A Column By
Native American Studies
University of California, Davis
I am going to argue that it is time for First American Nations to be represented in the United Nations, in the General Assembly and on the Security Council, not simply in NGO status (as non-governmental organizations). Impossible you say? Well, lets see!
When the UN was formed, just after World War II, the Soviet Union was able to secure voting membership for two of the member-states of the Soviet Union. Both Belarus and Ukranya (White Russia and Ukraine) were seated as full members of the UN even though they were also part of the USSR. At that time the United States could have also secured three seats as well, bringing in the Navajo Nation and the Papago (Tohono O'odham), for example. But, of course, the time was not ripe then for indigenous representation.
More recently, the European Economic Community and the Western European Union have created a new super-state consisting in many formerly-sovereign republics and monarchies which have now become unified under a common legal, economic and court system. But none of these states have lost their membership in the UN because they have become part of a new union.
The fact that Britain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, etc. have merged together and now have a common external frontier has NOT cost them their UN seats! This is great for Native Nations because it establishes another precedent.
If Ukranya and Belarus could be part of the UN while still part of the USSR, and if Britain, France, etc. can still be part of the UN while also being in a united Europe, then it follows that the larger Native Nations can also have regular seats in the UN (and in other international bodies, such as commissions). It follows also that Puerto Rico (Borinquen), Guam, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands might also possess direct representation in the UN.
Perhaps the way to do it is this: the Navaho Nation and Puerto Rico (as an example) might both apply for full membership in the United Nations, using as precedents the facts cited above, as well as their historic status as distinct political entities. Of course, we can expect the US Department of State to oppose both applications (even as it opposes the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples or wants to make its provisions non-mandatory).
But it may be that a majority of the General Assembly, in spite of US opposition, will decide to seat Navajo and Boricua delegations. And if not, nothing has been lost, since two other Native Nations can try after that, until victory finally comes.
Another possible angle is to offer a deal to China over Tibet. The Tibetans are having their culture and religion suppressed by the Chinese government and Chinese settlers are moving in to become a majority in the Tibetan's own land. Sound familiar? Well, perhaps a deal can be worked out where the People's Republic of China might be willing to grant Tibet autonomy (self-rule) and a seat in the UN if the United States is willing to also give up part of ITS colonial empire. In other words, perhaps both Tibet and the Navajo Nation (or some other area) could be granted self-rule and seats in the UN.
I think it is time that we seriously push the idea that small nations deserve sovereignty and self-rule. It was great to see the USSR lose half of its territory, but we still have giants like the USA and China, giants which have a lot of military power and the ability to lord it over their neighbors. Sadly, these giants and their allies did not follow the example of the USSR in giving up conquered areas, nor have they shown a willingness to give up any real power to the small nations within their midst's.
But perhaps we can begin to make a crack in the system of imperialism by pushing for autonomy and UN membership for Native Nations and such oppressed nationalities as the Tibetans, the Kirghiz and Kazakhs of Chinese-occupied Turkestan, the Mongols of Inner Mongolia, and the Kurds of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. This would include Puerto Rico (which is essentially the Boricua branch of the Taino Nation).
We cannot expect Saddam to give the Kurds the right to autonomy and a UN seat, however, until the United States sets an example to the globe by letting First Nations people determine their own destinies. Perhaps it is time to go beyond the many bad recent Supreme Court decisions such as those written by Clarence Thomas (South Dakota v. Bourland and also Venetie), a justice who is ready to deny the validity of treaties [contracts] with Native Nations. To do that more actual tribal governments must become involved at the UN.
[Professor Jack D. Forbes, Powhatan-Delaware, is the author of COLUMBUS AND OTHER CANNIBALS, RED BLOOD, AFRICANS AND NATIVE AMERICANS and other books.] ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Phone 530-752-3237.