Land Rights, Critical Need to Preserve Indigenous Languages Stressed by Speakers, as Permanent Forum Continues Debate
Calls for action to preserve indigenous languages took centre stage today as the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues entered the penultimate day of its fifteenth session, also taking up such critical issues as health, education, human rights, economic and social development, environment and culture.
A number of speakers decried the loss of indigenous languages as a result of the cultural destruction which had been perpetrated against them for generations. Others noted that the right to receive an education in one’s mother tongue — as enshrined in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — was the only way to keep indigenous languages alive.
In that regard, a representative of the Indigenous Language Caucus said that approximately 500 languages were projected to be lost by 2030. To prevent that, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) should fulfil its mandate to protect cultural diversity, while United Nations treaty bodies and human rights mechanisms should evaluate language protection as a human right. Additionally, she proposed the establishment of a special fund to support and revitalize indigenous languages, to be financed by States and other institutions.
The speaker for the Botswana Khwedom Council decried the fact that, in his country, education was still not available to indigenous peoples in their own languages, in contradiction to the Declaration. The Government, he said, wrongly believed that mother tongue education would undermine nation-building. He recommended that the Forum ask the Government about that concern, and for Botswana to begin negotiations with indigenous people on recognition of indigenous culture.
In a similar vein, a representative of the organization Cultural Survival introduced the newly formed caucus on “alternative communication”, which he said utilized traditional media and the Internet to foster cultural communication. He asked the Forum to recognize the caucus and expressed hope that the body could ensure that communicators for indigenous issues were given the space and time to issue appropriate recommendations to the Forum.
A student at the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies described a number of challenges that hindered Native Hawaiians from accessing education in their own language and cultural perspective. Among several related recommendations, he proposed that the Forum work with UNESCO on the expansion of schools that utilized indigenous language immersion and culture-based curricula.
A Forum member from Kenya took note of the many recommendations made today on the subject of indigenous languages. The preservation of such languages required freedom of expression through the local media, he said, calling on States that placed restrictions on media outlets to reverse those policies.
Among other issues spotlighted throughout the day-long session was the right of indigenous peoples to land and natural resources. In that regard, a representative of the American Indian Movement West expressed concern that water was being consumed at an alarming rate, used in unsustainable ways and contaminated. Stressing the need for free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples before any project affecting their land, territories or other resources, she added that States must provide effective mechanisms for fair and just redress for adverse impacts from such projects.
The speaker from American Indian Law Alliance declared: “Our indigenous sisters and brothers, while in peaceful protest, are being detained, criminalized, persecuted and killed daily in efforts to protect their homelands from extractive industries and Member States.” As a result of the never-ending quest for consumption of natural resources, indigenous communities were left devastated.
Also speaking today were representatives of Botswana, Bolivia, Bangladesh, South Africa, Paraguay, Ecuador, Guyana, Nepal, Thailand and Bangladesh.
Representatives of the following organizations also spoke: Federation of Saskatchewan, Finnish Sami Parliament, Global Caucus for Indigenous Peoples with Disabilities, AMAN, Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero, NGO Federation Kanaky, National Toshaos Council, Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, Saami Council, GAPSCA, Greater Sylhet Indigenous Peoples Forum, CONAMAQ – Bolivia, National Indigenous Women Forum, Indigenous Education Network, Pacific Caucus, Habitat Pro, National Association for the Advancement of Indigenous Peoples, Himalayan Indigenous Women of Nepal, Dylacha, Indigenous Network of Education for Change, Foro Internacional Indígena del Abya Yala, National Indian Youth Council, Yamasi People, Shimin Gaikou Centre, International Native Tradition Interchange, Pacific Disability Forum and Pahtamawikan.
Also making interventions was a representative of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Forum members from Kenya, Canada, Bolivia, United States, Bangladesh and New Zealand also participated, as did a member of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 20 May, to conclude its fifteenth session.
SLUMBER TSOGWANE, Minister for Local Government and Rural Development of Botswana, noting that all his country’s tribes and ethnic groups were indigenous, said other sections of the population — especially remote area communities — were generally socially and economically marginalized and deserved special attention. Botswana continued to make steady progress in addressing their needs, in particular through the Affirmative Action Framework for Remote Area Communities of 2014. In addition, the national policy on culture outlined issues of cultural preservation and development, and the Government was in the process of developing an indigenous knowledge systems policy as a framework to protect cultural practices and enhance the contribution of communities to their own socioeconomic development. Describing other relevant policies, he said the Government had established a consultative structure to address the interests of remote area communities.
A representative from the highlands of Bolivia, said drug trafficking had been growing in indigenous territories and cities. In addition, pollution from mining caused forced displacement, while acts of femicide betrayed public policies and legislation for women. Educational systems did not value indigenous culture, but rather taught foreign cultures to indigenous children. Peoples of Titicaca would be the first to suffer from the toxic effects of nuclear development; ancestral territories would be affected as well. The Forum should consider a body or strategy that would look onsite whether International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 was being implemented for indigenous peoples, she said, adding that the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples should visit to view the terrible situation.
MARGARET BEAR, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, said they were in possession of a treaty with the crown of Great Britain that Canada must honour. That country’s announcement that it would support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without reservation made clear that it intended to redefine the Declaration in order to bring it into compliance with its constitution. She cautioned that such an approach would downgrade the Declaration and her peoples’ treaty would remain in a breeched state. Warning that “genocide” would continue unabated, she said such acts had long been “routine” in the absence of global observance or punishment, adding that they had been constructed to rob indigenous peoples of their culture, land and children. To end genocide, she said, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations proposed, among other recommendations, that the Permanent Forum decide to identify “genocide and its effects on ingenious peoples” as a theme for a future session; that it convene an expert seminar on that topic before that session; that it invite the United Nations Special Adviser on Genocide to the session as a presenter; that the Permanent Forum authorize a study on genocide and its effects on indigenous peoples; that it develop an ongoing education programme on genocide; that the United Nations issue a declaration on genocide of indigenous peoples; that the Doctrine of Discovery be renounced immediately; and that the Permanent Forum include the 2016 North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus report as an official part of its proceedings.
NABA BIKRAM KISHORE TRIPURA, Secretary, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tract Affairs of Bangladesh, said his country considered all its citizens to be indigenous. However, it was the Government’s policy to protect, preserve and promote the culture and tradition of small ethnic communities making up roughly 2 per cent of the population. As an outcome of the implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, institutions had been created to ensure the rights of that area’s tribal peoples, he said. Measures had also been taken to implement remaining provisions of the Peace Accord, expedite the resolution of land disputes, reduce conflicts over land resources, strengthen decentralization and devolution, and continue dialogue and consultation.
NEIL MCFARLANE, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, said that wherever data on indigenous people were collected, Governments were better equipped to track progress towards reducing disaster risk and understanding how it affected indigenous communities. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 called upon Governments to engage with indigenous peoples, recognizing that their knowledge offered important contributions for development and implementation of plans. Efforts were enriched by an understanding of how indigenous peoples viewed disaster resilience, the role of ecosystems, and the role of elders and young people in preventing and recovering from disasters. The 2015 International Day on Disaster Risk Reduction focused on indigenous peoples, he noted.
Mr. JUUSO, Finnish Sami Parliament, noting that the status and rights of the Sami as indigenous people in his State were protected by national legislation and international law, nonetheless expressed concern that their distinct culture was in danger. He expressed hope that Finland would become a pioneer for the human rights of his people. The authority of the elected Sami Parliament had been controversial, as had their rights to self-determination and lands. He invited United Nations human rights officials to read the Parliament’s report on the current situation of the Sami people in Finland. That document highlighted their concerns, including about recommendations by the High Commissioner for Human Rights for Finland to consult with the Sami on legislation concerning them, which the State had not taken into account. He also encouraged Finland to implement the Declaration.
NANCY BORDEAUX, American Indian Movement West, said that without clean water, there was no life. The world faced a water crisis unlike anything seen before, as water was consumed at an alarming rate, used in unsustainable ways and contaminated. The Declaration provided for consultation and good-faith cooperation in seeking the free and informed consent of indigenous peoples before the approval of any project affecting their land, territories or other resources, particularly in connection with the development, use or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources, she emphasized. States must provide effective mechanisms for fair and just redress for adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impacts, she added, stressing the need for States, as well as indigenous peoples, to support indigenous-led water initiatives such as the upcoming “Mni Wakan: Decade of Water Summit”, to be held in Minnesota, United States, in April 2017.
CHARLES NWAILA (South Africa) said that his country’s inclusive reconstruction and development agenda and its constitution provided for the fulfilment of the human rights of all South Africans without any distinction whatsoever. The Bill of Rights stipulated that everyone had a right to receive an education in the language of their choice. Pro-poor policies had helped an estimated 9 million learners benefit from a no-fee school policy, and millions of additional students had benefited from free nutrition and school transport programmes. The Bill of Rights further stipulated that everyone had a right to health care, including reproductive health care, nutritional care and emergency medical treatment. It also stipulated that everyone had a right to an environment that was not harmful to their well-being. “This does not mean that our country is perfect,” he said, but in a few decades it had made significant progress in reversing centuries of discrimination.
Ms. MONTUFAR CONTRERAS, Global Caucus for Indigenous Peoples with Disabilities, urged Member States to implement the six mandated areas of the Permanent Forum with a special focus on indigenous people with disabilities. They must be consulted at the highest level in the creation of policies and legislation, she said. Recalling that a study on the challenges faced by indigenous people with disabilities had been presented during the Permanent Forum’s twelfth session, she said many of its recommendations were yet to be implemented. The Outcome Document of the World Conference on Indigenous Issues included a commitment to help indigenous people with disabilities realize all their inalienable rights, she noted, urging decision-makers to “walk in our wheels” and discover the skills and abilities of indigenous people with disabilities, who could make valuable contributions in a number of areas.
KEIKABILE MOGODU, Botswana Khwedom Council, said indigenous peoples in the State bemoaned the position taken by the Government concerning the language in which education was provided. While access to education was ensured, it was not available to indigenous people in their own language, in contradiction to the Declaration. The Government, he said, wrongly believed that mother tongue education would undermine nation-building. He recommended the Forum ask the Government about that concern, and for Botswana to begin negotiations with indigenous people on recognition of indigenous culture.
OLGA FERREIRA DE LÓPEZ, Congresswoman from Paraguay, described the various actions her Government was taking to implement the Declaration in the areas of health, education, gender equality, poverty reduction and the participation of indigenous women in the political process. Noting her country’s open invitation to all Human Rights Council special procedures, she said that Parliament was considering legislation to ensure that the State respected consultations with indigenous peoples with regard to territory and the environment. It was also working with the Secretariat of the Forum and the others in the United Nations system on developing a national plan for indigenous peoples.
RUKKA SOMBOLINGGI, Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN), described recent progress in the promotion of indigenous rights in Indonesia. In 2014, the country’s President had featured indigenous peoples in his agenda for the first time. Describing the country’s commitment to set up a presidential task force on indigenous peoples to begin reconciliation between indigenous peoples and the State, taking into account past misconduct, she nevertheless said that pledge had yet to be implemented. Calling on the Government to implement those commitments, and to release indigenous leaders who remained in prison, she said the reality of indigenous peoples in her country was one of criminalization and removal in the name of development. In that regard, she called on Member States to ensure the end of killings, arrests and harassments of indigenous peoples around the world. Indigenous land was still being given over to companies and the rights of those peoples in Indonesia continued to be violated. She called on the Forum and other relevant United Nations agencies to work closely with national human rights institutions in the future.
VICTORIA SAAVEDRA, Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero, said the commitment of States to improving indigenous education was critical. Guerrero State in Mexico had many indigenous residents and a high rate of illiteracy, he said, describing local plans to integrate indigenous peoples in his university’s work. For example, the institution had recently opened a University Indigenous House. Guerrero was the leading producer of several illegal drugs — a situation which had led to high rates of crime — and it suffered from high rates of suicide among indigenous young people. Those youth also suffered from systematic killings and forced displacement. He recommended that a delegation from the Forum visit Guerrero to witness those challenges first-hand, and that the State establish an institution of indigenous languages.
DIEGO ALONSO TITUAÑA MATANGO (Ecuador) welcomed the Commission on the Status of Women’s decision to consider the empowerment of indigenous women at its next session. Supporting progress on the participation of indigenous peoples in relevant United Nations meetings, he underlined proposals for a binding instrument to sanction transnational corporations that violated human rights and harmed nature. Ecuador would support a mention of indigenous peoples in the New Urban Agenda that would be adopted at the upcoming United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, as well as the General Assembly’s decision to hold a high-level meeting to mark the tenth anniversary of the Declaration that would take stock of achievements, identify challenges going forward and clarify whether to proclaim a third international decade.
BETTY LYONS, President of the American Indian Law Alliance, affirmed that indigenous peoples faced marginalization in negotiations of multilateral environmental treaties, and that procedural injustices translated into substantive injustices. Indigenous people had a sacred relationship with the gifts of Mother Earth and a mandate to protect them. However, she said, “Our indigenous sisters and brothers, while in peaceful protest, are being detained, criminalized, persecuted and killed daily in efforts to protect their homelands from extractive industries and Member States.” As a result of the never-ending quest for consumption of natural resources, indigenous communities were left with devastation. That destruction was a violation of the United Nations Charter and multiple treaties. As water degradation was particularly harmful, she recommended that a study on sacred waters in North and South America be conducted, and that all relevant agreements be respected. She also affirmed the need for prior and free consent from indigenous communities before extractive operations were conducted in their territories.
ANSELMO XUNIC, Cultural Survival, introduced the newly formed caucus on “alternative communication”, stressing the need to ensure cultural pluralism and harmony with Mother Nature. That caucus utilized traditional media and the Internet in order to foster cultural communication with the broad support of many stakeholders. “We must teach how to address our struggles in line with human nature”, he said, adding that indigenous peoples must learn about the United Nations system. He asked the Forum to recognize the caucus of alternative communication, and expressed hope that the body could ensure that communicators for indigenous issues were given the space and time to issue appropriate recommendations to the Forum.
Ms. ALVAREZ (Bolivia) recalled that her Government had organized two preparatory meetings before the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, which had resulted in outcome documents. At the Conference, leaders had reaffirmed their commitment to upholding the rights of indigenous peoples. Her State had recently adopted a plan calling for collective action, recognizing International Labour Organization Convention 169 and the Declaration. Bolivia was the only country in the world that had the Declaration set into its law, she said, noting that it had set up indigenous universities that were free to attend. It also had bilingual teachers and had deployed various measures related to health and traditional medicine. Furthermore, the State had adopted a law to combat violence against women and had set up social housing in indigenous communities. The Government guaranteed and fostered the full realization of the human rights of indigenous peoples, including the right to free expression.
LINDA MANAKA INFANTE, Indigenous Language Caucus, said that approximately 500 languages were projected to be lost by 2030. To prevent that, she made five recommendations, including that the Development Operations Coordination Office require resident coordinators, country teams and support groups to include action plans for protecting and reviving threatened languages. In addition, UNESCO should fulfil its mandate to protect cultural diversity, and treaty bodies and human rights mechanisms must view language protection as a human right. Furthermore, a special fund to support and revitalize indigenous languages should be financed by States and churches and other religious institutions, as they were largely responsible for the loss of languages and culture. Finally, Governments must support indigenous peoples’ reporting on their own determined indicators towards progress of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda’s pledge to leave no one behind could only be realized if those recommendations were adopted.
EVARISTE WAYARIDRI, Federation of NGOs in Kanaky, recalling that his country remained on the list of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories, said living conditions for Kanak had worsened in many ways, particularly for youth. While a referendum on self-determination would take place in 2018, non-Caledonians would be authorized to participate, he said, noting how the construction of two new nickel plants had resulted in massive migratory flows that made Kanaks a minority in their own country. Among his recommendations, he asked that the Special Rapporteur visit Kanaky ahead of France’s universal periodic review in 2018. He also recommended that the Forum consider the impact of such trade agreements as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and remind the United Nations of its decolonization duties.
SYDNEY ALLICOCK, Vice-President of Guyana, said much had been achieved with regard to the implementation of the Declaration and the outcome of the 2014 World Conference. His Government had outlined a 10-point plan aimed at realizing improvements in the lives of hinterland residents, most of whom were indigenous. That proposal ensured that every child would receive an education and it focused on reducing poverty and bolstering economic independence for indigenous people. It sought energy security through the use of renewable energy, including solar and wind power, and put in place programmes to help accelerate employment training and the creation of new jobs. There was also a focus on agriculture processing and other economic ventures that would strengthen employment. “Land is life,” he said, recognizing that claims and controversies existed with regard to land titling and demarcation. The Government was working to set up a body to address those disputes, he said, describing the provision of additional public services in the country’s hinterland.
JOEL FREDRICKS, Chairman of the National Toshaos Council, highlighted several key issues faced by indigenous peoples in Guyana. The Amerindian Act required strengthening to assure indigenous peoples full rights and protection of their traditional lands and resources, particularly with respect to mining, addressing climate change and the environment. Indigenous peoples needed to be provided education in their own languages, he said, adding that indigenous peoples needed more support in the area of economic and social development. While a month was dedicated each year to the celebration of indigenous culture and heritage, there was a need for stronger support for the promotion and preservation of indigenous languages. His organization supported the Government’s commitment to the Declaration and looked forward to its full integration at the policy and legislative levels, and called for the ratification of ILO Convention 169.
HAUOLIHIWAHIWA MONIZ, a student at the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, said that the college strongly endorsed fusing traditional knowledge into modern-day curricula, as recommended by the Permanent Forum study on the topic. There were still many challenges that hindered native Hawaiians from accessing education in their own language and cultural perspective. The Center therefore requested the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples to review the situation first-hand. In addition, States should be urged to provide support for research towards revitalizing traditional modes of learning, and the Forum should work with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on expansion of schools that utilized indigenous language immersion and culture-based curriculums. Furthermore, the Forum should urge States to provide comprehensive funding for indigenous peoples to attend higher education, and should re-inscribe Hawaii on the list of non-self-governing territories.
AILA BIRET SELFORS, Saami Council, noting the closure of a school that gave education in the South Sami language, recommended that a decade of indigenous languages be proclaimed at both the international and national levels. Emphasizing that “a lack of statistics is a way to marginalize indigenous peoples”, she recommended that Member States improve the collection and sharing of data highlighting the progress made on indigenous peoples’ priorities. Furthermore, Member States should also implement the Declaration, including indigenous peoples’ property rights over land and natural resources as well as their right to free, prior and informed consent.
BADI BOFF BRASCO, Groupe d'Action pour la Promotion Socio-Culturelle et l’Alphabétisation, said that his international non-governmental organization held special consultative status at the United Nations, and dealt with issues related to the Congolese diaspora, in particular through advocacy and lobbying around the world. The organization worked to ensure the emergence of appropriate, democratic and visionary leadership, as well as the promotion and protection of human rights. Among other things, it advocated for maternal health services and for the care of indigenous children with disabilities. It worked with the Batwa and other indigenous groups in the areas of social and economic development and health care in South Kivu and Goma. The organization’s attendance at the Forum would allow it to share the challenges facing the indigenous peoples of the Democratic Republic of Congo, including intimidation, arrests and the denial of their right to their traditional land and natural resources. The country’s authorities were complicit in those activities, he said.
JOSEPH GOKO MUTANGAH, Forum member from Kenya, said indigenous peoples faced many challenges related to the depletion of natural resources and disappearance of water sources. It was time to address those challenges. Many recommendations had also been put forward regarding indigenous languages and knowledge, but their preservation required freedom of expression through the local media. He therefore called on States that placed restrictions on media outlets to promptly reverse those policies.
SAMARJIT SINGHA, Greater Sylhet Indigenous Peoples Forum, said it was crucial that States promote multilingual education in indigenous languages, stressing that indigenous children faced multiple barriers to participating in public education. Among those were language and bullying, which had led them to drop out of school at a higher rate than the majority population. He drew attention to Bangladesh’s promotion of a mother tongue multilingual education programme, which provided learning materials in six indigenous languages, and he looked forward to its expansion into other languages, including that of the Manipuri community.
MAMANI NAVARRO, El Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ), said progress in defending collective rights had been made in Bolivia. Traditional medicines, such as the coca leaf, were accorded value. Progress was being made while the struggle of forefathers was not forgotten. He maintained that certain individuals could not be allowed to speak unilaterally on behalf of all the indigenous people of Bolivia; they could only speak on their own behalf.
WILTON LITTLECHILD, Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said the first World Indigenous Games in Brazil was an event that covered all of the Forum’s mandated areas by promoting health, education, development and human rights. He asked the Forum to thank the organizers and to support the second such Games, which were planned for Canada.
YASSO KANTI BHATTACHAN, National Indigenous Women Forum, said Nepal had made efforts to improve economic and social development by excluding indigenous peoples and contravening the Declaration and the related ILO Convention. She urged the Forum and relevant United Nations agencies to press Nepal to reform the new Constitution by respecting collective rights, developing common and country-specific indicators, collecting disaggregated data and monitoring the country’s progress in the six mandated areas. She also urged Nepal, the United Nations and international aid agencies to align policies, plans and strategies with the Declaration.
SURAPORN SURIYAMONTON, Indigenous Peoples Foundation for Education and Environment and the Indigenous Education Network in Thailand, presented reports that examined enjoyment of human rights by indigenous people in the State, as well as their access to quality education. Both reports, she said, could be found on the website of Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The most serious issue addressed by the first report was loss of land rights, along with the dire threats faced by rights defenders. The second document showed that progress had been made in education policy while implementation had lagged. That report recommended the mainstreaming of mother-tongue-based multilingual education in conjunction with indigenous education that garnered the effective participation of communities. She called for more concerted promotion of the Declaration by United Nations organizations in Thailand.
Mr. OHORELLA, Pacific Caucus, said the global campaign for the tenth anniversary of the Declaration in 2017 would advance that instrument and realize the dreams of his ancestors. While the Alta process aimed to serve the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, its outcome document could help advance advocacy for indigenous rights well beyond the event. He supported holding a follow-up meeting in 2018 to report on progress made in the implementation of the indigenous action plan.
Mr. NIAHOSA, Habitat Pro, stated that a funding gap had impacted her organization’s advocacy work. Noting that its efforts were especially relevant to indigenous youth in urban settings who were being alienated from their culture and lands, she said: “We cannot stop our work just because we lack State funding”. Education was the solution. It was critical to ensure that indigenous youth had a safe environment for cultural practices and expressions, especially through indigenous-led education, such as the first World Indigenous School in Los Angeles. The United Nations should engage indigenous groups to share their experiences and conduct a study on the implementation of national education policies to increase participation and access.
TUSHKA HUMOC XELUP, National Association for the Advancement of Indigenous Peoples, stated that indigenous peoples must be recognized by colonizing societies as members of the human family. That process of recognition must start with the leadership of such societies. Describing his organization’s accomplishments and plans for the coming year, he said that last week the group had registered 16 delegates. However, he added: “The ears of justice ignored their presence”. In 2015, when they had first attended the Permanent Forum, they had not been allowed to make a statement. The direct descendants of the first-contact indigenous people of America were not allowed to be recognized as who they were, but instead were forced to accept “paper genocide”, misclassification and forced United States citizenship. They were assimilated as African-Americans and other false identities. The United States must respect the right to identify as an American Aborigine. When that country ended its fraud, discrimination, misidentification and apartheid against its own indigenous people, then indigenous peoples around the world would begin to benefit more broadly from implementation of Declaration provisions on conflict resolution and peace.
PARBATI THAPA MAGAR, Himalayan Indigenous Women of Nepal, said that indigenous peoples in her country were marginalized, disadvantaged and sometimes discriminated against. They were never part of the mainstream of national life. The Constitution that followed the abolishment of the monarchy stated that every Nepalese community should have the right to promote its language, culture and heritage, but while that sounded promising, it remained to be seen how that would be translated into reality. Indigenous women faced such challenges as unemployment, early marriage, lack of education and pressure to have several babies in hopes of bearing a son. Health care was difficult to access and many women could not tend to their own well-being due to a lack of education and limited resources.
EDWARD JOHN, Forum member from Canada, referred to the recent statement by that country’s Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, who said the State would fully support the Declaration without qualification. However, he said, she “raised a bit of confusion” when she added that Canada intended to adopt the Declaration in accordance with the country’s Constitution. Domestic law should not trump international human rights standards. Canada should withdraw its reservations to the outcome document at the next General Assembly session, implement a national action plan for achieving the Declaration and set up a high-level Cabinet committee on indigenous issues. “There is room for optimism,” he said, adding that commitments, once made, had to be honoured.
GREGORY THUAN DIT DIEUDONNE, Dylacha, said he represented the Evenki people in the Republic of Buryatia in far eastern Siberia in the Russian Federation. Their land was rich in natural gas, oil and minerals, including nephrite or jade. Private corporations, supported by the Government, “wildly exploited” those resources. Dylacha’s efforts to allow the Evenks to utilize their resources had seen so much economic success that it had established an art gallery and museum. Corporations, supported by Russian authorities, had noticed, and now Dylacha no longer existed because of measures taken by Russian authorities. Evenki leaders, fearing for their lives, had fled. He was disheartened to hear representatives of the Russian Federation boast about their success. “I have the impression I don’t live in the same world as them,” he said. “It is false. It is a lie.” There had been destruction of a clan, arbitrary application of federal legislation and annihilation of economic activities. He called for a study of such practices under article 26 of the Declaration relating to the use of natural resources.
ILLA MAINALI (Nepal) said her country was committed to the cause of indigenous peoples though articles that promoted affirmative action as outlined in the Constitution, which had been written by the constituent assembly adopted through broad approval. She also countered the claims of one non-governmental organization, calling them baseless.
TAWERA TAHURI, speaking on WAI 2478 bill on Marise Lant, described a case alleging that New Zealand authorities had breached the Treaty of Waitangi while engaged in its review and reform of the Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993. On 29 January 2016, authorities advised a tribunal that it had released a new version of the bill. The tribunal had found that without Maori support for the changes, there would be a breach of treaty. It recommended national consultations, but this had not occurred, she stated. There had only been informational meetings. The tribunal’s report, released in March, had found that the bill contravened the treaty as most Maori cited concerns about the process. The overwhelming message was for the authorities to slow down the pace of reform and ensure that the majority understood the proposals and gave their free, prior and informed consent to them.
ATAMA KATAMA, Indigenous Education Network for Change, said that, in the midst of neoliberal globalization, youth bore the brunt of State and corporate plunder of the land through the extraction of natural resources, the establishment of eco parks and top-down development. The displacement of indigenous peoples resulted in a gap between youth and the older generation, he said, adding that young people had not been spared from the impact of militarization. In several countries, young activists were subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention and extrajudicial execution. In the Philippines, the State had attacked efforts to set up an education centre, and in Indonesia, youth living in hamlets lacked access to education. Indigenous women and girls meanwhile faced sexual abuse perpetrated by military agents. He made a number of recommendations that included a role for indigenous youth in peacebuilding initiatives and post-conflict development policies and programmes.
CHONVIPAT CHANGTRAKUL (Thailand) said the ministries of culture and education had taken measures to preserve ethnic culture, notably the establishment of folklore and museums, as well as linguistic study. She had taken note of the concerns raised today.
Mr. BASTIDA MUÑOZ, Foro Internacional Indígena del Abya Yala, said 45 per cent of global biodiversity was in Latin America, where indigenous communities comprised a significant portion of the population in Paraguay, Guatemala, Bolivia and Peru. Property rights had been threatened. The traditional knowledge that communities had developed throughout history played an important role in preserving biodiversity and maintaining “ecosystemic” harmony. Thousands of medicines had been derived from products grown by indigenous peoples, yet laboratories had not shared the proceeds. Collective protection — beyond the Nagoya Protocol — through a sui generis system, such as biocultural protocols, could be an alternative to the plundering of tangible and intangible elements.
MELISSA WASSANA, National Indian Youth Council, said indigenous people had a right to full enjoyment of all human rights. Each of the 567 Native American tribes in the United States had their own unique life and culture, she said, adding that the Declaration should be legally binding. She went on to note the high drop-out and suicide rate among indigenous peoples in the United States, and underscored the importance of education.
Ms. LIMA, National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu, said three universities in Bolivia taught in the Aymara language, conveying ancestral knowledge to indigenous youth. She went on to emphasize the role of communication, saying Bolivia would host a regional forum on the topic in 2017. By law, she added, indigenous people in Bolivia participated in United Nations events on issues which affected them.
LORI JOHNSTON, Yamasi People, urged the Forum to address sustainable economic practices by increasing indigenous peoples’ participation in their implementation. Many indigenous peoples did not have prostitution, prison, slavery or rape before colonists arrived. But they did have thriving economies. The 2030 Agenda promoted the colonial institutions of rape, prostitution, prison and slavery, on which the dominant world currencies depended. They were not sustainable economic foundations. Financing should prioritize support for indigenous economic models, through traditional trade that excluded prostitution, rape, prison and slavery. The Forum should study indigenous economies that enabled stable societies. Work should address aspects of indigenous economies that would benefit the wider world and indigenous peoples, who would otherwise be extinguished.
AKIYO INOKOK, Shimin Gaikou Centre, called on the national and local governments of Japan to ensure the full participation of the Ainu people in formulating legislation to improve their living standards and advance their education. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Human Rights Committee both had recommended that Japan recognize the Ryukyuan people as indigenous. They both pointed to the participation of Ryukyuan non-governmental organizations at the United Nations for more than 20 years. Noting that the Ryukyu Kingdom was an independent State before annexation by Japan in 1879, he requested Japan to establish an independent expert committee to verify how it had become part of Japan and whether its peoples were indigenous. A similar committee to verify the history of the Ainu people should also be established, he added.
Ms. KENARAHDRY, International Native Tradition Interchange, suggested the appointment of an ambassador for the world’s indigenous peoples. They had long been treated like children, he said, when in fact they deserved to be treated like the most powerful kingdom. He added that traditional education models could not fight the onslaught of colonialism and genocide, and that much of the world’s wealth had been taken from indigenous lands.
DALEE SAMBO DOROUGH, Forum member from the United States, said that she saw a trend emerging in the discussion that suggested a growing disconnect between the international commitments made by States which adopted the Declaration and their national actions, which failed to uphold those commitments. Although not legally binding, the Declaration contained several provisions which fell into the category of customary international law, including the right to self-determination, autonomy and self-government, land rights and reparations. Regarding human rights defenders, she said that indigenous peoples defending land rights were too often shot. That was unacceptable, she said, adding that the trend was going towards greater violations of human rights, not an uplifting of those rights.
DEVASHISH ROY, Forum member from Bangladesh, commenting on statements by States that did not consider that they had indigenous peoples, said that all States were obliged to adopt national action plans to address the rights and welfare of indigenous peoples following the World Conference. The United Nations could not be expected to adopt other declarations on the matter. The Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities insufficiently addressed indigenous peoples’ situations, and they had not been involved in processes dealing with minorities. Speaking, in addition, on the statement made by the representative of Bangladesh on the Chittagong Hill Tracts, he affirmed that the country’s engagement on the issue had grown more constructive.
PARBATI THAPA MAGAR, speaking on behalf of the Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network and the Nepal Indigenous Disabled Association, asked that the Department of Economic and Social Affairs prepare briefing notes on the rights of indigenous persons with disabilities. The Forum should reintroduce a study on indigenous children with disabilities, focusing on both developed and developing countries. Furthermore, it should urge the Council to consider including representation of indigenous persons with disabilities as a criterion in determining the election of Forum members.
MARIA EUGENIA CHOQUE QUISPE, Forum member from Bolivia, discussed the creation of a plurinational State in her country, calling it a work in progress. It was a process of decolonization, she said, but it was hard to break away from the colonial mind set.
VALMAINE TOKI, Forum member from New Zealand, recalled that the body was making a number of changes to ensure that its work was more effective. However, her indigenous sister from Guam — who had travelled to the Forum at great expense — had not had a chance to speak. The Forum was meant to be for indigenous peoples, and States were observers, she said; while the attendance of States was important, they could be given reduced speaking time in order to allow all indigenous speakers to participate. United Nations agencies had a responsibility to implement the Declaration in their work, and for indigenous peoples to be mere observers in those discussions was unacceptable. Indeed, as independent, sovereign people, indigenous peoples must have equal status to States.
Ms. DAVIS, Pahtamawikan, said choices about the planet had historically been made using a “win-lose” mentality and destructive and “death-producing” approaches. The planet was in peril, and each person of every race and nation was “of the earth”. Health care and gender equality were fundamental rights of American Indians and all people; however, indigenous peoples were considered conquered peoples with no voice. They had endured genocide, the exploitation of their land and resources and victimization through acculturalization. Pointing to other structures that oppressed indigenous peoples, including foreign aid, social services, prisons, the military and indigenous reservations, she went on to say that private industry had become rich on the blood of indigenous people.