today, the treatment and rights of these peoples are increasingly recognized as affecting such mainstream foreign policy issues as fair trade, sustainable development and global climate change.
In recent years, the sessions on the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have become the best-attended human rights meetings at the UN. And the corresponding declaration at the Organization of American States is moving -- in diplomatic terms -- at the speed of light.
I'm pleased to report that the State Department led the successful effort to persuade the OAS to open up the latest phase of its negotiations to indigenous representatives. Now we are working with that body to define a specific means for obtaining indigenous input in the next phase as well. I invite you to share your views on this with Ambassador Marrero, if not today, then within the next month or two.
Does any of this mean we can relax because success is at hand? Far from it. You and I both know that even as to these two declarations, much remains to be done -- including changing attitudes in this country. And as we surmount these obstacles, we will also have to confront gross human rights abuses in our own Hemisphere, and the flat denials of many countries in Asia and Africa that any of their peoples can even be recognized as indigenous.
This evolution in attitudes and laws and practices will be measured in years, not months. But I'm convinced that it will happen.
And I am grateful to you for keeping our feet to the fire. Because America has set some high standards and principles to live up to. And when it comes to the rights of indigenous peoples -- as with all human rights issues -- we should be out front pulling, not in the rear, dragging our heels.
That is why we've taken such a strong interest in the plight of the indigenous throughout this Hemisphere, including the situation in Chiapas; the treatment of the Yanomamo Indians on the Brazil-Venezuela border; and the longstanding discrimination and violence against the Mayan people in Guatemala.
And it is why we've pressed countries elsewhere to improve their treatment of indigenous peoples and minorities, including those of East Timor and Irian Jaya in Indonesia; the Hill Tribes of Southeast Asia; and the people of Tibet.
In each of these situations, and others, the Department has put real muscle behind its efforts. We've sent high officials -- including myself -- to investigate, prod and publicize. We've used our human rights reporting to shine a spotlight on abuses. And we've exercised our influence in bilateral relationships, multilateral bodies, and even international financial institutions to raise our voices on behalf of those who cannot be heard.
Of course, bad habits die hard, and progress in such matters rarely comes in great leaps forward. But I consider this among the most important work we do -- and it does make a difference. Leslie Gerson and other human rights officials here can update you in more detail. And please make this a two-way street, by giving us the benefit of your views in this area as well.
In the few minutes that remain, I'd like to turn to some of the natural resource-related issues I talked about last year, and briefly update you on progress.
Probably our biggest stride forward came in the international agreement we completed last month to manage North America's Pacific Salmon fishery. Here, years of painstaking negotiations got the right result: a sound and sustainable treaty. And we got there in the right way: by putting the Indian tribes at the bargaining table, right where they belonged.
The Pacific Salmon treaty will allow both salmon stocks and salmon fishers to thrive for generations to come. It replaces fixed harvest quotas with an abundance-based regime. And it is fair to both the United States and Canada, and to the Indian tribes as well.
This treaty will stand the test of time because it reflects a key Native American insight. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.
Last year I noted this Department's support in the International Whaling Commission for the Makah [Ma-KA] Tribe's efforts to revive a practice central to its cultural identity. This year, at long last, those controversial whale hunts took place.
But a terrible phenomenon took place alongside them. Zealots expressed their opposition through acts of violence and cowardice, such as bomb threats against local tribal schools, of all places.
My friends, that is simply not acceptable. Opponents like that have to ask whether they truly are expressing love for whales -- or hostility toward Indians.
On a related front, the Department has been working closely with the Inuit [IN-oo-it] to conclude an agreement with Russia over subsistence hunting of polar bears in the Bering Sea area. This will protect the bears' habitat and allow subsistence quotas to be shared.
We've been at work on another northern hunting issue, involving the United States Migratory Bird Treaties with Canada and Mexico. As a result, under the new Protocols to those Treaties, subsistence hunting by indigenous communities is clearly permitted. And Alaska Natives gain the role they deserve in recommending how to manage this precious resource.
Last year I noted the Department's success in supporting the inclusion of the Aleuts [Al-ee-OOTS] as permanent participants in the Arctic Council. We remain committed to promoting participation in the Council by other U.S. indigenous groups as well.
As Chair of the Council, the U.S. is focusing its efforts on sustainable development and native health issues such as keeping traditional foods free of toxins. We are learning the importance of native knowledge in these areas. And we are working on a "Tele-medicine" project that will enhance health care in remote Alaskan communities.
Finally, on the biodiversity front, the Department has learned a great deal from our consultations with you about the importance of protecting indigenous knowledge. So we have continued to exercise vigilance in ensuring that the Biodiversity Convention and its protocols will not compromise your treaty rights in any way.
There are other matters that I only have time to suggest you raise with us later. One potentially rewarding one involves foreign trade, and whether the Department might be able to do more to help open up new markets for your products abroad -- as Canada has done.
It would take a crystal ball to reveal exactly how all these issues will unfold. Unfortunately, I think my grandson borrowed mine.
But even without it, some things I already know.
I'm proud to serve a President who has demonstrated his commitment to improving the lives of your people. I'm proud to be part of an Administration that is enhancing the United States government-to-government relationship with the Indian nations. And I'm delighted to see our courts acting on the principle that when it comes to U.S. treaties with the Indian tribes, great nations, like great people, ought to honor their word.
As Secretary of State, my commitment is to ensure that this Department consults and works in good faith with you, just as I know you want to do with us. Because my mission is a foreign policy for America that reflects the aspirations of all the peoples in our midst.
To that great task I pledge my own best efforts, and respectfully solicit both your counsel and support.
Thank you very much.
[End of Document]