20 May 2013

Press Conference on Opening of Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

20 May 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Opening of Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

At a Headquarters press conference today, advocates for indigenous people called on Governments worldwide to work with them to improve the lot of indigenous communities battling land dispossession, exploitation of their natural resources, endemic poverty and socioeconomic marginalization.

“What we are doing here is not fighting our Governments.  We’re trying to look for solutions that can address indigenous people issues,” said Paul Kanyinke Sena, a member of the Ogiek community in Kenya and Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, as he marked the opening of the Permanent Forum’s twelfth session.  (See also Press Release HR/5130.)

The 16-member Permanent Forum is an advisory body set up by the Economic and Social Council to provide expert advice and recommendations on indigenous issues in the United Nations system.

During its session, to run through 31 May, more than 2,000 indigenous participants would engage with Forum members, representatives of Governments, United Nations agencies and international financial institutions, to review the rights of indigenous peoples to culture, health and education.

They would also hold an all-day dialogue on human rights mechanisms, and meet with some 30 representatives of the World Bank, as well as with officials of the African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and the International Finance Corporation to discuss those institutions’ safeguards policies on indigenous peoples.  In addition, the post-2015 development agenda would be discussed, and preparations would be made for the September 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

Mr. Sena said that the current session would focus particularly on Africa, where armed conflict coupled with mining, logging and extractive industry projects threatened the homelands, livelihoods and traditional way of life of indigenous peoples,.  He called on Governments, experts and journalists to visit affected communities in Kenya, Ethiopia, United Republic of Tanzania and other areas to see the impact firsthand.

Echoing those concerns, Dalee Sambo Dorough, an Inuit from Canada and a Forum member, said States had failed to take concrete action to promote and protect indigenous peoples’ rights as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The lack of regulations protecting indigenous peoples and their natural resources from exploitation by extractive industries had left them vulnerable to physical attack, she stressed, pointing to reports by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples about violence against communities in Ecuador.

She also lamented the Arctic Council’s recent decision to grant China, Singapore and four other nations Observer State status, a move seen as a way of influencing the Council’s decisions concerning offshore oil, gas, mineral and marine development.  The Sami Parliament, whose constituents lived in the Arctic Circle region, would host a side event on 28 May on the rights of the Sami people to land and offshore resources.

Andrea Landry, a member of the Anishinaabe tribe in Canada and a Canadian Youth Representative, shed light on the 31 January Expert Group Meeting on Indigenous Youth, which focused on indigenous peoples’ right to linguistic sovereignty and the education systems in various States that had largely negated traditional indigenous languages.  She recounted her personal experience growing up in Canada, where indigenous Anishinaabe, grappling with poverty and pressure to assimilate into mainstream Canadian culture, lacked real opportunities to embrace and maintain their traditional language.

Setareki Macanawai, Chief Executive Officer of the Pacific Disability Forum in Fiji, stressed the need to give a voice and space in the indigenous peoples’ movement at large to indigenous people with disabilities.  He lauded the Australian Government and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund for sponsoring his organization’s participation in the Permanent Forum’s session.

Asked about last week’s conviction of former Guatemalan President Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide against indigenous people in Guatemala’s Ixil region in the 1980s, Ms. Dorough said the decision was groundbreaking, although she was not sure that it would be discussed during the Permanent Forum’s current session.  Historically, genocide had been a “taboo” subject in the indigenous context.  However, the decision broke new ground and directed the world’s attention to genocide against indigenous groups, which continued to occur worldwide.

Asked about the World Bank’s operational policy on indigenous peoples, Mr. Sena stressed the need for establishing a standard policy and for involving indigenous people in the process.  Last year, the Bank had begun consolidating its various requirements for processing bank-sponsored projects in indigenous peoples’ areas.  On Thursday, Forum members would meet with Bank officials in that regard.

Questioned why Anishinaabe tribe members in Canada had no opportunity to speak their traditional language, Ms. Landry said indigenous children in Canada’s residential school system for aboriginal people, which existed from 1878 to 1996, were prohibited and punished for speaking their traditional languages — a policy which churches aided and abetted.  Today, she and other descendants of the schools’ pupils were trying to revive the lost languages on their own.

Asked if any indigenous youth from Estonia and Hungary would be represented at the Sami Parliament’s preparatory meeting, Ms. Landry said 57 participants were selected from each of the seven geographical regions of the world, including 5 to 10 youth from each region.

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