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Native Americans hold US government to account on climate change

16 January 2020 at 4:15 pm
Luke Michael
US tribes say their physical survival is in jeopardy 

Luke Michael | 16 January 2020 at 4:15 pm


Native Americans hold US government to account on climate change
16 January 2020 at 4:15 pm

US tribes say their physical survival is in jeopardy 

Tribal nations in Louisiana and Alaska are filing a formal complaint with the United Nations accusing the US government of causing serious human rights violations by failing to act on climate change.  

The complaint said the government has failed to protect the human rights of Native Americans, who say they are being forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands.

The tribal communities are calling on the UN to push the United States to allocate new funding to restore tribal lands, help tribes fighting to stay in their homes, and offer aid to people who have been forced to relocate.

Rosina Philippe of the Atakapa-Ishak Chawasha Tribe in Louisiana said complainants were also urging the US government to respect and recognise their sovereignty, to help tribes defend their own interests and fight the oil and gas companies plundering their lands.

“With [Hurricane] Katrina, the BP 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,” Philippe said.

“Our physical survival is in jeopardy; but the greater danger is our future, our survival as tribal people.”

The complaint has been filed in Geneva with UN special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, and UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Vicky Tauli-Corpuz.

It alleges that the US has permanently damaged tribal lands by failing to respond to rising sea levels and other climate-induced disasters, while ignoring the exploitation of land by oil and gas companies.

The tribes said they had been left with no other option but to request assistance from the UN since their repeated pleas to the federal and state governments had been ignored.                                                                                                             

The government’s inaction has gone beyond basic negligence where the government has failed to engage, consult, acknowledge and promote the self-determination of these tribes as they identify and develop adaptation strategies, including resettlement,” the complaint said.

“By failing to act, the US government has placed these tribes at existential risk.”

The complaint was filed by the not-for-profit Alaska Institute for Justice, with support from legal expert Professor Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, a Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe representative, and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. 

Indigenous peoples also highlighted the failure of their governments to protect them from the climate crisis at the recent Conference of Parties climate summit in Madrid, a notion supported by renowned teenage activist Greta Thunberg.  

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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