by Victoria Tauli Corpuz,
Executive Director, TEBTEBBA Foundation
(Indigenous Peoples' International Centre for Policy Research and Education, Philippines)

at the World Summit on Sustainable Development 

Johannesburg, South Africa 
4 September 2002


Indigenous peoples travelled many paths from Rio to Johannesburg. From our communities we attended other UN Conferences and Summits not only on sustainable development, but also on social development, women, racism and many more. Some of us even went to the WTO Ministerial meetings. It was urgent for us to bring the messages of our indigenous nations, peoples, tribes, organizations and communities directly to the governments of the world.

Our key message in all these events is the urgent need to recognize Indigenous Peoples' rights to self-determination, to territories and resources, cultures and traditional knowledge. Sustainable development cannot be achieved if our rights remain unrecognized. You, the governments of the world, have the power to promote and recognize these rights and to change an unsustainable world to one which is sustainable, just and democratic.

We have created more linkages and sustained the networking between ourselves. Before we came here to Johannesburg we had our own "Indigenous Peoples' International Summit on Sustainable Development" which was held in Kimberly, South Africa from 19-23 August 2002. More than 300 of us from 52 countries looked into the successes and failures of Rio and crafted a way forward from Johannesburg to the future. We are the hereby officially submitting our "Kimberly Declaration" and the "Indigenous Peoples Implementation Plan of Action" to this World Summit on Sustainable Development. These documents spell out in detail our hopes and commitments for the future.

Ten years from Rio, we have seen a world where the interests of the world's richest nations, corporations and billionaires heavily influenced the policies and programmes made by bodies like the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These are the key players of corporate globalization. We could only look up to the UN for the protection of our rights. Unfortunately, we also witnessed how the WTO agenda and how corporate interests have blatantly and insidiously crept into the UN. These moves are significantly undermining what the UN is all about. The UN for us is "we the peoples.." and the UN Charter, Treaties, Conventions and Declarations should underpin all its actions.

In spite of what we see around us, we have hopes for the future. We have hope because we see indigenous peoples rising up all over the world to assert their rights to their lands and territories. Mining corporations who, since colonial times, rapaciously exploited and polluted our territories, are now faced with indigenous peoples resisting their entry into their territories. Mega-dam builders, abetted by government agencies, are met with formidable protests from dam-affected communities. Indigenous peoples, the world over are using their own customary laws and practices and even modern courts to defend their sacred medicinal plants, indigenous seeds, and traditional knowledge from being patented by corporations.

We have hope because our indigenous knowledge and practices in the following areas: use and conservation of water; sustainable agriculture, forestry, pastoralism, reindeer herding, fisheries, hunting and gathering; healing practices and rituals, among others, are still alive in various parts of the world.

We have hope because we see some governments enacting laws and policies which recognize indigenous peoples' rights, and UN agencies and other multilateral institutions coming up with their own policies on indigenous peoples. However, we would like to exercise our rights to critique these policies and laws if they fall short of what we expect or pose dangers for indigenous peoples.

We have hope because we have created valuable alliances with other civil society organization, peoples' movements and NGOs. These alliances are built on the principles of mutual respect and diversity.

We are committed to continue our struggles against unsustainable production and consumption patterns and the corporations and governments who promote these. We will strengthen our own communities to reinforce their use of their traditional knowledge and practices which are consistent with sustainable development principles, goals and programmes. We will work with others to change policies and programmes of governments, intergovernmental bodies, finance and trade institutions which undermine indigenous peoples rights and capacities for people-centred and led sustainable development programmes.

We commit ourselves to design a framework and implementation plan of the Millenium Development Goals which are relevant and appropriate for the particular situations of indigenous peoples all over the world. We expect the support of UN agencies and governments in this undertaking.

We urge the United Nations to adhere to its raison d'etre which is to bring peace, justice and sustainable development to this world. We cannot accept that the United Nations enters into partnerships with corporations, especially those which have track records of violating indigenous peoples' rights, women's rights and polluting and degrading the environment. We call on all the governments to protect the rights of their poor and oppressed citizens instead of the rights of corporations.

We look forward with hope to a sustainable millenium and a world which upholds and accepts the rights and welfare of indigenous peoples.