Indigenous peoples demand respect for their land rights
Faced with increasing pressures on their lands, indigenous peoples insist that their rights to their lands, territories and resources are respected. During a recent meeting at UN Headquarters, global experts on indigenous issues emphasized the need to address growing threats to indigenous peoples’ lands from natural resource exploitation, establishment of conservation areas, large-scale infrastructure projects and large-scale agriculture.
Frequently indigenous peoples are falsely portrayed as backwards and in opposition to development and national interests, while the reality is that indigenous peoples are important contributors to their countries’ economies, cultures and preservation of biological diversity.
“Indigenous peoples contribute a lot to our world’s diversity. Achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for indigenous peoples is beneficial not to them alone; it is beneficial to all human beings,” said Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, Chairperson of the Permanent Forum.
Themed “Sustainable Development in Territories of Indigenous Peoples,” the experts’ meeting charted ways for implementing the SDGs on indigenous lands with their inhabitants’ full participation. The landmark UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted 10 years ago, spells out that indigenous peoples have a right to self-determination and autonomy.
Despite considerable progress to implement the Declaration worldwide, indigenous peoples in many countries continue to face discrimination, exploitation of their resources and disproportionate impacts of social ills, such as poverty and lower life expectancy.
In most countries, indigenous peoples “are still invisible,” according to Joan Carling, an indigenous activist from the Philippines and member of the Permanent Forum. “They are not in national plans of Sustainable Development Goals, but they should not be left behind.”
One pervasive issue is displacement of indigenous peoples by large-scale agriculture, extractive industry or infrastructure development projects. Experts believe that more action is needed to protect indigenous peoples’ land rights to help end poverty and advance many other SDGs.
“People living closest to natural resources are the best resource. Indigenous people have the knowledge about how to manage their resources in sustainable development ways,” said Eirik Larsen, political advisor of the Sámi Parliament of Norway. He cited the experiences of Norway’s Sámi people, who have support from the local government to manage their own natural resources.
Panelists also discussed protecting indigenous peoples’ rights in relation to the threat of climate change, food sovereignty, and several other issues. Experts emphasized the importance of indigenous peoples collecting and generating their own data, which is “a way we make ourselves visible,” according to Ms. Carling.
The Expert Group Meeting is organized annually and provides input to each year’s session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). “Our role is to provide good analytics and strong policy advice for policy makers, and the Permanent Forum is a key to this mechanism,” said Daniela Bas, Director of UN DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development. This year’s UNPFII will meet on 16 to 27 April.
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