The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation has joined 10 other indigenous peoples from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States in signing a historic treaty forming the United League of Indigenous Nations.
The treaty, agreed to earlier this month at a meeting at the Lummi Nation near Bellingham, establishes an international alliance of indigenous peoples to promote common environmental, economic and cultural interests.
The signatories, all of whom had their tribes’ authority to approve the treaty, immediately called for every indigenous nation in North America and the South Pacific to join the league at a treaty ratification meeting Nov. 15 in Denver. Representatives from about 40 other indigenous nations signed the document as witnesses, pending approval of their governing bodies.
After the Denver meeting, the league will reach out to indigenous nations worldwide, said Evergreen State College Professor Alan Parker, acting secretary of the league.
The treaty was proposed by a special committee of the National Congress of American Indians in cooperation with the Assembly of First Nations of Canada, the Mataatua Assembly of Maori Tribes of Aotearoa (New Zealand), and the Ngarrindjeri Nations of South Australia.
The committee determined that relationships between indigenous nations should be defined by the laws of indigenous nations and “not by the laws of former colonial nations.”
Parker said approximately 200 native people attended the July 31-Aug. 2 meeting at the invitation of the Lummi Nation to discuss the treaty. The representatives decided to sign it immediately.
“They had already decided in their own councils that this was a good thing that should be done,” said Parker, a Chippewa Cree from Montana. He added that the original signatories will not act as a treaty organization until more indigenous nations have signed on.
“It’s the result of a longstanding effort to get the sovereignty of indigenous people recognized,” said Michael Marchand, chairman of the Colville Tribal Business Council, one of the 11 indigenous leaders who signed the treaty.
Marchand said the treaty comes at a time when “colonial governments are taking a hard-line stand against indigenous nations.”
He pointed to next month’s expected vote on the U.N. Declaration of Indigenous Rights. The United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have opposed language in the declaration calling for self-determination of indigenous peoples.
Marchand said the United League of Indigenous Nations Treaty is “an expression of willingness to work together” to protect sovereignty over indigenous lands and resources.
“There is a big movement by the U.S. and other countries to squash out all these rights,” Marchand said.
He cited as an example the Bush administration’s position on Teck Cominco, a zinc and lead smelter 10 miles north of the U.S.-Canada border that has contaminated the Columbia River with heavy metals.
Members of the Colville Tribes sued Teck Cominco after the Bush administration withdrew a cleanup order against the company under Superfund law. Teck Cominco claims it is not subject to the U.S. toxic waste cleanup law because it’s located in another country.
According to Parker, the treaty also exerts the sovereign right of indigenous nations to trade with one another unfettered by international rules on trade or the laws of “colonial” governments. By way of example, he cited the possibility of the Colville Tribes, which owns and operates a sawmill in Omak, importing timber directly from First Nations in Canada.
“We are trying to figure out whether we can trade with other tribes internationally,” Marchand said. “We are hoping to learn from each other. So far, just sharing information has been useful.”
Since 1982, the U.S. and Canadian governments have been embroiled in a trade dispute over the importation of Canadian softwood lumber into the United States. The U.S. claims the Canadian lumber can be subject to a tariff to offset what it sees as Canadian subsidies.
The United League treaty also calls on member nations to unify their efforts regarding border-crossing rights, an issue of particular concern to the Colvilles, whose traditional lands extend into Canada.
Since Sept. 11, Marchand said, it has become increasingly more difficult for his people to visit friends and relatives to the north.
Marchand said the treaty was conceived to address common concerns of indigenous peoples worldwide.
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