From “20-Points” to a New Fourth World Agenda

From “20-Points” to a New Fourth World Agenda

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December 21, 2014

The year 2014 is coming to a close. On the Solstice we will enter a new year that is full of promise and challenge for the world’s indigenous nations. I shall take a moment in this space to reflect on the remarkable achievements of Fourth World peoples and suggest a new agenda in the next years to come. Not only has Indigenous America (North, Central and South) introduced to the world new thinking about the rights and powers of indigenous nations, but also indigenous nations around the world have stepped forward to engage in a global dialogue on those powers and rights. These alone are remarkable changes in 2014.

It is noteworthy that since October 31, 1972, when the American Indian Movement published the Trail of Broken Treaties 20-Point Position Paper the intervening 42 years that followed involved major changes in US/Indian relations. (See my discussion concerning the US Congressional response here.) Those 6,300 words in twenty targeted statements electrified Indian America. Many Indian leaders read and considered those 20-Points at the time quite militant and even threatening to the status quo. Other tribal government leaders, notably NCAI President Mel Tonasket (Colville) and First Vice President Ernie Stevens (Oneida) considered those 20-Points. They saw in them an opportunity to improve the rights of Indians peoples and expand the powers of Indian governments. As tribal government leaders they saw the importance of joining with Indian activists and other Indian organizations to press for change. They pressed the United States government to respond to what were, in effect, demands and criticisms of US government policies toward Indians and other native peoples.

Yes, there was at the time much talk about “buffalo soldiers”–a rumor around Washington, DC for weeks. The Trail of Broken Treaties march of more than 1000 Indians pressed in 1972 to negotiate the terms of the 20 Points with the eventual occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and even rumors of the possibility of violence. Rumors caused much consternation in Washington, DC at the time. But through the efforts of leaders like Tonasket, Stevens, Russell Means and Hank Adams, and scores of others significant political pressure was applied to congressmen to create a Congressional response to the 20-Points. It was from these efforts and the efforts of many others that the US Congress created a joint congressional commission: The American Indian Policy Review Commission (APRIC) (Public Law 93-580 [download]). The APRIC generated 206 recommendations—many of which are today United States, tribal and state laws. That is a major achievement for those 20-Points and for indigenous nations and peoples working toward a common goal!

Not only did the 20-Points stir political change in the United States, but also the Trail of Broken Treaties manifesto became the foundation for international conferences. Indigenous nations and peoples met at the United Nations and at tribal/World Council of Churches sponsorship meetings. The International Indian Treaty Council, the World Council of Indigenous Peoples and regional indigenous organizations covering the world provided space for indigenous peoples and nations to develop their diplomatic skills.

The World Council of Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) adapted many of the 20-Points to address the interests of indigenous peoples around the world. It proposed that the United Nations recognize the rights and interests of indigenous peoples. In language that would be later contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, President George Manuel (Secwepemc First Nation) took the WCIP General Assembly resolution adopted in the Sami municipality Kiruna, Sweden in 1977 to the UN. Chief Manuel pressed for respectful consideration. It is worth noting the WCIP resolution, since if you read my piece in Fourth World Eye you will see there is a direct relationship between the 20-Points and the WCIP Kiruna Resolution that said:

We, therefore, wish to make clear those irrevocable and inborn rights, which are due to us in our capacity as Aboriginals:

  1. Right to Autonomy;
  2. Right to maintain our culture, language and traditions in freedom;
  3. Right to have the World Council of Indigenous Peoples as a United Nations member representing our people;
  4. Right to recover the land which rightfully and according to millenary tradition belongs to us, but has been robbed from us by the foreign intruders;
  5. Right to occupy land collectively with sole rights as something irrevocable and non-transferable;
  6. Right to organize ourselves and administer our land and natural resources;
  7. Right to demand from the governments of the countries sufficient land to improve the conditions of the Indian communities and promote their development under their own tutorship;
  8. Right to make use of the natural resources existent in the areas of the indigenous peoples, such as forests, rivers, ore deposits and the riches of the sea, and a right for the indigenous people to take part in the project and construction work and the use of it;
  9. Right to demand the states that such laws are passed, that will be of benefit to the Indigenous People, particularly for the protection of their right to land ownership recognizing representative aboriginal organizations and their full involvement in the process of making laws;
  10. Right to secure requisite funds for the Indigenous Peoples from the individual countries to be used for agrarian and natural resources development;
  11. Right to acquire a share in the funds accruing from the member states to the United Nations, either through a project or directly, and right to exchange technical and scientific information between the Indigenous Populations of different countries;
  12. Right to subsidies from governmental or international economic institutions through the granting of long term credit at low interest;
  13. Right to respect our Indigenous culture in all its modes of expression, for the protection of which appropriate by-laws should be passed;
  14. Right to an appropriate education in accordance with our culture and our traditions, without any foreign elements and within the framework of an educational system which recognizes the values of our culture and acknowledges an official status to our language at all educational levels. (Chief George Manuel Memorial Library, WCIP-Dec 1977)

Virtually all of these fourteen “rights” were rooted in the Trail of Broken Treaties 20-Points and in turn they are now embedded in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (46 articles) and the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples Outcome Document in 40 paragraphs (let me emphasize this point).

The 20-Points turned out to have been quite modest as a manifesto. The American Indian Policy Review Commission, UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, UN General Assembly with the active engagement of indigenous government leaders, individual activists, non-governmental organizations, states’ governments and thousands of unsung contributors we have made virtually all this all of these demands possible over the last 42 years. (Yes, I know, there are some still to be worked on, and that’s the point.)

I suggest (modestly) with all of that behind us it is time for a New Fourth World Agenda born from a series of questions indigenous nations, states’ governments, indigenous activists and non-governmental organizations working together must answer:

  1. What in practice and political terms are the goals of indigenous nations under the right of Self-Determination?
  2. What is the goal of the US Trust Responsibility and when will it be said to have achieved that goal? A normal trusteeship assumes that the administering power seeks to elevate the lesser powers to a position of equality.
  3. Since indigenous nations (of which there are about 5,000 in the world) do not now have a specific political identity in relation to the international state system, what will that political identity be and what will the requirements be to have such an identity?
  4. How can states and indigenous nations mitigate the obvious oppositional conflict where states’ governments seek to absorb indigenous nations and indigenous nations seek to assert their own sovereignty?
  5. What are the responsibilities of indigenous nations (governance, institutions, financial and resource wealth) to become recognized participants in the UN System; and what are the expected benefits and liabilities for indigenous nations?
  6. What are the responsibilities of indigenous nations to each other within the framework of the UN System? What are indigenous nations’ responsibilities to their “host state?”
  7. How can indigenous governments claim to represent indigenous peoples in the United States when the bulk of indigenous peoples are outside the jurisdiction of indigenous government? Indeed, who can be said to represent the indigenous peoples in the US, North America, etc., if they do not have a means to be represented? How will they become represented if indigenous governments are recognized in the UN System?
  8. Terminology used by the UN, US Department of State, other Foreign Ministries and indigenous peoples clearly have several meanings. How can common understanding be achieved over these different terms (i.e., consultation?”)
  9. Can there be an independent UNDRIP Accountability Monitoring Initiative or an Optional Protocol within the UN to be ratified by indigenous governments and states’ governments providing for a UN monitoring system and country-specific intergovernmental mechanism to facilitate dialogue and negotiations to implement the UN Declaration?

The UN Declaration and the WCIP Outcome Document are fraught with built-in political tensions. They can be relieved by simply offering an Optional Protocol to the UN Declaration providing a means to monitor states’ and indigenous nations’ progress. An Optional Protocol should importantly require states and nations to establish a country-specific, mutually determined intergovernmental framework for working out implementation measures for the UN Declaration.

The Alta Declaration (download) “free, prior and informed consent” and the UNDRIP specifically call for states and nations to negotiate. Without a recognized mechanism, the discussion will simply float on generalities and unspecified goals. A New Fourth World Agenda is essential for the year 2015 and beyond. To succeed indigenous nations’ governments and indigenous peoples must work together with that common agenda as was the case following the 20-Points.

About the author
Dr. Ryser is the Chairman of the Center for World Indigenous Studies. He served as Senior Advisor to the President George Manuel of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, as former Acting Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, and a former staff member of the American Indian Policy Review Commission. He holds a doctorate in international relations, teaches Fourth World Geopolitics through the CWIS Certificate Program (; and he is the author of “Indigenous Nations and Modern States” published by Routledge in 2012.

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