19 May 2003


Press Release

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Second Session

11th & 12th Meetings (AM & PM)                        



As the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues continued its second session today with a discussion on health, speakers stressed the grave risks posed by alcohol, drugs and industrial pollutants to indigenous health, highlighting the lack of modern health-care services to meet the needs of indigenous peoples.

A representative of the American Indian Law Alliance emphasized that low income and poor health care had led to an escalation of HIV/AIDS among indigenous peoples.  He recommended that the United Nations Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) recognize indigenous issues, indigenous rights and the unmet needs of indigenous health in their programmes.

Similarly, poor health care, limited income, lack of health insurance, as well as diet, drinking, and a sedentary lifestyle had all contributed to the high mortality rate of native Hawaiians, a representative of the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies noted.  The death rate from heart disease was four times greater for indigenous people than non-Hawaiians, he added, and three and a half times greater for cancer and stroke.

A representative of the Centre of Organization, Research and Education (CORE) commented that health in north-eastern India had rapidly deteriorated over the past decade, exacerbated by massive displacement and ongoing conflicts.  Moreover, globalization had seriously affected indigenous health as costs escalated, public health care broke down, and people became increasingly dependent on private care.

Government representatives at the Forum highlighted efforts their countries had made to address indigenous health needs.  Guyana’s delegate stressed the difficulties her country faced in delivering health services to Amerindians due to dispersed settlement, hazardous terrain and high project costs in interior Guyana.  Nevertheless, the Government had set up community health centres and health huts to offer medical treatment to residents of hinterland communities.

Similarly, Canada’s representative noted that indigenous children in his country faced “enormous” health challenges, which had remained a high priority for the Government.  In October 2002, Canada had announced a new federal strategy on early childhood development for indigenous children, and had also committed $25 million over two years to intensify efforts to reduce Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and its effects in First Nations communities. 

Many speakers deplored nuclear testing in Australia and the Pacific, which had blighted indigenous land, and exposed indigenous peoples to nuclear fallout.  They also highlighted the mercury poisoning of subsistence foods from mining, coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources, which had adversely affected the developing brain, kidneys and nervous system of the unborn child.

Many speakers pointed to the high suicide rate among indigenous youth, brought on by miserable living conditions, racism and unemployment.  Others emphasized the importance of maintaining traditional medicines and healing practices, and passing them on to the next generation.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Mexico, Ecuador and Brazil.

Also addressing the Forum were representatives of the World Blind Union, the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Society for Threatened Peoples, the Consultoria de los Pueblos Indígenos en el Norte de Mexico, the Boarding School Caucus, the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador, the Centro de Estudios Ayuranos, the FAIRA Aboriginal Corporation, the Aotearoa Indigenous Rights Trust, the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee and Tamaynut, the Indigenous Peoples Caucus on Sustainable Development, the Arctic Indigenous Region, the Organización Nacional Indígeno de Colombia, the Altai Regional Public Organization of the Kumandin Peoples “ISTOK”, Halau ku Mana, and the Siksika Nation. 

The following representatives also spoke:  the Chickaloon Village, the Kenya Female Advisory Organization, the Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network, the Pacific Caucus, the International Indian Treaty Council, the Bangladesh Adivashi Forum, the Committee on Indigenous Health, the Asia Caucus, the Assembly of First Nations, the World Council of Churches, Defensoria de los Pueblos Indígenos del Ecuador en America (DEPIEA), the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Tin Hinan, the Indigenous Peoples Survival Foundation, the American Psychological Association, Yachak de Comunidad Ilumari, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, the International Native Tradition Interchange Inc. and the Pan-American Health Organization.

A representative of the Statistics Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) also addressed the Forum.

The Forum will meet again tomorrow morning, Tuesday, 20 May at a time to be announced.


The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues met this morning to begin considering its mandated area in health.  (For background information, see Press Release HR/4658, issued 8 May.)


MILILANI TRASK, Indigenous Forum member from the United States, introduced the agenda item on health.  She stressed that the most critical item in the Forum’s mandate was health.  What good would it do to reach the highest level of human rights, education or economic development if indigenous children did not survive?  The health of indigenous peoples worldwide was being significantly affected by such factors as globalization, persistent organic pollution and shrinking biodiversity.

Neither the term “ethnic population” nor “indigenous people” would provide data needed to develop programmes needed in indigenous health, she continued.  It was necessary to use certain statistical indicators such as “ethnic identity”, but that also provided statistics for immigrants and refugees.  She recommended referring to indigenous peoples under ethnic criteria, tribal affiliation or language.

PATRICIA SUSANA RIVERA REYES, of the Consultoria de los Pueblos Indígenos en el Norte de Mexico, said indigenous peoples had become the most vulnerable level of society in Mexico.  Health measures had not been adopted to assist indigenous peoples, and no heed was paid to the problems they were facing.  People in rural indigenous communities were dying of diseases that had been controlled for years in cities.  Children were not granted the health care to which they were entitled, and women were dying of cervical and breast cancer, as well as other conditions.  Agricultural workers were facing severe health problems due to pesticides and other hazards.

The Forum should recommend that the Mexican Government respect Convention 169 on provisions for social security and health, she said.  It should also recommend that the World Health Organization (WHO) conduct a survey of health problems in Mexico.  In addition, the Forum should make a recommendation to ensure that Mexico’s Department of Health promoted traditional and other health care, and provided the necessary materials to carry out that work.

TRINA MIISAAQ LANDLORD, of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said the impact of suicide on rural communities was staggering.  Over 98,000 natives lived in Alaska, with youth making up 33 per cent of that population.  From 1990 to 1994, 46 suicides occurred within the native community per year.  Alaskan native youth from the ages of 12 to 17 had the highest rate of alcohol use of any group in the United States, suggesting a relationship between suicide and alcohol abuse.

In October 2002, she said, the Alaska Federation of Natives carried out a statewide Youth and Elders Conference on wellness.  Both youth and elders gathered at the Conference, sharing knowledge about wellness and working to find solutions to alcohol and drug abuse.  They created resolutions on staying alcohol- and drug-free, set goals and maintained open communication between individuals, families and communities.

On behalf of the Federation, she recommended that the United Nations support indigenous communities in setting up culturally relative suicide prevention programmes, using indigenous values to address the root causes of self-destructive behaviour, provide a forum for discussing suicide prevention, and determine steps needed to achieve and promote health.

WENDAL NICHOLAS, representative of the World Blind Union, said that the Union’s aim was to fight for the human rights of blind and partially sighted people throughout the world, particularly in developing countries.  The Pan American Health Organization had released details of the relationship between child poverty and violence, he said.  It was children between the ages of 3 and 5 that suffered the most.  According to WHO, 60 per cent of the world’s blind lived in sub-Saharan Africa, China and India.  The World Blind Union called on the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to coordinate a meeting between the Committee on the Rights of the Child, WHO and the Pan American Health Organization to develop strategies to address those issues. 

ELIA YANOMAMI, representative of the Society for Threatened Peoples, Venezuela, said that the Yanomami people of Venezuela were suffering from endemic malaria.  Some of the people lived in remote areas where medical assistance was not available.  The Yanomami at present had many health problems.  He asked the organizations attending the Forum and the Government of Venezuela to provide assistance and support to his people.

KENT LEBSOCK, of the American Indian Law Alliance, said that low per capita income, dramatic inequities in income distribution and poor health-care services in the indigenous communities had made it almost impossible to provide high quality modern medical care to those who needed it most.  Statistics on HIV/AIDS did not discriminate and the disease was now something indigenous people had in common with brothers and sisters around the world.  In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, 10 million young people aged 15 to 24 and almost 3 million children under the age of 15 were living with HIV.

He recommended that the United Nations Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) become part of the Inter-Agency Support Group, thereby acknowledging indigenous issues, indigenous rights and the unmet needs of indigenous health in their programmes.  The Fund should also allow indigenous non-governmental organizations, who were the most qualified to respond to the prevention and treatment needs of indigenous communities, access to its funding.  In addition, UNAIDS should recommend that the organizers of the International AIDS Conference give particular precedence to indigenous experts, scientists, doctors, traditional leaders and community activists working with HIV/AIDS in indigenous communities.

ROY LAIFUNGBAM, of the Centre of Organization, Research and Education, said the health situation had rapidly deteriorated in the north-eastern region of India over the past decade.  However, little was being done to address the root causes of that problem, which were exacerbated by massive displacement and the ongoing and worsening armed conflicts in the region.  Globalization had also had serious impacts on the health of indigenous peoples, as the costs of medicines and health care increased and public health-care systems broke down, and people became increasingly dependent on private health professionals.

He recommended that the Forum ensure closer and sustained interaction with indigenous peoples on health issues by assisting the Committee on Indigenous Health to enhance interaction with traditional healers and practitioners, and gather information on indigenous health systems and practices with the objective of recognizing and legitimising such systems and practices.  The Forum should also propose that the relevant United Nations bodies give priority attention to the gender aspect of indigenous health knowledge, and the reproductive health of indigenous women, with a focus on adolescent and antenatal nutrition, as well as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infection.

KEITH COIN (Canada) said that the challenges faced by indigenous children in Canada in the area of health were enormous and remained a high priority for the Government.  In October 2002, his Government had announced a new federal strategy on early childhood development for indigenous children.  That strategy represented a major step towards fulfilling the Government’s commitment to improve the quality of life of indigenous peoples.

The Government of Canada had also committed $25 million over two years to intensify efforts to reduce Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and its effects in First Nations communities, he continued.  At the federal level, the Government was working to prevent youth suicide.  Furthermore, the federal Government had announced in the February 2003 budget $1.3 billion for the improvement of First Nations and Inuit health systems.

The representative of the Boarding Schools Caucus urged States to take action against abuses in boarding schools.  During the nineteenth century, she said, American Indians were forcibly abducted from their homes to attend Christian boarding schools.  They were forced to worship as Christians and speak English.  No attempt was taken to counter this abuse until the late 1980s.  The abuses committed in boarding schools included sexual, physical and emotional violence.  Boarding schools’ policies violated a number of international human rights standards.  It was clear that native communities continued to suffer devastating effects as a result of those policies.  It was the responsibility of States to address these effects.

A representative of the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador said indigenous peoples had been not been allowed to participate in the Ministry of Public Health in Ecuador.  He stressed that young people, in particular, should be able to make recommendations to States that they would heed.  Now the country had a National Director for Indigenous Health Issues.  Indigenous peoples had the right to maintain their own health care, as well as the right to be healthy and safe from pollution.

The representative of Mexico said his Government had set up a health-care and nutrition programme for indigenous peoples.  There was also a special programme to promote indigenous medicine and focus attention on people who required special services.  Programmes that had been implemented in the past may have possessed flaws, he said, and the country must learn from its failures.  The State was working to establish a new relationship with indigenous peoples by promoting policies and programmes to cover their concerns.  To that end, a new National Commission on Indigenous Peoples had been set up to replace former structures aimed at indigenous peoples.

The representative of the Centro de Estudios Ayuranos, Bolivia, said that to speak about health was to speak of indigenous peoples because malnutrition, mortality and morbidity affected the indigenous peoples very directly.  Indigenous peoples in Bolivia had seen their life expectancy reduced to 30 to 40 years.  For centuries, indigenous peoples’ health practices had been vilified and under-appreciated.  Yet indigenous peoples would continue to use their medicines as it embodied their identity.  She recommended that the health care policies established by States be based on the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples.

DONNETTE C. CRITCHLOW (Guyana) said that there had been laudable achievements in the integration of Amerindians into the mainstream of Guyanese society.  However, this was by no means indicative of a life free of challenges for Amerindians in Guyana.  The health sector in Guyana faced particular challenges in the delivery of health services, a situation which was exacerbated in the case of the Amerindians due to their dispersed settlement pattern, the difficult terrain and the high cost of administering projects in the interior locations of Guyana.  Nevertheless, the Government was working to overcome these challenges and had incrementally established community health centres and health huts to offer residents of hinterland communities medical treatment.

Water and sanitation were integral components to the heath of communities, she continued.  Wells were being dug and sanitation facilities provided to ensure the maintenance of health standards in Guyana.  The involvement of communities in such projects was encouraging and last March two Amerindian students had formed part of Guyana’s delegation to the third World Water Forum.

LES MALEZER, representative of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action, believed that more effort needed to be made by WHO to integrate indigenous peoples into the operations of the organization.  He particularly recommended better communication and partnership between the regional offices of WHO and indigenous peoples.

In the 1950s, the British and Australian Governments had tested atomic weapons in the regions of Woomera, South Australia, he continued.  That testing had been undertaken on Aboriginal lands, regardless of the fact that Aboriginal people were living in the area and were exposed to the nuclear fallout.  Many of the traditional owners had died of cancer since the nuclear tests, and today, the land continued to be blighted by radiation.  Furthermore, the Australian Government had recently made the decision to dump toxic waste on Aboriginal lands without prior and informed consent, risking the health of existing and future indigenous peoples in Australia.

TRACY WHARE, trustee of the Aotearoa Indigenous Rights Trust, New Zealand, asked that the Permanent Forum call for an urgent report into cases of indigenous youth suicide.  Too many young Maoris were killing themselves and the New Zealand Government had not prioritized that issue, she said.  The death of young people could have devastating effects on Maori communities.  That concern had also been the basis of other indigenous peoples’ interventions, including many Native Canadian peoples.

Domestic violence was another urgent problem, she said.  The impact of violence on children and youth within the home was disturbing and appalling and children and youth who were the victims of domestic violence often themselves became the perpetrators.  The New Zealand Government needed to prioritize resources for that issue, especially for Maori who lived in rural and isolated areas.

The draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples contained three articles that related specifically to health, she continued.  Indigenous peoples had the right to their traditional medicines and health practices, as well as access to medical institutions and health services without discrimination.  If those rights were adopted, a clear and robust framework would be established that would allow for policies and programmes to address the root causes of health problems, including youth suicide and domestic violence.

IDBALKASSM HASSAN, of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee, said health rights were poorly recognized in Africa, especially in areas where indigenous people were highly concentrated.  He recommended that United Nations agencies adopt a common programme with the appropriate budget to address health issues.  That called for combined efforts in Africa by all agencies on the one hand, and representatives of indigenous peoples on the other.  He also recommended that the terminology for indigenous peoples used by WHO be revised, taking into consideration terms used in the Durban and Johannesburg Declarations.

YOLANDA TERAN, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador, said a high percentage of indigenous children were dying from cancer in the oil sector in Ecuador.  Moreover, indigenous children were refused basic health services and had no right to proper nutrition.  Drugs, alcoholism, stress, and abandonment were causing new modern ailments previously unknown among indigenous children.

She recommended that the Forum seek the necessary mechanisms to ensure that commitments respecting children’s rights were truly implemented worldwide.  She also recommended a decade devoted to indigenous children and young people in the world, and that the entire United Nations system should commit itself to work for the well-being of indigenous children.  She stressed that the United Nations should work closely with elders and spiritual leaders in promoting indigenous health.

LUCY MULENKEI, representative of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus on Sustainable Development, said that HIV/AIDS had become one of the worst diseases of modern times.  Indigenous peoples were the worst hit because they had been marginalized.  Lack of collective and correct data to determine the extent of the effect of HIV/AIDS and other related diseases among indigenous peoples prevented the successful tackling of their health problems.  The utilization and protection of traditional healing systems within indigenous communities must be given due and equitable recognition, she said.

She called on Governments and industry to ensure comprehensive participatory assessment of mining activities on indigenous peoples’ health.  She also demanded effective participation for indigenous peoples in the planning, implementation and monitoring of national and international health policies, programmes and services.

AQQAQLUK LYNGE, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, Greenland, spoke on behalf of the Arctic Indigenous Region.  Health, he said, referred to the state of the whole person and had a direct bearing on individual development and the quality of life.  Spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical well-being were all elements to be considered in striving for good health.  Cultural and environmental factors must also be taken fully into account. 

Political and economic difference across the Artic, he continued, had resulted in dramatic differences in the health of its people.  For example, the average life span of Russian indigenous people was 20 years lower than other Russian citizens.  Noting that available health data varied widely across the Arctic, he pointed out that evaluating the impact of climate change and transboundary pollution on human health depended entirely on data.  There was currently an extensive survey being carried out on the living conditions of Arctic Peoples, which would, among other things, touch upon human health.

He urged the Forum to ask WHO to use the Arctic Peoples data to develop a greater focus on the Arctic in its work.  The Forum should also contact and work closely with the Arctic Council -- a high-level governmental body of eight Arctic States dealing with the protection of the Arctic environment and human health -- and place special emphasis on the health status of indigenous peoples of the Russian Arctic.

The representative of the Organización Nacional Indígeno de Colombia said that information should be given ahead of time to ensure that there was enough participation in the Forum by indigenous representatives.  He appealed to all leaders of indigenous organizations to maintain continuity in the discussion process.  Those that were here last year were not here this year, for example, and many of the statements did not contain concrete recommendations.

GULVAYRA SHERMATOVA, of the Altai Regional Public Organization of the Kumandin Peoples “ISTOK” of Russia, said the lack of social services for young people had led to a high level of mortality in that group.  Many were suffering from bad nutrition and lacking in certain vitamins, which had led to widespread cases of anaemia.  In addition, nervous system diseases were increasing, and half of the youth population were now affected.

Turning to the reproductive health of young people, she said that earlier development and sexual life had led to younger marriage and maternity.  Classes were currently being held, where children from disadvantaged families were taught about maturity and development.  Alcohol use among mothers was a mounting concern that disturbed children’s development.  She recommended that priority be placed on the protection of motherhood.

LU’UKIA KEAUNUI, representative of the Kamakauokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, said that the overall life expectancy in Hawaii was significantly lower for native Hawaiians.  Furthermore, the overall mortality rate for infants under one year was double the overall statewide average.  Diet, drinking, smoking and sedentary lifestyle all contributed to the exceptionally high mortality rate of Hawaiians, in addition to the poor access that Native Hawaiians had to health care, limited income, lack of health insurance and lack of culturally compatible care.  For full-blooded Hawaiians, the rate of death from heart disease was four times greater than that of non-Hawaiians, for cancer and stroke, it was three and a half times greater.

Resources were being lost in the constant development of Hawaiian land and Native Hawaiians were losing their lives because of the treatment they endured, she continued.  Before blaming indigenous Hawaiians for their “self-destructive practices”, major social service agencies needed to develop an action-oriented plan with regard to housing, income and the education of Hawaiians.

A representative of Halau Ku Mana, Hawaii, said that drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse were some of the biggest issues facing Hawaiian youth today.  According to recent statistics, Native Hawaiians made up 63.4 per cent of heavy drinkers compared to 32.5 per cent statewide.  Tobacco use was an alarming 56.3 per cent compared to 47.2 per cent statewide.  What made that issue more disheartening was that 6.1 per cent of Native Hawaiians were uninsured.  The youth today also got involved with drugs, tobacco and alcohol, because they saw those substances being used in their own homes.  She hoped that Hawaiian youth would be able to break the cycle. 

ADRIAN STIMSON, of the Siksika Nation, said his people had deep grievances with the Government of Canada.  Many were forced to live under conditions of unacceptable housing, poor education and high unemployment.  Many had turned to pharmaceutical and other drug use, as well as alcohol.

Canada, he continued, was changing the governance structures of indigenous peoples without full and meaningful consultations with them.  Indigenous peoples had been given health care as the result of an 1877 treaty, which ensured provision of health care in exchange for allowing Europeans to live on indigenous territories.  Canada was now changing that promise, basing health care not on the original treaty but on the goodness of its heart.

In recent months, he said, First Nations people had been contending with an issue pertaining to the privacy of personal health information.  The Government was now intending to force First Nations to sign consent forms if they wanted to continue to receive health care.  The consent form went beyond what was acceptable, was coercive in nature and ethically deplorable.  The form would ignore individual privacy by forcing First Nations people to provide blanket birth to death health information.

CHIEF GARY HARRISON, of the Chickaloon Village, recommended that Alaska be back on the decolonization list, for the mental, physical and spiritual health of the indigenous peoples, so that they might have their freedom.  Freedom was the building block to a productive life, he said.  The overall health problems that indigenous peoples suffered from stemmed from the illegal taking of land and resources, and the extinguishment of cultures, religions, subsistence and traditional forms of government.

According to the Artic Policy Research Plan, he said, indigenous peoples in Alaska were still being used as guinea pigs for research on cancer, pneumonia and hepatitis.  Furthermore, because indigenous peoples’ health records were called a “matter of national security”, he could not even obtain a copy of his own health records.

Resource exploitation had put profits into just a few hands, he added.  A massive amount of oil had been taken from Prudhoe Bay, and fish, timber, gold, coal and precious stones had also been taken from Alaska.  If the money from the resources taken had been equitably distributed, every man, woman and child would be a millionaire and many of the unhealthy conditions would not exist.

ACHIENG OKECH DOLPHINE MARGARET, speaking on behalf of the Kenya Female Advisory Organization, said that indigenous herbs and medicines needed to be preserved through documentation.  She proposed that the beliefs and practices that had value for all be preserved.  She also recommended that, in the next session of the Forum, two or three days should be reserved for the presentation of best practices.

JASON DE SANTOLO, of the Pacific Caucus, said WHO seemed to have an unfair policy towards indigenous peoples, in using the term “ethnic populations” to refer to indigenous peoples.  A more specific and targeted objective had existed within the organization in previous years.  A concerted effort must be made to break through the traditional boundaries that had been erected between governments and non-governmental organizations.

He noted that WHO had referred to regional work in the Pacific region, as well as activities that were being carried out in the Philippines for indigenous peoples, but he was unaware of any other activities the organization was conducting in the Pacific region.  Indigenous peoples were exposed to various diseases, had no recourse to adequate treatment, and were unable to afford medicines or cures.  He recommended that the Forum persuade WHO to examine the needs of the people of West Papua, and encourage the use of traditional health care as an alternative treatment.

WILLEM DE VRIES, of the Statistics Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), said the major sources of numbers on indigenous people were housing censuses.  However, not all nations included information on ethnicity and language in those reports, and some did not report the results.  During the 1985-94 period, over 300 nations had conducted censuses, but only 48 had reported information on ethnicity and language.

Referring to statistics from various countries and regions, he said that Latin American statistics were far from clear, largely due to difficulties in determining who was indigenous and who was not.  Many national censuses did not address the issue, and statistics on indigenous people had to be ascertained from other sources.  Canada’s approach to indigenous statistics was based on registration in the Department of Indian and Social Affairs, while in the United States, indigenous statistics were based on self-identification.

He noted that data was incomplete and incomparable between countries because relationships between indigenous peoples and mainstream populations differed from place to place.  Also, the maintenance of cultural and social identities varied from country to country, as did economic systems.  In many places, indigenous people lived in separate groups located far from urban centres.

His department planned to revise the reporting guidelines on indigenous peoples for future censuses.  It would also provide methodological handbooks for surveys of indigenous populations.  He recommended that the Forum exert influence at the national level, as well as on organizations and other concerned groups, to provide statistics on indigenous people.

ANDREA CARMEN, on behalf of the International Indian Treaty Council, Indigenous Environmental Network, the Indigenous Youth Caucus and 17 other organizations, said that persistent organic pollutants, currently the subject of an international binding treaty that was yet to be implemented, were having adverse effects on children, in particular developing foetuses and nursing infants.  Despite the known devastating effects, industrial countries such as the United States continued to allow the export of toxic chemicals, including ones that had been banned from their own countries, to developing countries such as Mexico and Guatemala.  The results of such practices had been well documented in indigenous agricultural communities such as the Yuqiu Pueblos of Sonora Mexico, and included high levels of pesticides in breast milk and the cord blood of new infants.

Mercury contamination of subsistence foods by mining, coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources also affected the developing brain, kidneys and nervous system of the unborn child, she added.  Indigenous children from communities dependent on fishing were amongst the most affected.  Mercury from abandoned gold mines continued to affect indigenous peoples in areas such as northern California.

She recommended that appropriate United Nations agencies host a global seminar on indigenous peoples and environmental health to enable indigenous peoples and United Nations experts to identify critical concerns.  Meetings should be held in States where indigenous peoples lived prior to this seminar, for fact finding, assessing current conditions and evaluating State-level initiatives concerning the protection of the environmental health of indigenous peoples.  Furthermore, all States should be called upon to ratify the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants.  The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) should take immediate action on mercury contamination, including the initiation of a global legally binding instrument for its elimination.

MRINAL KANTI TRIPURA, representative of the Bangladesh Adivashi Forum, said that respiratory disease and dysentery were widespread in Bangladesh, and, in the Chittagong Hill tracts, newborn babies died every month because of the lack of health facilities.  Bangladesh was a developing country with very limited resources.  When it came to being victims of malaria and dysentery, the areas inhabited by indigenous peoples were by far the worst off.  That was a clear case of discrimination against indigenous peoples. The continuous deaths of indigenous peoples had not prompted the Government to take preventive measures.  Indigenous peoples needed mobile health units, clean drinking water, more hospitals and access to at least two square meals a day.

TARCILA RIVERA ZEA, of the Committee on Indigenous Health, said the Forum should recommend that United Nations agencies acknowledge and give higher priority to indigenous children and women, ensuring them full participation in planning initiatives.  Regarding WHO, the Forum should recommend that it promote the health of marginal and other ethnic groups, and accept the spiritual, intellectual, and traditional vision of indigenous peoples on health issues.

The Forum, she continued, should also ask governments to ensure that health-care staff communicate with indigenous peoples in their own languages.  She also recommended that governments stop using indigenous lands for military testing with nuclear and similar materials.

ROY LAIFUNGBAM, of the Asia Caucus, recommended that the Forum ensure closer and sustained interaction between the Forum and indigenous peoples on health issues by facilitating the Committee on Indigenous Health to enhance interaction with traditional healers and practitioners, and to gather information on indigenous health systems and practices.  Regarding women’s and children’s health, the Forum should propose that United Nations agencies give priority to the gender aspect of indigenous health knowledge, and distinguish and empower indigenous women’s health knowledge and contribution to health.

In addition, he suggested that the Forum ensure a closer continuing and intersessional relationship between indigenous peoples and Forum members by identifying the various indigenous peoples within the countries in Asia, with special attention to those who were few in numbers and threatened.

SUHAS CHAKMA, speaking on behalf of the Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network, Kabager Te Ked-Inged and Hill Watch Human Rights Forum, said that indigenous peoples who belonged to the lower strata of society continued to suffer from the lack of basic health-care facilities.  A large majority of indigenous peoples lived in tropical areas, infested by malaria.  Yet many indigenous peoples did not even have the resources to buy a mosquito net.  They did not often figure in governments’ health schemes.  Even health problems such as dysentery could be fatal as there were no doctors or medicines.

The challenge for the Permanent Forum, he said, was whether it would continue to debate without having any effects on indigenous peoples’ health.  If the debate did not lead to substantive improvements in health conditions, the Forum might be seen as a failure.  In poorer countries, he continued, United Nations multilateral agencies played the crucial role in formulating and finding programmes for improving heath conditions.  However, indigenous peoples did not necessarily figure in the programmes of those agencies, and funds were often delivered though Government agencies –- in many cases simply oiling an old machine, and not including indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups.

The representative of the Assembly of First Nations said that health was a good way to track the gains made with regard to indigenous peoples.  The Assembly was very concerned because First Nations youth were in need of hope and change.  Suicide and self-injury caused a large percentage of death among First Nations youth.  In areas like northern Ontario, there was a suicide rate that was 50 per cent higher than the rate among the non-indigenous population.  There were minimal mental health programmes for First Nations peoples, despite Canada having an international reputation for mental health care.  Furthermore, many of the programmes that the Government had introduced with regard to health did not involve indigenous peoples in the decision-making process.

A representative of Indigenous Peoples Addressing Protection of Human Genetic Material recommended that the Forum request the formation of a three-year working group on free prior informed consent and participatory research guidelines with funding from the regular budget.  The group should focus on how free prior informed consent and participatory research guidelines related to the protection of indigenous peoples from research and the use of their human genetic material without consultation, prior informed consent or benefit.

She said that biotechnology had raised new questions over the property rights of human genes, or products derived from human genetic materials.  The risk of privatization of human genetic materials was further compounded by international trade agreements, such as the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which facilitated the patenting of genes.  Indigenous peoples’ DNA was being commercialized through patents and used in developing new products.  Indigenous peoples were also concerned about their bodies being used as testing grounds for genetic manipulation.  For example, Maori leaders in the Cook Islands had worked hard to successfully defeat a proposal by Diatranz, a New Zealand-based company, for permission to inject insulin-producing pig cells into Cook Islanders as a trial treatment for Type II diabetes.

A representative of the World Council of Churches said representatives of governments should be invited to the Forum’s sessions, since the issues being discussed were vital for indigenous peoples.

The indigenous representative of the World Council of Churches said that indigenous peoples all over the world were suffering from a common set of health issues, such as Type II diabetes, hypertension and related heart diseases.  It was often not recognized that much of the problem was a result of a combination of factors, including the starchy food from European diets.  He asked that governments and agencies make an effort to provide indigenous peoples with their traditional foods.  He also stressed the importance of native languages to indigenous peoples.  The knowledge of medicines that elders possessed would disappear if indigenous languages were allowed to be silenced.

NICHOLAS CHANGO, representative of Defensoria de los Pueblos Indígenos del Ecuador en America said that the international community must take into consideration indigenous peoples and their traditional healers.  If people were not in balance they could not longer coexist in peace.  States must also provide funds for indigenous peoples’ hospitals.  Young women, he added, must also be protected, as they were the future.

The representative of Brazil said that since 1999, his country had developed a national health policy for indigenous peoples that devoted great attention to their socio-cultural diversity.  The participation of indigenous peoples in policy-making was assured not only in the design of actions, but also in their implementation, review and appraisal.  Brazil’s capacity-building programmes to support the development of indigenous health facilities presupposed that the provision of knowledge and techniques did not replace, but added to the set of traditional therapies.

The child mortality rate among indigenous communities had dropped over 40 per cent during the period 2000-2002, he continued.  A positive development that was the result of action aimed at providing safe drinking water and sanitation to indigenous peoples.  In spite of such progress, it was clear that much remind to be done, he said.  His Government was striving to reduce the disparities between indigenous and non-indigenous Brazilians.

GEOFF CLARK, speaking on behalf of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, said that there was no more damning indictment of colonialism in Australia than the appalling health of its indigenous peoples.  In a nation where the health status of the general population was among the highest level of any developed country, Australian Aboriginals suffered the worst health of any indigenous population with any comparably developed country.  The life expectancy of Aboriginals was 20 years less than anybody else in Australia.  There could be no starker illustration of the levels of disadvantage afflicting indigenous peoples.

The leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were circulatory disease, cancer, respiratory disease and external causes, he said.  There had been an explosion in diabetes-related deaths, and the male death rate was running as high as 150 per cent higher than the national rate.  There was an escalating epidemic of mental illness fuelled by the abuse of alcohol and substances including petrol, marijuana and heroin.  Perhaps the greatest tragedy was that many of those deaths could have been avoided –- through education, employment and access to decent housing, infrastructure and health care.

It was no coincidence, he continued, that the situation of indigenous peoples in countries similar to Australia -– the United States, Canada and New Zealand -– was improving more rapidly.  All of those countries had signed treaties which had given official, legal and constitutional recognition to their first peoples.  An Australian treaty would allow his people’s real self-determination on policy development and would enable them to have a fair and equitable share of Australia’s resources.  It was well past the time for Australia’s political leaders to face up to their responsibilities to make a fair and just settlement with the rightful owners of the land.

SAOUDATA ABOUBACRINE, of Tin Hinan, noted that the use of traditional medicine was diminishing and, in some cases, almost disappearing.  Such techniques had been adversely affected by natural disasters, droughts, desertification, and political conflicts.  Moreover, competition with modern medicine had led to a loss of prestige for traditional healers.

Lack of water and malnutrition were also important influences on health, she said.  Health policies often gave preference to urban centres, and laid down eligibility criteria linked to population.  In addition, infant mortality was a concern.  Both women and children were dying of malaria, tetanus and polio, as well as in childbirth.  She recommended that United Nations bodies hold joint meetings, and establish fair partnerships with indigenous peoples.

KAAB MALIK, representative of the Indigenous Peoples Survival Foundation, said that in the Northern Himalayan region of the Hindu Kush Mountains lived two tribes called the Khow and the Kalash.  The status of the Kalash people had been degraded to the lowest of the low, which had made a terrible impact on their personal and social lives.  Another major threat to the indigenous Kalash tribe came from the influential private businessmen from the mainland of Pakistan who had built large hotels on the sacred sites of the Kalash people.  The hotel owners were contaminating the potable water, polluting the Kalash valleys and streams with toxins, plastic waste and diesel revenue.

The lives of the indigenous peoples depended on herding livestock, which directly relied on the forest.  The Forest Corporation of Pakistan had indiscriminately sold the timber of the indigenous peoples to lumber companies, who had logged the forests mercilessly.  He asked that the hotels and motels of non-native civil businessmen be removed from the Kalash valleys immediately and that the Forest Corporation return the remaining forests in the Kalash valleys to the indigenous peoples.  Finally, he asked that reparations be paid for the damage done to the indigenous peoples’ natural resources.

THEMA BRYANT-DAVIES, of the American Psychological Association, said racial discrimination had long been known to affect children’s confidence, well-being and self-esteem.  The Forum should call for an assessment of mental health care needs.  It should request an in-depth analysis of work currently being done by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), other United Nations agencies and governments to address the mental health needs of indigenous children.

JOSE JOAQUIN PENEDA, Yachak de Comunidad Ilumari, said health was keeping the spirit, body and mind clean and healthy.  The Yachaks were indigenous doctors who had developed knowledge from one generation to the next.  He recommended that indigenous peoples maintain indigenous medicine with all its teachings and disseminate that knowledge.  Also, indigenous young people should salvage the doctor’s knowledge of traditional medicine.

PAVEL SULYANDZIGA, representative of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, said that under the Russian State, indigenous peoples had been forced to live in towns and cities and deprived of their former ways of life.  Those people showed the highest indicators among the population for unemployment, suicide and disease.  There had been crude interference in their ways of life and cultural traditions, and indigenous peoples were being denied the right to work and the right to education.  That kind of deprivation was occurring in countries all over the world and many people were suffering from the domination of European populations.  He asked that the Forum recommend that indigenous peoples in the Russian Federation be given access to all their needs.

MARCELO PAGWAY, representative of the International Native Tradition Interchange Inc., said that many health problems existed in indigenous communities, aggravated by colonial powers that were only interested in their own affairs.  Health problems facing indigenous peoples included the absence of health facilities in their communities and a lack of immunization for children.  In lands that were rich with produce, children were dying of malnutrition and poor health.  In order to safeguard the future, international organizations and States needed to take the matter seriously.  Some of the data used to allocate funding, for example, was either too general or inaccurate.  Funding should be provided for indigenous peoples to conduct their own statistical analysis.

A representative of the Pan-American Health Organization said that the opportunity to provide specialized services for indigenous peoples was limited.  Those limitations had contributed to a discussion of intercultural issues across the continent.  The discussion had focused on formulating strategies to eliminate the barriers that existed between indigenous peoples and adequate health care.  Improving the health of indigenous peoples must be done by national tools, as well as community and indigenous cooperation, he said. 

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For information media. Not an official record.