Oklahoma Workshops Support Tribal Implementation of UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


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In Fall 2021, the Implementation Project partnered with the Pawnee Nation and the Cherokee Nation to offer workshops about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Declaration). Funding from the Henry Luce Foundation allowed the Implementation Project to conduct a workshop at the Pawnee Nation and at the Cherokee Nation during the first weeks of November.

Pawnee Nation Workshop

“The Pawnee Nation offered to host an Implementation Project workshop to educate and inform Pawnee tribal leaders and tribal members as well as other Oklahoma tribal nations about the Declaration, the benefits that it offers to tribal nations, and efforts to implement it into federal law and policy,” said Pawnee Nation President Walter R. Echo-Hawk (Pawnee).

The public workshop served as part of the tribe’s process to consider the Pawnee Nation’s approach to the Declaration. “In response to the work of the national project to implement the Declaration and especially the Tribal Implementation Toolkit that was developed, the Pawnee Nation government is developing tribal legislation so that the Pawnee Nation can do its part in helping to implement the Declaration into federal law and policy,” said President Echo-Hawk. “We will next host a separate forum for our tribal members, to continue the self-education process here at the Pawnee Nation. A law reform and social justice movement around the Declaration requires a lot of self-education on the part of tribal nations before we can begin mounting a campaign to implement it and improve the legal rights of tribal nations and their citizens.”


Excerpt from the Implementation Workshop at the Pawnee Nation on Wednesday, November 10, 2021, courtesy of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma

The workshop on the Pawnee reserve on Nov. 10 drew participation of 48 attendees, connecting in person or via video conferencing. Workshop speakers and participants included people from the Pawnee, Comanche, Navajo, Shawnee, Euchee, Quinault, Apache, and other Native Nations. The Pawnee Nation published a livestream of the workshop which had over 1,300 views on Facebook. To view all the recordings of the workshop, visit: https://www.facebook.com/PawneeNationofOklahoma/videos/implementing-workshop/633008381203118/.

Cherokee Nation Workshop

The Cherokee Nation convened an Implementation Project workshop so leadership and program directors could learn more about specific Declaration provisions that might impact or support their work. “To implement the Declaration within the Cherokee Nation, we wanted to hold an internal Implementation Project workshop to first introduce this international instrument to some of our leaders within Principle Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.’s administration. We invited our education department, our attorney general, our community outreach and language staff,” said Cherokee Nation Delegate to Congress Kim Teehee (Cherokee). “We said let’s start by examining provisions in the Declaration that completely align with the strategic goals of the Hoskin administration. We’ll educate ourselves about what those provisions cover and any language we feel we must qualify, so we can begin taking steps to implement those provisions thoughtfully and intentionally.”

The workshop gave attendees an overview of the Declaration and its history, then focused on provisions that the Cherokee Nation had identified as priority. “While addressing each provision individually or on a piecemeal basis may be slow, we’d rather have concrete outputs and take first next steps implementing portions of the Declaration that best aligned with immediate Cherokee Nation priorities. Over time, we will embrace more provisions,” said Delegate Teehee, who is also the Cherokee Nation Director of Government Relations and Cherokee Nation Businesses Senior Vice President of Government Relations.

Implementation Project Next Steps

The Implementation Project is a joint project of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and University of Colorado Law School (Colorado Law) to advance education and advocacy regarding the Declaration. “The Implementation Project had opportunity to support two tribal governments, each taking a complementary yet unique path to make the promises of the Declaration real in the lives of their Indigenous citizens,” said Professor Kristen Carpenter, the Council Tree Professor of Law and Director of the American Indian Law Program at Colorado Law. “We are inspired to be part of the journey each Native Nation is taking to implement the Declaration.”

Future workshops include a workshop to be held in 2022 in Hawaii. “Implementing the Declaration’s provisions requires a massive educational undertaking and policy shift at the federal, state, and local government levels,” said NARF Staff Attorney Sue Noe. “We’re grateful to be able to hold these workshops to support tribes and Native peoples in their implementation efforts. The opportunity to connect with Native Nation leadership and community members one-on-one provides our team with insight into ways we can continue to support the implementation of the Declaration in the U.S.”

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