Anchoring Education for Indigenous Youth in Context of Time-tested Customs Better than Assimilating Them into Mainstream System, Permanent Forum Told

21 May 2013

Anchoring Education for Indigenous Youth in Context of Time-tested Customs Better than Assimilating Them into Mainstream System, Permanent Forum Told

21 May 2013
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Twelfth Session

3rd & 4th Meetings (AM & PM)

Anchoring Education for Indigenous Youth in Context of Time-tested Customs Better

than Assimilating Them into Mainstream System, Permanent Forum Told

Proposal Made to Establish World Cultural Heritage Day

To Give Indigenous People Chance to ‘Showcase their Culture’

Indigenous youth should have the right to receive education in their mother tongue and determine their curricula in line with their time-tested cultures and customs, rather than be obliged to assimilate into a mainstream educational system virtually unresponsive to their way of life, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues heard today as it continued its work.

The representative of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus was among the many speakers from indigenous communities who insisted that States should accept indigenous peoples’ definition of learning and education and support education programmes focused on their native language and culture, in accordance with recommendations made by the International Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Youth.

Advocating “linguistic sovereignty” for indigenous populations, the speaker urged States to accept the curriculums set forth by indigenous teachers, and added that indigenous people had the right to define their own education and to choose their own educational materials.

Government representatives focused on indigenous peoples’ basic right to culture, education and health, described the ways in which they were responding to those calls by being attuned to the cultural sensitivities and variant contextual complexities of the often remote communities.  The delegate of Guyana, for one, said that, as part of an effort to uphold cultural identities, discussions were ongoing about how to incorporate indigenous languages into school curriculums.

“Education is a national priority, especially for remote areas,” she declared, adding that that some 30,000 indigenous children received school uniforms and transportation to enable their attendance at school, and a growing  number of secondary schools were being established in remote regions, as were programmes enabling children to attend classes elsewhere if necessary.

The Namibian Government heavily subsidized schools in indigenous communities, said its representative.  It covered school-related costs, such as transport, toiletries and books, and sponsored back-to-school campaigns for dropouts.  It had installed mobile schools and school-feeding programmes to aid children from nomadic communities, and it had set up training programmes and developmental projects to give women and girls the skills to start businesses.  It supported initiatives in needlework, tailoring, beekeeping, coffin making and aquaculture.

Indeed, much was said today about tailoring school curriculums to indigenous youth by Member States and the indigenous associations alike.  The representative of the Global Indigenous Peoples Caucus, for instance, supported the Forum’s own recommendation that States include in all education curriculums a discussion of the Doctrine of Discovery and dispossession and its contemporary manifestations, including the loss of indigenous land and policies of forced removal.

But, most speakers recognized that daunting challenges remained.  During a panel on education this morning, Mark Walthan of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) noted that, of the 61 million children of primary school age not in school, the largest group was most likely from ethnic minorities and indigenous populations.  He identified three barriers to getting them into school:  access, as many ethnic minorities often lived in remote areas; the quality of education they received, due, among other things, to the problem of getting teachers to go to remote communities; and the perception of outcomes, as even those who completed secondary school might be unable to get a job.

The migration of indigenous families was another expressed concern, which, according to Forum member Dalee Sambo Dorough, had devastating impacts on education.  In Alaska, for example, schools would be closed if they did not meet the threshold number of 10 students.  That led to a loss of educational opportunities, of jobs and eventually loss of the entire community.

The Dean of the Intercultural University Amawtay Wasi, in Quito, Ecuador, and Head of Ayala University, said that the Government of Ecuador was trying to control education with the aim of assimilation.  The nation-State, he said, did not allocate a budget for indigenous education; it had strayed from indigenous culture and was working towards a Euro-centric form of education in the name of “quality”, which failed to take indigenous values into account.

In response, the representative of the Ecuadorian Government said it was implementing the protection of First Nation languages, fostering the skills of indigenous people and providing them with scholarships.  To eliminate discrimination, the Government had allowed indigenous people to enter a diplomatic circle in 2012, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responsible for hiring them.  That demonstrated Ecuador’s political will to help indigenous people fully enjoy their rights, he added.

A second panel discussion focused on culture, which was one of the six mandated areas of the Forum.  Panellists described culture as a “driver” of development and creator of jobs.  Women were perceived as “custodians of culture”, passing traditional knowledge from one generation to another, including through story reading and songs.  One panellist proposed that the United Nations establish a world cultural heritage day to allow indigenous people to “showcase our culture”.

Today’s meeting opened with a traditional prayer for the victims of the tornado in Oklahoma, among whom were indigenous people, women and children.

On the issue of education, statements were made by delegates from Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, Namibia, United States, South Africa and Guatemala.  Several additional Forum members also participated.

Statements on the topic were also made on behalf of the Executive Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Indigenous Disability Caucus, Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, African Indigenous Caucus, Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network and First Nations Education Council of Canada.

On culture, statements were made by the representatives of Canada, Mexico, Russian Federation, Denmark/Greenland, South Africa, Ecuador, El Salvador and Iraq.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator in Nicaragua, and representatives of the United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, as well as several other Forum members, also spoke.

Statements in that discussions were also made on behalf of the Pacific Caucus, Torres Strait Regional Authority, African Caucus, Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Global Indigenous Peoples Caucus, Model UN Permanent Forum, Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Onondaga Nation, Indigenous Information Network and Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq.

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 May, to continue its work.


The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues met today to follow up on its past recommendations, particularly concerning the education and culture of indigenous peoples.  For background information on the session, please see Press Release HR/5129.

Introduction of Reports

MIRNA CUNNINGHAM KAIN, Forum member, introduced the study, with the assistance of indigenous universities, on how the indigenous knowledge systems, history and the contemporary social circumstances of indigenous peoples are embedded in the curriculum of education systems (document E/C.19/2013/17).  She said that the study was conducted on the recommendation made at the Forum’s eleventh session, with the help of various stakeholders, including the network of universities in the Latin America and Caribbean region and the Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The study, she said, included research in Nicaragua, which was shared later at an international event held in Mexico.  The research highlighted the gaps between indigenous peoples and other societal groups in terms of educational opportunities.  It was learned, for example, that indigenous knowledge would be incorporated when there was an adequate curriculum.  Indigenous youths faced dire conditions, it was also found, and needed to work and go to school.  However, they also confronted poor-quality teachers and a lack of study materials.  Additionally, they did not speak other languages spoken in their country.

ALVARO ESTEBAN POP, Forum Member, introduced the report on the situation of indigenous children in Latin America and the Caribbean, based on a recommendation at the Forum’s eleventh session that such a study be prepared jointly with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  Carried out in Mexico, Nicaragua and Honduras and other countries, the text had been broadly disseminated by UNICEF on its website and, it addressed, among other issues, migration of indigenous families and its impact on their children.  For instance, when parents came to the United Nations for better opportunities, children were left with relatives and others, sometimes making them vulnerable to violence and other dire circumstances.

The speaker said that, in 2011, Central America had been identified as the most violent region, with many women and youth killed and victimized by drug trafficking and other crimes.  Those cases were on the rise among indigenous people, and a legal framework had not reached to local communities.  Lastly, he said efforts faced four major challenges — lack of reliable statistics, insufficient budgetary allocation, inadequate follow-up on the implementation of indigenous peoples’ rights and lack of continuity.

Panel Discussion on Education

The Chair, PAUL KANYINKE SENA, then introduced a panel discussion on following up the Forum’s recommendations, with a focus today on education.  The panellists were Edward John, Member of the Permanent Forum; Lilikala Kame’eleihiwa, University of Hawaii, representing Indigenous Peoples; Tuomas Juuso, Government of Finland; and Mark Walthan, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Mr. JOHN said that a better understanding of indigenous peoples’ world views would lead to better outcomes.  Commending the analysis of educational situations in the report under discussion, he went on to list ways in which “forced” western education, such as in boarding schools, had harmed indigenous peoples, removing children from their cultures and, among others, maintaining the master-slave relationship.  Innovative educational programming, such as bilingual and intercultural programmes, was needed to help indigenous people overcome the challenges.  Unfortunately, where indigenous peoples maintained their own traditional educational systems, they were not generally recognized or physically supported.  There had been some progress, including on implementation of the recommendations on bilingual and cultural education, and progress on Millennium Development Goal 2 on achieving universal primary education, as well as in the quality of education, but much remained to be done.

Ms. KAME’ELEIHIWA said that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples had opened up the eyes of the University’s administration.  A centre for Hawaiian studies had been established and all 10 of the University’s campuses now taught the Hawaiian language.  The mission was to share 100 years of native knowledge with the world and “to chant the world”.  A new course entitled “ Hawaii, Center of the Pacific”, was the most popular course.  The first reading for that course was of the Indigenous Peoples’ Declaration.  Most of the course’s students were not indigenous, and were learning about the culture as a pathway to peace.

In the school of Hawaiian studies, she said, students studied identity and the preservation of culture through language, culture, art and music, as well as many areas of conservation, such as resource management.  However, funding was a problem, as the University was expensive and only 3 per cent of the faculty was Hawaiian.  Among the many courses offered were those on ancestral knowledge, including land management, astronomy and weather, advanced Hawaiian language, Hawaiian genealogies, taro cultivation and modern issues.  Hawaiians assumed that knowledge came from the ancestors, so the search for knowledge was spiritual.  Hawaiian language was imperative, she added.

Mr. JUUSO said that Finnish school education was of high quality and free of charge and had reduced disparities between social groups.  Teachers were highly trained and schools had autonomy.  Nonetheless, all three Sami languages were endangered.  Sami day-care centres, known as “nests”, had been established and were preserving and reviving the language and culture.  However, it was difficult to find and train staff, as well as authors to write textbooks in Sami languages.  The national core curriculum allowed for teaching in Sami languages to support students in their growth through bilingualism and biculturalism, however, outside the homeland, where a large number of Sami people lived, teaching Sami language was not required, although such decisions could be made by municipalities.

He also pointed to budget shortfalls, noting that the Government provided only enough funding to produce one or two teaching materials in Sami languages.  Additionally, while there was legislation on indigenous education, municipalities were often unaware of it.  In closing, he noted that article 14 of the Declaration had not been incorporated into national education nor was it being implemented.  The recommendations made in the past by United Nations human rights monitoring bodies must be followed up.

Mr. WALTHAN said that, at the global level, education was the key to all challenges.  The Millennium Development Goals had galvanized the international effort on education.  Still, 61 million children of primary school age were not in school.  The largest group most likely not attending school were children from ethnic minorities and indigenous groups.  He identified three barriers to getting them into school:  access, as many ethnic minorities often lived in remote areas; the quality of education they received, due, among other things, to the problem of getting teachers to go to remote communities; and the perception of outcomes.  Even those who had completed secondary school might be unable to get a job.

Further, he added, the education they received did not relate to their communities, and so, was not valued by the community.  That, in turn, affected people’s willingness to send their children to school.  Also true was that children learned best in their mother tongue, so language was important and communities must be involved in their schools.  Noting that Latin America had made the most progress in educating indigenous groups, he attributed much of that progress to a focus on language and inclusion of the values and knowledge of indigenous cultures in educational content.


MAYORGA DELGADO ( Mexico) said that, in 2011, a law had been established to improve access to education and its quality for indigenous people.  He stressed the importance of adequate curriculums and noted that the Government was supporting universities in training professionals to benefit indigenous peoples.  It had also applied a mechanism to measure the inequality gap facing indigenous communities, with the outcome to be presented at a parallel event of the current session.  Educational reform had helped students by providing them with better teachers, he said, declaring that education was a “shared responsibility”.

Receiving education in one’s Native tongue was important, he said, as was diversity in language and culture.  Taking into account the Secretary-General’s Education for All imitative, Mexico had sought to offer quality education for everyone, including indigenous people, which numbered 15 million across the nation.  In a related initiative, it had proposed that a preparatory meeting for the World Conference be held in Mexico in 2014.

DALEE SAMBO DOROUGH, Forum member, said the dynamics of outbound migration — the main point shared by a panellist about the status on education for indigenous people in Hawaii — would apply to the situation of Inuit in Alaska, as well as to the situation in the Congo.  In Alaska, if a threshold number of 10 students was not met, the school would be closed.  That, in turn, led to loss of educational opportunities, jobs and eventually the disappearance of the community.

The representative of the Global Indigenous Peoples Caucus called for urgent implementation of the Forum’s recommendations in paragraphs 31 and 32 of document E/C.19/2012/19 on indigenous languages and culture, either as stand-alone education initiatives or within existing educational institutions.  She asked the Forum to call upon States to support indigenous, gender-balanced education systems and to encourage States and relevant United Nations agencies to support indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and to define their own education systems.  She reaffirmed the Forum’s recommendation that States include in all education curriculums a discussion of the doctrine of discovery and dispossession and its contemporary manifestations, including the loss of indigenous land and policies of forced removal.  She urged it to work with States to ensure that indigenous people with disabilities had full access to education and to encourage States to align their education systems with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The representative of the Convention on Biological Diversity stressed the importance of effective implementation of the Nagoya Protocol to the Convention, which recognized the rights of indigenous peoples over traditional knowledge and innovation.  In particular, its transfer needed their prior consent, and benefits must be shared equitably.  So far, there were 92 signatures on the Protocol, with many Governments preparing the necessary national measures.  He hoped the instrument would enter force by 2014, by the twelfth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention in the Republic of Korea.  He highlighted the role of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the repatriation of traditional knowledge to indigenous communities.  On capacity-building with respect to the Convention and Protocol, he noted that three workshops had been held in Africa, Asia and Latin America, with the support of the Governments of Spain and Japan.

GUILLERMO FERNÁNDEZ DE SOTO ( Colombia) said that nearly 1.5 million Colombians, almost 3.5 per cent of the population, was of indigenous origin.  Both nationally and regionally, high priority was given to indigenous peoples, addressing each of the more than 100 indigenous communities in unique ways, not only in the area of education, but also to help them recover from years of armed conflict.  Indigenous customs were protected in a variety of ways, which had a cross-cutting effect on education.

A broad educational framework recognized cultural diversity, he continued, and had good communications with indigenous communities.  Specific models drew lessons learned from different indigenous communities, which could be applied in other parts of the world.  Colombia was working to adjust the educational system to be more effective in addressing the needs of indigenous persons.

The representative of the Indigenous Disability Caucus, representing regions around the globe, said that indigenous people with disabilities faced many challenges in access to education.  One barrier was parents’ lack of awareness of State support for such children.  Often, when indigenous children with disabilities did have access, special education was all that was available, while for those living within their own communities, the indigenous educational system must be provided with support to serve them.  Deaf children often had no access to sign language and grew up with no language or education at all.

She offered several recommendations, among them that State donors and development partners should implement article 32 of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including on educating persons with disabilities; making sign language available to deaf indigenous children and consulting with indigenous people on their needs in that respect; and making education available on the human rights of indigenous people with disabilities.

ELOY FRANK GÓMEZ ( Nicaragua) said that the State was responsible for planning, financing, administering and ensuring access to education on equal footing for all Nicaraguans.  There was legislation on the regional autonomous sector, which addressed the needs of indigenous peoples in that regard.

The delegate said that, along the Caribbean coast, for example, people had their own educational system, based on autonomy, intercultural belonging, equity and quality.  The system also took into account efforts towards sustainable development and gender equality, among other things.  Bilingual intercultural programmes had been launched in indigenous communities, by the communities themselves.  Such programmes had been in place for more than two decades.  Urgent efforts were also under way to prevent the loss of indigenous languages.

The representative of the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus said that education must encompass the spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, traditional, cultural and linguistic livelihoods of indigenous women.  The Caucus, therefore, had a number of recommendations, including that the Forum call on States to include in all educational curriculums a discussion of the Doctrine of Discovery and dispossession and its contemporary manifestations, including land laws and policies of removal.  Among other recommendations, it also urged the Forum to encourage Member States to facilitate the establishment of civil society organizations to assist in the preservation and protection of indigenous cultural heritage.

FEODOSIYA GABYSHEVA, Deputy Prime Minister of the Sakha Republic, Russian Federation, described how schools in her Republic had implemented innovative programmes focusing on the quality of life and education and the retention of traditional knowledge of indigenous populations.  Public funding had supported minorities in her Republic and elsewhere in the northern part of the Russian Federation.  A new project to build an international school was under way in an autonomous district, where children could receive intercultural education.

ANNA NAIKANCHINA, Forum member, said that educational curriculums were often developed without knowledge of the ways of life or languages of indigenous peoples.  Further, educational programmes prepared for areas where indigenous people lived often ignored them and failed to get their clear and informed consent.  The Declaration called for such consent.  Indeed, indigenous people must be co-authors of any such planning, curriculums or projects, she said in closing.

The representative of the African Indigenous Caucus noted that, every two weeks, one indigenous language died.  She called on Member States to integrate traditional knowledge of indigenous people into the mainstream of school curriculums and to improve their access to education based on the principle of equality.  She also underscored the importance of protecting the right of self-determination so as to allow indigenous people to decide their own methods of education.  She urged the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UNICEF to guide efforts towards implementing her recommendations.

JEROBEAM SHAANIKA ( Namibia) said the Government’s San programme within the Prime Minister’s office aimed to aid the indigenous San tribe of Namibia, which had been forced off their land into the nation’s most inhospitable terrain by colonial settlers.  It sought to integrate San, Ovatue and Ovatjimba communities into the mainstream economy and raise their standard of living.   The programme had made marked progress in providing land, housing, livestock and education for those communities.  Many communities had been resettled on Government farms and communal lands and given continuous post-settlement support.  The Government had set up early childhood centres at every new settlement, as well as literacy programmes and scholarships; a literacy pilot project targeted pensioners 55 years and older. 

Additionally, he said, the Government heavily subsidized schools in indigenous communities; covered school-related costs, such as transport, toiletries and books; and sponsored back-to-school campaigns for dropouts.  It had installed mobile schools and school-feeding programmes to aid children from nomadic communities, and it had set up training programmes and developmental projects to give women and girls the skills to start businesses.  It also supported initiatives in needlework, tailoring, beekeeping, coffin making and aquaculture projects.

The representative of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus called on States to set up mechanisms to ensure full implementation of education rights, conduct regular reviews in that regard and take corrective action based on those reviews.  In partnership with the United Nations Voluntary Fund and other United Nations actors, the Forum should develop a space for indigenous experts, educators and youth to share ideas, best practices and technology for indigenous peoples’ education.  States should accept indigenous peoples’ definition of learning and education, and should support education programmes focused on their native language and culture, in line with recommendations 48 and 56 of the International Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Youth. 

She stressed the importance of “linguistic sovereignty” and education for indigenous youth.  States should implement all principles set forth in article 14 of the Declaration and accept the curriculums set forth by indigenous teachers.  The right of the indigenous to define their own education should also include their right to choose their educational materials.

TERRI ROBL ( United States) highlighted actions taken in 2012 and 2013 by the Barack Obama Administration to benefit indigenous communities, especially youth.  The President had addressed a meeting of high-level tribal leaders, she said, noting that so-called break-out sessions were particularly useful, as they allowed for frank discussions and identification of important issues.  She invited the Forum and participants in today’s meeting to review a report on the outcome of that meeting.  Among the initiatives taken by the Obama Administration were support provided to Native Americans for career opportunities in nature conservation, as well as funding to address issues of substance abuse and mental illness.  The Government had also spearheaded projects to protect women in tribal communities from violence and indigenous land by taking it into trusts.

The representative of the Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network described the position of the Network on the topic of education, as elaborated at a meeting held in the Philippines in April.  In most countries in Asia, curriculums did not recognize — and even misrepresented — the history of indigenous peoples.  Education was treated as a business and not a service by the State to its constituents.  The Network, therefore, recommended that States end budget cuts and the privatization of educational institutions; promote pro-indigenous education; employ indigenous peoples in schools; and cease the vilification and “red tagging” of their leaders and organizations.

KGOMOTSO RAHLAGA ( South Africa), underlining the disparity between the indigenous communities and the rest of society in her country, she said that the inequality stemmed largely from the past colonial occupation.  There should be no discrimination against any population in South Africa, and people belonging to certain cultures should not be denied their rights.  To ensure the rights of all were protected, various institutions had been established, including an entity aimed at protecting cultural heritage and another to promote multilingualism.  But, challenges remained, including lack of instructors qualified to teach indigenous languages.  To protect indigenous knowledge, a food competition had been held and a recipe book for indigenous food would be published.  Many outstanding issues had stemmed from the Doctrine of Discovery, and South Africa’s President was keen to address them.

The representative of the First Nations Education Council, Canada called on the Permanent Forum to urge Canada to undertake its responsibilities, with regard to the free and informed consent of peoples on matters relating to them, as well as to include indigenous people in formulating laws from the proposal stage, including that population in educational planning, and adopting, without reservation, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The speaker said that cultural identity could be transferred from one generation to another only if education permitted it.  The Law of First Nations, published in Canada, allowed for the promulgation of laws that included the indigenous perspective.  Yet, in March, it had become clear that a national law on indigenous peoples would be put forward despite the outcome of an extraordinary session of the First Nations of Canada, which stated that any such law failing to take into account positions of the First Nations would be rejected.  If such a law was adopted, it would lead to the creation of a forced identity.  The Forum should examine his organization’s document:  “The Urgency and Need to Identify and Denounce Forced Integrations”.

YVONNE PEARSON ( Guyana) said that, although 81 million children suffered from poverty, work was continually being pursued to provide access to education for the indigenous population, especially for those living in the hinterlands.  Some 30,000 indigenous children received school uniforms and transportation to attend school, and there was an increasing number of secondary schools in remote regions, as well as programmes enabling children to attend them elsewhere.  She also noted opportunities for tertiary education.  Additionally, as part of an effort to uphold cultural identities, discussions were ongoing on how to incorporate indigenous languages into school curriculums.  Education was a national priority, especially for remote areas.

LUIS FERNANDO SARANGO, Dean of the Intercultural University Amawtay Wasi, in Quito, Ecuador, and Head of Ayala University, said that indigenous peoples were trying to develop projects of their own, derived from their own lives.  However, nation-States impeded that.  In the case of Ecuador, the Government was violating the rights of indigenous people in the economic sphere and trying to control education with the aim of assimilation.  Additionally, the nation-State did not allocate a budget for indigenous education.

Indeed, he said, Ecuador had strayed from indigenous culture and was working towards a Euro-centric form of education in the name of “quality”, but what did “quality” mean for indigenous peoples?  The Government was imposing foreign norms that failed to take indigenous values into account.  It considered Amawtay Wasi University to be “low quality” and would likely close it, despite a court ruling in the University’s favour.  The Forum must compel States to issue periodic reports on how they were complying with the Indigenous Peoples’ Declaration.

BOLITO RAMOS ( Guatemala) noted that, of the country’s 14 million inhabitants, 40 per cent were indigenous.  There were 24 indigenous languages spoken in the country, and the Government was promoting bilingual education.  Teachers with the ability to teach more than one language received supplementary salary, and the Ministry of Education had a section that dealt with bilingual education and a division for intercultural education.  He said, however, that a survey result indicated that a high percentage of teachers did not use materials available in Mayan language.  Taking such data into account, it was important to pay attention to certain aspects of the process, such as curriculum planning, training and support.  The Government’s 2012-2016 action plan aimed to ensure that all boys and girls had equal access to education, with due consideration given to their cultures.

ANDRÉS FIALLO ( Ecuador) described how his country’s Constitution addressed the concept of collective living and full enjoyment of life for all, including for indigenous people.  He stressed the importance of strengthening intercultural, bilingual education for young children.  The Education Ministry was implementing the protection of First Nation languages, fostering skills of indigenous people and providing them with scholarships.  To eliminate discrimination, the Government had allowed indigenous people to enter a diplomatic circle in 2012, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responsible for hiring them.  That demonstrated his country’s political will to help indigenous people fully enjoy their rights.

Introduction of Reports

Forum member PAIMANEH HASTEH, introducing the study on engaging indigenous peoples more inclusively in the disaster risk reduction process, said that they had suffered from development models that had devastated their communities.  Around the world, indigenous people had used their knowledge, originated in their communities and passed down through generations by non-formal means, to prepare for, cope with and survive disasters.  The study was intended to stimulate discussion and act as a catalyst for creating opportunities for sharing experiences and knowledge about disaster risk reduction among indigenous peoples and their communities, and ways to reduce loss of life and property and restore environmental, social, cultural and spiritual balance in the affected communities.

She said it was urgent to increase dialogue among Governments, institutions and indigenous peoples concerning the identification, incorporation and value of indigenous knowledge into all disaster risk reduction projects and programmes.  Decision-making power should stay in the hands of indigenous peoples and cultural imposition should be avoided.  It was important to use indigenous knowledge for disaster risk reduction as it represented self-reliance and sustainability.  “The strength of societies is based upon their ability to thrive with their own capacities and resources,” she said, adding, “natural disasters do not exist […] disasters happen when hazards strike unprepared societies”.  There was no better way to confront disasters than by preventing them.

Ms. NAIKANCHINA, Forum member, introduced a study on resilience, traditional knowledge and capacity-building in Arctic and sub-Arctic indigenous reindeer herding, which covered an area from the Arctic to Mongolia.  Reindeer herding was studied as a system, as well as in the context of climate change.  The Arctic was a unique world environment, but the effects of climate change were so widespread that life itself in the Arctic was changing.  The region and its natural resources were becoming more accessible for globalization, while climate change was leading to a reduction in pastureland and the loss of species, among other ills, all of which affected reindeer herders.

As a result, she reported, many indigenous people had given up reindeer herding, causing a loss of indigenous culture and language, as well as of traditional knowledge.  People must be helped to find ways of coping with those changes.  The traditional science of indigenous people was based on experience, an experience that must not be lost.  The Arctic Council on reindeer herding had prepared a report on the matter, which would be helpful to Governments and would be presented more fully at a later date.

Panel Discussion on Culture

The Chair, PAUL KANYINKE SENA, then introduced a panel discussion on following up the Forum’s recommendations, with a focus on culture.  The panellists were Bertie Xavier, Forum member; Agnes Leina, representing the Indigenous Peoples; Carlos Aleman, representing the Government of Nicaragua; and Philippe Kridelka, representative of UNESCO.

Mr. XAVIER said that indigenous peoples had, over the course of many generations, developed their culture, which was one of the six mandated areas of the Forum.  Although culture’s contribution was not explicitly expressed in the Millennium Development Goals, its importance to development and to the achievement of the Goals had been recognized when the targets were reviewed in 2010.  He also drew attention to the General Assembly resolutions from 2010 and 2011, which recognized the traditional knowledge of indigenous people, such as in seeding, medicine, sports, games and performing arts, as well as intellectual property over cultural heritage, and called for its preservation.  The Forum had made a total of 36 recommendations, of which 14 had been implemented, but 22 were left unfinished.  “Culture is an essential component to the survival of indigenous people,” he said.

Ms. LEINA described how vital women had been as “custodians of culture”.  They passed traditional knowledge from one generation to another through various forms, including story reading and songs.  Women, as home keepers and caretakers of children, taught them languages, and prepared and preserved food; they knew how to dry fish and other food for preservation.  They inherited knowledge on herbal medicines from their mothers, and they designed patterns and made clothing.  “Women played a big role in culture,” she stressed.

She went on to make some recommendations, including a request to UNESCO to create a mapping system to celebrate cultural diversity.  It was also essential to set aside land for cultural observance and trading routes for livestock.  She  noted that the Arabic language was spoken in part of the United Republic of Tanzania, and called for the return of the land to the Native people of that region.  Lastly, she proposed that the United Nations establish a world cultural heritage day to allow indigenous people to “showcase our culture”.

Mr. ALEMAN said his Government recognized the need for multilingual education and described how the nation transformed into a multi-ethnic society through constitutional reform.  Under the Constitution, the State must ensure that no one was discriminated.  He highlighted programmes aimed at preserving language and cultural heritage, which had been implemented in an autonomous indigenous habitat along the nation’s Caribbean coast.  In 1992, a law had been enacted to make indigenous language an official language of that autonomous region.  Two international instruments in 2001 and 2005 had played an important contribution to that end.  He made several recommendations, including a systematic collaboration among United Nations entities and other institutions to defend cultural heritage of indigenous people, as well as the greater participation of indigenous people in decision- and policymaking.  Promoting more projects on the recovery of culture among Afro-decedents was also vital.

Mr. KRIDELKA described culture as “a driver” of development.  Importantly, it created jobs.  The industry associated with culture was growing rapidly, particularly in the Global South, and he citing relevant statistics for various regions of the world provided by PricewaterhouseCoopers.  “Culture is an enabler for development,” he reiterated and, with the support of the Spanish Government, his agency was undertaking 18 projects that benefitted indigenous populations worldwide.  He also noted that the World Cultural Heritage sites included those of indigenous communities in such countries as Bolivia, Central African Republic, Viet Nam and the Russian Federation.  Seventy nations had benefited from UNESCO capacity-building support.  Lastly, he drew attention to an upcoming debate entitled “culture for development”, organized by the General Assembly for 12 June.  The outcome of the debate would contribute to the elaboration of the post-2015 development process, he said.


JOSÉE TOUCHETTE ( Canada) said his Government pursued several tripartite education agreements to support First Nations education reform.  For example, Canada, the Government of Ontario and Nishnawbe Aski Nation recently signed an historic memorandum of understanding to help Nishnawbe Aski Nation students to achieve at comparable levels to Ontario’s students.  To improve employment, Canada invested $48 million annually for aboriginal labour market training and skills development, preparing working-age adults who lacked a grade 12 education to enter the workforce.  In the area of culture, Canada provided some $18 million annually to support such programmes as the Aboriginal Languages Initiative and the Territorial Languages Accords.  Internationally, Canada, as Chair of the Arctic Council for the next two years, would collaborate with its partners to address sustainable resource use, economic development and environmental protection.

PABLO MANDEVILLE, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Nicaragua, said that Nicaragua’s programme on the Caribbean coast complemented, not only culture, but sustainable tourism for the development of the region.  The United Nations provided technical expertise on tourism to support the programme.  The models that had resulted, such as cultural mapping and other methodologies, could be repeated elsewhere.  The programme linked cultural revitalization through sustainable development, also enabling gender equality and a sustainable environment.

A representative of the Pacific Caucus made eight recommendations.  Among them, was that the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights visit Hawaii to investigate human rights violations of Indigenous Hawaiians’ right of access to military-controlled properties to conduct ritual, sacred and customary religious practices.  She also urged the United Nations system to establish mandatory indigenous peoples’ advisory groups in all areas of economic development.

She also called for the establishment of an international network of indigenous experts to forge partnerships with relevant United Nations agencies, as well as for information sessions or side events related to indigenous issues to be held during conferences and other events of the United Nations system.  She urged States to ratify and enact into domestic legislation relevant conventions, and she called on the Forum and the General Assembly to support Hawaii’s right to be re-inscribed onto the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  The United States Government, she said, should facilitate a self-determination process for indigenous Hawaiians.

A representative of the Torres Strait Regional Authority stressed the critical importance of maintaining and promoting the unique culture of indigenous peoples, including the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal people of Australia.  In 2005, the National Indigenous Languages Survey report identified that the two main Torres Strait traditional languages, Kalau Lagau Ya and Meriam Mir, were in danger of being lost.  Without a strong connection with culture, underpinned by language, the homogenizing effect of globalization risked a loss of identity in the Torres Strait, he said, adding that the loss would be compounded by a reduced opportunity to participate in the emerging indigenous culture and arts economies.  The Torres Strait arts industry was in its infancy compared with the Australian mainland Aboriginal success.  If the incomes of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal artists in the region were to increase, cultural maintenance, particularly of traditional languages, was needed.

LAETITIA ZOBEL, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said that the Programme had developed an Indigenous Peoples Policy in 2012 following a 2006 recommendation by the Permanent Forum, and that the policy would be introduced at the current session.  The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, had been a major milestone for the global community towards renewing and re-establishing sustainable development.  A decision had been taken there to upgrade and strengthen UNEP, including by establishing universal membership in its Governing Council.

The speaker said that UNEP remained engaged with indigenous peoples’ issues, in particular, through its collaboration centre based in Norway, GRID Arendal, which was currently implementing a project on nomadic herders in Mongolia and the Russian Federation.  He described South-South cooperation as a key component of the annual strategic priorities of the United Nations Development Group, and said that UNEP would host an expo entitled “Building green economies — South-South Cooperation for sustainable development and poverty eradication” in late October; indigenous peoples were invited to  participate and showcase good practices.

The representative of Arctic Caucus reminded the participants of a statement he had made at the Forum’s ninth session.  He stressed the need for appropriate conditions to preserve Inuit culture in the Arctic and cautioned against the impact of industrial development on top of the effect of climate change.  The Inuit community “will not dance to the tune of multinational corporations”, which exploited natural resources.  Informed consent and a democratic process were necessary for industrial development.  Like other cultures, Inuit culture in the Arctic “is dynamic, not static”, he said, stressing the need to respect those cultures.  To keep linguistic diversity, youth initiatives must be promoted.

EUFROSINA CRUZ MENDOZA ( Mexico) said that the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples had established guidelines to promote the well-being of the indigenous population.  Strategies and actions were carried out to protect the inheritance of indigenous art, which was key to the country’s cultural richness.  Among the many strategies, she noted that indigenous broadcasting stations cemented cultural bonds.  Indigenous peoples were the central pillar of Mexico’s cultural identity, so strengthening those populations strengthened national culture.  Reinforcing the indigenous population was a cross-cutting endeavour that bolstered civil society generally.  In closing, she said that without indigenous communities and cultures, countries would not progress or overcome poverty.

TRISHA REIDY, representative of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), said the Institute’s training programme to enhance conflict prevention and peacemaking capacities of indigenous peoples had provided training in conflict analysis, negotiation and conflict transformation, as well as provided information on United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms to promote and protect human rights and implement the Declaration.  The programme reviewed the rights-based and problem-solving negotiation processes to strengthen indigenous peoples’ capacity to analyse the root causes of conflict and engage in negotiation and dialogue with Governments, the private sector and communities to address priorities and resolve conflicts in a mutually beneficial and sustainable way.  Indigenous women comprised more than 40 per cent of the programme’s participants.  The programme had trained 433 representatives worldwide to date, and five of its alumni to date had served or been nominated to serve as expert Forum members.

The representative of the African Caucus noted with great concern that the culture of indigenous peoples, including their languages, were rapidly disappearing.  In that context, he made several recommendations to Member States, including a measure ensuring that indigenous languages were preserved and inclusion of indigenous people in the drafting of policy.  It was important for children to receive instruction in their mother tongues.  He drew attention to the link between the preservation of indigenous culture and the conservation of biodiversity.  Member States should fully include the participation of indigenous people in the drafting of strategies in that field.  The United Nations should dedicate a day to showcase artefacts of indigenous people.  Lastly, their rights to their land and natural resources should be protected against land exploitation and deforestation.

AYSA MUKABENOVA ( Russian Federation) said that protecting the culture of Russian indigenous cultures was essential, as those contributed to the nation’s culture overall.  A priority was to preserve cultural activity.  The State supported cultural organizations of the peoples of the north and east in numerous ways, among them, through contests of traditional arts and expeditions.  Key to protecting indigenous culture was protecting the right of indigenous peoples to their traditional knowledge.  Russia worked with the World Intellectual Property Organization to establish norms to protect the intellectual property of indigenous peoples and was also seeking ways to preserve traditional livelihoods.  Many believed that culture was found on the shelves of museums, but development of national culture was a dynamic, living process, overseen by the Government.

The representative of the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus recognized the critical need to preserve and perpetuate indigenous culture by practising traditional knowledge, spiritual ceremonies and indigenous languages, as well as accessing sacred sites.  Indigenous children also had a right to access their cultures, languages and communities.  State borders that cut across indigenous territories disrupted that access.  Among her recommendations, she urged UNESCO to explore the links between the protection of cultural heritage and related UNESCO instruments.  The Permanent Forum should appoint Ed John as Special Rapporteur for an international study on the Doctrine of Discovery.  UNESCO also should document women’s spheres of power in indigenous societies, as well as their role as custodians of sacred knowledge and as medical specialists.  Governments should integrate a gender framework into all areas, by providing indigenous women access to funding from public budgets and devising policies that created jobs for them.

MARIANNE LYKKE THOMSEN, speaking on behalf of Denmark/Greenland, said that the Act on Greenland Self-Government of 2008 recognized the Greenlandic language as the official language of Greenland.  While the Government of Greenland was a public Government defined by territory, rather than ethnicity, most of the population was of Inuit descent and all members of the Government and Parliament were also Inuit.  In February, the country’s fifth Youth Parliament had met to discuss the strengthening and primary use of the Greenlandic language, which had an estimated 50,000 speakers in Greenland. 

The focus of the educational system and curriculum development had been on the Central West Greenlandic dialect and standard written language, she said, adding that the literacy rate in Greenland was close to 100 per cent.  However, the level of education was unevenly distributed between towns and settlements.  Among other things, she noted the recent establishment of an independent Greenland Human Rights Council, which had chosen the language situation in Greenland as one of its first topics for examination.

The representative of the Global Indigenous Peoples Caucus encouraged the  Forum to uphold articles 11 and 12 of the Declaration; the right to share culture across borders, as set forth in article 36; and to end the commercialization of indigenous knowledge, identity, language and resources, as well as “bio-piracy” without indigenous peoples’ free, prior and informed consent.  Articles 13, 19, 23, 27 and 30 of the Declaration and the health, education and culture provisions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169 should be implemented by all States. 

The speaker encouraged States to uphold indigenous peoples’ rights to protect the integrity and dignity of their cultural essence by creating their own media and news content, and he asked them to help indigenous people protect their right to indigenous ceremonies, song, dance and dress, as stipulated in article 16 of the Declaration.  The concept of free, prior and informed consent was not negotiable and must be implemented.  Indigenous peoples’ participation, consultation and consent were needed in all discussions on indigenous peoples’ rights, including the opportunity to seek meaningful redress for grievances and violations of the Declaration.

KGOMOTSO RAHLAGA ( South Africa) said her Government was in the process of enacting a traditional affairs bill to strengthen the role of San and other indigenous people in governance and decision-making.  It was also working to restore the integrity and dignity of institutions of traditional leadership.  The new bill would replace the national house of traditional leaders act.  Through the Department of Science of Technology, the Government would launch a system this month to catalogue indigenous knowledge.  It had also launched a new traditional knowledge bill.  Processes were under way to ratify the UNESCO Convention on safeguarding cultural heritage. 

Such initiatives, he said, aimed at embracing cultural diversity of the San and other indigenous communities.  The Government was also focused on establishing cultural heritage sites, and it was committed to making itself available to aid indigenous people that had faced discrimination.  The Committee for the Restitution of Land Rights had been set up to resolve land claims and disputes, which the Land Claims Court was in charge of adjudicating.

A representative of the Model UN Permanent Forum called on the Permanent Forum to create youth training programmes that would interact with various United Nations system actors.  Education was crucial for indigenous youth, and in a few months, he would be the first in his family to attend college.  The Forum should support programmes in indigenous communities to enable them to heal from years of land confiscation, oppression and discrimination.  Indigenous youth must be able to access funding, including scholarships and grants and access to a database of potential funders, for training.  Thanks to external funding, one youth expert had been able to participate in the recent expert meeting on indigenous youth. 

He added that his tribe had grown to become the second largest employer in New York, but, youth in his community still grappled with high dropout rates, suicide, domestic violence and teen pregnancy.  Trauma was considered normal in indigenous communities.  Indigenous people needed economic empowerment and to heal from the effects of colonialism.  Their own school with their own traditional curriculum would allow them to do so and to become empowered.  He called for the creation of an education programme at the United Nations for indigenous youth.

ANDRÉS FIALLO ( Ecuador) said that, in the last five years, his Government had worked to build a plurinational, multicultural State.  It had set up legal mechanisms to safeguard the collective will of indigenous people and to reflect indigenous knowledge in public education and the media.   The Government was working to protect traditional medicinal practices, indigenous peoples’ right to control and protect sacred sites, and retain their cultural heritage.  The national development plan for good living aimed to open public spaces for exchanges among diverse groups. 

Indeed, he said, eliminating racism was a priority, and the Government was implementing executive decree 60 to help end cultural exclusion and racism.  It would undertake a national housing census to improve the living conditions of indigenous peoples, and it had created indicators to follow up and evaluate the effectiveness of its policies to aid indigenous people.  In 2006, it had trained Ecuadorian diplomats in indigenous affairs, and today, indigenous people were career diplomats and members of the Government.

A representative of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus called for further implementation of the Declaration And the full adoption by Member States of indigenous education policies.  Indigenous cultures and livelihoods should be respected and institutionalized and indigenous peoples’ clothing, art and culture should be accepted by mainstream society.  Indigenous people should not be forcibly removed from their land.  The practice of removing them during post-disaster reconstruction and development processes without their free, prior and informed consent must be stopped.  Member States should limit their use of indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands and ensure that indigenous youth were highly involved in those processes.  The Forum should urge States to take steps to increase indigenous youth’s participation in Government.  Government representatives in areas in which indigenous people lived should be elected by indigenous peoples, and not appointed by the Governments.  Finally, States must ensure that cultural centres in urban areas were accessible to indigenous youth.

MARGO PEREZ ( El Salvador) called on the Forum to urge the Government of El Salvador to implement the Declaration; adopt and ratify ILO Convention No. 169; and modify the Salvadoran Constitution, specifically article 62 that imposed Spanish over indigenous languages.  She also called for modification of article 63, which declared indigenous peoples’ cultural patrimony, sites and cultural creations as property of the Salvadoran Government and which subjected indigenous peoples’ ceremonial centres to special conservation laws and exploitation by classifying them as ruins or tourist sites. 

Continuing, the speaker encouraged the Forum to recommend that the Human Rights Council conduct an investigation into human rights violations in El Salvador and it should call on El Salvador to set up a truth commission into the massacres against indigenous people and prosecute the responsible parties.  Indigenous people were now facing death threats for defending Mother Earth and their sacred right to water, as recognized in the Declaration, and extractive industries were forcing indigenous people out of their ancestral territories.

A representative of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, presented several recommendations pertinent to the session’s theme, and said that for indigenous peoples, health encompassed the social, emotional and cultural well-being of the whole community.  She noted that issues of indigenous men’s health had not been included in any of the recommendations made by the Permanent Forum and called on it to conduct a study on that issue.  Education was equally critical to the well-being of indigenous peoples, who valued successful life-long education and aspired to return to proficiency in their own traditions. 

Indigenous peoples’ entitlement to equitable education, said the speaker, must be without conditions, encumbrances or suspension of other rights.  Further,  culture contributed to the social, emotional and spiritual well-being of individuals and communities and reinforced indigenous peoples’ capacity for self-governance, resilience and the ability to take advantage of opportunities.

The representative of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council issued a number of recommendations, including that all States endorse the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage and consider taking action to recognize indigenous languages in national Constitutions.  States also should include bilingual education models in schools.  The Human Rights Council should appoint a Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Health and Education.  He further urged States to report annually on progress achieved on the WHO social determinants of health and to formally respond to the 2011 RioPolitical Declaration on Social Determinants of Health.  They should also strengthen action to address structural barriers that impeded equitable access to health care.

He said that improvements in indigenous health should be understood in terms broader than mere physical or geographical access, to also include economic, social and cultural dimensions.  The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council supported mechanisms that provided for recognition of Australia’s First Peoples and for securing their economic, social, cultural and political development, as a means for self-determination.  His organization endorsed a human rights-based approach to achieving health equity and advancing the rights of indigenous peoples, without discrimination.  Effective measures also should be implemented to guarantee that indigenous peoples were able to share and practise their traditional customs, beliefs and traditional knowledge from generation to generation to ensure that their cultures and identities were not diminished.

A representative of the Onondaga Nation said the Governments of Canada and the United States had drawn national boundaries that directly cut through the ancestral lands of the Haudenosaunee without their free, prior and informed consent.  That violated the Declaration and divided families and the community itself.  Community-based leadership was at the core of Haudenosaunee law.  The report of the Permanent Forum’s ninth session in 2010 had recommended that the United States and Canadian Governments address those border issues and take effective steps to ensure that the right of indigenous peoples divided by borders to have contact and relations with each other was maintained.  The Haudenosaunee recommended that both Governments heed the Declaration and take effective steps to implement article 36.  The Mohawk nation had requested a meeting with United States and Canadian officials to discuss such issues, he said, adding that both Governments should respect the rights of their Haudenosaunee citizens.

A representative of the Indigenous Information Network said that the Forum, during the current session, should hold an expert seminar on cultural issues, including food sovereignty, education and health.  She lauded UNICEF for its support of bilingual, bicultural education programmes in Latin America and asked the agency to expand them.  She also called on UNICEF to support the sharing of best practices and information on intercultural bilingual education.

The representative of the Assyrian Aid Society of Iraq asked that Government to set up a department of culture to preserve what remained of the Assyrian culture.  She also asked it to set up academic institutions and cultural organizations dedicated to the rich traditions of the Assyrians.  There must be funding dedicated to preserving traditional Assyrian music, the Aramaic language and traditional farming.  She called for serious action to recognize the Assyrian language as an official language of Iraq.  It was important to draw attention to the possible extinction of the Assyrian heritage, which had survived for more than 6,000 years.  According to UNESCO, about 240,000 people today still spoke that ancient language in Iraq, yet it was at risk of becoming extinct.  Due to continuing conflict in Iraq, native Assyrians had been uprooted, risking the near-extinction of their entire cultural expression.

MOHAMMED AL-NAQSHABANDI ( Iraq) said his country’s Constitution ensured the rights of all citizens without discrimination based on ethnicity of culture.  Iraq had done its best to guarantee such rights, as it had always been defined by its rich ethnic, cultural and religious diversity.  The Government also had done its best to ensure the rights of all people were respected and represented in Parliament and the various councils throughout the country.  He cited the names of two Assyrians who were members of the Parliament.

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