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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

The National Congress of American Indians Mid-Year Conference

Reta Jo Lewis
Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs 
Rapid City, South Dakota
June 21, 2010


Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here to participate in the NCAI 2010 Mid-Year Conference. As a Representative of the United States and on behalf of the U.S. Department of State, I would like to thank NCAI, your esteemed Executive Director, Jacqueline Pata, and tribal leaders for giving us the opportunity to meet with you today and hold the first consultation session with tribal leaders with respect to the U.S. Government review of the United States’ position on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This is an excellent platform, for exchange, learning, and strategic debate around this review process. At the Tribal Leader’s conference, during the Universal Periodic Review sessions, and in various letters and e-mails, you as tribal leaders have conveyed that you wanted us to take a look at the Declaration -- and we are hoping to move that process forward today. We have this opportunity to provide a framework for addressing indigenous issues through the Declaration and we are eager to determine whether the United States is now in a position to lend its support.

As illustrated through U.S. support of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues over the past year, the Administration is committed to a consultation process in which the views of tribal leaders are heard. As you know, Secretary Clinton, as the leading U.S. diplomat, has made engagement concerning this issue a priority in our work and has directed the Department of State to review its own consultations process, asking all of you for input on how we can be most successful.

Under Secretary Clinton, the Department of State has broadened and changed the way we conduct business and opened our doors to a new era of engagements. As the Secretary has made clear, the time has come to take a bold and imaginative look, not just at the substance of our foreign policy, but at how we conduct our foreign policy. We must now make the transition to 21st Century Statecraft, engaging with all the elements of our national power – and leveraging all forms of our strength. We must now engage leaders and utilize their extraordinary innovation, talent, resources, and knowledge. In the past, we only scratched the surface. That is why the Secretary created the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of State – to formally work directly with state, local, tribal, and subnational officials in the U.S. and to enhance their relationships with their counterparts abroad.

In this capacity, I will serve as a bridge between the United States and Tribal leaders during this collaborative review of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In addition to today’s meeting, we have scheduled a number of consultation sessions and other meetings during the review, and arranged for written comments to get your input throughout this process.

A second consultation session is scheduled for July 7 at the Department of State in Washington. More information on that session will be relayed to you in the near future. We anticipate holding an additional consultation session in the fall after the USG review has progressed further. Tribal leaders, you are invited to attend as many of these sessions as you wish.

In addition to consulting with tribal leaders, we plan to have open meetings with interested NGOs and other stakeholders. The first of those meetings will be in Washington on July 8.

All interested individuals and organizations are also invited to submit written comments on the U.S. review of the Declaration by email or regular mail to my office or through the U.S. Department of State website. The addresses and website are listed on the handout. We encourage you to submit written comments by July 15 so that they can be given full consideration in the review.

Currently, the review of the Declaration is being conducted by all relevant USG agencies. A number of them are present today. We have representatives from the White House, the Department of the Interior, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Defense to name a few. Additional agencies will participate in the consultation session and meeting in Washington, and all the agencies who are involved in the review will be apprised of the substance of your comments today.

Today’s session is taking place very early in the review process in order to get your views before U.S. agencies reach even tentative conclusions as a part of their review. Therefore, we won’t be able to give you the “U.S. Government’s position” on any of the provisions of the Declaration or the issues it raises because we do not have a position—that is why we are doing the review.

In order for the process to be as robust, comprehensive, and meaningful as possible, we need you to provide comments to our agencies on any specific concerns, including legal ramifications that could occur on the tribal , state, or local level. Our objective is to have any U.S. decision on support for the U.N. Declaration to be informed by your feedback.

We have not tried to impose an agenda on the meeting today, because we would like to hear whatever thoughts and information you think we should have in conducting the review.

Following this session, I will be available with many of my colleagues for discussion in room Rushmore G. Thanks again for your collaboration in this review. I would now like to introduce Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Larry Echo Hawk.

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