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Inter-American Commission Finds Human Rights Violations After Historic Visit With AK, LA Tribal Nations

 

The historic visit was the first that REDESCA has made to the United States on the issue of forced displacement of Indigenous Peoples in the context of climate change.

Contact: Michael Givens, 857-762-2187, mgivens@uusc.org

In May 2023, representatives from the Organization of American States (OAS) visited Indigenous communities in Alaska and Louisiana for in-depth discussions about the impacts of the climate crisis on the social, economic, environmental, and cultural experiences of Native nations in both states.

In late August, the Special Rapporteur for Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) Soledad García Muñoz released a 23-page report detailing its findings and 12 key recommendations for the United States government. REDESCA’s findings affirm the intersectionality between the impacts of unabated fossil fuel extraction, the growing climate crisis, and discriminatory policies and practices of U.S government agencies at all levels.

“The impacts of climate change occur within a web of historical and contemporary oppressions, diverse political and legal statuses, and limited economic resources,” reads a section of the report. Indigenous vulnerability and resilience to climate change cannot be detached from the context of colonialism, which created both the economic conditions for anthropogenic climate change and the social conditions that limit Indigenous resistance and resilience capacity.”

The report assesses the impacts of inadequate government responses and its impacts on public health, food and water security, housing, sanitation, education, culture, and other social, economic, civil, cultural and political rights of Indigenous People and consequently the need for more robust, coordinated, and comprehensive federal government guidance and policy that addresses and centers the protection and well-being of these communities over economic and financial interests and gains. The recommendations include:

  • The United States adopt urgent measures to guarantee human rights protection and the effective participation of Indigenous Peoples in decision-making processes;
  • The integration of their Indigenous wisdom and traditional knowledge in all climate change adaptation processes and a review of existing legal frameworks to ensure that Indigenous communities have access to funds and emergency relief; and
  • The U.S. ratify and adopt existing human rights conventions on human rights.

Native leaders guided Muñoz and her staff on a tour of four Alaska Native villages and four Indigenous Louisiana communities to discuss the effects of climate change and forced displacement on these communities. Those communities included:

  • Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi Chitimacha Choctaw Tribe, Dulac, Louisiana
  • Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe (PACIT), Pointe-au-Chien, Louisiana
  • Jean Charles Choctaw Nation, Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana
  • Atakapa-Ishak/Chawasha Tribe, Grand Bayou Village, Louisiana
  • Newtok, Alaska
  • Kwigillingok, Alaska
  • Nunapitchuk, Alaska
  • Kivalina, Alaska

“Right now in Nunapitchuk, there is water everywhere,” said Morris Alexie of the Alaska Native village of Nunapitchuk, who met with the Rapporteur. “Our homes are surrounded by pools of water. Our land is falling into the water. We’re living in an Alaskan quicksand. Nowhere in our village is safe. We are seeing first-hand the effects of climate change on our community and on our lives.”

Stanley Tom of Newtok, Alaska stressed the seriousness of the situation in his own community during the visit. He noted that the nearby landfill is out of commission and trash is piling up and attracting dogs.

“We need to reach out to social media to amplify this report so that we can get as many people to know about our situation,” Tom said, noting that the landfill and waste sanitation issues in the remote village have contributed to a very low standard of living for members of the Native community.

Tom also emphasized the importance of Alaska Public Law 108-129, which oversees the exchange of land between an Alaska Indigenous community, control of the Newtok site, and the title to the lands. Tom also discussed other sociopolitical concerns such as ensuring the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Alaska state commissioner recognize the sovereignty of the Newtok Tribal government, which includes acknowledging local election results. Lastly, Tom referenced tensions betwee the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Newtok community.

Elder Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi Chitimacha Choctaw Tribe discussed the ramifications of the visit and how it will impact the tribe’s future.

“We are very thankful for the opportunity to share our truth with the Special Rapporteur and the world,” she said. “It breaks my heart that even in today’s time this is the truth that we are amplifying, rather than the great achievement of ensuring that our beautiful Mother Earth and our precious future generations who depend on her are protected and loved. We uplift and celebrate the progress that has been made towards a just future for all, but there is much work still needing to be done. I pray that we can continue to move forward with love and positive progress. Each and every life is dependent upon it. This is a truth that has been understood by our People since time immemorial, and yet we are stripped from our duties as stewards for the continued purpose of harmful colonization, discrimination, and disenfranchisement. May this opportunity bring further healing for all.”

“REDESCA’s findings and recommendations are a tool that Tribal Nations and their supporting civil society groups will be using to engage directly with the U.S. government to generate awareness of the human rights situation happening in these communities and the need for urgent human rights and justice-centered responses,” said Salote Soqo, director of Advocacy, Global Displacement for UUSC.

EarthRights International Climate Justice Attorney Maryum Jordan issued the following response:

“These findings confirm what these communities have been trying to tell the world for years—that the climate crisis is threatening their ways of life. We urge the Biden administration to take these findings seriously and work with the communities to ensure that their human rights are honored in any strategies intended to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

The visit was coordinated by UUSCEarthRights International, and their partners, the Alaska Institute for Justice and the Lowlander Center

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The Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of all Alaskans. Formerly known as the Alaska Immigration Justice Project, it transformed into the Alaska Institute for Justice to reflect the inclusion of an additional program dedicated to climate and social justice issues, the Research and Policy Institute.

The Lowlander Center supports Louisiana’s lowland communities and places, both inland and coastal, for the benefit of both people and environment.

EarthRights International is a non-governmental, non-profit organization that combines the power of law with the power of people in defense of human rights and the environment, which they define as “earth rights.” They take legal action against perpetrators of earth rights abuses, train activists, and work with communities to demand meaningful and lasting change.

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is a human rights and solidarity organization founded as a rescue mission in 1940 during the Holocaust. Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and with a membership of more than 35,000 supporters across the United States, UUSC’s programs focus on the issues of climate and disaster justice, migration justice, and international justice and accountability.

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