Study on Treaties, Agreements and Other Constructive Arrangements Between States and Indigenous Populations

July 1997, reported to the UN for the "Working Group on Indigenous Peoples"
Final report by Mr. Miguel Alfonso Martinez, Special Rapporteur

There may never have been a more perceptive and effective non-Indigenous advocate for North America indians than Miguel Alfonso Martinez.

In 1988 he was asked by the Commission on Human Rights to prepare a study on Indigenous treaties.

This ground-breaking document is officially called the "Study on treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements between states and indigenous populations."


Miguel Alfonso Martinez (centre)

Miguel Alfonso Martinez speaking on the occassion of International Day of the World's Indigenous People, Geneva, Switzerland, July 21, 2005.

About the Author

By Kent Lebsock, Owe Aku International Justice Program
American Indian Movement - West

Miguel Alfonso Martinez passed away on Monday, February 1, 2010 at the age of 74. He was born in Havana, Cuba on May 16, 1935. A career diplomat, much of his professional life was spent working with and for Indigenous peoples. Particularly for Native peoples and nations of North America, in history there may never have been a more perceptive and effective non-Indigenous advocate.

At the United Nations, Professor was a founding member of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. As a jurist and a teacher, in 1988 he was asked by the Commission on Human Rights to prepare a study on Indigenous treaties. This ground-breaking document is officially called the "Study on treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements between states and indigenous populations."

Professor Martinez spent a substantial amount of time with Lakota leaders and elders in preparing the Study. Lakota history and issues with the United States government, especially those related to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, provided important facts and documentation that he used liberally in the Treaty Study. In 1994, he visited Pine Ridge and spoke with treaty elders and many are personally thanked in the Study. He attempted to come back on several occasions for treaty gatherings and to meet with elders but was repeatedly blocked by the United States government.

Nonetheless, the treaty study is a fair and scholarly assessment of treaties. Lakota elders played a significant role in lobbying the United Nations early on for such a study. Professor Martinez's mission was nothing less than an academic assessment of violations of the human rights of Indigenous peoples and the international status of those treaties. Professor Martinez's work was done:

"for the purpose of ensuring the promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous populations." (Treaty Study ¶ 9).

On July 30, 1998, Professor Martinez presented the Final Report on his long awaited Treaty Study. Despite attacks, both personal and professional, from many nations, especially the United States, as well as many Indigenous peoples from other continents, Professor Martinez's conclusions were in no way vague:

"In the case of Indigenous peoples having concluded treaties or other legal instruments with the European settlers and/or their continuators in the colonization process, the Special Rapporteur has not found any sound legal argument to sustain the position that they have lost their international juridical status as nations."

In his oral presentation at the United Nations in Geneva during the summer of 1998, he spoke of the personal effect that doing the report had had on him. He stated that his view of life and his place in the universe were changed through the outstanding experience of researching the project and meeting with Indigenous peoples to discuss it.

"[Working on the Study] has afforded me the opportunity to enter a new dimension of thinking I inhabit as a jurist and as a human being. I have learned about a different reality. I am quantitatively different."

Professor Martinez's life was lived in service to humanity and the environment. It is a sad to lose such an honored Cuban elder, statesman and friend. However, there is solace and comfort in observing the life and work of a man who provides us all with the vision that diversity and respect do live side by side when approached with an open mind and heart. We believe that no greater honor could be paid to our dear friend Miguel than utilizing his study in the furtherance of Indigenous sovereignty and cultural preservation. The Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council, under the guidance of Chief Oliver Red Cloud, and with the support of Owe Aku, looks forward to continuing this mission.