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Tribal Nations Hold U.S. Government Accountable for Committing Human Rights Violations by Failing to Address Climate Change

Five tribes file complaint with United Nations alleging that the U.S. has abdicated its responsibility to protect the rights of tribal members; will hold a press call on January 16
For Immediate Release: January 15, 2020

Contact: Mike Givens, mgivens@uusc.org, 857-540-0617


Today, tribal nations in Louisiana and Alaska will file a formal complaint with the United Nations alleging that the U.S. government committed serious human rights violations by failing to fight the devastating impacts of climate change.

The complaint documents how the United States has permanently damaged tribal lands by failing to respond to rising seas and other climate change-caused disasters while turning a blind eye to the harmful exploitation of those lands by oil and gas companies. The complaint also notes that tribal communities have been forced to abandon their ancestral homes and have lost their ability to farm and fish, which they rely on to both sustain themselves and earn a living. After repeatedly appealing to the federal and state governments for help, these tribes have been left with no other option but to request assistance from the U.N.

The complaint was filed in Geneva with Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, and Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It comes just weeks after the conclusion of the twenty-fifth Conference of Parties climate summit in Madrid, Spain, where Indigenous peoples from around the world highlighted the abhorrent human rights violations that their communities are facing due to the failure of their governments to protect them from the climate crisis, a message which renowned activist Greta Thunberg has shared in the lead up to the global climate talks.

The tribal communities have asked the U.N. to push the United States to allocate new funding to restore tribal lands and hunting and fishing areas, give assistance to tribes currently working to stay in their homes despite rising sea levels, and provide aid to villages and tribes in Alaska and Louisiana that have been forced to relocate.

More broadly, the tribal communities also ask that the U.S. government respect and recognize their sovereignty, which would make it easier for them to defend their own interests and fight the oil and gas companies despoiling their lands.

“With Katrina, the B.P. oil spill, and rising waters, habitat loss is occurring rapidly and making it difficult for us to continue to live our traditional ways of working and feeding ourselves,” said Rosina Philippe of the Atakapa-Ishak Chawasha Tribe in Louisiana, one of the complainants. “Our physical survival is in jeopardy; but the greater danger is our future, our survival as tribal people.”

The complaint was filed by the Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ), an Anchorage-based nonprofit providing direct services to immigrants, refugees, and Alaska Native communities, with support from legal expert Professor Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, a representative of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe, and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee is a nonprofit that partners with communities and grassroots organizations advancing human rights and social justice around the world and is supporting AIJ along with the Lowlander Center, a nonprofit in southern Louisiana working with native communities on environmental justice issues.

To speak to tribal leaders and others involved in filing the complaint, please contact UUSC spokesperson Mike Givens.

Attached is a summary of the full complaint. 


Tribal Chief Shirell Parfait-Dardar
Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimatcha-Choctaw Tribe 

Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana

Chief Shirell is the Traditional Chief of the Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe in the southern part of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. In 2018, she was named the chair of the Louisiana Native American Commission, which provides access to resources to native communities across the state. 

Professor Patricia Ferguson-Bohnee
Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe 

Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana

Patricia, a member of the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe, has substantial experience in Indian law, election law and policy matters, voting rights, and status clarification of tribes. She is a clinical professor of law, the faculty director of the Indian Legal Program, and the director of the Indian Legal Clinic at Arizona State University. 

Rachel Gore Freed

Vice President and Chief Program Officer

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Rachel Gore Freed is a human rights lawyer, community organizer, social justice advocate, and educator with a wealth of domestic and international experience. As UUSC’s Vice President and Chief Program Officer, Freed leads the organization’s creative and effective approaches to advancing human rights.


The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is a nonprofit, nonsectarian organization advancing human rights together with an international community of grassroots partners and advocates.