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article imageAmerican tribes turn to UN after U.S. ignores climate change

By Karen Graham     Jan 17, 2020 in Politics
Native American tribes in Louisiana and Alaska are asking the United Nations for help, claiming the United States has violated their human rights by failing to take action on climate change.
Four Louisiana tribes filed the formal complaint to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on January 15, 2020. Rising seas and more extreme storms are threatening tribal communities across the country. The complaint was filed by the Alaska Institute for Justice, an Anchorage-based nonprofit.
In their appeal, the tribes say that "inaction on the part of the federal government has led to the loss of ancestral land, destruction of sacred burial sites and the endangerment of cultural traditions, heritage, health, and life. They call it a violation of human rights and want the UN to step in and force the U.S. government to help and to hold oil and gas companies accountable for the damage they have caused on the coast."
In Louisiana, several tribes live in areas along the coast that are washing away fast, due to coastal erosion, sea-level rise and the erosion of canals carved by oil and gas companies, according to
Deep in the bayous of Louisiana  time seems to move more slowly  but not moving slowly enough to sav...
Deep in the bayous of Louisiana, time seems to move more slowly, but not moving slowly enough to save a community of Native Americans living on a strip of an island that is being swallowed by the sea
Lee Celano, AFP
Not only are tribal burial sites being drowned by the incoming ocean waters, but the continued loss of land is threatening the tribes' source of food, according to Shirell Parfait-Dardar, chief of the Grand Caillou and Dulac Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians.
She says, for a long time, they had planned to stay put. But now many of her people are moving north, to safety. “I recently found out that there is no way to save our community, It looks like our community could be gone in 20 years," she said, per "We’re not only losing our homeland. We lose so much more than that. We lose our culture. We lose our identity."
The Louisiana tribes that filed the complaint are the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians of Louisiana; the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe; the Grand Caillou and Dulac Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha Choctaw Tribe; and the Atakapa-Ishak Chawasha Tribe of the Grand Bayou Indian Village. The Native Village of Kivalina, an Alaskan tribe, joined in the U.N. complaint.
The village of Kivalina in Alaska  one of the coastal communities threatened by rising sea levels
The village of Kivalina in Alaska, one of the coastal communities threatened by rising sea levels
A word about the Native Village of Kivalina is in order. The village is located in the Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska, and lies on the southern tip of a 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) long barrier island located between the Chukchi Sea and a lagoon at the mouth of the Kivalina River.
At one time, there were 377 people living in the city, however, with rising seas, coastal erosion and the alleged pollution of their water source by the Canadian mining company Teck Cominco, the residents are being forced to find another place to live. It is estimated the barrier island will be underwater by 2025.
Federal recognition is missing
There is more to this story than the federal government's inaction on the impacts to communities and in particular, the native American tribes in this country. As has been reported on various news sites, the worst places to live in the U.S. are areas where only the poor and disenfranchised live.
These areas are the last to be helped when state or federal funds are needed to mitigate damages created by extreme weather events such as flooding, destruction of homes and infrastructure.
The other major roadblock for many of the tribes is the lack of federal recognition. All four of the Louisiana tribes lack federal recognition. Tribes that are recognized are viewed by the U.S. government as “domestic dependent nations” with inherent powers of self-government.
Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, a member of the Pointe-au-Chien tribe and director of the Indian Legal Clinic at Arizona State University says without that status, tribes have little status chance of protecting their ancestral land, pursuing financial assistance and having a say in decision-making about coastal restoration projects.
New Orleans  After the Storm
New Orleans: Hurricane Katrina was the costliest and one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States.
Photo courtesy of National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
In fairness to the federal government, the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimatcha-Choctaw received a high-profile, one-time grant from the U.S. Department of Urban Development back in 2016. However, the project has turned into a forced relocation with the Louisiana Office of Community Development setting January 31 as the final date for residents of that island to apply to be relocated.
The National Congress of American Indians explains the federal government's stance on Indigenous tribes. There are 573 federally recognized Indian Nations (variously called tribes, nations, bands, pueblos, communities and native villages) in the United States. About 229 of these diverse groups are located in Alaska.
The U.S. recognizes the sovereign status of these original Indigenous peoples of North America, and as such, the various tribes are self-governing. However, this also means the tribal governments are responsible for a broad range of governmental activities on tribal lands, including education, law enforcement, judicial systems, health care, environmental protection, natural resource management.
More about native american tribes, United Nations, 'human rights violation, Climate change, federal recognition
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