U.S. National Statement at the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues

Desirée Cormier Smith
U.S. Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice
New York
April 18, 2023


Thank you Chair. I am Desirée Cormier Smith, the U.S. Department of State’s Special Representative for Racial Equity and Justice. My mandate is to protect and advance the human rights of individuals belonging to marginalized racial and ethnic communities, including Indigenous communities, and combat systemic racism, discrimination, and xenophobia around the world.

As Secretary Deb Haaland shared so powerfully yesterday during her remarks, under the Biden Administration, the United States is working to fully acknowledge the tragic and ugly parts of our history, including the displacement of Native Americans from their traditional lands, the use of boarding schools to assimilate Native children, the enslavement of Africans and their descendants, and their lingering legacy as contributing factors to the current racial disparities and inequalities we face today.

Only when countries acknowledge their mistakes and damaging historical policies toward racial, ethnic, and Indigenous communities can we begin to heal and do better. My goal is to ensure that U.S. foreign policy advances the rights of Indigenous Peoples around the world – not because we have solved these challenges here in the United States, but rather because we recognize that these are global challenges that require coordinated and sustained global solutions.

One of these global challenges is violence against Indigenous women and girls. Around the world, Indigenous women and girls continue to face complex and intersectional forms of discrimination linked to racial and ethnic discrimination, gender, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic status.

We are pleased that this issue is recognized as one of four main priorities of the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples outcome document. Furthermore, along with Canada and Mexico, the United States established the Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls and most recently held the fourth convening of the group in July 2022.

On environmental issues, Indigenous women and girls, provide critical linkages to their communities and have been among the most creative and vocal advocates in our collective fight against climate change. They must be empowered as leaders in addressing the climate crisis – as innovators, entrepreneurs, and founders of initiatives and enterprises with meaningful environmental and social impact.

Collectively, we all have a responsibility to help foster a more inclusive global society in which Indigenous Peoples are free to reach their full potential, welcomed to share their traditional knowledge, and invited to impart their unique perspective on how to confront issues facing our planet.  It is this inclusive and consultative approach that will help create a better, safer, and more prosperous world for the benefit of us all.

Thank you.