Health needs of indigenous people stressed at Permanent Forum

16 May - The "acute health needs" of indigenous peoples cut across socio-economic boundaries, Permanent Forum member Mililani Trask today told the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as it continued its discussion on the theme of health.

Summarizing the statements of several participants, Ms. Trask (United States) said underlying causes of poor health for indigenous people included colonization, homelessness, poor housing, poverty, lack of reproductive health rights, domestic violence and addiction. Health care should be envisaged from an indigenous perspective, which encompassed mental, physical and spiritual health. There was a direct relationship between land use and indigenous health. Indigenous women and children had special needs, including expanding immunization and combating domestic abuse and addiction.

In formulating the Forum's recommendations, Ms. Trask said Forum members should work with the United Nations Joint Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other United Nations agencies to ensure better coordination and delivery of health programmes for indigenous communities. United Nations agencies should identify focal points for indigenous issues within their secretariats. The call for a Global Plan of Action for Indigenous Health had not been heeded, and a second International Decade of the World's Indigenous people could help ensure a more integrated approach to health.

Earlier on, statements on the issue of health had been made by 12 indigenous organizations, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Continuing the general statements, Maria Helena Pinheiro Penna (Brazil) said protection of indigenous lands was imperative, and nations must be persistent and resilient in living up to their commitments. The world's largest area of rainforest was located on indigenous land in Brazil. The Brazilian constitution recognized indigenous peoples, and traditional indigenous lands had been set aside for them. The economic development of people living next to the land of indigenous people was necessary to stop the invasion of indigenous lands. The task of protecting the rights of indigenous people was complex, and required additional initiatives. "We have a long way to go to correct the injustice done to indigenous populations, so we welcome this Forum," she said.

Continuing the statement of Brazil, Azilene Kaingang, an indigenous leader, stressed the considerable changes that had taken place in Brazilian society, where the aspirations of indigenous peoples were now recognized and supported. Indigenous peoples wanted to keep their own social structures and cultures, enjoy the use of their lands to ensure the continuity of their cultures, and preserve biodiversity and traditional knowledge to achieve sustainable development.

The observer from the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North said the Permanent Forum should seek to correct violations against indigenous peoples, and recommended the establishment of a focal point for documentation and information, and an analytical centre for information processing.

The observer from the Inuit Circumpolar Conference expressed concern over the Forum's lack of a proper budget and of an independent secretariat staffed by indigenous and non-indigenous persons. Some States had taken discriminatory positions that were not in line with acceptable human rights standards. The Permanent Forum should recommend that the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People (1995-2004) ends with a World Conference on Indigenous Issues, and that a second International Decade be declared to allow more time to achieve the goals set in the first.

The observer from the World Council of Churches called for establishment of a separate Forum secretariat with indigenous staffing, as well as adequate funding from governments and United Nations agencies.

Speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway), Ole Peter Kolby (Norway) said the Forum had the capacity to achieve great and tangible results and develop into a powerful and effective body. Noting that the biennial budget of the United Nations did not include funding for the Forum, he said that voluntary contributions to enable its functioning for the remainder of the biennium were of urgent importance. In the future, the necessary funds should be allocated from the regular budget. The Forum should have a separate secretariat close to the Secretariat of the Economic and Social Council. Future priorities of the Forum should include participation of indigenous peoples in decision-making within the United Nations, the integration of United Nations activities relating to indigenous issues, and the Forum's contribution to sustainable development.

The observer from the Metis National Council (Canada) said the Permanent Forum gave indigenous people the opportunity to move beyond words to action. Its focus should be on effective changes where action could be taken, selecting a small number of countries at the onset. The Forum should have a small secretariat in New York, and the Forum vice-chairs should carry on the body's work between sessions.

The observer from the Algonquins of Barriere Lake (Canada) said the group had been marginalized onto a tiny 59-acre reserve. A 1991 agreement with the governments of Canada and Quebec had provided for an integrated resource management plan for the Algonquin territory, but in 2001 the government had withdrawn its support for the agreement. This constituted a serious violation of domestic and international obligations in respect of indigenous peoples.

Michel Duval (Canada) said the Permanent Forum's mandate recognized that indigenous issues extend beyond human rights, encompassing economic and social development, culture, the environment, education and health. Forum members should strengthen the engagement of United Nations agencies across the range of indigenous issues. Securing adequate funding was essential to provide stability for the Permanent Forum, and Canada would work with other countries to establish such funding.

The observer from the International Indigenous Youth Conference stressed the need for participation of indigenous youth in decision-making, as well as the need to stop the militarization of indigenous peoples' lands.

The observer from the Legal Commission for the Self-Development of the Native Andean Peoples (CAPAJ) said recent decisions by South American governments showed a will to undermine the strong link between indigenous peoples and the biological diversity of their lands. Such policies, recently supported by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the World Bank, unilaterally reaffirmed the full sovereignty of States on the genetic resources of the biodiversity found in indigenous territories, depriving indigenous peoples of the traditional management of such resources. States did note recognize the contribution that for millennia indigenous people had made to achieve the current biological diversity in their territories. The Permanent Forum should request WIPO to prepare a report on the issue.

The observer from the Nepal Tamang Ghedung said indigenous people were not stakeholders but right-holders, adding that prior informed consent was needed for any decision affecting them. The observer from the Pueblo of Laguna (United States) said the New Mexican Pueblo was fighting erosion of its sovereignty, with the Federal Courts eroding the rights to self-government and natural resources. The Pueblo of Laguna people were trying to acquire lands that had been their traditional lands. Land, water and culture could not be separated.

The observer from the Cordillera Peoples Alliance called for a stop to the violence that was so much part of the lives of indigenous peoples, adding that the Permanent Forum should have a secretariat financed through the United Nations regular budget. The observer from the Saami Council said several States still failed to recognized indigenous peoples as "people", equal in dignity, value and rights. The Permanent Forum needed its own secretariat, connected to its parent body, the Economic and Social Council.

The observer from the Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander Commission (Australia) called on the Permanent Forum to be a mechanism ensuring regular exchange of information among governments, the United Nations system and indigenous people; a forum for the involvement and consultation of indigenous peoples; and a body establishing a more progressive strategy for addressing indigenous issues.