Published August 9, 2017
SEATTLE – Last Thursday, Huy submitted comments to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson regarding ongoing violations of the religious rights of indigenous prisoners incarcerated in state and local jails in the United States.
The comments, which were submitted for the State Department’s report to the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), were submitted to both the State Department and CERD.
Huy’s comments are a follow up to the report that the American Indian-run, Seattle-based NGOsubmitted to CERD in 2014. In its 2017 report, Huy explains that
The United States has been on notice of this failure to protect Indigenous prisoners’ religious freedoms since at least mid-2013 when it received an inquiry about these violations from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples together with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. To our knowledge, the United States has yet to respond to this inquiry despite calls from Indigenous leaders in the United States.
In 2014, National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Brian Cladoosby called upon then Secretary of State John Kerry to respond to the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s 2013 inquiry. The State Department has yet to respond to that U.N. inquiry, or otherwise to Huy’s 2014 report.
“Our trustee has yet to hear our calls for justice on behalf of our imprisoned relatives. So we turn to international human rights forums for accountability,” stated NCAI President Cladoosby, who also sits on Huy’s Board of Advisors. “We continue to hope and pray for national intervention against state and local government violation of indigenous prisoner religious freedoms.”
As Huy explains in its latest comments to Secretary Tillerson, the United States continues to violate International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Articles 2,5, and 6, and its treatment of indigenous inmates remains inconsistent with the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Articles 2,12,18, and19.
Huy calls particular attention to ongoing violations in Alabama, California, Idaho, Texas and Wyoming state prisons.
Though there have been some victories, such as then federal Court of Appeals Judge—and now U.S. Supreme Court Justice—Neil Gorsuch’s decision that Wyoming had placed a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion by Andrew Yellowbear by denying him access to the prison’s sweat lodge, these victories only occur because indigenous prisoners are being forced to vindicate their rights through protracted litigation.
As Huy further explains to Secretary Tillerson, litigation is not an effective remedy to the problem of widespread state and local abuse of indigenous prisoners seeking rehabilitation through traditional American Indian religious practices.
“The Trump Administration is rather obviously committed to states’ rights, to mass incarceration, and to the freedom of religion—at least Western religion,” said Huy Chairman Gabe Galanda, an Indian civil rights lawyer in Seattle. “Those commitments must also make way for the exercise of American Indian religious freedom within state or local prisons, as the U.S. Constitution and federal statute require.”
Huy (pronounced “Hoyt”) is a national non-profit, NGO that provides economic, educational, rehabilitative and religious support for American Indian, Alaska Native and other indigenous prisoners in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the United States.
Editor’s Note: Huy’s August 3, 2017, comments to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, are attached.