UN experts raise concern over charges against US indigenous leader and rights defender

A perfect storm is brewing today. Nicholas Tilsen, human rights defender of the Oglala-Lakȟóta Sioux Nation and president of the indigenous-led NDN Collective (see video below), is due in court today. He is facing felony charges related to peaceful demonstrations by blocking a road to Mount Rushmore, where the current president was to hold a July 4th rally and celebration.

This is ironic, but painful, for so many reasons. Mount Rushmore is located on treaty lands of the Great Sioux Nation. The president should have asked for permission to hold a rally there. If he had asked, he would not have been given permission because his administration disregards COVID 19 protections. Indeed, some 7,500 people attended the rally, and did not wear masks or practice social distancing.

It is tragic that the United Nations feels the need to express concern about these human rights violations in this country.

Independent UN human rights experts expressed serious concern on Friday over the arrest and charges brought against an indigenous leader, for peacefully protesting a political rally held last July at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, located on treaty lands of the Great Sioux Nation. 

Nicholas Tilsen, human rights defender of the Oglala-Lakȟóta Sioux Nation and president of the indigenous-led NDN Collective, is due in court on 18 December, charged with four felonies and three misdemeanours after he and others blocked a road leading to a fireworks celebration event, led by President Donald Trump, which was held on 4 July at the South Dakota site in the Black Hills region.  

“Obviously we cannot pre-judge the outcome of the case against Nicholas Tilsen, but we are seriously concerned about his arrest and the charges brought against him in connection with the exercise of his rights as an indigenous person, particularly the right to assembly”, the five UN Special Rapporteurs said.  

UN experts raise concern over charges against US indigenous leader and rights defender, UN News, 12/15/2020


Rights of U.S. indigenous leader must be respected – UN experts

GENEVA (15 December 2020) – UN human rights experts* today expressed concerns about charges brought against a U.S. indigenous leader and human rights defender who will appear in court later this week in connection with peaceful demonstrations against President Donald Trump’s political rally at the iconic Mount Rushmore earlier this year.

“Obviously we cannot pre-judge the outcome of the case against Nicholas Tilsen, but we are seriously concerned about his arrest and the charges brought against him in connection with the exercise of his rights as an indigenous person, particularly the right to assembly,” the experts said. “We call on the U.S. to ensure that Mr. Tilsen’s due process rights are respected during the criminal prosecution and recall the obligation to ensure equal protection of the law without discrimination.”

Tilsen, a human rights defender of the Oglala-Lakȟóta Sioux Nation and president of the indigenous-led NDN Collective, was one of 15 peaceful protesters arrested when a political rally was organised – without the consent of the indigenous peoples concerned – to celebrate U.S. Independence Day in July. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, with its colossal sculptures of former presidents, is located on treaty lands of the Great Sioux Nation.

Tilsen is due in court on 18 December on four felony charges and three misdemeanour charges after he and others blocked a road leading to the rally site. If convicted of all charges, he could face 17 years in prison.

“We are also concerned at allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement agents against indigenous defenders, and recent reports of surveillance and intimidation by local police officers following the arrests,” the experts said.

Trump’s rally, held without the consent of the Great Sioux Nation, attracted some 7,500 people who did not wear masks or practice social distancing. South Dakota is one of the states worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is absolutely essential that the authorities do more to support and protect indigenous communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the experts said. “We also call on authorities to initiate dialogue with the Great Sioux Nation for the resolution of treaty violations.”

Rights of U.S. indigenous leader must be respected – UN experts


Mr. Trump’s rally in South Dakota, one of the states worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, was held without the consent of the Great Sioux Nation. 

It attracted some 7,500 people who did not wear masks or practice social distancing, according to a news release from the UN human rights office (OHCHR).  

“It is absolutely essential that the authorities do more to support and protect indigenous communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic”, the experts stressed.  

“We also call on authorities to initiate dialogue with the Great Sioux Nation for the resolution of treaty violations”. 

The experts who raised their concerns were José Francisco Calí Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism; and Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights. 

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. 

UN experts raise concern over charges against US indigenous leader and rights defender, UN News, 12/15/2020



In June, Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner said Mt. Rushmore is a “great sign of disrespect,” noting he believes it should be “removed.

“Both the Oglala and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe — which is home to four bands of Sioux Natives — are part of the Great Sioux Nation.

Mt. Rushmore is carved into the Black Hills, which had been occupied by Lakota Sioux Natives. In the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, signed amidst ongoing conflicts between Natives and Western expansion settlers, the US recognized Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, according to US National Archives.

But once gold was discovered in the Black Hills, that all changed. Miners moved into the area, and the US Army began to move against the Native people in the mid to late 1870s. In 1876, the Great Sioux War was fought between the US and local Natives over ownership of the Black Hills. In 1877, the US confiscated the Hills through the “Sell or Starve” Act, which cut off rations to the Sioux people if they did not cede the land.

Native tribal leaders are calling for the removal of Mount Rushmore By Leah Asmelash, CNN, Thu July 2, 2020


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