Native populations face a serious human rights problem: The nations of the world refuse to recognize that they have human rights. While those countries are ready to recognize that individual indigenous persons have rights secured through international human rights law, problems arise when they claim rights as a peoples of an ethnic, cultural, racial, or national background. To protect native peoples from the possible repetition of the horrific acts performed against them in the past, laws should be put in place in order to preserve their rights as peoples.
Such appalling actions include the ones carried out against the indigenous peoples of North America starting as early as the 16th century. For instance, during 1513, when Spanish conquistador, Juan Ponce de Leon, was navigating the Gulf Coast of Florida, he came across the indigenous Calusa Indians. Following a dispute, four of them were ultimately taken captive. Five years later, another Spanish explorer by the name of Hernan Cortes, in his search to take over the Aztec empire, attempted to encroach Mexico. Accomplishing his goal, in 1521, he used that land to found the colony of New Spain. Another example would include July 8, 1524 – the first known kidnapping in American history. This was after Italian explorers seized a Native American child to bring to France. Following this pattern, during 1539, Spanish conquistador, Hernando De Soto, settled at Tampa Bay, Florida, commencing his journey over the southeast. Once he overcame the unyielding native Timucuan warriors, De Soto made history by putting 100 of them to death in the Napituca Massacre. This marked the earliest known large-scale human extermination executed by Europeans on what would eventually be American homeland. Spanish explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, reiterated this cruelty. With a squadron of 300 fellow conquistadors and greater than one thousand Native American confederates, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado directed Mexico’s infiltration of the north. When they arrived at Cibola, they found the Zuni Pueblo of Hawikuh, a meager village appearing almost as if it had been jampacked altogether. Their fate was doomed once Coronado ordered that they vow allegiance to his King. The warriors were met with arrows and the Spanish invaded the pueblo not over an hour later. Over the span of a few weeks, the other Zuni in the area were overtaken as well. Not only that but in order to accommodate his men during the winter, Coronado relocated his camp and annexed a pueblo near the upper Rio Grande River, plundering the neighboring pueblos for materials. While this took place, a Spaniard had raped one of the indigenous women. When Coronado dismissed the idea of retribution, the natives took vengeance by robbing them of their horses. Garcia Lopez de Cardenas, a friend of Coronado, then besieged the thieves’ pueblo, apprehending 200 men only to burn them all at the stake. In the end, in less than half a century, Native Americans faced cruelties such as capture, colonization, and mass-murder at the hands of these Spanish newcomers.
Aboriginal Australians faced a similar fate through the agency of the Dutch. While acts against the Aboriginals can be dated back to the early 17th century, some of the more horrific events took place almost two centuries later. For instance, the year 1770 marks the start of early white history in Australia when British explorer, Captain James Cook, declared the entire east coast of Australia for the British Crown. At approximately eight years later, the native Arabanoo people become the first of the Aboriginal peoples to be captured by Europeans. In 1789, a widespread outbreak of smallpox brought over by the Dutch annihilated the Eora Aboriginal people of not only Port Jackson but of Botany Bay and Broken Bay as well. Almost a year later, while horrific acts against the Aboriginals date back to the early 17th century, some of the worst events took place almost two centuries later. For instance, 1770 marks the start of early white history in Africa when British explorer, Captain James Cook, declared the entire east coast of Australia for the British Crown. At approximately eight years later, the native Arabanoo people are the first of the Aboriginal peoples to be captured by Europeans. Moreover, when the Dutch settled in Australia, they had brought their diseases with them and because of this, in 1789, a widespread outbreak of smallpox annihilated the Eora Aboriginal people of not only Port Jackson but of Botany Bay and Broken Bay as well. The Hawkesbury and Nepean Wars between the Aboriginal peoples and their white invaders commenced in New South Wales roughly a year later. Led by the infamous Aboriginal, Pemulwuy, and his son, Tedbury, the Aboriginals pillaged the Dutch camp and livestock. On more than one occasion, it has been shown that they utilized fire sticks in order to ignite the bush, laying both their buildings and crops to waste. This guerrilla-like warfare lasted until 1816 with events such as the Richmond Hill battle of 1795 which has been treated as the first documented assault involving Aboriginal peoples guarding their land against the Europeans. In addition, 1799 also marks the start of as an age of defiance from the Aboriginals against the white settlers in the Hawkesbury, Parramatta, and Tasmania localities. Lasting until 1830, this resistance is known as “The Black Wars” which took the lives of six-hundred Aboriginal people and over 200 white settlers.
At almost 200 years later, the powers of the world have made some progressive steps forward in guaranteeing the rights of indigenous populations. For instance, on December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly announced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was the first time the basic rights of all human beings were both ubiquitously preserved and labeled. Those rights include, but are not limited to, the right to be born free, to be dually equal in dignity and rights, the right to life, liberty, and security of person, the right to not be held to slavery or servitude, and the right to not be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment regardless of one’s race, color, gender, language, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, property, or birth. Another instance of modern revolutionary progress towards the rights of native populations includes the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Ratified on September 13, 2007 by the United Nations General Assembly, it has been portrayed as the framework for “an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet’s 370 million indigenous people and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalization.” Likewise, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does additionally “represent the dynamic development of international legal norms and it reflects the commitment of the UN’s member states to move in certain directions” despite not being an actual legally binding agency through international law as reported by to a United Nations press release.
Because many of the rights of native populations are not seen as mandatory in the eyes of the law, violence against indigenous populations can be argued as still as alive as it was two centuries ago. Despite both the agreement and acknowledgment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the more domestic United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, native peoples are still forced to endure many of the genuine risks of their ancestor’s thanks to foreign administrative procedures. For example, in several nations, native populations continue to be severely underdeveloped. They are confronted with both educational bias and professional profiteering at their expense. In some cases, indigenous peoples are not even permitted to learn their native tongue. As a result, indigenous populations tend to have a higher rate of incarceration, illiteracy, and unemployment rate when compared to their whiter counterparts. In addition, through unjust treaties, hallowed ground and relics are persistently robbed from native peoples just as they used to be centuries ago. The bureaucracy continues to renounce the right of native populations to exist within and control their established land. Instead, the national government often puts policies into action in order to take advantage of the soil that has sustained indigenous peoples for generations. Such an example would be the 358-mile pipeline scheduled to pump crude oil underneath the Missouri River, the primary drinking water source of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota. At 30-inches in diameter, the Dakota Access pipeline, also known as DAPL, is a 1,172-mile-long venture expected to link Southern Illinois to the Bakken and Three Forks production area of North Dakota. As reported by the DAPL parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, it would be transferring anywhere from 470,000 to 570,000 barrels of unrefined petroleum a day. This recently created controversy not just within the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, but worldwide due to the possible environmental and health hazards that could occur if the pipeline was to malfunction. Not only that but completing the pipeline would mean defiling the land rights of indigenous people.
To recapitulate, because of the events of the past and unfortunately, the events that happen to this day, laws should be put in place in order to preserve native populations rights as people. Although the formal announcement of documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples trail-blaze a dynamic path towards labeling the rights of indigenous peoples, they are not legally binding. In order to prevent the horrific acts performed upon native populations like the Native Americans or Aboriginal Australians or contemporarily, to thwart the blatant disrespect of their fundamental rights, there should be universal legislation set forth to preserve them. If not, as English philosopher, George Santayana, put it, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”