Indigenous Peoples in the United States

Indigenous Peoples in the United States


Indigenous Peoples in the USA are mainly Native American peoples and Alaska Native peoples. In May 2016, 567 tribal entities were federally recognised, and most of these have recognised national homelands.

In 2010, the United States announced that it would support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as moral guidance after voting against it in 2007. However, it has not ratified ILO Convention 169, an international legal instrument dealing specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. Around 6.6 million people in the United States, or 2% of the total population, identify as Native American or Alaska Native, either alone or in combination with another ethnic identity. Around 2.5 million, or 0.8% of the population, identify as Native American or Alaska Native alone.

23% of the Native population lives in Native American areas or Alaska Native villages. The state with the largest Native population is California, while the place with the largest Native population is New York City. While socioeconomic indicators vary widely across different regions, the poverty rate for those who identify as Native American or Alaska Native alone is around 27%.

Recognized Native nations are sovereign but wards of the state. The federal government mandates tribal consultation, but has plenary power over indigenous nations. American Indians in the United States are generally American citizens.

Main challenges
Policies consistent with diminishing tribal land rights, sovereignty, and input into land and resource issues have multiplied under the Trump administration. In North Dakota, two lawmakers introduced a state bill calling on the federal government to allow states to solve economic problems on reservations. Since its early days, the administration has mulled over proposals to privatize Native lands, which would remove federal guidelines and tribal sovereignty that are seen as obstacles to development.

The Environmental Protection Agency came to a settlement that would allow the Pebble mine to apply for a permit. The Pebble project targets copper deposits near Bristol Bay in Alaska. A confederation of local Alaska Native village corporations, the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, opposes the mine for fear that it will destroy the rich salmon fishery in the bay. Another decision by the Obama administration was reversed in December. President Trump reduced both the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears; Ears National Monuments in Utah. Bears & Ears, established in December 2016, was reduced by 85%, from 1,351,849 acres to 201,876 acres. This will allow the state of Utah to open lands for resource extraction of uranium, oil, and gas deposits.

Potential progress
In 2016, the former President Obama declared the Bears Ears area in Utah a National Monument which holds sacred sites for the Ute, the Navajo, the Hopi, and the Zuni tribes. One of These two decisions has already been undone by the Trump administration, along with the fate of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In December 2016, members of the new President’s campaign support groups, proposed privatizing Native lands that hold natural resources, thereby removing federal oversight and regulations.

In August 2016, the Inupiat village of Shishmaref held an election on whether to develop a new village site on the mainland in order to relocate from a barrier island that has been heavily eroded. Over 30 Alaskan villages face an imminent threat of coastal erosion and flooding caused by climate change. Shishmaref voted to relocate in 1973 and in 2002, but could not find either funds or suitable locations to make the move happen. While the move would now cost USD 200 million, the state is ready to grant USD 8 million.

In August 2017, Cherokee Freedmen regained citizenship rights in the Cherokee nation. The decision in Cherokee Nation v. Nash held that the descendants of former Cherokee slaves are entitled to full citizenship in the Cherokee nation. Also in Oklahoma, a federal judge ruled in favour of Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche landowners who own a parcel of trust land crossed by a gas pipeline. The landowners sued the pipeline company for trespass. The judge ordered the pipeline company to cease operation and remove the pipeline from the land.