|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)
As Permanent Forum Opens, Deputy Secretary-General Says Indigenous Peoples Must Be
Involved ‘Every Step of the Way’ in All Decisions on Development
Afternoon Panel Addresses Session’s Theme: ‘The Doctrine of Discovery’;
Speakers Say Framework of Domination Created Whose Effects Continue Today
Indigenous peoples must be involved “every step of the way”, and only with their free, prior and informed consent, in all efforts to define priorities and programmes for their sustainable and culturally appropriate development, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said this morning, opening the eleventh session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Hailing the Forum’s 11 years of “uniting different voices and different languages in one single demand: recognizing, respecting and promoting indigenous people’s rights”, she said the 16-member expert body, which worked alongside United Nations agencies and civil society groups, could play a dynamic role in helping indigenous peoples worldwide achieve their goals and the right to self-determination.
A vital step in that endeavour would be the Forum’s consideration, including in a panel discussion later in the day, of the controversial “Doctrine of Discovery” fifteenth century Christian dogma that provided religious justification for the seizure by early explorers of indigenous land and resources, which later became embedded in international law and policy. Weighing the abiding impact of that doctrine, Ms. Migiro said, would provide space to reconcile the past with the need to build a future on the pillars of truth, in terms of recognizing past abuses, and memory, in terms of understanding the past.
Indigenous peoples’ self-determined development stemmed from their own local livelihoods, community solidarity and ecosystem resilience, she continued. Their traditional knowledge offered a special contribution to tackling twenty-first century challenges. The goal was not to appropriate, extract or exploit that knowledge, but rather to respect indigenous peoples and preserve tradition. It was time to ensure that indigenous peoples were always heard, she said. “Raise your voices here, at this Forum, and beyond. I will urge the world to listen”.
Immediately following his election by acclamation as Chairperson of the Permanent Forum, Edward John, from Canada, said: “There is a continuing need for all of us […] to take collaborative and coordinated actions, bold and effective, to address the continued discrimination, racism, marginalization, extreme poverty and conflict faced by indigenous peoples,” urging action over indifference, “because indifference is the breeding ground for intolerance.”
Turning to the main work of the session, which runs at Headquarters through 18 May, he echoed the Deputy Secretary-General on the importance of tackling the enduring impact of the Discovery Doctrine. Indeed, difficult issues of the past must be addressed to establish ways to move forward beyond the continued and unacceptable discrimination and marginalization indigenous people faced. The session would discuss combating violence against indigenous women and girls, and he noted that, in January, the Permanent Forum had convened a three-day international expert group meeting on that issue, and its conclusions and recommendation would provide an important framework for the discussions over the next two weeks.
In addition, the Forum would also convene two half-day sessions; the first, on 11 May, would deal with Central and Eastern Europe, the Russian Federation, central Asia and Transcaucasia; and the second, on 14 May, would consider the rights of indigenous peoples to food and food sovereignty. Among other issues, he continued, the eleventh session would address a wealth of human rights matters, including implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Also, separate dialogues were planned with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples — who had just completed a visit to the United States — and the Chairperson of the relevant Expert Mechanism. (For more information on the Permanent Forum and the work of its current session, please see Press Release HR/5085)
Thomas Stelzer, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, said that with the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development — known as Rio+20 — just weeks away, the international community would have would a prime opportunity to reaffirm the role of key segments of humanity, including indigenous peoples, towards achieving broader development and environmental sustainability in a world threatened by climate change.
“As we get close to Rio+20, we must keep the Earth in full view when making decisions and taking action. All over the planet, people are united in hope for a balanced and more sustainable world, anchored in the three pillars of sustainable development — social, economic and environmental,” he said, citing as key to achieving that goal and setting a path to a better future agreement on global sustainable development gaols and finding common ground on the true meaning of what made up a “green economy”.
He thanked many Member States for their contributions to the Trust Fund for the Permanent Forum over the past year, including Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, and the Philippines. That mechanism provided direct support to indigenous peoples, as well as the work of the Forum. “In supporting the Trust Fund, you are supporting the realization of indigenous peoples’ well-being and the eradication of poverty and inequality,” he said, urging other Member States to respond to the Organization’s call for contributions to help indigenous peoples meet the increasing challenges they faced.
Delivering a special address, Bienvenu Okiemy, Minister of Communication and Relations with the Parliament of Congo, said 3 to 10 per cent of Congo’s 4 million people were indigenous peoples who lived in the Congo Basin: the Baaka, Mbendjele, Gyeli, Twa, and the Babongo. They barely eked out a living, depending primarily on hunting and gathering. Their social structure, based on equality, was free of authoritarian hierarchy. The Government was aware that they were poverty-stricken and marginalized, discriminated against and lacked access to basic services.
In the context of upholding human rights, Congo, for several years, had promoted the rights of its indigenous brothers and sisters, he said, having organized two meetings of the International Forum for Indigenous Peoples of Central Africa, in 2007 and 2011, which aimed to harmonize social policies and best practices. Such initiatives had galvanized Central African Government representatives, civil society players and land management experts.
Moreover, in December 2010, Congo adopted a law on promoting and protecting indigenous rights, which entered into force in February 2011. It upheld indigenous rights, in line with the Declaration, and had been drafted with contributions from indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, United Nations funds and programmes, and Congolese institutions alike. “This is the first time that such a law was adopted in the African continent,” Mr. Okiemy said, which bore witnesses to regional best practices for protecting indigenous peoples.
Indeed, across Africa and the world, more attention was focused on indigenous peoples, who lived in abject poverty, while their countries depended on their resource-rich ancestral lands. The African Union had established an institutional legal framework that would offer strategic approaches for protecting indigenous peoples and evaluating national policies. He cited the African Charter on Indigenous Peoples and the Working Group on Indigenous Populations and Communities in that regard. African States were adopting legislation for implementing the Declaration and International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169. Against that backdrop, he said Congo had helped mobilize African States in carrying out that objective, which, in turn, helped to build the rule of law.
During the panel discussion, experts denounced the Discovery Doctrine as a “Doctrine of Extinguishment” and a “Doctrine of Domination”, lamenting its impact on hundreds of millions of indigenous people, who had been killed, subjugated or used as pawns while colonial Powers competed for power and wealth. The policy’s residual affects were still being felt and, according to one speaker, those racist and bigoted ripple effects remained “the central problem confronting the global human rights movement of indigenous peoples.”
While he urged full implementation of the Indigenous People’s Declaration to ensure the protection and promotion of their rights, another speaker said a re-examination of the Discovery Doctrine provided a unique opportunity. Though States might one day find the honour to reject the Doctrine, one of the best ways to undo its “genocidal” legacy would be for indigenous people to find in themselves the ability to celebrate their heritage and cultures “in ways that showed the complexity, strength and beauty of who and what we are”.
Earlier in the day, the Permanent Forum elected its Bureau for the session, including Vice-Presidents Alvaro Esteban Pop, of Guatemala; Anna Naikanchina, of the Russian Federation; Simon William M'Viboudoulou, of Congo; and Valmaine Toki, of New Zealand. Megan Davis, of Australia, was elected Rapporteur. The Forum also approved the adoption of the agenda (document E/C.19/2012/1) and organization of work (E/C.19/2012/L.1*).
Ms. Davis presented a study on national constitutions and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with a view to assessing the nature and extent of the inclusion of indigenous peoples’ human rights in national constitutions, with reference to the rights affirmed in the Declaration.
In keeping with the custom of the Forum, the eleventh session opened in the General Assembly hall with a ceremony that featured Cameron McCarthy, who brought the meeting to order with the sounds of indigenous music from Australia. In his annual ceremonial welcome and prayer, Tadodaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation, urged kindness to humankind and nature, and cooperation to ensure a better future for all, in the name of our ancestors. Mayan Elders Virginia Ajxup and Juan Sapil closed the ceremony.
During the general debate on the special theme, statements were made on behalf of the following: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Global Indigenous Caucus, Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, and Assembly of First Nations.
The representatives of the Russian Federation, New Zealand, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico also spoke.
Representatives of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Secretariat for the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity also addressed the Permanent Forum.
The Permanent Forum will reconvene at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow to continue is debate on the Doctrine of Discovery and other matters regarding the session’s special theme.
Panel Discussion on Special Theme
The Forum then launched a discussion on its special theme for the year — “The Doctrine of Discovery: its enduring impact on indigenous peoples and the right to redress for past conquests (articles 28 and 37 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)”. The panellists included Robert Williams, Professor of Native American Studies, University of Arizona; Victoria Tauli Corpuz, of the Philippines, Former Chair of the Permanent Forum; Moana Jackson, Maori Lawyer, New Zealand; Tonya Gonella Frichner, Lawyer, Onondaga Nation; and Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Minister of Heritage, of Ecuador.
Opening the discussion, VALMAINE TOKI, Permanent Forum Member from New Zealand, said there had been extensive discussion on the ways the Doctrine of Discovery had affected indigenous peoples and their relationship with Governments. Indeed, the Doctrine had had a detrimental effect on all indigenous peoples, having been used to alienate them from their land, resources and culture. During the tenth session, the Forum had resolved to hold a panel discussion to outline a vision of a better future — for reconciliation, peace and justice. Today’s discussion would re-examine relationships through constitutions, treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements. Discussions among States, the United Nations and indigenous peoples would generate ideas for building a future based on mutual respect, equity and justice.
Mr. WILLIAMS said that without the Doctrine of Discovery, western civilization would not exist. The Doctrine’s most important principle was that of extinguishment, under which the colonizing State sought to abolish indigenous peoples, their languages, religions and existence, by recognizing some peoples and not others. The State could terminate the act of recognition at any point. That extraordinary power had been adopted by Governments in Asia, Africa, Europe and throughout the world. Through laws, regulations, court decisions, dam locations, and uncompensated grants of timber rights, Governments continued to assert the “doctrine of extinguishment”.
Indeed, the “doctrine of extinguishment” was the central problem confronting the global human rights movement of indigenous peoples, he said. It was important to ask where the ideas that had spawned it originated. The answers would depend on the historical experiences of indigenous peoples. They would share a common theme: the doctrine had originated in the language of racism, which regarded indigenous peoples as savage, inferior and an obstacle to the development of the non-indigenous State. Western civilization had been in perpetual war with indigenous peoples. All Governments shared in the complex of racist ideas. But did that complex of ideas correspond with anything observed in nature? “We cannot and will not be extinguished,” he said. “We’re indigenous, we are still here.”
Going forward, the Declaration, which rejected such dehumanizing principles, must guide behaviour, he said. Its full implementation would prevent Governments from extinguishing others. In that context, he urged lobbying for appropriate legislation, bringing cases to court, and ensuring that the Pope apologized for the Doctrine of Discovery. Such actions would seek to implement a different language — one of universal human rights embodied in the Declaration.
Speaking next, Ms. FRICHNER said the Doctrine of Discovery might instead be called the Doctrine of Domination, as it began in the 1500s when Christians decided that they had the right to claim land inhabited by non-Christians. “We forget that this doctrine — this legal construct — established a framework of domination that continues today,” she said, noting that Dominion Day was still observed by Canada. Domination was exhausting and must be changed, not just for indigenous peoples, who had suffered decades of discrimination, but for humanity in general. Domination had not been good for the earth either. It also was incompatible with the Declaration — notably articles 3 (right to self-determination), 28 (right to redress) and 37 (right to recognition, observance and enforcement of treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements).
The Doctrine had laid the foundation for racism, sexism and other discrimination based on difference, she said. The Declaration offered ways to build a better framework of peace and justice. Renouncing domination opened a way for people to come back to the table as truly equal partners. In 1613, the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch forged a treaty of peace and friendship, based on equality and mutual respect, where they would literally “move along the river of life” as equal partners, holding on to their own traditions, laws and ways of life. The treaty had taken its name from the image of two parallel paths, known as the Two Row Wampum. The agreement set a high standard at a very early time that people could negotiate as equals.
Rather than basing its relationship with indigenous peoples on that treaty, the United States had based its legal foundation on the Doctrine of Discovery, she said, through the Supreme Court case Johnson v. McIntosh, decided in 1823, which asserted the right of “ultimate dominion” by “Christian people” over non-Christian lands and peoples. “We need to come full circle”, she said, back to the Two Row principle and discussions based on mutual respect. Redress would not happen overnight. “If we build trust and come to the table as equal partners, this is the way to begin.”
Ms. TAULI CORPUZ said research on the Doctrine had generally focused on North America, Australia and New Zealand, but the dogma had severely impacted peoples in Asia and Africa. It had been imposed upon those peoples to promote Western views, with the Portuguese, Spanish, French and Dutch setting up colonial outposts in Asia and then Indo-China. She said that, like most indigenous communities, the native peoples of the Philippines were not really “discovered”; they had indeed been trading with their regional partners and building their own societies long before Magellan had arrived on their shores. Even though the Philippines had defeated that explorer, their land was passed through Spain with the Regalian Doctrine and eventually “bought” by the United States. Unfortunately, many of the colonial laws and practices lingered until this day.
“Many of these laws need to be addressed to consider how they jibe with the Declaration,” she said, adding that the lingering effects of the Doctrine of Discovery were also the genesis of much of the poverty and marginalization indigenous people faced. In addition, she said the current discussion should inform the discussion in the run-up to Rio+20, and indeed, “culture” should be considered the fourth pillar of sustainable development. She urged stakeholders to ensure that the issues and demands of indigenous peoples were given serious consideration at Rio and included in that meeting’s outcome document.
Providing a Government perspective, Ms. FERNANDA ESPINOSA said that Ecuador was working to redress many of the issues that had emerged over the 500 years of the implementation of the Doctrine and colonial models. The Ecuadoran Constitution sought to better harmonize the needs of humankind, nature and the State. Indeed, it recognized the rights of nature, “which is the first form of redress”, leading to a much-needed change in the relationship between society and nature. The indigenous peoples of Ecuador had introduced the notion of acknowledging past wrongs and the need to redress the harm caused by subjugation of age-old cultures. The Doctrine of Discovery, as it was implemented over the centuries, justified domination and the imposition of colonial practices.
She said the 2008 Constitution included the need to protect and promote the rights of Ecuador’s indigenous peoples, including its Afro-Indian communities. Further, the Ecuadoran principle of “living well” was an alternative to conventional development based on Western models. She said that, as the principle was set out in the Constitution, it promoted processes that aimed to erase historical inequities, including through the inclusion of indigenous people in key decision-making positions.
“So, redress does not drag down the State; it is a way to better understand development and eradicate poverty,” she said. The Government was also raising awareness about the importance of traditional communities through self-identification campaigns. Yet, challenges remained, including focusing on introducing public policies of an inter-cultural nature. She believed that the Government and the country’s indigenous populations could work together to build a true plurinational society, which was the surest way to redress the lingering impacts of colonial domination.
The final panellist, Mr. JACKSON, said that, while it was paramount to reject the Doctrine and dismantle its lingering structures, there was also a pressing need for indigenous people to “rediscover” and celebrate their own heritages and cultural traditions, which might be one of the best ways to undo the “genocidal legal magic” that had accompanied the dogma’s implementation. The “culture of colonization,” based on racism, had led to the subjugation of millions of indigenous peoples. Indeed, States, churches and others that had profited from the Doctrine could not merely apologize for that dogma “as a product of another time”; they must truly seek to undo its structures in meaningful ways that took into account the priorities of indigenous peoples.
Still, indigenous people must rediscover and re-validate their sovereign rights. While States might one day find the honour to reject the Doctrine, he hoped that indigenous people would find the strength to redress the damage wrought by the dogma “in ways that showed the complexity and beauty of who and what we are”. He acknowledged how difficult that endeavour might be, as power, exercised over centuries, would surely be difficult to defeat.
“Yet, a doctrine spawned out of hatred and greed might also give indigenous peoples the strength to build their own power. We will live the dreams that our ancestors dreamed for us, he declared, offering as an example of such work Maori peoples’ initiative to embark on a “constitutional transformation” in New Zealand, seeking the legal efficacy of “truths from their tradition”. He was part of the working group dealing with that task, and he expressed the hope other indigenous communities undertaking similar measures would press on towards the goal of erasing all residual effects of the Doctrine.
Statements on Special Theme
WILTON LITTLECHILD, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, said his Commission was studying the colonial process of taking European beliefs and values and proclaiming them universal values to be imposed on others. That universalization was the primary rationale for imposing the residential school system on indigenous children. One of the conference room papers had advocated that all States adopt the Declaration as binding national law, an important step of implementation. A recent report by his Commission recommended that territorial and provincial Governments explore the Declaration as a framework to work towards reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.
In other areas, he urged that all States review laws, regulations and policies impacting indigenous peoples, and repeal those reflecting the ethno-centric prejudices of the Doctrine of Discovery. Those reviews should be carried out with indigenous peoples, and require their free, prior and informed consent. He also called on all States to educate their citizens through school curricula on colonization and the Doctrine of Discovery. His Commission’s report had recommended reviewing all public school curricula to understand what was being taught about residential schools. Curricula must be inclusive of indigenous peoples. He also called on all churches to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.
AYSA MUKABENOVA, Senior Counsellor for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said there was a complex task at hand to learn historical lessons and compare them with current conditions. The Russian Federation was a polyethnic country. New land had been taken to strengthen the economic position of the State. By doing so, societal processes had been accelerated, which positively impacted peoples’ development. Article 69 of the Constitution referred to rights for indigenous peoples. While those rights were not spelled out in the Constitution, the state guaranteed them in line with generally accepted principles of international law. The Constitution stated that indigenous rights could not be less than those of other peoples. More attention could be paid to special rights for indigenous peoples.
ANTONELLA CORDONE, Coordinator for Indigenous Issues, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said the Fund’s strategy framework for 2011-2015 championed poor rural people, especially indigenous peoples. The Fund had set ambitious targets for reducing rural poverty by 2015. It would enhance its operational effectiveness by scaling up development initiatives, supporting innovative approaches to climate resilience and enhancing its position as a “knowledge broker”. In 2011, 11 projects had been approved that supported indigenous peoples through agricultural development, strengthening local organizations and enhancing the skills of local communities in ways that recovered ancestral knowledge.
A $1.45 million grant had been approved in 2011 to finance the indigenous peoples’ assistance facility, she said, an innovative instrument through which the Fund’s principles on engagement with indigenous peoples was being deployed. It financed small projects that fostered self-driven development and was governed by a board formed — in majority — by indigenous leaders. Also, the Fund’s indigenous peoples’ forum provided a consultation process and would support implementation of the Fund’s policy on engagement with indigenous peoples. It had just approved a $500,000 grant to enable indigenous representatives to articulate their strategies in decision-making processes.
ARTHUR MANUEL, speaking on behalf of the Global Indigenous Caucus, said the Doctrine denied the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples and ran contrary to the Charter of the United Nations. His group urged that the Permanent Forum, along with other United Nations human rights bodies, denounce the Doctrine and all its structures as a crime against humanity. The Forum should carry out a study of the Doctrine and attach it to the document that would sum up the Second International Decade. Such a study should cover issues such as immigration, State borders, and corporate responsibility. The Global Caucus was also deeply concerned by the increasing militarization of indigenous waters, he added.
On other issues, he proposed that an international study be carried out on all the recommendations of the Forum, especially regarding the situation of indigenous women. Such a wide-ranging study should consider such issues as labour laws and environmental laws. He also proposed that the theme of the thirteenth session of the Forum be devoted to the impacts of mining and extractive industries on the lives and livelihoods of the world’s indigenous peoples.
JANE FLETCHER, Deputy Director, Office of Treaty Settlements of New Zealand, said that land lay at the heart of the relationship between many indigenous peoples and State structures. “We recognize that by denying indigenous title, the Doctrine of Discovery has created historic injustices and had had a wholly negative impact on the relations between indigenous peoples and State Governments,” he said, explaining New Zealand’s unique history, where the relationship between indigenous Maori people and the Government had long been, and remained, based on the Treaty of Waitangi.
While that Treaty remained of fundamental constitutional and historical importance for New Zealand, the country’s indigenous people had suffered injustices due to the Government’s failure to comply with its tenets. As such, the Government had embarked on a process to provide redress for the impacts of colonialism, she said, explaining that the “treaty settlements” were agreements that provided for the Government’s acknowledgement of, and apology for, past injustices, the return of land, commercial opportunities and the restoration of relationships between the Government and indigenous peoples. She said that the New Zealand Government was proud of that unique framework for settling grievances, and it continued to keep dialogue open with Maori on ways to improve the process
In a brief intervention, Permanent Forum member VALMAINE TOKI of New Zealand suggested that, in order to address inequalities, the current treaty settlement process in that country could, among other things, promote meaningful dialogue between Maori leaders and Government Ministers on such important issues as the sale of State assets, rights to fresh water, and mining and extractive industries. It had been suggested that such matters could be handled through a “constitutional transformation process”, but positive change could also take place within the framework of implementation of the Indigenous People’s Declaration.
JOHN SCOTT, Secretariat for the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, updated the Permanent Forum on the panel’s work regarding the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits, which to date had been signed by 94 countries and ratified by four. It would enter into force 90 days after the fiftieth ratification. The Protocol contained significant provisions related to indigenous peoples and genetic resources. It also proposed benefit sharing on mutually agreed terms as regarded traditional knowledge. The Secretariat had convened two special events to raise awareness about the Protocol, as well as a training session that had been held at Headquarters last week.
ANTONETTE CORDERO, Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, said the term “past conquest” offered a false understanding of indigenous peoples’ experience. Characterizing it as a past issue did not reflect current attempts at colonization. She called on States to implement the Declaration, saying that reparations methodology should include a gender analysis. She urged the Permanent Forum to respect the expertise of indigenous women by including them in decision-making forums. She also urged it to use a gender analysis when examining the impacts of dehumanizing behaviour towards indigenous peoples.
The effects of the Doctrine of Discovery on women had been seen through the imposition of patriarchal norms and the relationship between the Doctrine and violence against women. She urged the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women to coordinate with indigenous peoples and pay attention to country reports on the implementation of the Declaration. She recommended the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity take up the precautionary principle as it related to sexual violence and health.
ALFREDO CHUQUIHUARA, Chargé d’affaires of Peru, said his country was improving the rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples. It was committed to developing policies that enhanced multiculturality. Peru had been involved for 11 years in the drafting of the Declaration, and further, had created a law on the right to prior consultation of indigenous peoples, which, in line with ILO Convention 169, marked progress towards meeting their demands. In the extraction and redistribution of natural resources, the interests of the State, the private sector and indigenous peoples must be reconciled, a process that must involve all affected parties. Peru was making all possible efforts to protect indigenous peoples living in remote areas of the Amazon. They made contributions to the nation’s progress and must be consulted on matters that affected them. Peru was a plurilingual country. “Diversity is our greatest wealth,” he said, adding that it was home to 1,786 indigenous communities.
KRYSTA WILLIAMS, Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, presenting her group’s first statement, demanded the right to full and equal participation in the Permanent Forum. “It is dehumanizing to be denied appropriate space,” she said. Many people had travelled from indigenous lands to participate today at great expense. The youth were taking that action because the Permanent Forum was a space that had been lobbied for by her elders. “We require adequate space in this and future sessions,” she said. “It is our responsibility to learn from our elders”. In that vein, she urged taking back the Permanent Forum, in the name of its intended purpose.
SHAWN ATLEO, Assembly of First Nations, said the Declaration was crucial, as it affirmed that policies advocating superiority on the basis of origin were racist, illegal and morally condemnable. In September 2011, the Human Rights Council condemned doctrines of superiority as incompatible with good governance. The Doctrine of Discovery was used to dehumanize indigenous peoples. European nations had been relentless in their determination to seize and control indigenous lands. State sovereignty over indigenous lands would need to be increasingly challenged and rectified. The Permanent Forum should request States and indigenous peoples to examine policies and laws used as a basis for State claims to indigenous lands. The Permanent Forum should also urge States to establish evaluation plans to eradicate any remnants of doctrines of superiority, including the Doctrine of Discovery.
Ms. ESPINOSA (Ecuador) said the preamble of her country’s Constitution said that the roots of the nation had been forged by men and women of different cultures and traditions. The constitution, which recognized all cultures, had been the outgrowth of a broader effort to put an end to racist structures and to promote intercultural harmony and ensure that the rights of all Ecuadorian people were guaranteed. One of the Government’s major priorities was closing the socio-economic gaps between and among its people, and it had therefore recognized the rights of all people to follow their own paths towards progress based on local traditions and cultures. The Government respected all efforts of “age-old people” to build their own cultures and to preserve their environmental practices. She called on all States and indigenous organizations to support efforts to enhance the situation of indigenous women.
XAVIER ABREU SIERRA (Mexico) said that his Government had made a critical analysis of the residual effects of the Discovery Doctrine and had found that, while much progress had been made in the area of protecting and promoting the rights of all Mexicans, much work remained to be done, especially regarding land title matters. In addition, the Government acknowledged that indigenous and tribal communities needed assistance to close the development gap. “We are doing our duty, but we must be critical of our performance thus far,” he said, noting that the Government was holding ongoing consultations with indigenous groups. Finally, he hoped the experts on the Forum would continue to set out concrete proposals, so States could further refine their relevant policies and initiatives.
OLAV MATHIS EIRA, speaking on behalf of the Arctic Caucus, said that his group believed that indigenous people had the right to have land that had been taken without consent returned. All United Nations-based human rights bodies had reached similar decisions. Once such land was returned, the indigenous people would then hold rights to them, a principle that could be supported by extensive case law. If such land could not be returned, case law had held that States must provide similar parcels “of equal size and quality” to indigenous people. All this proved that States could no longer hide behind the argument that the remnants of the Doctrine of Discovery were so old that there was no need to address them. Modern judicial procedures were plotting the course for legal redress regarding indigenous land rights.
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