Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
7th & 8th Meetings (AM & PM)
INDIGENOUS LANDS SEVERELY DAMAGED BY DEVELOPMENT, MINING, TOURISM,
PERMANENT FORUM TOLD, AS DEBATE BEGINS ON ENVIRONMENT
Speakers Urge Halt to Lumber, Oil Concessions,
Strict Control of Foreign Company Access to Indigenous Lands
Development, mining and tourism had severely damaged indigenous lands, polluting water systems and destroying unique ecosystems, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was told today, as it continued its second session. Initiating the afternoon discussion on the environment, Ayitegau Kouevi, a Forum member and indigenous expert from Togo, stressed that all indigenous people shared a social and ecological relationship with their land, and land use and resource management remained vital concerns for indigenous people worldwide. The environment was at grave risk, he said, and those who benefited from it –- not only indigenous peoples, but the entire world population -– were also in peril.
A representative of Coordinadora de Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazonica said oil companies had gone into indigenous territories in the Amazon region, negatively affecting the environment and also causing irreversible damage to ancestral knowledge. He urged governments to stop granting concessions for lumber and oil companies, and to strictly control the access of foreign companies to indigenous lands.
A representative of the Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples said India’s Government had taken over sections of forests in indigenous areas, and was now planning to hand them over for mining and large-scale development. With the help of a Supreme Court order, some States had already evicted indigenous people from those lands, calling them “encroachers”.
Other speakers stressed that damage to their lands had placed indigenous people in serious danger of losing their food biodiversity. A representative of the Asociacion de la Juventud Indígene noted that indigenous diets had changed, which had affected people’s health and made them more susceptible to diseases, such as diabetes. Also, genetically modified seeds had been introduced into indigenous lands, which was hampering their ability to grow produce.
Many participants emphasized that indigenous knowledge systems and the diversity of life within indigenous territories were collective resources under direct indigenous control. Intellectual property regimes, they said, must be prevented from obtaining patents, copyright or trademark monopolies for products, data, or processes derived from the knowledge of indigenous peoples.
During the morning meeting, the Forum concluded its discussion on economic and social development, with speakers highlighting the need for governments to recognize indigenous rights over their land and natural resources, and to compensate them for any destruction. They also stressed that indigenous peoples should design, implement and evaluate their own development programmes, according to their needs, aspirations and cultural values.
Other participants applauded the decade for indigenous peoples, which had brought their concerns to international attention, and called on the Forum to declare the coming decade an indigenous one as well. They also highlighted the importance of information and shared experiences in strengthening democracy and fostering economic growth, recommending that the Forum develop a mechanism to spread information to indigenous communities.
Speakers at the morning meeting included representatives of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Yachay Wasi (Runa Simi) Quechua, Red Continental de Medios de Comunicación Indígenas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Instituto Indigena Brasileiro of Brazil, African Indigenous and Minority Peoples Organization (AIMPO), Tebtebba Foundation, South Asia Indigenous Women’s Forum/Nepal Tamong Women Ghedurg, Africa region, the Ibazoi Tribe, Universidad de las Regiones Autonomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaraguense, Hmong International Human Rights Watch, Armando Ualbuena for La Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia, Centro de Promoción para el Desarrolo Communal Init, Coordinadora Indígena Campesina Agroforestales del Perú, Peace Campaign Group, Indigenous Peoples Africa Committee, and Grandmothers of Mother Earth.
Also speaking at the morning meeting were the Special Ambassador for the World Summit on the Information Society, and a member of the Commission on Sustainable Development.
Speakers in the afternoon included representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Also speaking in the afternoon were representatives of the Na Koa Ikaika o Ka Lahui Hawaii Indigenous Peoples’ Council on Bio-Colonialism, the Coordinadora de Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazonica, the Asia Caucus, the Buffalo River Dene Nation, the Seventh Generation Fund, the Indian Confederation of Indigenous Peoples and Tribes, the United Native Nations Truth Network and Voice Confederation, the Asia-Pacific Indigenous Youth Network, American Indian Community Health, Comisión Jurídica (CAPAJ), Asociación de la Juventud Indígene, Indigenous Women of the Americas, the Agogo Traditional Area of the Ashanti in Ghana, Confederaciones Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador, Defensoria de los Pueblos Indígenos del Ecuador en America, the National Aboriginal Forestry Association of Canada, the Aldet Centre, Saint Lucia, the Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and the Saami Parliament of Norway.
The Forum will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday, 16 May, to continue its consideration of the environment.
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues met this morning to conclude its discussion of economic and social development. It was also expected to begin consideration of its mandated agenda item on the environment. (For background information, see Press Release HR/4658, issued on 8 May.)
SERGEI HARJUEHI, President of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, noted that Russia was a very rich country, and relied upon the natural resources in areas where indigenous people lived. Development in those areas damaged the environment and affected the health and economic situation of indigenous people. The most important issue for indigenous people, especially in Russia, was the question of land use. That should be the core of the Forum’s strategy, since all other issues were dependent upon it.
The decade for indigenous people was ending, he continued, and a dialogue was now under way between governments and indigenous people. The decade had brought indigenous concerns to the attention of the world community. It had been a preparatory stage for indigenous people and governments, and for the future of the Forum’s work. The Forum should now discuss the possibility of adopting the next decade for indigenous people.
JOSE UMERES, representative of Yachay Wasi Quechua, said that Peru was going through a period of economic recession. Agricultural products were sold below real cost; therefore, indigenous peoples were becoming poorer and poorer. Indigenous peoples did not want gifts. They wanted sustainable and self-managed programmes. Peru was lucky to have potential that other peoples did not have, but indigenous peoples needed to know how to fully develop that potential. Finding funding for projects was increasingly difficult. There was no programme for the sustainable development of indigenous peoples on the part of the Government of Peru. Furthermore, indigenous peoples did not receive any share of the benefits reaped from archaeological tourism.
FELIX ATENCIO, the representative of Red Continental de Medios de Cominicacion Indigenas, said that indigenous peoples needed access to information. Civil societies in developed countries were concerned about the control of information, and that concern was shared by indigenous peoples. He was alarmed by the trend of standardizing information –- a raw form of racism that existed in many countries. The communications media that did work with indigenous peoples faced serious obstacles and that forced indigenous peoples to prioritize among basic human needs and the right to information. No society that aspired to the overall development of its people could allow such a situation to occur. Access to information was of primary importance to strengthen democracy, and the Permanent Forum should include in its structure a mechanism to spread information to indigenous communities
GEOFF CLARK, of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, said economic independence gave people the opportunity to make choices, which was consistent with self-determination and empowerment. In Australia, however, indigenous people were hampered by an unjust legal system, which kept them from recovering lands that had been taken away from them 200 years ago. In addition, they were entitled to economic benefits from land they did own. Rigid guidelines should be created for development institutions to prevent them from using indigenous land.
The Government shared his group’s view that more must be done to expand indigenous development. He hoped that the start-from-scratch approach to economic development, as was proposed, would yield results. Indigenous people must also confront the challenges of globalization, and must consider how they could best be involved.
BILL JONAS, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner of Australia, explained that he was an independent monitoring agent for his Government on recognizing and protecting indigenous rights. In fulfilling his role of reporting to the Australian parliament, he had found guidance in the materials of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), particularly its 2000 Human Development Report, which included mechanisms to ensure greater accountability for human rights standards.
Such documents, however, included no recognition of the distinct status of indigenous people, and it was vital that work be expanded in that area, he continued. In the Human Development Report for 2002, for example, Australia ranked in the top 5 worldwide for human development, including its life expectancy index. Recent statistics of life expectancy for Australian indigenous people, however, was 24 years less than non-indigenous people. He suggested that the Forum call on the UNDP to expand their work to recognize the distinct status of indigenous people. He also suggested that the UNDP invite the Forum to participate in the advisory group for the report.
AZELENE KAIGANG-WARA, the representative of the Instituto Indigena Brasiliero, said that in Brazil most indigenous lands were formally recognized and marked, which represented progress. The mere legal recognition of the land, however, was not sufficient for indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples in Brazil had become poor, yet Brazilian people believed that there was no hunger amongst indigenous peoples. Brazilians believed that indigenous peoples were lazy and did not want to work, which was simply untrue. In fact, most indigenous lands in Brazil were dry and unworkable. It was not sufficient to speak about past errors; the current situation must be resolved. It was necessary to create lines of credit easily accessible for indigenous peoples production, to create conditions that guaranteed food security and a just market for indigenous goods, and to provide support for indigenous peoples in urban areas.
NICOLAS CHANGO, representative of Defensoria de los Peublos Indigenad del Ecuador, said that the people who were in charge of planning needed to look down to the indigenous peoples, who were pushed to the bottom. Policy makers and economists had promised so many things that had not materialized. Spirituality was very important. Indigenous peoples were not simply human shells; they were imbued with a spirit. People could no longer exist simply as materialists. It was necessary to pay attention to children, who must be provided with technology and economic tools, so that they could become the future. Money should be going to small businesses, since most indigenous peoples were involved in the informal economy. States must invest in indigenous peoples in order to create a better world for all.
JOJI CARINO, of the Tebtebba Foundation, recommended that the Forum provide a dialogue for advice on policies aimed at indigenous people. The Forum should also underline the need to respect indigenous people in the development process, which would include free, prior and informed consent. It should provide understanding of the negative impact of mainstream development projects on indigenous people, and demand safeguards to protect customary land rights. Finally, the Forum should advocate for rights-based approaches as the way forward for rights-based development.
Several multilateral agencies were updating their policies on indigenous people for the first time, she continued. She drew attention to a book entitled A Failure of Accountability, dealing with such agencies. The book addressed four questions: whether donors had policies on indigenous people; whether those policies were global or regional; whether agencies had binding minimum standards; and whether they provided operational standards.
BENON MUGARURA, of the African Indigenous and Minority Peoples Organization, drew attention to the Batwa community of the Great Lakes Region of Africa. The Batwa were the first inhabitants of Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. Traditionally, they had been forest-gatherers, but many were driven out of their forest areas, and had become potters.
A comparison of census figures from 1978 to 1991 had indicated a 40 per cent fall in the Batwa population, he said, as opposed to a 50 per cent rise in population of other Rwandans. Although little research had been conducted on the Batwa, high infant mortality rates, extreme poverty and poor access to health care had contributed to that decline. The Batwa’s extreme poverty prevented them from participating in the national economy.
He recommended that: a coordination unit be established for economic and social development within the Forum; reforms to education and health envisaged by the Rwandan Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper take appropriate account of the rights and needs of the Batwa; international development agencies operating in Rwanda elaborate programme activities in cooperation with Batwa communities; and the displacement of Batwa communities from protected areas be avoided, and displacement be appropriately compensated.
STELLA TAMANG, representative of the South Asia Indigenous Women Forum, said that the more human beings were trying to get, the less they were getting; the more they were trying to control nature, the more it was getting out of control. It was important that development be understood and defined in the right way. Development meant sustainable development of indigenous peoples’ languages and cultures. It did not mean only materialistic development. Indigenous peoples were economically and socially marginalized and impoverished. They were poor because of a lack of rights, not skills.
Indigenous women were facing an even more dire situation, she continued. They were deprived of the right of access to basic social and health services and their right to decision-making was not respected. Indigenous healers were branded as witches and, therefore, tortured. After 11 September and the declaration of a “war against terror” governments’ budgets for development has been cut. The situation needed to be reversed. Governments must recognize ancestral land rights including natural resources, recognize the right to self-management of resources, raise awareness of indigenous peoples’ issues and ensure indigenous women’s participation at all decision-making levels.
FRANCIS OLE SAKADA, speaking on behalf of the African region, said that the problems facing the indigenous peoples of Africa were historical by origin. Other communities had invaded indigenous peoples’ lands and introduced new ways of life, while forcing indigenous peoples out of their ancestral lands. All African governments and policy makers practised a “top-down” planning programme that did not favour indigenous peoples. Furthermore, the majority of African Nations had a stereotyped view of indigenous peoples and saw them as non-progressive, backward and primitive. That had led to the imposition of new ways of life that were leading to assimilation, loss of language and culture.
In addition, most African States believed that living sedentarily was the best way to develop a community. This notion had led to the destruction of the ecosystem through the over-extraction of natural resources, such as minerals, wild animals and herbal medicine. It had also led to a non-equitable share of the economic resources accrued by governments.
On behalf of the indigenous peoples of Africa, he recommended that governments review the top-down urban bias policies that favoured cash crops as the best way for development, as well as review the models of ecological development that impacted negatively on the social, political and economic sustainability of the indigenous peoples. He also asked that indigenous peoples have equal access to water, food, and sanitary health centres and that they have legal protection against eviction by governments and foreign investors.
FRANKLIN ALMOZA, of the Ibazoi Tribe in Cordeillera, Philippines, stressed that man could not survive without land. It was man’s duty to protect land from destruction, and preserve its sacredness. In the Philippines, the economy was dependent on such activities as agriculture, fishing and mining. He referred to a 1997 mining operation on indigenous lands, to which indigenous people had objected, and then been imprisoned. Farming had been adversely affected by the operation, as had the underground water. Now the mining company had control of the land, and the indigenous people had been left empty-handed. Indigenous people should receive something in exchange for the destruction of their land.
JADDER MEDOZA-LEWIS, of the Universidad de las Regiones Autonomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaraguense, said the Forum should make recommendations to protect the collective rights of indigenous people, given the threat of mega-development projects. It must also promote financial and technical resources for indigenous people, so that they could strengthen their legal instruments and respond to threats of privatization and water basin development in Central America.
Indigenous people urgently needed to strengthen instruments of economic protection within their own frameworks. He recommended that the Forum develop an agenda with United Nations agencies and others, which would allow it to develop principles on collective rights for indigenous people within the framework of global markets.
LAURA XIONG, representative of the Hmong International Human Rights Watch, said that a few years ago the Government of Laos had received millions of dollars of foreign aid to eradicate opium production. None of the Hmong minority had received any of that aid. Slash and burn had been another major instrument used against indigenous peoples in Laos. In recent decades, the forest areas had been reduced from over 70 per cent of the land area to less than 40 per cent, and the Government had allowed three companies to have a monopoly over timber production in Laos, destroying the natural environment of indigenous peoples.
A representative of the Armando Ualbuena for La Organizacion Nacional Indigena de Colombia said that although he did not have precise figures with regard to indigenous peoples in Bolivia and Colombia, it was certain there was an absolute degree of poverty. That was a social and economic obstacle and it meant that the indigenous peoples were very poor. They lacked opportunities, because economic structures resulted in low levels of development. There was inequality in the distribution of wealth, and indigenous peoples were not able to meet their basic needs.
He asked the Governments of Bolivia and Colombia and United Nations agencies to allocate resources to take a periodic census on the actual socio-economic situation of the indigenous peoples. Also, a fund should be established for the high- and lowlands of Bolivia, so that people could develop their own economic and social potential. Further, standards should be established regarding the use of petroleum.
ADRIAN OROZCO, of the Centro de Promocion Para el Desarrollo Comunal Init, said governments and multilateral agencies were afraid that indigenous peoples would fully develop and participate in civil society, as well as international forums. Progress indigenous people had made was not intended to create that fear, or lead to discord and revenge. Rather, indigenous people sought common prosperity in peaceful conditions, where they could maintain contact with their cultural roots and enjoy self-determination.
He urged governments and human rights agencies to attach higher priority to the needs and demands of rural communities, and to implement development programmes with the participation of indigenous people. It was vital to train and guide people from an indigenous standpoint. He also urged States to implement rehabilitation programmes dealing with trauma, harassment and oppression, which had affected those who had lived through periods of violence. In addition, he recommended that the third session of the Forum be devoted to assisting indigenous people to participate in their country’s governments, so that they could defend their rights and provide development advice in indigenous localities.
FELICIA HUARSAYA VILLASANTE, of the Coordinadora Indigena Campesina Agroforestales del Peru, said indigenous people in Peru wanted to implement production projects through local governments, and had many financial cooperatives at the Forum. It was important to work on a local basis, since there was a lot of corruption in Peru concerning financial flows. She noted that her country was wealthy -- with land, water, mineral resources, mountains, and forests -- but was lacking resources for investment.
PRAJNALANKAR BHIKKHU, representative of the Peace Campaign Group, said that indigenous peoples continued to be subjected to colonial practices, despite many international treaties and conventions recommending promotion and protection of their rights and socio-economic condition. Those colonial practices had been affecting their lives, systems and values in many forms. In Bangladesh, there were 45 distinct indigenous peoples, but their distinct cultures, languages and identities were not recognized. The Government of Bangladesh did not have a policy on them, and did not apply international conventions on the rights of indigenous peoples.
In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, in south-eastern Bangladesh, the indigenous peoples waged an armed struggle for autonomy for 25 years, he continued. In 1997, a peace agreement had finally been signed. The agreement, however, had failed to bring about the expected changes in the situation of indigenous peoples and most of the fundamental points of the accord remained unimplemented. The indigenous peoples of the Hill Tracts were neither enjoying the benefits of development programmes, nor were they getting back their lands from the occupation of the Bengali Muslim settlers and military. Many indigenous youth were finding themselves in a difficult situation in which they were losing their traditional ways of livelihood without any sustainable alternatives.
The Peace Campaign Group recommended that indigenous peoples be given the right to design, implement and evaluate their own development policies and programmes according to their needs, aspirations and cultural values and that United Nations agencies persuade the Government of Bangladesh to comply with its policies on indigenous peoples.
The representative of Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee said that there was a lack of development projects in Africa and those under way often had a harmful effect on indigenous peoples, especially the Masai, the Pygmy population and the Tuareg. Unfortunately, many development projects caused the cultural and economic identity of indigenous peoples to deteriorate, he said. He recommended that all of those present at the Forum submit recommendations with regard to the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights worldwide. Indigenous culture should be considered in all development projects and information agencies should establish a true partnership with the indigenous peoples.
A representative of the Grandmothers of Mother Earth said it was time for the wisdom of the grandmothers to be heard, so that they could teach others the way of respect, of honour, and of renewing the elements for the highest good of all. She called on the children of the world for peace and prosperity, as well as the health, happiness and well-being of all people –- now, and in generations to come.
In the past, the voices of grandmothers had been silenced, but now their concerns must be heard, and their voices restored to a place of honour. She requested representation for grandmothers on the Forum, and a seat for the Forum at the United Nations, so that the voices of grandmothers would be effective.
GUY OLIVIER SEGOND, Special Ambassador for the World Summit on the Information Society, said the upcoming Summit could be a prime occasion for indigenous people to promote their cause. The first phase of the Summit would be held in Geneva in December 2003 and second in Tunis in November 2005. The Summit would examine ways of putting the information revolution at the service of human development, as well as ways and means of narrowing the digital divide. It would include a series of high-level round tables and other events promoting information and communications technology for development.
Indigenous people could participate in the Summit in written terms, by submitting a report on indigenous people in the information society. They could also attend the Summit by organizing a Summit event in Geneva, which could be an initiative of the forum, co-sponsored by interested governments. In organizing that event, indigenous peoples could receive assistance from the Summit Secretariat, as well as members of civil society. He felt that an event at the Summit would be the most effective way of promoting indigenous people, since it would give them a chance to interact with governments and major stakeholders in the information and technological world.
A representative of the Commission on Sustainable Development said that the Commission recognized the importance of the broad-based participation of civil society in the development process, of which indigenous peoples were a very important part. During the preparatory process for last year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development at Johannesburg, a number of very useful precedents were set in place, and there were a series of plenary sessions on issues such as water, energy, health and agriculture. Major indigenous groups were represented as equal partners in those activities. Prior to the meeting, indigenous peoples gathered for the Kimberley Summit on indigenous peoples’ sustainable development. This resulted in a declaration know as the ‘Kimberley Declaration’.
In the area of economic and social development, the plan of implementation that emerged from the Johannesburg Summit suggested ways to increase opportunities for indigenous peoples to participate in their own economic development, he said. For example, governments were called upon to utilize indigenous peoples energy sources and support agricultural methods for indigenous people. It was very clear that the voices had been heard. The challenge was to devote more attention to implementation, so that their needs were fully addressed.
Comments from Forum
During the discussion, Forum members recommended that the World Bank continue efforts to develop an effective mechanism with indigenous people to promote contact between indigenous people and Bank directors in particular countries. The Bank should focus on sound policies for indigenous peoples, address involuntary eviction, and facilitate the exchange of knowledge between indigenous organizations and people at the multilateral and bilateral levels. They also recommended that United Nations agencies, governments and other organizations consider the Kimberley Declaration, which was drawn up at the Summit of Indigenous People on Sustainable Development in August 2002, when they began to implement governments plans of action.
Others recommended that United Nations bodies, with the participation of indigenous people, devise development policies aimed at indigenous people. They also suggested that national indigenous committees consider laws aimed at constitutional reforms favouring indigenous people, and that indigenous people participate in designing policies in government programmes aimed at the social and economic development of indigenous people. In addition, a database should be developed on the results of government programmes directed towards indigenous people, which should be disseminated in all countries.
Forum members also commented on a statement that the World Bank was no longer one the global leaders on indigenous issues, and added that the International Labour Organization (ILO) had also fallen from that spot. United Nations agencies were now involved, as were new movements in indigenous societies. The Bank should urge United Nations agencies to focus attention on orienting policies and programmes to indigenous people, and the Forum should become involved in that process.
A Forum member said that the national legal systems in many countries were destructive to the process of self-determination. Man needed to be placed at the centre of development, and in order to achieve that, the right to information was crucial. He recommended that a new international decade for indigenous peoples be established, because much remained to be done in order to provide indigenous peoples with a happy future.
A Forum member also emphasized the importance of national governments having a special structure to meet with the socio-economic needs of indigenous peoples. It was important to point out that, for many indigenous peoples, the forest was a second home. It was, therefore, important to have confirmation of access to forestry resources for indigenous peoples. Special emphasis should also be placed on forest recovery.
Another Forum member said that the Millennium Development Goals were a global agenda and hoped that the Forum would begin to interface with those goals. It was an excellent opportunity to develop processes to gather and disaggregate data.
In the afternoon, the Forum turned to its agenda item on the environment.
Opening the discussion on the environment, Forum member AYITEGAN KOUEVI, an indigenous expert from Togo, said that many areas of biodiversity on the planet had been inherited by indigenous people. Of an estimated 6,000 cultures in the world, between 4,000 and 5,000 were indigenous, and about three quarters of the world’s 3,000 languages were spoken by indigenous people. Those languages, however, were rapidly disappearing and language extinction was leading to the loss of cultural knowledge. The link between culture and environment was clear among indigenous people.
All indigenous people shared a social and ecological relationship with their land, he continued. Land use and resource management had remained critical issues for indigenous people around the world. Development and mining programmes had led to substantial environmental damage. Unique ecosystems had been destroyed and waters had been heavily polluted. The development of tourism had also adversely impacted the environment on indigenous lands. The environment was at risk and its users in danger –- not only indigenous people, but the entire world population.
FLORENCE CHENOWETH, Director of the New York Liaison Office of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), described the Globally Important Indigenous Agricultural Heritage Systems Project, an FAO/United Nations Development Programme-Global Environment Facility project, with multiple stakeholders and donors and involving multi-agency initiatives. The initiative was being implemented through participatory action programmes in 10 pilot agricultural heritage systems, and would continue for seven to nine years.
She also referred to a Southern Africa project known as “Links”, focused on local knowledge systems and its important role in sustainable agro-biodiversity management and food security. Its three main activities included: training and capacity-building of field staff on the basis of local knowledge systems; research on gender-based differences in farmers’ knowledge on the management of animal and plant genetic resources for farming; and communication to enhance the exchange of information for sustainable agro-biodiversity management and food security.
LE’A KANEHE, representative for Na Koa Ikaika o Ka Lahiu Hawaii Indigenous Peoples’ Council on Bio-Colonialism, recommended that the Forum participate in the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity. It also suggested that the Forum advise relevant agencies, including the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), that frameworks for protecting indigenous knowledge be developed by indigenous people, and ensure that indigenous people fully participate in that process.
She explained that several organizations had been working to address biopiracy in Hawaii, focusing on agreements between the University of Hawaii and biotechnology companies in recent years. An example was the June contract between the University’s Marine Bio-products Engineering Centre and Diversa Corporation, giving Diversa exclusive rights to discover genes from existing material collections and from environmental samples collected by University researchers. Protective legislation had been introduced in the State of Hawaii calling for a moratorium on bioprospecting until the State had enacted such legislation, but that had been killed during the current legislative session.
The organization also called upon the Forum to support the stance that indigenous knowledge systems and the diversity of life within indigenous territories were collective resources under direct indigenous control. Also, intellectual property regimes must be prevented from asserting patents, copyright or trademark monopolies for products, data, or processes derived from the biodiversity or knowledge of indigenous peoples.
SEBASTIO MANCHINERI, representative of Coordinadora de Organizaciones Indigenas de la Cuenca Amazonica, said that oil companies had gone into indigenous territories and that had damaged the environment of the Amazon region, not to mention the damage caused with respect to ancestral knowledge. He recommended, therefore, that governments halt the granting of concessions for lumber and oil companies, and that access of foreign individuals to indigenous lands and territories be controlled. Legal mechanisms should also be sought that would condemn such activities. Governments must also protect and respect indigenous peoples’ rights and ancestral knowledge.
The representative of the Asia Caucus said that indigenous peoples saw the environment as being very much linked with all the other aspects of indigenous systems. If environmental integrity were to be maintained within indigenous lands and territories, the indigenous health system, educational system and cultural system would also be guaranteed.
It was essential that United Nations agencies and donors develop guidelines and polices for all development projects that impacted the environment and to ensure that States, as recipients of any bilateral or multilateral aid, adhered to those guidelines and policies. It was also essential that United Nations bodies and agencies allocated funds for indigenous initiatives that promoted indigenous resource management systems and made efforts to maintain the integrity of the environment and natural resources.
ADELARD BLACKMA, of the Buffalo River Dene Nation, said his group had made a declaration in April in Geneva at the Human Rights Commission requesting it to take the corporation on its territory to the World Court in The Hague. Corporations were literally destroying indigenous land in the name of progress, having a devastating effect on wildlife and resources. What did future generations have to look forward to, if no action was taken? The Forum was a positive step in the right direction, but still had a long way to go.
He recommended that an interim national institution be set up to settle environmental disputes, as well as a United Nations Security Council for the environment. He also recommended adoption of draft human rights and principles for indigenous people, and that the Forum be given proper resources to fulfil its mandate. He noted that only a small percentage of last year’s Forum recommendations had been acted upon. Indigenous people must let the international community know that they had earned the right to respect and dignity through the people who had lost their lives in the struggle to put indigenous issues before the world.
TIA OROS, representative of the Seventh Generation Fund, said that many sacred places possessed vast natural gifts -- resources that were targeted for exploitation by State agencies, regional and multinational corporate entities. Indigenous peoples were particularly vulnerable to that kind of exploitation. The Seventh Generation Fund strongly urged the Forum to request the immediate appointment of a United Nations special rapporteur for the protection of sacred places to gather testimony directly from indigenous peoples targeted for, or impacted by, resource exploitation and environmental injustice.
The Fund also encouraged the Forum to recommend the ratification of the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a minimum standard in providing for the well-being of indigenous peoples’ spiritual and cultural lives, particularly in regard to the preservation of their traditional homelands, control of their own resources and the protection and respect for scared places.
RAM DAYAL MUNDA, of the Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, said that indigenous and tribal areas in India fell within areas where tribal people had customary rights over the forest, including the right to cultivate part of it. Unfortunately, one part had been taken away by the Government on the pretext of protecting it, which had not occurred. The Government was now planning to hand over those lands for mining and large-scale development. Almost all the mineral wealth of the country lay within that indigenous area, and there was pressure to exploit that wealth in the interest of “national development”. With the help of a Supreme Court order, some States had already gone ahead and evicted so-called encroachers from the forest lands, who were mostly indigenous people who had lived there together for years.
He recommended that indigenous people be allowed to lease out, rather than surrender, ownership of concerned lands, and that displacement be avoided as far as possible. Cultural rehabilitation packages should be worked out, so that indigenous people were resettled as a community and not thrown asunder as individuals. In addition, indigenous peoples should be made shareholders in concerned projects and receive appropriate compensation, and lands should be returned to concerned communities after due landscaping had occurred, so that they could be used as common assets.
AIIAK ELIWOS, representative of the United Native Nations Truth Network and Voice Confederation, brought attention to the devastating conditions in Haudenosaunee Indian territory. The Government of the United States had sought to undermine the rights of the Haudenosaunee people and take away their lands. Out of the 5.5 million acres that her people once possessed, only 32 acres remained. Many Indian nations throughout the country were faced with similar situations, she said, and she asked the Forum and United Nations agencies to investigate the abuses of indigenous peoples’ rights. She recommended assistance not only on paper, but also in reality. Indigenous peoples required a process that respected and protected all facets of their cultural and spiritual lives.
JITEN YUMNAM, speaking on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Indigenous Youth Network, said that the promises made by States and United Nations agencies for promoting sustainable development over the past decade were far from being realized. It was important to involve indigenous youth in the decision-making process, he said. On the whole, indigenous peoples were being excluded at all levels of policy planning, and this had to be rectified. He urged the Forum to request Member States and United Nations agencies to ensure the participation of indigenous youth in the formulation of all environmental policies that affected them. He also demanded that the right to self-determination be recognized.
CATHERINE THUNDERBIRD, American Indian Community Health, noted that today’s youth in her community were living in inadequate housing infested with mould. They were faced with much temptation and had succumbed to the ways of non-traditional life. Young people had no rehabilitation or counselling facilities, and the widespread use of drugs and alcohol would continue without intervention. The United States was currently rebuilding Iraq and had helped rebuild Japan after the Second World War. It had taken on the task of telling other nations how to run their countries, when people were living under desperate conditions at home.
TOMAS ALARCON, of Comision Juridica “CAPAJ”, said his people in the Amazon basin had lived under four different legislations since the last war. Those legislations had deprived them of their cultural heritage and separated them from natural ecosystems. They had begun carrying out water projects in the high Andes, bringing it down to coastal cities and making profits. Mining companies were drilling mines and also removing water, which his people needed for their survival. The previous generation had given the people the responsibility of caring for the area’s fragile ecosystems. Environmental harmony had been destabilized in the Amazon area.
VIVIANA FIGUEROA, speaking on behalf of the Asociacion de la Juventud Indigene, said that indigenous peoples were losing their biodiversity in terms of food. Diets had been changed and that affected the health of indigenous peoples making then more susceptible to diseases, such as diabetes. Genetically modified seed had been introduced into indigenous peoples’ lands, which was affecting the ability of indigenous peoples to grow their own produce.
TARULA RIVERA ZEA, speaking on behalf of the Indigenous Women of the Americas, said that the indigenous peoples generated life knowing that their life was due to the natural environment –- forests, water and animals. Indigenous women were devastated by everything that the ‘developed’ society was taking away from them. The proliferation of mining, the privatization of water and drilling for oil was killing the environment. The main enemies of indigenous peoples continued to be illiteracy, malnutrition, and environmental pollution, all problems that could be prevented. She asked that States comply strictly with international commitments with respect to the environment.
NANA AKUOKO SARPONG, Chief of the Agogo Traditional Area of Ghana and Regional Director of the Partnership for Indigenous Peoples Environment, said that as a traditional ruler for the past 28 years, he had seen the steady destruction of forest resources. In his part of the world, what used to be a rainforest had turned into grassland. That was due to multinational companies engaging in the exploitation of timber resources over the past 50 years. Tropical woods, which sometimes took 200 years to mature, were felled at the stroke of a chainsaw to enrich the homes of Europe.
The returns to native people had been negligible, biodiversity had been hampered, and rivers were drying up, he said. Unless the international community woke up to the danger, most of the rainforest would disappear, and with it the loss of the treasures of the earth. The issues of the destruction of the African rainforest and its effect on biodiversity had been the subject of conference after conference, but very little had been dome to arrest it. The international community should create a fund for indigenous peoples, so that they could assume responsibility for the regeneration of their resources.
MANUEL MASAQUIZA, of the Confederaciones Nacionalidades Indigenas del Ecuador, deplored the pollution of crops in his country through spraying. The same thing had occurred in Colombia, where families of indigenous people contracted skin, eye and stomach infections. Those illnesses had been reported, but the Ecuadorian Government had done next to nothing. It was more concerned with permission for more oil companies to come into the country. The Forum should ask the Government to investigate the results of crop spraying. It should also ensure that Texaco complied with the country’s justice system.
NICHOLAS CHANGO, of the Defensoria de los Pueblos Indigenos del Ecuador en America, said corporations had destroyed the environment in the United States and had then done the same in other countries. Rivers had been destroyed in this country, not just in the Amazon. It was necessary to protect Mother Earth.
The Amazon was the heart of humanity. It was like a woman -- it must be protected. How could one sell one’s own mother? Money should be invested in the environment, not to make more money, but to protect it, and money must be invested in sustainable development.
HARRY BOMBAY, speaking on behalf of the National Aboriginal Forestry Association of Canada, said that in Canada 80 per cent of all First Nation communities were located in areas were forests provided the major means of survival. Indigenous peoples were facing issues in forest management that were threatening their very existence. It was important that indigenous peoples had the opportunity to contribute to policy processes on forestry at the national and international levels. Indigenous peoples from all around the world also needed the opportunity to meet amongst themselves to discuss forestry-related issues. Especially important was the right to traditional land use and access to natural resources.
ALBERT DE TERVILLE, representative of the Aldet Centre, St. Lucia, on behalf of the International Indigenous Peoples Think Tank (IIPTT), said that the IIPTT sought effective control of indigenous peoples’ territories and resources. It promoted indigenous peoples collective rights and the protection of their sovereignty and identity. In the Caribbean people were subject to environmental racism. Member States of the United Nations continued to ignore international law and the rights of indigenous peoples. A number of countries, for example, continued to transport pollution throughout the Caribbean waters, including the United Kingdom, France and Japan.
LAETITIA ZOBEL, of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said the various threats to indigenous peoples’ culture and knowledge systems were not only the result of the globalization of trade and the rising dominance of northern and western style values, but were also related to major infrastructure developments, such as dam building, mining, road development and insensitive tourism projects. The call for cultural damage to be assessed responded to an economic imperative. The more diversity was lost –- both cultural and biological –- the higher the risk to stability.
For the past several years, UNEP had addressed the protection of indigenous interests by integrating those issues into its policy development and programme implementation. In the follow-up to Johannesburg, it had reaffirmed the nexus between poverty, health and environment and was working actively in a partnership initiative led by the World Health Organization (WHO) to intensify global action on environmental risks to children’s health, with special attention to indigenous children. Regarding desertification and drought, UNEP had successfully involved indigenous knowledge and practices in its work in the “Desert Margin Programme”, which was based on gathering and sharing traditional indigenous knowledge and bridging it with modern land management techniques.
DEVASISH ROY, speaking on behalf of the Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum, said that despite the presence of various follow-up mechanisms from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), there remained many environmental problems for indigenous peoples. When indigenous peoples had managed his homelands, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, there were many trees, plants and animals. Now that rangers with rifles guarded those lands, there were hardly any large trees, even in the areas called the “reserved forest”. It was essential, he said, that indigenous peoples become involved in the regeneration of their lands and resources.
The representative of the Indigenous Environmental Network said that oil drilling and related activities fragmented the landscape of indigenous peoples, leading to increased symptoms of neo-colonialism and deforestation. It also polluted indigenous peoples’ land and water, causing irreparable damage to the fragile ecosystems from which indigenous cultures and spirituality were derived. He recommended that the Forum invite United Nations agencies to host a global seminar on indigenous peoples and environmental health, of which a report should be complied.
Global warming, he continued, was the major global environmental problem of today’s world. Small, populated islands were being submerged due to rising sea levels, glaciers were receding and chunks of the Artic shelf were being carved off. Climate change was threatening virtually every sector of the biosphere and human society. In North America, indigenous peoples and allied activists were fighting to protect the Artic National Wildlife Refuge of Alaska from destruction by proposed oil drilling and development. If development were approved, it would have a devastating effect on the indigenous peoples of the region. The Permanent Forum could play a critical role in those struggles.
JOHAN MIKKEL SARA, representative of the Saami Parliament in Norway, said that environment-friendly, sustainable activities and the prudent management of resources were vital for preserving and protecting indigenous peoples’ cultures and communities. Traditional land use was being subjected to increasing pressure in many indigenous territories, which made sustainable land use increasingly difficult. Biological diversity was being sacrificed, undermining, in turn, indigenous peoples’ development opportunities, wealth creation, cultural continuity and social welfare.
It was important to give children, youth and others confidence in the future, he said. Today’s indigenous youth were tomorrow’s resource managers and bearers of cultural traditions. Thus, the commitment to raise awareness of the environment among young people must be escalated. At the same time, they must be given a chance to get involved in decisions on the community and the land-use planning process.
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