President Barrack Obama

By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post

President Obama said Thursday that the United States will sign a United Nations non-binding declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, a move that advocates called another step in improving Washington’s relationship with Native Americans.

Obama announced the decision during the second White House Tribal Conference, where he said he is “working hard to live up to” the name that was given to him by the Crow Nation: “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.”

The United States is the last major country to sign on to the U.N. declaration, which was endorsed by 145 countries in 2007. A handful of countries, including the United States, voted against it because of the parts of the provision that say indigenous peoples “have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied, or otherwise used and acquired.”

That language does not override national law, and Canada and New Zealand, which also initially opposed the declaration, said in recent months that they would support it.

Obama has told Native American leaders that he wants to improve the “nation-to-nation” relationship between the United States and the tribes and repair broken promises. There are more than 560 Indian tribes in the United States. Many had representatives at the White House conference and applauded Obama’s announcement.

Native American leaders said this week that they have mixed assessments of the administration’s progress. Many praised the White House focus on Indian country, but others said some problems remain entrenched.