President Barack Obama said on Thursday he was giving a belated U.S. endorsement to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, drawing hearty applause from a gathering of Native Americans.
The U.N. declaration recognizes the rights of indigenous groups, like American Indians, in such areas as culture, property and self-determination.
The United States was one of a handful of countries to refrain from backing the doctrine in the past, but following a recent review of the government’s position, Obama said, “I can announce that the United States is lending its support to this declaration.
Welcoming the move, Robert Coulter of the Indian Law Resource Center said in a written statement: “The Declaration sets an agenda for the United States and Indian nations to design a reasonable approach to a progressive realization of the duties and responsibilities in it.”
“It serves as a guide for consultations among Indian and Alaska Native nations and U.S. governmental departments and agencies,” he said.
Critics say the declaration could lead to American tribes gaining more independence and economic power than is reasonable.
In his speech the president outlined a number of programs his administration had implemented and supported that he said demonstrate its commitment to improving conditions for Native Americans and their relationship with the government.
They included bills to enhance judicial and law enforcement systems on Indian reservations, and to bolster health care.
He also cited improvements to roads and Internet services, and suggested many of his administration’s broader economic programs would help Indians as well as other Americans.