21 May 2003


Press Release

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Second Session

15th & 16th Meetings (AM & PM)



The importance of educating youth in their own cultures, as well as using indigenous languages to educate them, was stressed today during the discussion on culture and education in the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Opening the discussion, a representative of the United Nations Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) observed that millions of children continued to be taught in languages they did not use or even understand.  She added that the participation of indigenous peoples in designing curricula was still limited, and education still fell short of eliminating prejudice and discrimination targeted at indigenous peoples.

The lack of indigenous education, emphasized a representative of indigenous youth, would continue to set indigenous youth apart from their own cultures. Stressing that education was the key to self-determination, she recommended that educational instruction take place in indigenous languages.

A representative of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido said Ainu children were at a much higher risk of dropping out of school due to the discrimination, which could be addressed by teaching Ainu culture and history in public schools to both Japanese and Ainu children.  At present, Ainu children were deprived of the opportunity to take pride in their indigenous background, which hindered their identification with the Ainu culture and history.

Other speakers highlighted the lack of adequate funding for indigenous youth, the difficulties experienced in adapting to western standards, and the high drop-out rate.  Greater attention must be paid to youth who were dropping out of school, they stressed, by offering culturally specific and language assistance.

Many recommended that indigenous languages be integrated into national curricula, and urged United Nations agencies to design materials sensitive to the cultural and educational needs of indigenous peoples.  They also stressed that multilingual education should occur at all educational levels, and that indigenous peoples be trained so that they could compete both nationally and internationally.

During the morning session on culture, speakers stressed the importance of preserving indigenous languages and sacred sites, as well as recognizing traditional lands and natural resources.  Lamenting the tragic disappearance of entire indigenous cultures, they urged governments to protect traditional languages in national constitutions, and encouraged UNESCO to set up programmes aimed at recovering indigenous culture.

Addressing those concerns, a representative of the Alaska Federation of Natives said her culture had fallen prey to government policies emphasizing English at the expense of indigenous languages.  Ignoring those languages had severed ties between indigenous youth and their ancestors, damaging the confidence of her people.

Similarly, a representative of the Asia Caucus said indigenous cultures were severely threatened in his region, which was perhaps the most culturally diverse in the world.  Not only was commercial tourism destroying cultural integrity, but mainstream education was distorting indigenous history.

UNESCO’s representative stressed that cultural diversity played a vital role in today’s globalized world, and that culture was an essential element of sustainable development.  His organization had decided that tangible heritage should be regulated by an international convention, and was currently preparing another instrument on cultural diversity.

Efforts were already being made to halt illicit traffic in cultural artifacts, he added, through UNESCO’s 1997 Convention on the Return of Cultural Property, and some property had been returned.  Cambodia, for example, had recovered 70 objects that had been in the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

The representatives of Guatemala, Indonesia, Mexico, Canada and New Zealand also spoke this morning.

Other speakers addressing the Forum this morning were the representatives of the Organización de Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonia Colombiana, the Consejo Indio de Sudamerica, the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordination Committee (IPACC), the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, the Consejo Internacional de Tratados Indios (CITI), the Masai Women for Education and Economic Development, the Consultoria de los Pueblos Indígenas en el Norte de Mexico, the Committee on Indigenous Health, the Aldet Centre Saint Lucia, the Pacific Caucus, the Boarding School Caucus, the European Parliament, the Confederaciones Nacionalidades Indigenas del Ecuador (CONAIE), the World Festival, the Rapa Nui Parliament, and the Parliamento Indígena America.

Statements were also made this afternoon by the representatives of Sweden, Brazil, Myanmar, Belize (on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Bangladesh, Nepal and Mexico, as well as the Observer for the Holy See.

In addition, the representatives of the Pacific Caucus, the Navajo Nation, Inuit Youth International, the Canadian Teacher’s Federation and Education International, the Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, the former Indigenous fellows of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Asia-Pacific Indigenous Youth Network, the Organización de los Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonia Columbiana, the Asia Indigenous Caucus, the Consejo Internacional de Tratados Indios (CITI), St. Johns Mission and the Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordination Committee (IPACC), the Boarding School Caucus, the Global Teaching and Learning Project, Consejo Nacional Indio de Venezuela, Projecto de Desarollo Santiago-Prodessa-Plataforma MAYA, the Indigenous People’s Caucus on Sustainable Development, the Aldet Centre Saint Lucia, and the Regional Action Group for the Environment also spoke.

The Permanent Forum will meet again at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 22 May to discuss its future work.


The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues met this morning to discuss its agenda item on culture.  It was also expected to take up consideration of education. (For background information, see Press Release HR/4658, issued on

8 May.)


AYITEGAU KOUEVI, Forum member from Togo, summarizing Tuesday’s discussion of human rights issues, said that many speakers had stressed the importance of respecting the human rights of indigenous peoples as guaranteed in various treaties and the United Nations Charter.  They also emphasized the need for effective coordination between the Forum, the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, and the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Indigenous Populations. Many called on the Special Rapporteur to prepare a report summarizing flagrant violations of human rights in coordination with the Forum and United Nations agencies.  In that connection, the Economic and Social Council should provide the funding for visits to various parts of the world.

It was also recommended, he continued, that the Committee on the Rights of the Child should provide in their reports relevant information on youth and children worldwide.  Speakers also appealed to States and governments to adopt the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.  In addition, they asked for a global conference with States and indigenous peoples to discuss indigenous treaty questions.

Speakers also stressed the need for reparation for abusive treatment and slavery that had been imposed on indigenous peoples, he said.  Many recommended that the World Bank hold a round table with the Forum and other bodies representing indigenous peoples.  The Bank should also establish a mechanism to carry out a dialogue with indigenous peoples, and implement programmes with the full participation of indigenous peoples.

Other Forum members suggested that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights prepare an in-depth study of how indigenous issues were being addressed in different States.  Information should also be provided by regional organizations on how indigenous issues had been addressed in their respective mechanisms.

Forum members also asked the United Nations and Member States to promote the self-determination of indigenous peoples in all areas, maintaining their right to participate in the social and cultural life of States.  The United Nations should also promote programmes to eradicate racism and gender discrimination in those States where indigenous peoples lived, they said.

YAYAN G.H. MULYANA (Indonesia), responding to statements made by some non-governmental organization delegations under the agenda item of human rights, said that his country attached great significance to the promotion and protection of the human rights of indigenous peoples.  Within the context of his country, promoting human rights meant promoting the human rights of all Indonesians, as all Indonesian peoples were indigenous.  Nevertheless, he recognized that some indigenous groups in Indonesia were less developed than others.  In that respect, Indonesia promoted the economic, social and cultural rights of indigenous peoples through autonomy and special autonomy, such as in the region of West Papua.

In the implementation process of autonomy and special autonomy, he noted some obstacles, including human resources and institutional capacities, as well as policy development.  He stressed the importance of coordination and communication between governments and their constituents at the local level and said that the Government of Indonesia was committed to make autonomy and special autonomy a viable mechanism.

FREDERICK VACHERON, of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said that recommendations from the Forum’s first report had allowed his organization to identify specific issues relating to the cultural biodiversity of indigenous peoples.  The UNESCO had decided that tangible heritage should be regulated by an international convention, and a preliminary draft would be presented to its thirty-second session next fall.

He stressed that cultural diversity was important today in the face of globalization, since culture played a vital role in sustainable development.  The UNESCO was currently debating whether it was timely to adopt an international legal instrument defining cultural diversity.  The organization was also working on the initial draft of a convention on immaterial heritage, which would be an important element among other UNESCO conventions in the area.

The world heritage list, he noted, included many sites of importance for indigenous peoples, and members of the World Heritage Committee had encouraged the establishment of a network identifying heritage sites.  Regarding oral and immaterial heritage, UNESCO was working to give expression to popular tradition, such as mythology, and traditional skills.  It had also addressed indigenous languages.  A meeting in Paris in March 2003 had drawn up an action plan dealing with vital issues relating to the preservation of indigenous languages.  He encouraged partnerships with the Forum in various efforts UNESCO was involved in to preserve indigenous culture.

Comments from Forum

Forum members expressed appreciation for the UNESCO initiative to encourage partnership with the Forum, and stressed the importance of the organization’s work with young people.  Others questioned whether UNESCO was doing anything to push forward initiatives on linguistic rights.

Members also questioned whether UNESCO, in coordination with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), was planning to consult with indigenous peoples in examining the link between the environment and cultural diversity.  They also asked how UNESCO would be cooperating with the Forum in future, since the organization’s initiatives were important for the preservation of indigenous culture, languages and religions.

A Forum member asked whether UNESCO was working in close cooperation with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and what strategies UNESCO intended to use in establishing a permanent and sustainable dialogue with the Permanent Forum.

The illicit traffic of cultural property was a significant problem, a Forum member said.  Indigenous cultural artefacts were now to be found in the major museums of Europe and North America.  What measures was UNESCO taking to halt that illicit traffic?  Such sacred objects had to be returned to their places of origin for the benefit of the indigenous peoples.

A Forum member said that indigenous peoples’ cultures should be respected and protected, and it was the responsibility of governments to protect cultural characteristics.  Education was an important measure in preserving those cultural characteristics.  Bilingual systems should be used so that such heritage could be maintained.

Another Forum member said that a crucial issue for indigenous peoples was their sacred sites, which were the focal points of ceremonial life.  They were often the centres of communication with divine powers, and ceremonies were performed there that signified the revitalization of indigenous peoples.  She asked UNESCO about their specific work to promote the registration and protection of protected sites.

Response from UNESCO

Mr. VACHERON said a legal instrument relating to tangible heritage would be presented to UNESCO in 2003.  A second was presently being prepared on cultural diversity, which would be discussed at UNESCO’s 2003 general conference.  It had become evident that a more binding text than previous ones was necessary.  He drew attention to the distinctions between the two instruments, stating that the interrelationship between them would be discussed by UNESCO in the coming months.  He then defined intangible heritage as the practices, expression, knowledge and know-how that communities, groups or individuals recognized as part of their intangible heritage.

Regarding cooperation between UNESCO and UNEP, he noted that the two organizations had jointly organized a round table at the Johannesburg Summit.  In addition, biodiversity and cultural diversity would be the subject of discussion and activities between UNESCO and UNEP.  Regarding the restitution of plundered goods, he drew attention to UNESCO’s 1997 Convention on the Return of Cultural Property.  Currently, a certain amount of property was being returned.  Cambodia, for example, had recovered 70 objects that had been in the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

With respect to spirituality, there was the proposed convention on intangible heritage, and UNESCO also had a programme on intercultural and spiritual heritage.


CECIL LE FLEUR, of the Griqua National Conference of South Africa and the National Khoi-San Conference, recommended that the Forum urge the South African Government to review its land reform policy, so that indigenous people could lay claims to ancestral lands.  It should also speed up its programme for the revival of indigenous languages, set up cultural villages with training programmes for youth, adopt an action plan on endangered languages, and make cultural studies more widely available.

The Khoi-San had suffered more than other groups as far as cultural extinction was concerned.  They had lost every square metre of their lands, their languages and traditions had been alienated, and they had been forced to adopt western European culture and speak the language of the colonizer. Many desperately wanted to know who they were and how they could be reconnected to their roots.

JORGE GOMEZ, speaking on behalf of the Consejo Indio de Sudamerica (CISA), the Aymara Parliament and the Aymara Alliance, stressed the importance of water for the survival of indigenous cultures.  Cultures had often developed alongside water sources, and droughts had caused many indigenous cultures to die, he said. For example, indigenous communities in Bolivia that had used water for their survival had been forced to travel to Argentina to find work.  The privatization of water was unethical from an indigenous perspective.  Indigenous peoples could not afford water; it was a necessity and not a commodity.  Furthermore, whole communities had been flooded as a result of dam building.  Many communities that had been dependent on the rivers and springs were powerless, hungry and thirsty.

HASSAN IDBALKASSM, speaking on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordination Committee, said that non-democratic political cultures in many African countries had led to the destruction of many important aspects of the cultural rights of the indigenous peoples of Africa.  Indigenous peoples were not allowed to participate in cultural decision-making and indigenous cultures were not recognized.  He recommended that the Forum present a recommendation to the Economic and Social Council calling upon governments to approve democratic cultural policies that allowed for the right of participation in cultural life for indigenous peoples.  He also requested that the Forum come up with recommendations that would allow the indigenous peoples to have control over their own resources.

A representative of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and Central Michigan University said that scientists and scholars alike would like to make people believe that the knowledge children and students from all backgrounds acquired at university and other levels was inclusive, because it was based on universal values, culture, and tradition. However, one did not have to get to the university level to know that what was taught at different levels of education was grounded in the European culture.  Given that culture and the language of teaching and learning, very little was drawn from other ways of knowing that were grounded in indigenous tradition, which brought a different perspective and focus.  Indigenous ways of knowing were often discounted and discredited as non-scientific because they were rooted in the story of the people, their language, culture, art, mythology and spirituality.

ESTEBANCIO CASTRO, of the Consejo Internacional de Tratodos Indios (CITI) and associated groups, urged States to recognize indigenous languages in national constitutions, and adopt the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.  The Forum should ensure that UNESCO and institutions of the Chilean Government take measures to protect sacred sites.

Culture was a major part of the survival of indigenous peoples, he continued.  It was important to recognize the right of indigenous peoples to land, resources and sacred sites.  He drew attention to the disappearance of languages and sacred sites and, therefore, entire cultures.  To counteract that tragedy, the international community must recognize the rights of indigenous people to their lands and territories.  The UNESCO must develop programmes to recover the cultural values of indigenous peoples.  Cultural lessons were embodied in customs, memories and daily action, and must be maintained for the survival of the people.

MARY SIMAT, representative of the Masai Women for Education and Economic Development, World Council of Churches and other organizations, said that in light of the endangered status of indigenous languages, the United Nations should sponsor an international year of indigenous languages for 2005.  That year would highlight the critical status of those languages and provide strategies for their revitalization.  She called for funding from States for language revitalization programmes, especially considering that they had often been the instigators of the damage done.  She said that an indigenous language fund should be established, and called on Member States to repeal discriminatory legislation against indigenous languages.  She urged the development of clear strategies to promote indigenous languages so that they could continue to be spoken by future generations.

The representative of the Consultoria de los Pueblos Indígenas en el Norte de Mexico said that the Forum should make recommendations to the Government of Mexico to prevent the perpetration of human rights abuses against indigenous peoples.  She recommended that the Economic and Social Council ensure full compliance by the Government of Mexico to all agreements that protected the rights of indigenous peoples.  Indigenous peoples had become victims in Mexico only because they wished to defend and protect their cultures.  For example, there was a growing number of murders of indigenous women in Chihuahua.  Also, indigenous peoples living in Baja California saw their rights being violated in every way, and the health of their children was at risk.

A representative of the Asia Caucus said that indigenous cultures had always been under threat in his region, which was perhaps the most culturally diverse in the world.  Commercial tourism, in particular, was destroying the cultural integrity of many indigenous groups in Asia.  Mainstream education had distorted indigenous history and presented indigenous cultures in a derogatory manner.  Also, programmes were lacking to promote the integrity of indigenous culture, based on indigenous concepts of development.  If the autonomy of indigenous groups was not respected, their cultures would not survive.

He recommended the immediate review of the national educational curriculum of Asian countries, particularly their manner of presenting the culture and history of indigenous peoples.  The Forum should encourage governments and United Nations agencies to review policies concerning cultural diversity, and encourage UNESCO to promote workshops highlighting indigenous cultures as a priority concern.

The representative of Guatemala said the international community must nurture and support the Forum, which offered an interesting combination of wisdom and diversity.  Its secretariat must be provided with more resources, and efforts should be made to link the Forum with the many non-governmental organizations present at the session.

More than half of his country was populated by indigenous peoples, he said, who had been subjected to outrageous discrimination for centuries.  Among measures adopted in recent years to counteract that was the Law against Discrimination, and the Law on Recognition and Use of Indigenous Languages.  Other decrees had created mechanisms for protecting indigenous sacred places, and other aspects of their cultures.

JOSE CARLOS MORALES, representative of the Committee on Indigenous Health, said that the Forum should encourage Member States to include indigenous representatives in the delegations that they sent to the intergovernmental committee of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  He called on WIPO to continue to work and to coordinate with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and UNESCO.  It was also important to establish a specific regime for the legal protection of indigenous peoples, he said.

ELIZABETH SAAGULIK HENSLEY, representative of the Alaska Federation of Natives and the Indigenous Youth Caucus, said that many Alaska Native peoples continued to suffer from government policies that called for the mastering of the English language, but ignored indigenous languages or, at best, taught them as foreign languages.  Ignoring those languages was detrimental to her peoples' confidence, as it severed ties between indigenous youth and their ancestors.

Alaska Natives felt the danger of the disappearance of their languages and were beginning to organize their own schools, she said.  For example, in two Inupiaq villages, community members had established Inupiaq language immersion schools, and others were in the development process.  However, those schools found little financial support and, therefore, served only a small minority of the students interested in attending the schools.  Parents were left with no choice but to send their children to English-speaking public schools designed for Euro-American children.

ALBERT DE TERVILLE, on behalf of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean Antilles, said it was important to understand the mix of indigenous peoples in the Caribbean.  Because of confusion about who they were, it must be made clear that the size of those groups was comparable to indigenous peoples of the United States and Canada jointly.  He recommended that the Forum representative for South America and the Caribbean contact him, because his group did not know who that person was.  He also requested that the Forum seek approval for inclusion of a resident Caribbean expert to advise the Forum on Caribbean people’s issues.

The representative of Mexico said agreements had been made between high-ranking bodies in her country to acknowledge sacred sites.  A catalogue had been produced and an attempt would be made to enter into agreements with local authorities, so that they could be used and enjoyed by indigenous peoples.  Regarding the right to language, the country had adopted a general law on language rights for indigenous peoples.  That law stated that all indigenous languages were part of Mexican national heritage, and were valid throughout the entire territory where they were spoken.

The representative of the Pacific Caucus said that UNESCO and WIPO should organize a seminar between indigenous peoples, States and United Nations agencies to discuss indigenous cultural rights, in particular, the maintenance of languages.  An effort should also be made by United Nations agencies to protect sacred sites.  The Hawaiian language was in jeopardy, she said, and only about 1,400 students spoke Hawaiian as a second language.  Artefacts had been taken by European nations in Rapa Nui, and those should be returned immediately.  In West Papua, the motif and dances of the native people were being taken over by the peoples of Bali and Java.

The representative of the Boarding School Caucus said that culture and language could not be separated, as one died without the other.  She recommended that the Forum urge States to address the continuing effect of boarding school abuses, which included loss of languages and cultures. States should fund language revitalization programmes, which should be managed by indigenous peoples.  She also urged the Forum to call on States to repeal legislation that discriminated against indigenous languages, for example, the United States’ “English only” laws.

OFELIA RIVAS, of O’odham (Mexico/United States), Quitovac Sacred Site, said indigenous cultures were becoming extinct due to the loss of land and territories. The relocation of over 12,000 indigenous peoples in her country had led to pain, suffering and death.  The distinct identities of indigenous peoples was linked to the lands they had occupied since the beginning of time.

In addition, water was being sacrificed to mining companies for profit, and to be used in faraway cities, she said.  It was being contaminated and might not be available to indigenous people in the future.  Water was sacred, sustaining the life and identity of her people.  She stressed the need for mechanisms to protect the culture of her people.  The Forum’s challenge was to identify how the United Nations could work for indigenous peoples throughout the world.

MANUEL MASAQUIZA, of the Confederaciones Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador, said indigenous cultures had been initially threatened when Europe had conquered indigenous lands.  Now, a special name was needed for each indigenous culture, which would be the first act of justice for the inhabitants of those lands.  Indigenous peoples of Ecuador had different origins and nationalities, various cultures, different languages and dialects, and different spiritual practices and beliefs.

A representative from the European Parliament said that a special objective of the Parliament was to underline and accept all the different cultures of Europe.  Languages were of great importance for everyone, but even more so for indigenous peoples, he said.  The colonizers from the States of “old Europe” were responsible for many of the crimes against indigenous peoples, including taking indigenous land and properties.  As a member of the European Parliament, he wished to apologize for what had been done in previous centuries.  The 21 million euros spent over the last three years on funding programmes to help indigenous peoples would grow in the future, he said, as the European Parliament wished to give more support to indigenous communities.

The European Parliament wanted to strengthen the relationship with the Forum and with representatives of indigenous peoples, he continued.  From July until 31 December, the European Union would have an Italian presidency, led by President Berlusconi.  Mr. Berlusconi had promised that the policy towards indigenous peoples would be one of the priorities of the Italian presidency.

The representative of the World Festival (Sports and Culture) said that Montreal would host the 2004 Festival of Games and Sports.  It was a unique opportunity to support physical activity.  The event was being jointly organized with the five indigenous communities from Canada.  Seventy delegations were expected, 15 to 20 of whom would be representing indigenous peoples from all over the world.

Questions from Forum

A Forum member asked the European Parliament to spell out how the European Union could cooperate with the Forum.

The representative of the European Parliament said the European Council and Parliament must first decide that a particular Forum activity must be supported.  It could then provide resources in support of that activity, as a way of assisting indigenous peoples in recovering what had been stolen from them over the last century.


A representative of Canada said his country was unique and diverse, shaped by aboriginal people and their culture.  On the international front, it was working with other organizations on cultural policies to promote and further cultural diversity.  The Canadian Government was committed to preserving, revitalizing and promoting indigenous languages and cultures, and had pledged $170 million to support that effort.  Canada would like to ensure aboriginal stewardship over their languages and cultures, in preserving that aspect of its national heritage.

In addition, Canada was committed to the well-being of the indigenous youth population, he said.  It had established Friendship Centres on indigenous reserves, and provided funding to assist urban youth.  It had also instituted the Young Canada Works programme for urban aboriginal youth, which helped youth build on and further their culture, while accessing the Government’s summer work programme.

The representative of New Zealand said that the expression of culture was at the very heart of indigenous identity and his country believed that all indigenous peoples had the right to practice and revitalize cultural traditions and practices.  Language was at the core of cultural identity, he said, and the promotion of indigenous languages was fundamental to the development of indigenous peoples.  He urged all States to consider programmes to promote the advancement of the languages and cultures of indigenous peoples.  It was also important to protect intellectual property.  Existing mechanisms were not sufficient to help indigenous peoples exploit their knowledge for commercial purposes.

The New Zealand Government was trying to prevent the patenting of indigenous knowledge, he continued.  For example, laws had been passed so that people could not register trademarks based on Maori text and imagery that would be offensive to the Maori people.  He also stressed the importance of the right to repatriation of human remains.  Around 110 overseas institutions, mostly in Europe and the United States, held Maori remains in their collections.  New Zealand recognized the importance and significance of Maori remains being returned to the Maori people and would be providing funding for that purpose.

The representative of the Rapa Nui Parliament said that there were many obstacles in the struggle against colonial legacies, including nuclear radiation, armed conflict, trade imbalances, greenhouse gas emissions, and the illegal abuse of indigenous peoples’ lands.  Those practices harmed the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples.  Cultural integrity was the result of history and tradition.  She encouraged States to consider the recommendations of the indigenous peoples in the Forum.

A representative of the Parlamento Indígena America said colonizers had tried to make decisions for indigenous peoples in policies, religions and law.  Despite the fact that indigenous peoples had their own customs and cultures, their status as a people was denied.  They were considered as animals and people incapable of taking decisions.

He stressed that indigenous peoples must participate at the political level, and guide their own lives.  Political participation was a human right that could not be denied.  The Forum should recommend that the Economic and Social Council call upon all countries to provide for the full and complete participation of indigenous peoples in political processes, and that right be embodied in their constitutions.  United Nations bodies should set up or introduce aid programmes, so that indigenous peoples could have a genuine part in decision-making processes.

KATHERINE GRISBY, representative of UNESCO, said that there were about  5,000 different indigenous groups in the world. Nevertheless, millions of children continued to be taught in languages that they did not use or even understand.  Indigenous peoples lived in very different environments and had retained their particular practices and beliefs.  However, education had often destroyed such cultures and languages.  The participation of indigenous peoples in decision-making regarding the design of curricula was still limited.  Education still fell short of eliminating prejudice and discrimination targeted at indigenous peoples.

The UNESCO had recognized the need to preserve cultural identity, she continued.  The concept of education as a way of integrating indigenous peoples into a dominant society had now practically disappeared.  There were a large number of instruments that recognized the rights of indigenous peoples, and in Latin America some constitutions had been amended to recognize the right of indigenous peoples to education in their own languages.  Such progress was very important as it strengthened the inter-cultural nature of the educational process.

The UNESCO had established guidelines for education in the twenty-first century.  It also believed in the principle of mother tongue instruction, that multilingual education should occur at all educational levels, and that language should be an essential element in inter-cultural education.  Education should also provide training for indigenous peoples so they could compete on the national and international levels, she said.  The UNESCO was preparing a report that would cover case studies and best practices and discuss what educators around the world were doing.

The UNESCO, she added, had redoubled its efforts to help indigenous peoples around the world by setting up an Action Programme for Education, which would bring about progress in tolerance and mutual respect, and promote equal educational opportunities for boys and girls.

Comments from Forum

Forum member WILLIE LITTLECHILD said that Treaty No. 6 between the Queen and the Plains and Wood Cree Indians had agreed to preserve educational facilities, and Treaty No. 8 between Her Majesty and the Black Feet Indians had stated that the Queen had intended to pay for those teachers.  He was raising the matter of those treaties because of the blatant and ongoing violations of those rights.  He asked that the matter of the Treaty Rights to Education be considered by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education. 

Other members of the Forum stressed that education was one of the fundamental pillars of sustainable development, but noted that indigenous people did not have ready access to education to cope with modern technology, science and research.  Other members noted that schools spent little time teaching subjects aimed at preserving the cultures of indigenous peoples, and emphasized that States should draw up curricula to respect the interests of indigenous peoples.

Response from UNESCO

Ms. GRISBY said UNESCO was moving ahead gradually in supporting indigenous peoples to improve their education, but that must be done in coordination with member States. She agreed that indigenous peoples should have access to higher education, but noted that children were still excluded from attending school, and that would also need to be addressed.

Higher education for indigenous peoples must consider the interaction among various cultures, she said. She also pointed to the poverty of many indigenous areas, as well as the lack of attention indigenous peoples received in government policies.  The UNESCO was examining how indigenous peoples had developed their own initiatives, and determining how best to proceed in ensuring that they became more central players in developing national policies.

NAVARANA BEVERIDGE, on behalf of youth representatives from indigenous organizations from more than 10 countries, said she strongly believed that education was the key to self-determination, and recommended that educational instruction take place in indigenous languages.  While it was necessary to learn the languages and ways of colonizing countries, a lack of indigenous education would continue to set indigenous youth apart from their own cultures.  Boarding schools, residential schools and missionary schools had had devastating effects on indigenous communities.  That type of education could be devastating.  Indigenous youth had suffered mental, physical and even sexual abuse within those school systems.

KEONI BUNAG, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Caucus, said that indigenous peoples needed to call upon international institutions to respect and promote their educational capacities.  He recommended that indigenous languages be integrated into national curricula, and asked the United Nations agencies to design materials sensitive to the cultural and education needs of indigenous peoples.  Special attention should be given to young girls in the education sector.  He also urged the adoption of the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

LAWRENCE MORGAN, a representative of the Navajo Nation, said his Nation had existed for centuries, with its values and culture intact.  However, contact with the United States Government had suppressed Navajo values and, in some cases, replaced them with European values.  The United States Government and private businesses had failed to recognize Navajo common law, which had been carried from generation to generation and influenced the structure of Navajo government.  In November 2002, the Navajo Council had institutionalized its people’s values and culture in governmental structures, but businesses and the United States Government had continued to undervalue the Navajo judicial system.

He recommended that the United Nations support the existence and application of common laws in Indian tribes, and ask States to do the same.  It should also encourage businesses to respect traditional common laws.

AVIAAJA LYNGE, of the Inuit Youth International (Greenland) and Arctic Region Youth, said economics dictated that as many indigenous people as possible must be educated.  However, with no funding to educate indigenous youth, that road would be a long one. A large number of young people were dropping out of school, giving up because of mental health problems or because the educational system was too different from their own culture.  They were losing self-esteem because they were adapting to western standards.

Greater attention must be paid to youth who were dropping out of school, she said, by offering culturally specific help.  It was time to recognize the need to empower youth before they were lost.  Indigenous youth with language problems must be given special attention.  Indigenous youth, she added, needed encouragement in the fight against colonization.

JIMAI MONTIEL, speaking on behalf of the former indigenous fellows of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the fellowship programme had allowed for an exchange of information and experiences, and had facilitated greater understanding of indigenous peoples.  It had also familiarized indigenous peoples with the United Nations system.  The former fellows recommended the programme and encouraged States to endorse the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.  All regions of the world should initiate training programmes for young indigenous peoples.  The candidacies of professionals from indigenous communities should also be considered for positions in international organizations.

R.D. ROY, representing the Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, said that indigenous peoples living in Bangladesh experienced a great deal of discrimination.  The indigenous peoples of Bangladesh needed education to protect their rights.  In some areas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the teachers went without salaries, and young children walked up and down steep mountain slopes everyday to attend school.  However, most children could not study beyond primary school, as their parents could not afford to send them away.  Illiteracy in that area was well below the national average.

Although those were difficult obstacles, they could be overcome, he said. Governments should be encouraged to revise their educational policies and introduce primary education in the mother tongue of indigenous peoples.  The UNESCO and UNICEF should also take integrated programmes on education to areas inhabited by indigenous peoples.

JITEN YUMNAM, of the Asia-Pacific Indigenous Youth Network, stressed that the World Bank should ensure that its lending policies respected the rights of indigenous children with respect to education.  Also, the Committee on the Rights of the Child should take particular note of the fact that indigenous languages were endangered.  He also urged UNESCO to step up its activities focused on indigenous children and languages.  Children had unquestionable rights to education in their own cultures and languages.

JANET BEAVER, of the Canadian Teacher’s Federation and Education International, Belgium, recommended that the Forum designate a member with full responsibility for education issues, and that disaggregated data be collected to monitor the education objectives of the Millennium Goals.  Moreover, the World Bank and other agencies should recognize the inherent right of indigenous peoples to a high standard of education.  In addition, the Forum should work with United Nations agencies and Member States to guarantee indigenous education as a fundamental right with adequate salaries, teachers and educational resources.

Education was a human right, she said, as was the right to self-determination.  Indigenous peoples had the right to follow their own destiny, particularly with respect to education that was culturally appropriate for their children.  Indigenous peoples in Canada had seen nearly 10 languages become extinct, which was unacceptable.

TOKUHEI AKIBE, Vice President of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, said that the Ainu children were in an extremely disadvantaged position relative to the educational attainment of others in Japanese society.  In public education, the Ainu children had a lower rate of school attendance and that disparity became even more pronounced in higher education.  That was due to the economic inequality between the Ainu and the Japanese, reflected in the fact that the proportion of Ainu families on welfare was twice that of the Japanese.  The Japanese Government claimed that a policy to address those inequalities had existed since 1974, but even after 30 years of such measures, the disparity in education had not declined to any significant degree, primarily because the land rights and economic rights of the Ainu were not respected.

Even when Ainu children entered public schools, they were at a much higher risk of dropping out due to the discrimination that they experienced.  Such discrimination could be addressed by teaching Ainu culture and history in public schools, to both Japanese and Ainu children.  At present, the Ainu children were deprived of the opportunity to take pride in their indigenous background, which hindered their identification with the Ainu culture and history.  For those reasons, he urged the Japanese Government to establish an ethnic education programme.  An appropriate education system would be the first step in improving school enrolment rates, retention rates and unemployment rates of the Ainu people.

JOSÉ DE LIMA KAXINAWA, representative of the Organización de los Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonia Colombiana, said that for the indigenous peoples of northern Brazil, education was not separated from culture.  When the Brazilians had arrived, his people were placed in captivity and they lost part of their culture.  In the 1970s, however, indigenous lands had been demarcated, and in 1983 bilingual teachers were introduced into indigenous communities.  His people were preparing schoolbooks in indigenous languages and researching indigenous ceremonies and music.  United Nations specialized agencies should help to preserve indigenous languages and reinforce the idea of bilingual education. 

A representative of Belize, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said CARICOM was committed to and respected the needs of indigenous children.  The population of indigenous groups in the region was small and, as a result, they were among the most vulnerable groups.

He then described various efforts to assist indigenous peoples in the region.  Two years ago, Belize had signed a historic agreement recognizing the right of the Maia to resources in their area.  The Government was also implementing its national poverty reduction strategy and developing a draft regional development plan.

Also, Guyana had always accorded high priority to the education of its nationals, he said.  Several initiatives had been undertaken to improve their education, especially in the country’s hinterland.  In addition, basic education training programmes had focused on improving the abilities of teachers in hinterland areas.  The Government was fully cognizant that indigenous groups were among the minority when it came to university graduation, and had awarded 10 indigenous students scholarships last year to study abroad.

The representative of Bangladesh said his Government had always been sensitive to indigenous peoples.  Special opportunities were offered to ethnic minorities, including those related to education.  A separate ministry had been created with an individual from the tribal hill community in charge, and the Hill Tracts Council had been given more autonomy.  In addition, some 710 tribal people had been appointed to government service.  It was hoped that the desired sustainable development of the hill regions would soon be achieved to the benefit of all concerned.

JEBRA RAM MUCHAARY, speaking on behalf of St. Johns Mission, BIJNI and Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, Northeast Zone and Bodoland Children’s Home, said that education played a vital role in empowering indigenous communities.  Unfortunately, the pace of progress was so slow that the indigenous peoples remained amongst the most illiterate and impoverished people in the world.  The Government of India did not realize how they were stripping indigenous children of their self-confidence.  They had successfully blocked the recognition of indigenous and tribal languages at the national level, and indigenous and tribal students were failing at mainstream examinations, rendering the State slogan “education for all” very hollow.  The Government needed to establish programmes in indigenous languages, and improve access to culturally appropriate education.  All major national examinations should have components in indigenous languages.

STELLA TAMANG, representative of the Asia Indigenous Caucus, said that education was a fundamental human right.  It was a way to protect, preserve and develop traditional indigenous skills and cultures.  Education was a significant step towards empowering indigenous peoples to participate more fully in their communities.  It was an indispensable asset to attain freedom and social justice. Language was a key factor in education as it was linked to the cultural environment.  The use of the mother tongue as the language of instruction had distinct advantages.  However, most schools did not provide facilities for indigenous children, often believing that indigenous peoples were innately less capable.

TITO LIVIO MARTINEZ, of the Consejo Internacional de Tratados Indios (CITI) and associated groups, said education was an investment in people and society.  It was a tool enabling people to fully develop their own potential as they struggled for self-determination and their lands.  He was concerned, however, about the minimal participation of indigenous peoples in drafting education laws. Indigenous people needed cultural diversity and believed in unity through diversity.

EULYNDA BENALLY, of the Boarding School Caucus, said indigenous people must control education, and that adequate resources must be provided for indigenous education.  The United States had agreed to provide adequate educational facilities to indigenous people in a treaty signed 130 years ago.

The indigenous knowledge system had been put on the back burner, she said, while western educational systems had been forced on the people.  Literacy among indigenous peoples was more than reading and writing; it was sung, told and embodied in rich oral history.  She requested that the Forum uphold the various rights of the child, which had been enshrined in United Nations treaties and conventions.

HASSAN IDBALKASSM, representative of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordination Committee (IPACC), said that the adoption of ILO Convention 169 on indigenous peoples was an important starting point for educational policy in all areas.  In many African countries, there was an illiteracy rate of between 50 and 70 per cent, and an educational policy that did not respect cultural diversity.  Information and information policy played an important role in that respect, and in many African countries television was completely closed to the languages of indigenous peoples.  Schooling was not widespread and there were millions of children in Africa that had no place in the schools.  He recommended that the Economic and Social Council and other related agencies revise their educational policies to show respect for cultural and linguistic identity.

WILLIAM YOTIVE, Project Manager of the Global Teaching and Learning Project, United Nations Department of Public Information, said that he was in charge of a Web site called “Cyber Schoolbus” aimed at creating educational materials for schools all over the world, to promoting awareness of the United Nations and to empowering young people.  A couple of years ago, a section had been created on the site on indigenous peoples.  The Global Teaching and Learning Project would like to do more to work with the Forum to draft a set of guidelines to promote awareness of indigenous issues and to provide indigenous youth with a forum in cyberspace where they could discuss issues they considered important.  He hoped that those resources would increase the visibility of indigenous youth at the United Nations.

Archbishop CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Observer for the Holy See, said the violation of the right to education was compounded by racism and xenophobia, which had continued to deny indigenous children that basic right.  The right to education concerned not only matters of access, but ensuring that content would empower indigenous children in their future.  Access to education should comprise alternative learning structures, and expanded training aimed at increasing practical and professional skills.  Indigenous people must identify and reject false values that would tarnish a truly human way of life.  In protecting the right to education, the international community should support indigenous peoples in seeking to preserve their heritage and identity, and ensure that they were not robbed of their identities and futures.

NOELI POCATERRA, of the Consejo Nacional Indio de Venezuela, said her culture and language were the spirit and basis of her identity.  It was important not to destroy the creations of God and expressions of life.  Culture and language were the identity cards of indigenous peoples, giving them the opportunity to have their own life.  Their heritage and spiritual values had enabled them to resist the colonialism that still existed today.  Indigenous peoples must not give up, but defend their sacred life on earth.

She recommended prolonging the Decade for indigenous people, and urged United Nations agencies, States and indigenous peoples to set up a policy affirming the value of bilingual education.  She also stressed that full value should be given to traditional knowledge, which was the key to the future.

KHIN THANDAR (Myanmar) said that her country was one of the most ethnically diverse in the world today, and its peoples had lived together for several thousand years.  Education was the key to development and a better future for children and youth.  The national races and ethnic groups of Myanmar had their own cultures and particularities.  There had been unwarranted criticism that the largest ethnic group in Myanmar was forcing Burmese ways of life on all other ethnic groups.  That was far from true.  The Government encouraged the preservation of all languages and cultures.

The representative of Brazil said that his delegation had repeatedly confirmed its dedication to protecting the rights of indigenous peoples in Brazil.  Brazil’s Constitution recognized the rights of indigenous peoples to their culture and lands and supported the appreciation and diffusion of indigenous cultures.  A number of indigenous communities in Brazil enjoyed education in their own languages.  The challenge ahead was to improve the qualifications of teachers and to increase the number of educational textbooks in indigenous languages.

DANIEL DOMINGO LOPEZ, of the Proyecto de Desarrollo Santiago, Prodessa – Plataforma MAYA, said the wealth of knowledge present in indigenous communities could prolong the life of the planet.  The fundamental role of education was to safeguard that knowledge.  Education was not only a question of coverage, but content, which must include the culture of indigenous peoples.  An attempt must also be made to ensure that there was no misinterpretation of indigenous culture and way of life.  He recommended that the Economic and Social Council increase the Forum’s budget so that it could address the educational needs of indigenous people.  Also, UNESCO should organize a world forum on the education of indigenous peoples, and include indigenous experts in regional meetings.

SIGRID STANBERG (Sweden) said that the Saami people had a common history, culture, tradition and language, yet they were spread out in four different countries -– Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia.  Saami children were allowed to complete their compulsory education in Saami schools, instead of public elementary schools, and such schools were responsible for ensuring that every Saami had a good understanding of their cultural inheritance and that he or she could speak, read and write Saamish.

As well as providing Saami children with a good and sound education, more initiatives must be taken for revitalizing the Saami language, she said.  Lack of financial resources was the reason why immersion programmes were missing, especially in Sweden.  The Government was trying to find the economic resources so that every Saami child could learn the Saami culture, history and language.  The Government had also embarked on an information campaign aimed at the entire Swedish population.  The currently insufficient awareness of the situation of the Saami had led to a proliferation of myths, prejudices and stereotypes.

A representative of the Regional Action Group for the Environment said indigenous peoples had the right to establish and control their educational systems in a manner appropriate to their cultural needs.  States should take effective measure to provide resources for those purposes.  He urged the Forum to adopt the United Nations draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples.

A representative of Nepal said his Government had taken measures to safeguard indigenous people and promote their development.  It had taken measures to eliminate discrimination on the basis of sex, caste or ethnic group.  All groups had the freedom to practise their religion, and participate in the political process.  Laws, policies and strategies had been put in place to implement those measures.  Programmes had been implemented under the Ninth Plan for the advancement of ethnic groups, and their employment had received priority in government programmes.

ALBERT DE TERVILLE, the representative of the Aldet Centre, Saint Lucia, said that although the majority of Saint Lucians used Creole, there was no government policy on the use of the Creole language, and people could not participate in the Saint Lucian Parliament if they did not speak English.  The United Nations agencies should persuade the Saint Lucian Government to end that policy.

The representative of Mexico said that to eliminate discrimination it was important to enhance education.  In Mexico, the Government was implementing programmes to deal with indigenous education.  Those programmes had various components, for example, establishing a database with information about the indigenous peoples of Mexico.  Moreover, the Government was considering publishing new textbooks to deal with indigenous issues.  In March of this year, an Institute for Indigenous Languages had been set up to benefit the cultural welfare of the nation.

The representative of the Regional Action Group for the Environment said that Indian people of New York State were mistrusted, misunderstood and neglected, and were taught nothing about their own cultures in schools.  In her school, the only recognition of Indian peoples was an Indian mascot painted on the wall.  In her county, four Indian sacred sites had been destroyed in the name of construction and no compensation had been given.

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For information media. Not an official record.