|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)
Secretary-General Says ‘Priorities and Vision’ of Indigenous Peoples Must
Be Part of Development Efforts, as Permanent Forum Opens Session
Chair Warns Indifference Can Become ‘Breeding Ground
For Intolerance’; Panel Focuses on Health, Education, Culture
“We must treasure, reflect and protect the rich heritage and value systems of indigenous peoples, starting with education,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as it opened its twelfth session today, set to focus on culture, education and health, concluding 31 May.
Mr. Ban also stressed — in his message delivered by Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs — the need to further improve indigenous peoples’ access to health-care services, as well as the importance of engaging them in decision-making on issues affecting their lives and livelihoods.
With fewer than 1,000 days left to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and a process of defining a post-2015 development agenda beginning, he continued, “we must work to ensure that all our development efforts address the priorities and vision of indigenous peoples, in keeping with their identity and culture”.
Speaking in his own capacity, Mr. Wu said that the United Nations was committed to a future where all indigenous peoples would enjoy peace, human rights and well-being. To that end, the 16-member Permanent Forum had been established, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted, a Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples appointed, and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples created.
However, he said, there was still much to do towards implementing the rights of indigenous peoples. The upcoming World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September 2014 presented an opportunity to continue an inclusive process to find common understanding on the contents of the outcome document.
Néstor Osorio, President of the Economic and Social Council, said that, although much indigenous traditional knowledge had been undermined and destroyed “through centuries of genocide, language loss, discrimination and forced migration”, indigenous peoples remained “the custodians” of many of the most biologically diverse areas in the world.
For centuries, indigenous peoples “shared their knowledge with others as collective goods for the benefit of humankind, not as private property to be protected and sold,” he said, noting that there was a growing number of consumer products, such as cosmetics, medicines and handicrafts, derived from indigenous traditional knowledge that were sold by private corporations for profit, while the original owners of that knowledge saw little or no benefits.
Following his election as Chair, Paul Kanyinke Sena of Kenya noted that 2013 was a review year for the Forum, which meant it would assess implementation on the ground and locally of its recommendations on health, education and culture. Indigenous peoples “are still lagging behind” in access to health, education and other basic services and their culture “is not respected by the wider society unless it is about luring the tourist dollars”, he pointed out.
He said that the hardest issue for indigenous children, even if they were able to attend school, was that they too often did not receive instruction in their own languages. Plus, parents had no genuine decision-making power about their children’s curriculum. Indigenous people had the right to establish and control their educational institutions and provide schooling in their own languages. They must also be able to exercise their autonomy and right to self-determination to promote indigenous health perspectives and traditional healing as part of comprehensive primary health care in collaboration with health services.
“There is an incredibly urgent need for all of us […] to take collaborative and coordinated actions, bold and effective, to address the continued discrimination, racism, marginalization, extreme poverty and conflicts that indigenous peoples continue to face,” he said, adding that “indifference to these issues should not be tolerated because, as we well know, indifference is the breeding ground for intolerance”.
Also addressing the opening segment was Abulkalam Abdul Momen, General Assembly Vice-President, who expressed hope that analysis of implementation of Forum recommendations and dialogue with financial institutions, among them, the World Bank and the International Financial Corporation, would strengthen accountability and partnerships for full implementation of the Declaration. Despite progress, however, “many indigenous peoples continue to face marginalization, oppression, extreme poverty and other human rights violations that threaten their ways of life and, in some cases, their very survival,” he said.
An afternoon panel discussion followed up on the recommendations made by the Forum, as delegates and representatives of indigenous and other organizations shared their experiences and work being carried out at the national, regional and international levels. They noted the political, economic and social components entailed in ensuring that indigenous peoples had access to proper health care in a way that respected their traditional values. Many called for greater input from the “rights holders” themselves in formulating policies and designing studies.
In the ensuing debate, several speakers described actions taken by their countries to improve access to health services. Michel Roy, Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health, Health Canada, said that, despite some progress, health gaps persisted between indigenous communities and the general population. To improve those health outcomes, the Government ensured that all First Nations, including remote communities, had access to round-the-clock primary care, and it was endeavouring to give them greater control over health services.
He said his Government worked closely with indigenous peoples’ organizations to ensure that public health programmes and services were culturally relevant, including those targeting healthy childhood development, mental wellness, communicable disease control and environmental health. The Government provided comprehensive coverage for prescription drugs, dental and vision care, medical supplies and mental health counselling for eligible First Nation and Inuit, and transport to care for those in remote areas.
The representative of Chile said that cultural identification was a priority for his country’s indigenous policy. The country had taken urgent measures to save original languages by using ancestral methods. Last year, 10,000 people had participated in such activities, and elders and traditional educators played a key role in all such endeavours. Chile had introduced a bilingual education programme in which 1,760 schools were participating. All programmes had a traditional indigenous educator serving as liaison between the schools and indigenous communities. There were also a variety of scholarships available to indigenous people, of which 69,000 had been provided in 2013, which were meant, among other things, to strengthen the innovations of indigenous cultures.
Earlier in the day, the Forum elected by acclamation its Bureau for the session, including, Raja Devasish Roy, Viktoria Tuulas, Bertie Xavier and Saul Vicente as Vice-Chairs, and Eva Biaudet as Rapporteur.
In keeping with the custom of the Forum, the twelfth session opened in the General Assembly Hall with a ceremony featuring Jaime Picuasi, who brought the meeting to order with the sounds of indigenous music from the Andes.
In his annual ceremonial welcome and prayer, Tadodaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation, gave thanks to the Creator, to Mother Earth, to all things the “Creator has brought down to us”, and acknowledged the bounties of the Earth and the Winds. Noting the separation of duties among powers, he expressed gratitude that they performed those duties.
During the general debate, statements were made on behalf of the following: Caucus Global 2013, Indigenous Peoples with Disabilities, Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, Global Indigenous Women Caucus, Indigenous Information Network, Asia Indigenous Women’s Network and International Indian Treaty Council. [There was no official United Nations interpretation available for the last two interventions, so there are no summaries of these statements in the body of the Press Release].
The representatives of Nicaragua, Australia, Paraguay and Mexico also spoke, as did the representative of the United Nations Population Fund.
The Permanent Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 21 May, to continue its work.
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues opened its twelfth session today. For background information, see Press Release HR/5129.
Introduction of Report
ALVARO POP, Permanent Forum member, introduced the report of the international expert group meeting on indigenous youth: identify, challenges and hope: articles 14, 17, 21 and 25 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (document E/C.19/2013/3).
He thanked all for being at “this space” to share and exchange views. The Economic and Social Council had authorized the expert group meeting to be held in January and requested that the report of the meeting be presented to the Forum at its twelfth session. Those articles of the Declaration upheld various rights of indigenous peoples, including to education, labour, social services and natural resources. Participants in the expert group meeting focused, not only on endorsing the Declaration, but also on implementing it.
Taking the floor next, TANIA EDITH PARIONA TARQUI, indigenous representative, presented the expert group’s conclusions and recommendations, which included, among others, the need to protect the identity of indigenous youth. She described how loss of indigenous languages in the school system impacted the life of youths in the indigenous community. The community, she said, should create its own educational and health-care systems to take into account the specific needs of young people, whose participation in decision-making was imperative as continuity of indigenous peoples depended on capable and well-trained successors.
She also stressed the importance of aligning domestic legislation with the Declaration and the need to strengthen cooperation among United Nations agencies and programmes, as well as with other stakeholders. States must provide sufficient funds for the study of indigenous youth problems, including that of suicide, she said, noting the importance of intercultural education. Lastly, she urged the Forum to study indigenous youth participation in decision-making.
Mr. SENA then introduced a panel entitled “follow-up on the recommendations of the Permanent Forum”. Panellists were: MIRNA CUNNIGHAM KAIN, Member of the Forum, Nicaragua; DR. MYRIAM CONEJO, Director of the National Department of Intercultural and Social Participation, Ecuador; SURAPORN SURIYAMONTON, representing the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact; and DR. KAREN SEALEY, Special Adviser, Pan-American Health Organization of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Ms. KAIN said that, for indigenous peoples, health was tantamount to a harmonious existence among people, the environment and all beings. It had political, economic and social components and involved the health of communities. Of the more than 60 recommendations the Forum had made, 24 had not been implemented. Those recommendations primarily addressed the right to health as a right to the traditional medicinal practices of indigenous peoples and the right to incorporate an intercultural approach to policies and programmes.
She drew attention to many of the Forum’s recommendations, concerning, among others: the high rates of mental illness and suicide in young indigenous people; non-communicable diseases, particularly the increase in diabetes among indigenous populations; nutrition and health; and the relationship between pollution and women’s reproductive health. Noting that studies on the health of indigenous communities were often carried out without their consent, she said that the Pan American Health Organization recommended that such investigations be designed with the help of indigenous people themselves. In closing, she said that social determinants of health should continue to be studied, adding that the appropriate framework for health recommendations could be found in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Dr. CONEJO said that her country’s Constitution and policies had recognized ancestral knowledge and incorporated traditional and ancestral methods into its health system. For example, there were policies to promote ancestral and alternative medicine, and continuing education programmes included an epidemiological profile with an intercultural approach. A family and intercultural health model was also being implemented. Nearly 100 services incorporated intercultural perspectives and operated across sectors, and several programmes were under way to train medical personnel with intercultural values in mind.
There were sufficient political standards addressing indigenous health, she continued, but they must be carried out as part of a single implementation system. It was also important to work with the population at large, to promote the value of ethnic diversity.
Ms. SURIYAMONTON spoke of research into the sexual health of the Chao Lay people of southern Thailand, one of the smallest indigenous groups in the country, consisting of some 10,000 people. The Chao Lay had been invisible prior to the tsunami of 2004, which had devastated them and highlighted their plight. The study was intended to learn their knowledge and perception on sexual health and reproduction with the goal of facilitating policy formation and assessing the situation of sexual health in the community. Time limitations and language barriers made surveying the 100 married women and nine men, as well as health workers in the community, difficult. Much time was needed simply to build trust, as sexuality was a private matter, not generally discussed.
The study found, among others, that sexual health was not taught, but learned through observation, she said. Traditional arranged marriages were declining, but among the 7 per cent forced into marriage, some reported that they had been raped. No law protected women against rape. Among the women surveyed, 14 per cent said that it was okay for husbands to scold their wives or to have several wives, but not for a woman to say “no”. Further studies were needed that took a human rights-based approach and empowered women.
Dr. SEALEY said that the Pan American Health Organization’s “Health of the Indigenous Peoples” Initiative had five lines of action: incorporating the perspective of indigenous peoples in programmes to attain the Millennium Development Goals; improving information and knowledge management on indigenous health issues; strengthening regional and national capacity for evidence-based decision-making; integrating an intercultural approach into primary health-care systems; and developing alliances with indigenous peoples and other key stakeholders to advance the health of indigenous women and men. After 20 years of action, that initiative was being evaluated, she said, detailing many of the organization’s programmes to help Member States reform national policies and activities with the active participation of indigenous peoples.
MICHEL ROY, Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health, Health Canada, Canada, said, despite progress in some areas, health gaps persisted between indigenous communities and the general population. To improve those health outcomes, the Government ensured that all First Nations, including remote communities, had access to round-the-clock primary care, and it was endeavouring to give them greater control over services. It worked closely with indigenous peoples’ organizations to ensure that public health programmes and services were culturally relevant, including those targeting healthy childhood development, mental wellness, communicable disease control and environmental health. The Government provided comprehensive coverage for prescription drugs, dental and vision care, medical supplies and mental health counselling for eligible First Nation and Inuit, and transport to care for those in remote areas.
He said the Government was building on its success through a large-scale transfer of health roles and resources. In October 2011, it had signed a Tripartite Framework Agreement on First Nation Health Governance with British Columbia First Nations and the province of British Columbia, which would transfer the federal Government’s role in planning, designing, managing and delivering First Nations health services and programmes to a new First Nations Health Authority by October 2013. The Government was supporting the use of e-Health technologies, like Telehealth, and increasing the use of electronic health records to improve health-care access in remote communities. The Pathways to Health Equity for Aboriginal Peoples initiative aimed to increase the capacity of those communities to act as partners in the conception, oversight and application of health research. Since 2005, the Government had given bursaries and scholarships to more than 3,000 aboriginal students in the health field, and it had helped more than 2,000 health workers achieve certification in their respective areas.
The representative of the Caucus Global 2013 urged the Forum to encourage States to implement equitable health systems, which took into account the preservation of Mother Earth, and to ensure the full participation of indigenous peoples in sustainable development, and in discussions and decision-making on the impact of "economic development". She called for due attention to the health of Aboriginal women, in accordance with the principles of free and voluntary consent. Denouncing the poisoning and pollution of indigenous peoples’ land by multinational companies, she demanded that a proper budget be made available for the promotion of the health of indigenous peoples, especially women. She also called for greater recognition of centuries-old traditional medicine.
DALEE SAMBO DOROUGH, Permanent Forum member, asked Ms. SEALEY, a panellist, if a report card or a rating system was available to measure health care provided by States and to determine which countries were doing the best and worst in terms of delivering health services to indigenous people.
In reply, Ms. SEALEY said a publication on the state of health was in its final stage of being released, but “we are still away” from having such a rating system in place. Her agency, however, was encouraging Governments to set targets in reducing inequity.
The representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) highlighted the Fund’s efforts to reduce maternal mortality among indigenous people. In that regard, access to reproductive health was essential. There was also a need to reduce adolescent pregnancies. The Fund was seeking to mainstream the rights of indigenous people in relevant efforts, but one obstacle was data collection. National statistics did not disaggregate data on indigenous people. Mortality rates were consistently high among indigenous women, who were not educated on the use of contraceptives, and thus, vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
With Member States starting to define post-2015 development agenda, said the speaker, UNFPA was seeking to contribute to poverty eradication and improved access to health services. To that end, it was essential to empower indigenous women and youth to play a more active role in their own communities and in decision-making processes at a higher level.
ELOY FRANK GÓMEZ ( Nicaragua) said his Government recognized the rights of all to health. “That’s a constitutional mandate,” he said, adding that Nicaragua’s Constitution enshrined that right and stated that it was the Government’s obligation to provide basic conditions for health recovery and rehabilitation. Government policies assumed universal social rights and the right to life for indigenous people and Afro-descendents. Health care must be provided to all ethnic groups and people with disabilities, and it was important to organize health services at the community level. Describing his country’s initiatives, he said that, in 2011, the National Assembly had enacted a law to protect traditional ancestral medicine. It was also vital to “humanize” institutions, such as by offering low-risk practices and emotional care.
A representative of the Caucus of Indigenous Persons with Disabilities, requested that States recall, as they incorporated indigenous rights into their programmes and policies, that indigenous populations had elderly, children and disabled people among them.
MANDY DOHERTY, Branch Manager, Reconciliation and Relationships Branch, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs of Australia, said indigenous Australians with disabilities faced multiple disadvantages. They were significantly overrepresented among homeless people in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, as well as in the care and protection systems. To address those issues, the Government had funded the First Peoples Disability Network, a national organization representing disabled indigenous persons and their families. Australia also had introduced the national disability strategy, a 10-year framework to improve the lives of persons with disabilities, and in July, it would launch a $900,000 disability insurance scheme through the Network to assist indigenous Australians.
A representative of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, reaffirmed the recommendation made during the Forum’s eleventh session to implement a five-year agenda of the Secretary-General on health. Among other things, that would recognize the urgency of HIV and sexual health education that promoted cultural sensitivity. It would also reaffirm the revival of indigenous knowledge of healing and health, as well as the interconnectedness of all things. In that same recommendation, the Forum had reaffirmed the urgency of preventing youth suicide by encouraging community organization for safe spaces. The Caucus urged that attention be given to the high suicide rates among indigenous youth in some countries, and called on the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to convene a meeting for indigenous communities in relation to basic health services and the promotion of mental health education.
JORGE RETAMAL RUBIO, National Director of the Corporation for Indigenous Development of Chile, said that cultural identification was a priority for his country’s indigenous policy. The country had taken urgent measures to save original languages by using ancestral methods. Last year, 10,000 people had participated in such activities, and elders and traditional educators played a key role in all such endeavours. Chile had introduced a bilingual education programme in which 1,760 schools were participating. All programmes had a traditional indigenous educator serving as liaison between the schools and indigenous communities. There were also a variety of scholarships available to indigenous people, of which 69,000 had been provided in 2013, which were meant, among other things, to strengthen the innovations of indigenous cultures.
He also highlighted policies and programmes to strengthen indigenous health services, drawing attention to a bill on indigenous health services, prepared by related organizations with the help of the Pan American Health Organization. An intercultural health model, approved by indigenous communities, would be introduced in the future.
The representative of the Global Indigenous Women Caucus said that health must encompass not just physical, but spiritual and mental aspects. She also highlighted the impact of the extractive industry on the lives of indigenous people, stressing that resource extraction required their prior consent. A platform for agreement between multinational companies that extracted resources and indigenous communities must be reviewed, and special attention should be paid to elderly indigenous women forced to separate from their land. She urged that a study be conducted on the impact of separation from the family and communities on those women. Turning to health issues, she noted that the rate of tuberculosis was 20 to 30 per cent higher than normal among indigenous people, and she sought updates on those cases.
ANNA NAYKANCHINA, a Permanent Forum member, stressed the importance for States to pay adequate attention to data in the field of heath care and training of medical personnel, particularly in remote areas. Due to lack of training, there were many cases of children suffering from wrong diagnoses. Publishing an annual report was not enough; using the media was one effective way to disseminate such information.
A representative of the Indigenous Information Network expressed concern over the health situation of indigenous peoples, including those highlighted in the Plan of Action of the second Decade of the World Indigenous Peoples, among them, HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, practices which negatively impacted health including: female genital mutilation child marriages, violence against women, youth and children, alcohol and drug abuse, and environmental degradation, including the use of indigenous people’s land for military testing.
In that context, she recommended that the Forum renew and implement the recommendation from its ninth session to UNFPA to organize an expert seminar on indigenous peoples and health emphasizing sexual and reproductive health, including the effects of environmental toxins and contaminants on women. She also recommended that WHO be consistent in its policies regarding indigenous peoples, and urged that a follow-up study be undertaken on the second Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples action plan on health. She called on States and United Nations agencies to promote a holistic cultural approach to health policies and services, taking into account the perspectives and practices of indigenous peoples, and on States to ensure that those peoples had access to adequate health care and the support of their own traditional health-care system in remote areas.
ANGELA ESPINOLA, Director of Indigenous Health, Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare of Paraguay, underscored actions taken by the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare within the framework of follow-up on the recommendations of the Permanent Forum. Among the achievements was the hiring of 70 “promoters” to coordinate services in indigenous areas. For instance, those promoters held training courses for midwives and others in 14 regions. Another achievement was the implementation of an information system, which enabled electronic registration and made it possible to have data disaggregated by indigenous people.
MR. FUENTES ( Mexico) said that Mexico’s policies aimed to prevent violence against indigenous women and to promote their sexual and reproductive health. Mexico was committed to respect indigenous cultures and to improve access to health services. The majority of the indigenous population had been excluded from development, but policy was now being developed to give the indigenous people the same rights and opportunities as other Mexicans.
Further, he said, there was a national crusade to guarantee food and health services for Mexicans living in extreme poverty. Sixty per cent of those served by those programmes lived in indigenous municipalities. At the global level, he said, all initiatives should take into account the needs of indigenous peoples.
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