Reta Jo Lewis
Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs
Westin Washington Hotel
Washington, DC
March 1, 2011

Good morning. And thank you for that Introduction. It is a pleasure to be here to participate in the NCAI Executive Council Winter Session. We have worked closely with Executive Director (Councilwoman) Jackie Pata during the United States review of its position on the U.N. Declaration last year including at the NCAI Mid-year Conference in Rapid City, South Dakota where we held the first consultation.

We were fortunate enough to hear directly from Tribal Representatives about the importance of the U.N. Declaration.

I would first like to recognize NCAI for its commitment to advocating for the rights of indigenous peoples. As a Representative of the United States and on behalf of the U.S. Department of State, I would like to thank you for being a great partner.

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, and subnational officials in the U.S. and abroad.

As you may know, my office was tasked to work with tribal governments. Through this work, my office had the pleasure of helping to facilitate the consultations and NGO meetings on the U.N. Declaration.

The decision to review the U.S. position on the Declaration occurred in response to calls from many tribes, individual Native Americans, civil society, and others in the United States who believed that support for the Declaration would make an important contribution to U.S. policy regarding indigenous issues.

And I am proud to say that under the leadership of President Obama, the United States is reaffirming its commitment to building a new chapter in our relations with tribal governments.

On December 16, President Obama announced the United States would lend its support to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In his remarks, President Obama recognized that “[w]hile we cannot erase the scourges or broken promises of our past, we will move ahead together in writing a new, brighter chapter in our joint history.”

As we move forward together, I want to emphasize the deep commitment of this Administration to addressing indigenous issues.

As many of you are aware the United States conducted a thorough review of the Declaration which included input from all relevant federal agencies.

In carrying out this review, the Department of State in coordination with other U.S. agencies consulted extensively with tribal leaders during a series of three consultations, one occurring in Rapid City, South Dakota, and two taking place in Washington, D.C. Additionally, federal agencies reached out to indigenous organizations, civil society, and other interested individuals through a series of additional outreach meetings.

We provided participants with a variety of ways to engage with U.S. officials. They were able to participate in those sessions by means of conference calls or in person in addition to submitting written comments. In total, over 3,000 written comments were received and reviewed.

Participants presented a wide range of views on the meaning and importance of the Declaration. While they could not all be directly reflected in the U.S. position statement on the Declaration, they were all considered and instrumental to the process.

The UN Declaration conveys the aspirations of indigenous peoples around the world, individual states that seek to improve their relations with indigenous peoples, and the United States government. The U.S. looks to achieve the aspirations within the framework of the U.S. Constitution, laws, and international obligations, while also seeking, where appropriate, to improve our laws and policies.

As President Obama has said, “What matters far more than words . . . are actions to match those words.” And the Department of State is committed to following the President’s statement through a continuing effort to improve the Department’s consultation policy and practice to ensure meaningful consultations on policies with tribal implications, under Executive Order 13175.

I look forward to continued progress in our partnership together as we begin a new chapter in U.S.–tribal relations.

Thank you once again for the opportunity to collaborate with you.