1 May 2008


1 May 2008
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Seventh Session

13th & 14th Meetings (AM & PM)




Hears from Economic and Social Affairs Head, General Assembly President

As the seventh annual session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues neared its close today, delegates discussed the future role the 16‑member body could play in ensuring that the question of indigenous human rights was on par with other human rights issues, with many voicing hope that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples would lend new ammunition to their cause.

Addressing the Forum this morning, Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the adoption of the Declaration last year had raised the profile of indigenous groups.  He noted also that the number of stakeholders attending the Forum had grown, reflecting the shared conviction that meeting the challenges of indigenous peoples required concerted effort.

For instance, recalling the special theme for this session, “climate change, biocultural diversity and livelihoods:  the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges”, he noted -- as others had done -- that indigenous peoples interpreted and reacted to climate change in creative ways, and had drawn on traditional knowledge and other technologies to find solutions.

However, difficulties remained in integrating indigenous peoples’ adaptation concerns into current policymaking processes.  The ability of humans to adapt and cope with climate change depended on their wealth, technology, education, information, skills, infrastructure, access to resources and management capabilities.  Those were often not accessible to many indigenous peoples and their communities.

Indeed, today and throughout the two-week long session, representatives of indigenous groups, non-governmental organizations, United Nations specialized agencies and Member States have traded examples about discrimination, repression and other human rights abuses heaped on indigenous peoples by corporations and States.  While many delegates harboured great hopes that the Declaration would help end such abuses, others voiced concerns about its “politicization” at the hand of Forum participants.

The representative of the Indonesian Government, who said the Declaration should become an important foundation and framework for the Forum in implementing its mandate, expressed concern about the involvement of those supporting separatist agendas in a number of countries.  That trend had the potential to erode the confidence of Member States.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chair of the Forum, replied that many important political questions needed to be asked at the body’s sessions, since it was one of the few places in the international arena where indigenous peoples could air their views.  She also pointed out that it was not the principle of self-determination that would ultimately push indigenous people to seek separatist agendas, but their increased marginalization in their own countries.  She stressed the importance of maintaining a spirit of dialogue among participants, while using the Declaration as a framework. 

In that same vein, Srgjam Kerim, President of the General Assembly, said that, despite the General Assembly’s past efforts to address the challenges facing indigenous populations, the Forum was uniquely placed to ensure that indigenous peoples’ knowledge and special resources were integrated into the work of the United Nations.  The Declaration’s mandate marked new challenges and opportunities for the Forum.

Mick Dodson, the Permanent Forum’s Rapporteur, said that, when the session ended tomorrow, the Forum was expected to recommend draft decisions to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, since it had been decided that 2007 would be a policy year.  Among the items that the Forum planned to recommend to the Economic and Social Council was that a dialogue be organized with six United Nations agencies on implementing indigenous issues.

Also speaking today were the representatives of France, Germany and Bangladesh.

A representative from Venezuela’s Ministry of Popular Power for Indigenous Peoples and a parliamentarian of Central America from Nicaragua also spoke.

Other speakers during the discussion included representatives from the Partnership for Indigenous Peoples Environment; Transnational Radical Party; Herri Topa; CONAVIGUA; Lao Human Rights Council; Ecospirituality Foundation; Yachay Wasi; Zomi Reunification Organization (ZORO); Federation of Saskatchewan of Indian Nations; Fundacion AMA El Salvador; Chotanagpur Rising Society; Caucus Euskal Herria; Innu Council of Nitassinan; CLAI, Chile; CAPAJ; Indigenous Youth and Elders Council; Ethiopian Women’s Federation; Native Children’s Survival; Ombuds Office of Indigenous Peoples and Nations of Ecuador in America (DPIA); Parliamentarian of Central America, Nicaragua; and Comunidad Campesina de Tauria, Arequipa.

A Forum member from North America and Chief Oren Lyons offered a prayer in honour of the Declaration’s passage and in recognition of the role played by the President of the General Assembly in promoting indigenous issues in the United Nations and in the Declaration’s adoption.

The Permanent Forum will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 2 May, to adopt its draft report on its seventh session.


The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues met this morning to conclude its discussion on future work, including on emerging issues relating to customary laws pertaining to indigenous traditional knowledge.  In the afternoon, it was expected to take up the draft agenda for the Forum’s eighth session.


BONANZA TAIHITU ( Indonesia), noting the Permanent Forum’s progress in raising awareness and promoting the integration and coordinating activities related to indigenous issues in the United Nations system, said the Forum should continue to be an instrument for achieving the objectives of the Second Decade.  Those critical objectives included the promotion of non-discrimination and inclusion; full and effective participation in decision-making; re-defining development policy from a vision of equity; advocating targeted policies with an emphasis on special groups; and the enhanced protection of the rights of indigenous peoples.

Highlighting the historical milestone of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples last year, he said the Declaration should become an important foundation and framework for the Forum in implementing its mandate.  Challenges facing the Forum included being more responsive to the legitimate rights and aspirations of indigenous communities and becoming more effective and accountable as an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council.  Those two challenges were not mutually exclusive, and any effort to address them should be mutually reinforcing.  The Forum should also improve its methods of work.  He further expressed concern about the politicization of the Forum by certain participants, particularly those supporting separatist agendas in a number of countries.  That trend had the potential to erode Member States’ confidence in the Forum’s work.

NOVELLA WASHINGTON, speaking on behalf of the Partnership for Indigenous Peoples Environment, said she had come to give a voice to the African survivors of the slave trade who were invisible and without representation at the global body.  Fortunately, those peoples had recently been given a territory in Ghana and now claimed their place in the community of indigenous peoples.  She recommended that African nations coming before the Forum should represent the issues important to Africans living outside their nations.  Presently, the revamped African Union had finally represented the worth of its diaspora community by recognizing them as its sixth region.  By being born African, no matter where they were scattered, those peoples had rights and should no longer be ignored by African Governments.  Thus, a census of surviving captive Africans should be taken in the United States, with the support of African nations.

LAPO ORLANDI, Transnational Radical Party, said that under globalization there were two choices for moving forward -- to starve or to bring about progress with the help of the dominant culture.  Naturally, the first method resulted in the elimination of whole communities.  To progress in an era of globalization, and to promote wellness at an affordable price, often meant adopting the culture of the dominant group.  But, if languages were protected and preserved, there was a better chance of protecting the identity of indigenous peoples, as well as preserving stores of traditional knowledge relating to the environment, climate and other pertinent issues.  Yet, languages were more at risk of extinction than ever.  In light of that, he voiced appreciation to the Forum for the inclusion of the item on language on the agenda this year.  He urged them to appoint a body to liaise with the World Conference of Language, Education and Identity, which would help efforts towards the preservation of languages and, thus, cultures.

CARLOS SOMERA, Adviser, Ministry of Popular Power for Indigenous Peoples, Venezuela, said his country had undergone a transformation that had opened communication channels between the society at large and indigenous peoples.  The country now recognized that nation-building should be inclusive of all peoples, truly embodying the slogan “a people’s Government”.  His Ministry had been created to promote indigenous-friendly laws and economic policies.  The Forum’s next session should focus on how traditional knowledge and cultures could be strengthened within communities, so that they could contribute meaningfully to a nation’s life.  It was true that, in other countries, the rights of indigenous peoples had not yet been recognized.  Discussions on climate change, for example, should be used as a platform to deepen understanding about indigenous traditions and how they could contribute to practical solutions.  The Forum should organize expert panels at its next session, where the indigenous peoples of Venezuela could share their ideas.

NILO CAYUQUEO, speaking on behalf of Mundo Indigena, recommended that the States where indigenous peoples were still living had a pending debt to those peoples.  Yet, there was still no recognition of language rights afforded them.  States still ignored the need to recognize multiculturalism.  He called on the Forum to follow the issue closely.  Language rights issues should be included in the Second Decade’s objectives and he suggested that the Forum should take as an example, in that regard, the decade dedicated to linguistic rights that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had sponsored.

FABIEN FIESCHI (France) said his country had not only actively negotiated for and supported the adoption of the Declaration, it had, in fact, co-sponsored the Declaration in the General Assembly.  It had also endorsed the Second Decade’s objectives.  Further, it had given a positive response to the Special Rapporteur’s inquiries, particularly on New Caledonia.  He recalled that, through constitutional review and revision, the French people had voted in favour of the possibility of structuring laws in favour of overseas indigenous peoples.  That included incorporating traditional law.  Yet, France, being dedicated to individual rights, operated on the principle that collective rights should never dominate individual rights, even as that pertained to indigenous peoples.  France had ratified international human rights mechanisms and had also signed the Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture.  France’s laws and those ratifications put in place legal processes that, in turn, guaranteed that torture did not take place on French territory.

AUDREY HOC, Herri Topa, said he was from the Basque region in Spain/France, where his nation was still fighting for self-determination.  Their rights were constantly being trampled upon by the French Government.  For example, France’s tourism policies had led to the tripling of housing rental prices, forcing out the indigenous community.  When the community tried to build their own housing, those efforts were repressed.  Recently, France had announced it would harden its policy towards the Basque, in an effort to fight terrorism.  The image portrayed of the Basque nation was not an accurate one.  He demanded that the Basque nation be given recognition.  The Forum should indicate the existence of the Basque people to the Government of France.

MAGDALENA SARAT PACHECO, the National Coordination of Guatemalan Widows (CONAVIGUA), said the building of hydroelectric dams in Guatemala had led to the “genocide” of several indigenous communities in her country.  Builders of the Chixoy Dam had forced the Tonconchi people and others to leave their homes or be “massacred”.  Survivors had not been compensated by the State, World Bank or the Inter-American Bank, who provided the loans for the dam’s construction.  Dams caused flooding and forced the displacement of communities that lived around the rivers.  It triggered migration to other countries and changed the surrounding flora and fauna.  Her group was currently raising complaints to the Government over the building of the new Xalala dam, which threatened to flood sacred sites.  She recommended that the Forum urge States to provide indigenous peoples with information, before embarking on such projects.  Guatemala’s Government should suspend all contracts for construction on indigenous territories that were being undertaken without prior informed consent.

VICTORIA TAULI-CORPUZ, Chair of the Permanent Forum, said she had heard complaints relating to large hydroelectric dams being built in places like Panama and India, as well.  At the moment, hydroelectric power was a popular climate mitigation measure, since it was viewed as a form of renewable energy.  States were being offered incentives to rehabilitate or set up dams under various emission-trading schemes.  That issue needed addressing by both States and United Nations agencies, especially given that the World Bank had reported an increase in investments directed at hydroelectric power in the past 2 years.  She hoped the world would see the implementation of the World Commission on Dams recommendation that the prior free and informed consent of nearby residents had to be obtained before the earth was broken for a mega-project.  The Declaration itself contained five articles on consent.

MARTIN NEY ( Germany) said his country was deeply committed to combating climate change, which he noted particularly threatened indigenous peoples.  It was supporting a number of projects, particularly in South America, to help indigenous peoples fight environmental changes.  He announced that Germany had just contributed $50,000 to the Trust Fund on Indigenous Issues.

Thanking Germany for its contribution, the Chair reiterated that the Forum was asking for contributions from all countries to support local projects for indigenous peoples.  She underlined the Forum’s lack of funds and need for projects on the ground.  She also thanked Germany’s delegate for the upcoming conference on biodiversity Germany was hosting in Bonn.

KUE XIONG, speaking on behalf of the Lao Human Rights Council and other organizations, said her group was there to call attention to the Hmong-Lao crisis and was not advocating a separatist agenda seeking to overthrow the Government of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.  She noted that reports of the fate of her people had been heard in the Forum for years, yet the Forum had done nothing.  In fact, it had censored her group’s efforts to make their people’s fate known by cancelling a screening of a film on the topic.  Meanwhile, her people were being forcibly repatriated to Laos from Thailand.  Last year, the resettlement in the West of a number of refugees had been blocked by Thailand.  She said the objective was to extinguish the Hmong refugees.  She recommended that, at its next session, the Forum should engage with the Hmong community and the Thai and Lao Governments on the crisis.

ROSALBA NATTERO, Ecospirituality Foundation, cited several examples where the rights of indigenous people to their sacred places had been infringed: the construction of an astronomical observatory on sacred Apache lands; megalithic sites being fenced off by the French Government, to be turned into a museum; and the desecration by the Catholic Church of a Bassa sanctuary in Cameroon with the erection of a statue of the Virgin Mary.  She said everyone had a right to preserve their spiritual knowledge and beliefs, and States should defend indigenous peoples’ sacred lands, as stipulated in article 11 of the Declaration.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) should safeguard sacred sites as part of a peoples’ cultural heritage, which would necessitate the return of artefacts to indigenous owners.  Without spiritual knowledge, whole communities could disappear, since they would lose the main reference to their identity.

SANDRA RAMOS DELGADO, Yachay Wasi, said the Peruvian Government was indifferent to the future of indigenous youth, who had virtually no access to basic services.  Some of them walked up to three hours to school and, even so, were not entitled to an education in their mother tongue.  Paradoxically, Macchu Picchu, a UNESCO world heritage site, was a university site, where the Incan forefathers taught science and medicine.  The Government “trafficked” the history of Peruvian indigenous peoples and even sought to turn living cultures into commodities.  Often, it contaminated the environment in its wake.  She urged the Forum to promote indigenous voices, so that they could be heard.  Peru’s Government should be urged to not deprive indigenous peoples access to basic services; and help stop the migration of young people by providing them with life opportunities.  The Government should be forced to comply with its obligation to provide for indigenous communities and their youth, according to the Declaration.

HASSAN ID BALKASSM, member of the Forum from Morocco, said France had made a significant statement this morning in the Forum’s dialogue.  He underlined France’s contributions to the human rights field.  When the peoples of Northern Africa were not allowed to use their languages at home, his people had been able to meet in France and speak in their mother tongue.

SRGJAN KERIM, President of the General Assembly, said he was thrilled to be at the first session of the Permanent Forum since the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples.  Although it was a non-binding text, the Declaration was an important call for justice and to put an end to the social exclusion and marginalization of the 370 million indigenous people worldwide.  Indigenous peoples were affected disproportionately by poverty and extreme poverty and were severely limited in their access to basic health and education services.

For far too long, the issues of indigenous people had been neglected and the Forum’s work was, therefore, critical in addressing the international development challenges.  Indigenous issues were a fundamental part of the development agenda and particularly the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  Attention should also be called to how deeply indigenous peoples were being affected by the current so-called “development emergency” caused by rising food and energy costs.

He encouraged the Forum to be actively involved in the upcoming discussions on achieving the Millennium Development Goals, in which all partners were to be held responsible for the implementation of their commitments to achieve the Goals.

Saying that indigenous peoples were the stewards of some of the most precious biologically diverse regions of the world, he stressed how invaluable their wealth of knowledge about the environment was.  Given that, he said, he was pleased that climate change had been a discussion topic during the session.  No one should forget that the impact of climate change was a multifaceted challenge that extended beyond development issues.  The General Assembly had clearly recognized the need to urgently respond to climate change and called for developing stronger partnerships among all stakeholders.  Two meetings would soon be held, one on how private sector investments could address the challenge and the other on how climate change impacted the most vulnerable countries.  Indigenous peoples should be an integral part of those discussions, he said.

Despite the past work by the General Assembly to address the challenges facing indigenous populations, he said, the Forum was uniquely placed to ensure that indigenous peoples’ knowledge and special resources were integrated into the work of the United Nations.  The Declaration’s mandate marked new challenges and opportunities for the Forum, and he wished its members and delegates a productive conclusion of its work.

SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Coordinator of the Second Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, noted that the number of stakeholders attending the Forum had grown, reflecting the shared conviction that meeting the challenges of indigenous peoples required concerted effort.  Further, the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples last year had raised the profile of indigenous groups.

He said the Forum’s current special theme, “climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges”, had been chosen in recognition of the direct consequences of climate change to indigenous peoples, due to their close relationship with the environment and its resources.  Such close contact with various ecosystems meant they were in a position to help safeguard the natural resilience of those ecosystems.  Also, indigenous people interpreted and reacted to climate change in creative ways, drawing on traditional knowledge and other technologies to find solutions, which might be helpful to society.

But, he said, the integration of indigenous peoples’ adaptation concerns into policy-making continued to be a challenge.  The ability of humans to adapt and cope with climate change depended on their wealth, technology, education, information, skills, infrastructure, access to resources and management capabilities.  Those were often not accessible to many indigenous people and their communities.

He noted that, in addressing climate change, adaptation strategies and mitigation measures must benefit, not marginalize, indigenous peoples.  In connection to climate change, indigenous peoples were concerned about the dispossession of their lands and threats to food security.  The Secretary-General himself had a particular concern for the least advantaged people, because climate change would hit them hardest and they had the least capacity to fight back.

He said the time had come for the world to hear indigenous peoples’ voices on the great global challenge of climate change.  A transformation in public discourse, leading to action on climate change, would serve the objectives of the Programme of Action for the Second Decade, which included the objective of achieving the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in decisions affecting them.

As Coordinator of the Second Decade, he said, he would continue to advocate for concerted action on indigenous issues by United Nations country teams through the United Nations Development Group.  The Group had taken the step to adopt guidelines on indigenous peoples’ issues for United Nations country teams.  He thanked the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues for its special role.  He also thanked Governments for their contributions to the Forum over the years, especially the Government of Spain for hosting the pre-session meeting in Madrid in February, and the Russian Federation for hosting two expert meetings.

The Chair thanked Mr. Kerim for his support of indigenous issues, which, building on the support of his predecessor, had resulted in the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  She also thanked Under-Secretary-General Sha for his support of the Forum’s work and agenda, and of the objectives of the Second Decade.

She then asked Tonya Gonnella Frichner, Forum member from the United States, and Chief Oren Lyons to approach the podium and deliver a ceremonial prayer for the Forum’s distinguished guests.

Mr. LYONS welcomed the guests to the original territory of the Shoshone territory, who, he noted, had come together in this place hundreds of years earlier.  At that time, indigenous peoples had joined their canoes to those of their guests.  Today, that chain, which linked the indigenous peoples with the rest of the world, was being polished.  Inviting the Forum to celebrate the adoption of the Declaration, he stressed that today’s Forum meeting joined the United Nations, the President of the General Assembly and the Under-Secretary-General with the work and goals of 370 million indigenous souls.

Thanking Chief Lyons, Mr. KERIM noted that the cover of his book, Bridges to the Future, had been designed by an indigenous man from Vancouver, Canada, and said that, without the community of indigenous peoples, there was no bridge to the future.

The Chair also thanked Chief Lyons for his prayer and his efforts towards strengthening the Forum’s work.

ISHRAT AHMED ( Bangladesh) commended the timely discussion on climate change at the Forum.  Bangladesh would be among the hardest hit, especially by global warming and the rise in sea levels.

She went on to discuss the situation of tribal peoples living in Bangladesh.  Since independence, the Government had maintained a society free from discrimination and exploitation with regard to the tribal peoples, giving them special privileges in terms of fiscal, educational and social benefits.  A certain percentage of Government jobs were reserved for them.  One such group, living in the Chittagong Hill district, had signed a peace accord with the Government after 25 years of insurgency.  The Government granted amnesty to insurgents who surrendered their arms, and gave financial grants to returning refugees.  A land commission had been established to resolve land disputes.  The Government had established a separate ministry to manage their affairs and accelerate development.  A dialogue had been held recently between the caretaker Prime Minister and that community, and it was expected that the new Government would expand the mobile telecommunication network, roads and bridges, education and tourism in the region.

Mr. BALKASSM, continuing with his earlier intervention, reiterated that France had been a major player in advancing the individual rights of its citizens.  But, France appeared to trample on the rights of peoples in communities where there was no tradition of individual human rights, but only in a concept of collective rights, as prescribed under customary law systems.  In such cases, the denial of collective rights was a denial of individual rights.  Also, why did France refuse to ratify the European Union law upholding the right to language, even though other European countries had done so?

To the representative of Germany, he asked whether that Government would extend its funding to Africa and Asia.  Would indigenous people be allowed to participate in the July conference on climate change?

He then thanked the representative of Bangladesh for her statement.  What strategy did the Bangladeshi Government undertake after adoption of the Declaration to secure the privileges given to its indigenous peoples?

CHHUNTHANG SANGCHIA, speaking on behalf of the Zomi Reunification Organization (ZORO), said he came before the Forum on behalf of the Zomi people of Myanmar, Bangladesh and India.  The Zomi people were currently scattered, depressed and suffering from socio-economic pressures.  They had little freedom of movement and their freedom of religion and the right to use their language was restricted.  As a result, many Zomi people had fled Myanmar and resettled in the United States and other Western countries.  His people wanted, however, to form an indigenous council, which could only be done with the support of the countries where they now lived.  They also wanted to form a university, so those who were now scattered around the world could receive sufficient education about their culture.   In addition, a cultural centre should also be formed to promoted Zomi cultural laws and traditions.  He also recommended forming one central Zomi dialect from the 46 dialects that currently existed.

GUY LONECHILD, representing the Federation of Saskatchewan of Indian Nations, said his organization sought to implement the negotiations and treaties made between his peoples and the British Crown.  Stressing that the Government of Canada had failed to honour its responsibilities under those treaties, he welcomed the apologies recently made by Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  Although Canada had been named by the United Nations as one of the best countries in which to live, Canada’s first nations ranked far down the United Nations Human Development Index.

A memorandum of understanding had recently been agreed to by many of Saskatchewan’s leaders and its first nations to undertake projects intended to meet the needs of its children and families.  The first nations were focused on developing a “children-first” principle in those efforts, the benefits of which had already been realized when the life of a child born with a rare disorder had been saved.  Children-first principles were at the forefront of all of his group’s actions and the group intended to become a model for the rest of the world’s indigenous peoples.

DANIEL FLORES, Fundacion AMA El Salvador, said that, in his country, “to be young was a threat; to be Indian was a crime”.  Under such circumstances, it was not possible to nurture an indigenous leadership.  The regime had systematically denied their existence, usurped their land and destroyed their identity.  He recommended that the Forum ask the Government to officially invite the Special Rapporteur to El Salvador, to familiarize himself with the genocide taking place their.  Since 1932, indigenous peoples had lived in exile outside their own land.  In 2007, an independent Commission had been created on the event of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the genocide of the 1930s.  The Chair of the Permanent Forum was invited to attend an international forum on the genocide, which was expected to take place soon.

ANJALI TIRKEY EKKA, Chotanagpur Rising Society, said literacy rates were appallingly low among the workers on India’s tea plantations, who were an indigenous people.  The British had brought them to the area as indentured labourers.  The attitude of modern-day plantation owners was no different from the colonial British, who left their workers unaware of rights so that they remained willing to work for a meagre wage.  The majority of those workers did not value education, and their total dependency on the plantations was encouraged, to the extent that they did not think they had a future outside the tea garden.  Because schools did not teach in the indigenous language, the lessons did not attract the attention of school children.  Most would leave after primary school, and there were no middle or high schools in their area.  Many migrated to urban areas to seek low-wage jobs, such as domestic labour, or in unorganized sectors where they were exposed to brutal sexual abuse.

MANU TORRE, speaking on behalf of Caucus Euskal Herria and noting that the land of the Basques in Western Europe had been occupied by his people since long before the creation of France and Spain, said his people were fighting to defend their lands and their languages today.  He expressed solidarity with all indigenous peoples fighting for their rights and underlined that the oppression and rejection of the rights of indigenous peoples was similar in countries throughout the world.  He said France denied his people’s rights, despite its support of the Declaration, several articles of which guaranteed the rights of indigenous peoples to their language.  In fact, France had just blocked the bank accounts of a publisher of works in the Basque language and a Basque TV broadcaster.  He asked that an autonomous expert from the Western European zone be appointed to the Forum and recommended that the person be Basque.

ARMAND MCKENZIE, speaking on behalf of the Innu Council of Nitassinan, recalled that the current minority Canadian Government had strongly opposed the Declaration, saying it was incompatible with Canada’s laws.  That statement, however, had recently been protested in an open letter to the Government by over 100 academics and community leaders.  The letter said the Government’s opposition to the Declaration greatly harmed Canada’s image in the world and it impeded international cooperation in the human rights field.  He hoped that the legal interpretation submitted in the letter by so many scholars would encourage Canada to reconsider its position on the Declaration.

In response, the Chair pointed out that the intervention encouraged just the type of international interest in the Declaration that the Forum supported.  It encouraged even those countries that had not signed onto the Declaration to be part of the international dialogue on indigenous rights and she hoped that type of intervention would continue in the future.

HUGO MAMTHOIR MILBURN, CLAI, Chile, said dealing with climate change required a new way of relating to the environment, not just band-aid solutions.  The capitalist system was turning land into a tradable commodity to produce energy, which in turn powered big shopping malls and sustained a consumer lifestyle among the wealthy.  Large investments were being made in hydroelectric power and biofuels, while loggers had entered indigenous lands, reducing the amount of arable land and using up the water.  Indigenous peoples had confronted the Government about the inherent dangers of such activities, only to be called terrorists.  He proposed that indigenous peoples strengthen their spiritual well-being, so that they were more empowered against those they were fighting.

TOMAS ALARCON, CAPAJ, said that, as a lawyer, he had followed the process behind the creation of the Permanent Forum with interest.  He recalled that leaders had gone with lawyers to Geneva to make the Forum a reality.  He then pointed out that a climate change agreement had been crafted in the past few days without the involvement of indigenous peoples.  The Forum should ask for a greater role in the implementation of that climate change agreement, which, at the moment, consisted of trade solutions.  For instance, the world needed a way to ensure that the 11 carbon trading schemes were not implemented until there was transparency.  The Forum should guide the Economic and Social Council in that matter and, in doing so, function as a body that interpreted the rights of indigenous peoples, rather than acting as a body that, each year, showcased indigenous talent and knowledge for the benefit of others.

Taking the opportunity to respond to the statements made earlier by several Member States, the Chair stressed that this was a Forum to engage in dialogue with indigenous peoples.  It should be recognized at the outset that some indigenous people did not, and sometimes could not, live in their countries.  It was not the role of the Forum to exclude groups who had been recognized by the Secretariat.

Turning to Indonesia’s claim that the Forum was politicized, she said many important political questions needed to be asked and the Forum was one of the few places in the international arena where they could be.  Because the fundamental principle of the Declaration was the right to self-determination, indigenous peoples had the right to determine their status, as well as their legal and economic development.  That right gave them the possibility to engage in more constructive dialogue with their Governments.  Yet, it had also been the most difficult issue in the negotiations with Member States, who had argued that the principle would be used by indigenous groups to seek separation.  She pointed out that it was not the principle of self-determination that would ultimately push indigenous people to seek separatist agendas, but marginalization in their own countries.  The Forum was intended for indigenous groups to come together with their Governments to debate those issues.

To that end, she urged all participants in the Forum to have a more constructive dialogue.  Obviously, some indigenous groups could not come before the Forum.  Either they were not allowed, or they did not have the resources.  Many indigenous peoples could also not get visas to come to the United States.  The statements that were presented here should, therefore, be given special attention, as those delivering them had been asked to do so on behalf of their communities at home.

She said the spirit of mediation and dialogue should the guiding spirit in the Forum and the Declaration should be the framework for its dialogue.  The theme of the Second Decade was partnership in action and with dignity.  Noting that the First Decade’s Programme of Action had largely not been implemented, she underlined that there were only a few years left to evaluate and implement the objectives of the Second Decade.  Because that work should be done in partnership and with dignity, it should be recognized that indigenous peoples sought to be seen as equal partners with the rest of society and with their Governments.

In closing, she said it should be very clear that, as each discussion took place, the Declaration was the foundation for any proposals brought before the Forum.  That included such rights as those to food, education, health -- which should always be referenced to and guaranteed by the right to self-determination.  That approach would allow the Forum to breathe life into the Declaration, which was a document, she believed, that would ultimately reorder indigenous peoples’ society and which they would use effectively to their benefit.

MARGARET LOKAWUA, a member of the Forum from Uganda, said she would encourage indigenous communities to influence the policies that already favoured them.  It was absurd that indigenous peoples continued to be denied passports, and so on.

CARSTEN SMITH, a member of Forum from Norway, said he was proud of the way the Chair had spoken on the Forum’s behalf.  Regarding the implementation of the Declaration, he said he had been occupied with indigenous law at the national level.  But, after participating at the seventh session, he had been overwhelmed by the data on how indigenous peoples continued to be marginalized and discriminated against.  He reminded members that those instances of discrimination were taking place within the territory of States -- the very ones that hailed the adoption of the Declaration.  Many countries did not uphold the rights of indigenous peoples and that was mainly a problem of political will.  The most important contribution the Forum could make was to bring home the facts gathered at the session through the sound of many voices -- and to amplify those voices.

BARTOLOME CLAVARO, a member of the Forum from Spain, said the quality and level of work that had taken place over the last few days had been commendable.  Although it was a Forum of 16 persons, those persons could do nothing without the hundreds of people that attended its sessions.  He said the Declaration had opened up new avenues within the United Nations, and was unique in that it did not need to be ratified by States in order to be implemented.  Its implementation would benefit all Members of the United Nations, not just those that had voted for it at the General Assembly.  The Declaration was almost equivalent to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, but had the character of being a pact between indigenous representatives and States.

CARLOS MAMANI CONDORI, Forum member from Bolivia, stressed that, with the adoption of the Declaration, the right to self-determination had been recognized. As victims of colonization for centuries, indigenous peoples had been silenced for far too many years.  The struggle to negotiate and adopt the Declaration had required a great deal of effort and sacrifice by indigenous people and their supporters within the United Nations.  Today, the Declaration for the first time recognized indigenous peoples’ rights and gave them voice as victims of colonization.  It was now time to ask what the will of Members States was in recognizing indigenous peoples in their statistics and censuses.

Noting that, in Bolivia, the recognition of indigenous people’s majority status had led to a political revolution in which the country now had its first indigenous President, he said the challenge for States today was recognizing the visibility of their indigenous peoples through real territorial means.  Such recognition would lead to a reconciliation between those who now lived in any given country; both those who had come there and those who had always been there.

Introduction of Methods of Work

MICK DODSON, the Permanent Forum’s Rapporteur, introduced the draft report and noted that the report would include a number of “draft decisions” that would be recommended for consideration by the Economic and Social Council upon the report’s adoption tomorrow.

He noted that, at its precessional meeting in February, the Forum had decided to redesign its work agenda.  From now on, it would alternate between a policy year and a review year.  This year was a policy year, in which the Forum made recommendations to the United Nations system, non-governmental organizations and other actors in indigenous issues.  Next year would be a review year, devoted to reviewing how the Forum’s recommendations had, or had not, been implemented.  Each policy year would have a key theme, the Forum’s work being governed by its next theme beginning in 2010.

Turning back to the item, he said that the Forum would, among other things, recommend to the Economic and Social Council that an expert seminar on indigenous issues be held next year.  In addition, its next session would take up the issues of economic and social development, women and the objectives of the Second Decade.  Other items included the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples and other special rapporteurs.  A discussion on the Arctic would be held next year, with a discussion on North America scheduled for the following year.  At the heart of next year’s review process, he said, would be a comprehensive dialogue with six United Nations agencies on implementing indigenous issues.


NICOLE MARTIN, representing the Indigenous Youth and Elders Council, said consultations with indigenous groups had been insufficient in the drafting of the report.

In light of that, she said all books used in educational systems should be rewritten to include the voice and history of indigenous peoples.  Educational, social and recreational programmes should be created that fostered the health of indigenous youth.  Those programmes should all be supported by their communities.  She stressed that all indigenous youth should be able to speak in their language, and language programmes should be made available to them wherever they lived.  A separate and unbiased commission to observe and enforce treaties should also be created.  All Government polices, acts and laws that discriminated against indigenous peoples should not be tolerated.  Indigenous peoples should have unrestricted access to their historical artefacts, wherever these artefacts were kept.  In addition, school boards, business owners and society should respect the sacred holidays of indigenous peoples.  Further news reports, movies and television shows should be unbiased in their portrayal of indigenous peoples.

In closing, she affirmed that indigenous peoples refused to be subject to colonialization.  All people of Mother Earth should join together and all environmentally destructive activities should be stopped.  The indigenous peoples should re-establish their connection to the land, she added. 

NONKULULEKO TYEHEMBA, a keeper of the shrine of Meskenet, also speaking on behalf of the Ethiopian Women’s Federation, said she was a certified nurse-midwife and knew that one woman was dying every 20 minutes of pregnancy-related conditions, either due to haemorrhage from birthing or because of undetected high blood pressure.  Maternal mortality was an indication of the extreme harm that women suffered during their reproductive lives, the low availability of health services, poor social conditions, poverty, extreme malnutrition, poor health, wars and political conflict.  Around 150 women died from maternity-related complications for every 1,000 live births.  One in every 13 women risked dying of pregnancy-related causes in developing countries, compared to 1 in 4,000 in industrialized countries.

She said indigenous women suffered the most precarious living conditions, highest fertility rates and smallest percentage of births attended by an experienced birth attendant.  The maternal mortality ratio for that group was three times higher than for non-indigenous groups.  Maternal malnutrition was a major predisposing factor for morbidity and mortality among African indigenous women.  As such, women needed to be educated about their reproductive and health rights, and be empowered regarding their health rights.  Traditional indigenous midwives could work together with health specialists from industrialized nations to improve their techniques.  Everyone must make an attempt to “revolutionize” their minds.

TOMAS ALARCON, CAPAJ, said the delegates to the Forum should review the recommendations of experts sooner rather than later.  He knew of many people who had come expressly from South America to review those recommendations and to see how they could be implemented.  Also, he proposed that there should be a half-day debate on the issue of migration at the next session.  Many indigenous peoples had rejected use of the term “indigenous” to describe themselves, because, like those who had migrated to America, they were considered migrants.  Indeed, new concepts were needed to deal with what the United Nations called “immigrants”.  He then proposed that half a day be spent to discuss issues related to water, which had spiritual connotations for many indigenous peoples.  Globalization had rendered many indigenous people unable to use their water resources -- for example, because they were being used by mining companies.

ROBBY ROMERO, speaking for Native Children’s Survival, said the Forum should restrain non-governmental organizations with status in the Economic and Social Council from allowing corporations to use this Forum in any way for profit and at the expense of indigenous issues.  Guidelines should be developed to help businesses and corporations respect the concept of free, prior and informed consent.  He expressed concern that corporations were, through non-governmental organizations, using the Forum to promote their agendas and portray themselves as stewards of best practices when, in fact, their actions did not always benefit indigenous peoples. 

In closing, he stressed that indigenous peoples were typically the first to suffer from environmentally destructive practices.  More often than not actions taken by corporations in indigenous areas managed to circumvent indigenous peoples’ rights to free, prior and informed consent.

The Chair reminded the Forum’s participants that documents containing recommendations on how indigenous peoples could engage with the private sector were available from the Forum.  These documents reinforced the Declaration and the rights elaborated therein as the primary framework for all relationships with the indigenous communities. 

NICOLAS CHANGO, Ombuds Office of Indigenous Peoples and Nations of Ecuador in America (DPIA), said the Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues had been working since 2002, but it appeared that it did not have a vision or any sense of where to go in the future.  In light of that, he suggested the Secretariat should leave indigenous peoples alone and called on Julian Berger, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Human Rights, to resign. 

Saying this Forum belonged to indigenous peoples, he underlined that they must now take control.  He said he had been made to feel like a little puppet, by denying him the right to speak in the Forum.  Next year, the Forum should not deny his right in that way.  A united indigenous nations should be created, he added.

The Chair immediately took the floor to say that delegates should not use the Forum to cast aspersions on the integrity of Secretariat members.  The Forum was an international meeting place, and a point of intersection for the United Nations, States and indigenous peoples.  Speakers should take the floor with respect.

LLOYD BUSHEY DAVIES, Parliamentarian of Central America, Nicaragua, said education was the route to an improved quality of life.  Next year’s agenda should include an item on the possibility of creating a university for indigenous peoples.

MIGUEL IBANEZ, Comunidad Campesina de Tauria, Arequipa, said more than 60 indigenous people from his region had had little opportunity to air their thoughts.  He regretted the fact that many speakers had used their time on the floor to discuss their work, instead of focusing on substance.  That should not have been the case.  Indeed, experts were there to inform people on the latest developments in human rights, climate change and so on, so that delegates could better frame their thoughts on such issues.  He said he had also wanted more time to discuss ways in which the Declaration could be used as a framework to promote human rights.

GIANCARLO BARBADORO, speaking on behalf of the Ecospirituality Foundation and drawing the Forum’s attention to the situation of the Bassa people in Cameroon, called for them to be able to practice their religion without restriction.  The control of and right to their sacred mountain should be left to them.  It was necessary to consider the desire and will of those indigenous peoples, who simply wanted to enjoy the benefits of their sacred mountain.  The United Nations should condemn the actions of the Roman Catholic Church in Cameroon, by whose actions the Bassa people had suffered and been denied their sacred rights.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.