‘Let Us Learn from Indigenous Peoples’ to Create Peace, Sustainability, Prosperity, Secretary-General Says at Opening of Permanent Forum

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the opening ceremony of the twenty-second session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, in New York today:

It is my privilege to welcome you to this twenty-second session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.  Indigenous Peoples reflect humanity’s magnificent diversity — representing more than 5,000 different cultures and speaking over 4,000 different languages.  Customs and traditions vary widely.

But, the challenges are strikingly similar:  marginalization and exclusion; the denial of human rights; illegal exploitation of resource-rich territories; dispossession and eviction from ancestral lands; even physical attacks and violence.

Around the world, millions of Indigenous Peoples are losing their lands, their rights and their resources.  The injustice of generations of discrimination manifests itself in staggering inequalities.  Indigenous Peoples make up around 5 per cent of the world’s population — but 15 per cent of the world’s poorest. Indigenous women, the keepers of so much rich heritage, often suffer the most.  My message today is clear:  the United Nations stands with you.

I welcome your focus this year on the intersection of human and planetary health, the climate crisis and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. I salute indigenous movements across the world — often led by women and young people — for spearheading efforts to protect nature and preserve biodiversity.

For thousands of years, Indigenous Peoples have pioneered sustainable land management and climate adaption.  In the Sahel, ancient farming techniques are breathing life into the semi-arid region.  Across the Amazon, indigenous agriculture has preserved and enhanced the richness of the rainforest’s ecology.  And in the Himalayas, systems developed by Indigenous Peoples preserve soil, reduce erosion, conserve water and reduce disaster risks.

But, Indigenous Peoples live on the front lines of the climate emergency.  Last year, I travelled to Suriname and had the extraordinary privilege of visiting with the Kaliña peoples.  I saw first hand how climate change is devastating their lands, destroying their way of life and threatening their very survival.

Indigenous Peoples have done nothing to cause the climate crisis, but often face the worst and most immediate impacts.  That is why we must speed up efforts to deliver climate justice and scale up finance and capacities for adaptation and loss and damage.

At the same time, Indigenous Peoples hold many of the solutions to the climate crisis and are guardians of the world’s biodiversity.  The so-called “green economy” is not a new concept for Indigenous Peoples.  It is a way of life — stretching back millennia.  We have so much to learn from their wisdom, knowledge, leadership, experience and example.

Since the adoption of the landmark Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, the United Nations has steadily broadened the participation of Indigenous Peoples in our work.  The declaration has been utilized in courts and galvanized political action, including the development of national action plans.

I welcome the strengthened participation of Indigenous Peoples through platforms established within United Nations processes, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The report on Our Common Agenda calls for innovative approaches to advance the meaningful participation and leadership of those traditionally marginalized, including minority and Indigenous groups.  This includes efforts to combat food insecurity and close the digital divide.

The United Nations is committed to keep promoting the rights of Indigenous Peoples in policies and programming at all levels — and to amplify your voices.  Let us learn from and embrace the experiences of Indigenous Peoples worldwide.  Let us work together and walk hand in hand towards peace, sustainability and prosperity for all.  I wish all of you a very successful Forum.

For information media. Not an official record.