The Parliament Blog

Securing Indigenous Rights to Sacred Places with the UN Declaration

Photo from Collaborative Journeys blog

by Karla E.General
from Indian Country Today Media Network.Com

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples presents a new opportunity and a new kind of legal authority that could help Native peoples to secure rights to sacred places, and to preserve and protect cultural, religious, and spiritual practices.

The Declaration recognizes and affirms the rights of indigenous peoples to their cultural, religious, and spiritual practices, to have private access to sacred sites (Arts. 12(1), 11(1)), as well as to maintain and strengthen their spiritual relationship with their traditionally held lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources (Art. 25). With the Declaration, Native peoples have rights acknowledged by the international community of nations, including rights to sacred places both within existing reservation or territorial boundaries and beyond.

As rights-holders, Native nations and individuals have the right to cultural, religious, and spiritual practices. As duty-bearer, the U.S. has the responsibility to prevent infringement of these rights. For instance, the Declaration provides that the U.S. must consult with indigenous peoples to obtain their free, prior, and informed consent when considering projects affecting their lands, territories, and resources (Art. 32(2)) or when adopting any legislative or administrative measures that may affect them (Art. 19), and to provide redress for takings of cultural, intellectual, religious, and spiritual property (Art. 11(2)). Generally, in implementing the Declaration, the U.S. is also obligated to, “in conjunction and cooperation with indigenous peoples … take the appropriate measures, including legislative measures, to achieve the ends of this Declaration” (Art. 38).

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