Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and EMRIP

U.S. Statement as the Country Concerned as delivered by Katherine Gorove

Human Rights Council 36th Session
Geneva, September 20, 2017

The United States thanks the Special Rapporteur Tauli-Corpuz for her presentation.  During the Special Rapporteur’s December 2016 visit to the United States, our federal agencies welcomed the opportunity to outline their efforts on behalf of U.S. indigenous peoples.  We would like to comment on her report on the SR’s visit, which focused on extractive industries.

The report makes helpful recommendations on actions the U.S. government can take to assess the environmental and health effects of infrastructure projects on indigenous peoples.  It also contains useful proposals on how to address violence against indigenous women and girls.

There are, however, some assertions and conclusions in the report with which the United States respectfully disagrees.  For example, the report concludes that the U.S. government’s framework for consultations with tribal leaders – including those on energy and infrastructure projects – result in ad hoc application on an agency-by-agency basis, lack accountability, and are ineffective [para. 14].  We would like to clarify and highlight that several U.S government agencies routinely consult with tribal governments on energy and infrastructure issues in accountable and effective ways that allow for tribes’ timely and good faith involvement.  We take our tribal consultation responsibilities seriously and strive to involve senior level officials and other subject matter experts, as appropriate.  The United States has a complex statutory and regulatory framework in place governing federal decisions on various aspects of energy and infrastructure projects that affect when and how consultations with federally recognized tribes may occur.  Each statute, regulation, order, policy, and protocol must be considered individually and in relationship with each other to determine how best to conduct government-to-government consultations with Indian tribes.  Moreover, the uniqueness of each tribal entity must also be taken into account.  Because of these factors, there is no single consultation model appropriate for all situations, and the form a particular consultation should take needs to be tailored to each instance.

The United States also respectfully disagrees with the assertions and conclusions in the report that the U.S. government did not hold the required consultations on the Dakota Access Pipeline [paras 26 and 64].  We conducted numerous consultations with affected Indian tribes over a period of three years for the areas under our jurisdiction.

Finally, the report’s closing section, entitled “Criminalization of Indigenous Dissent” [paras. 93-95], gives the misimpression that dissent by indigenous persons is criminalized in the United States.  No indigenous activist has been jailed on charges of dissent in the United States.  While the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protects disagreement with policies of the U.S. government, violent acts in response to government policies are illegal and subject to all lawful sanctions.

Turning now to the thematic report and presentation of the Special Rapporteur, focusing on climate change and its impacts on indigenous peoples.  We wish to highlight a few of our efforts.  We have acted to reduce the impacts of climate change on indigenous communities.  A partnership of federal agencies and organizations led by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) established the online Climate Resilience Toolkit, which helps the general public and indigenous tribes plan for and adapt to climate change.  In 2016 the DOI Bureau of Reclamation provided tribes with more than $6 million in grants and technical assistance to adapt to the impact of severe drought affecting tribes in several U.S. states.  The funds helped tribes create comprehensive drought response plans and improve existing water facilities.  The DOI also gave almost $3 million in technical assistance grants to help tribes develop, maintain, and protect their water and related resources.

Thank you Mr. Vice President and thank you to the Special Rapporteur.