James Anaya, the United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, is to investigate the human rights situation of Native Americans – a result of the US's decision a year ago to sign the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. Another result will surely be an outburst of bad temper from the American right, which sees such things as outrageous interference by a body it despises. President Obama, who signed the declaration and is up for re-election in November, will face pressure from both sides.
Paranoia runs deep
Six decades ago, the US was the prime mover in the creation of the United Nations – and it remains the chief source of the UN's funding. But the relationship between the two has never been easy. For many on the American right, the UN has come to symbolise the evil forces of global governance and social welfare. They view moves like the Arms Trade Treaty as attempts to interfere with American rights and lifestyle. High ranking Republicans have promised to reform or even leave the UN – and the US owes the UN $736m in back payments.
The UN's indigenous peoples declaration was always going to cause trouble, promising as it does a "right to redress" to groups harmed by government policies in the past. The US's Native American population certainly qualifies: as late as 1924, some communities were denied American citizenship.
Over 4 million people identify themselves as American Indian or Alaskan Native, according to the 2000 US census. The government is involved in dozens of legal battles, mainly over broken treaties and land rights disputes. Earlier this month, a settlement worth over $1bn was agreed with 41 different tribes. Dozens of other tribes are still pursuing claims.
But Anaya is expected to dig deeper, looking into the causes of the appalling poverty and ill-health that is endemic among many Native American communities. He may demand changes at federal and state level. But all he is saying now is: "My visit aims at assessing how the standards of the Declaration are reflected in US law and policy and identifying needed reforms and good practices."
Further reading: More on the fight to assert Native American rights from the largest NGO devoted to the cause.