1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)

SECRETARY-GENERAL CALLS ON MEMBER STATES TO PROMOTE DEVELOPMENT WHILE RESPECTING INDIGENOUS VALUES, CUSTOMS, AS PERMANENT UN FORUM OPENS TWO-WEEK SESSION

Session Theme:  “Development with Culture and Identity”;
New Zealand Announces Support for Indigenous Rights Declaration

The annual United Nations forum on indigenous issues opened today with  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling on Member States to promote  development while respecting indigenous cultures and traditions, and with the Government of New Zealand taking the opportunity to announce  that it would reverse its decision and support the United Nations  Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples.

“Slowly but surely, people are coming to understand that the well- being and sustainability of indigenous peoples are matters that 
concern us all.  Diversity is a strength — in cultures and in  languages, just as it is in ecosystems,” Mr. Ban said, as he opened 
the two-week session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues,  which this year will focus on the theme “Development with Culture and  Identity”.

The Secretary-General said that the loss of irreplaceable cultural  practices and means of artistic expression “makes us all poorer, 
wherever our roots may lie”.  That was why Governments must pursue development underpinned by the values of reciprocity, solidarity and  collectivity.  “And we need development that allows indigenous peoples to exercise their right to self-determination through participation in  decision-making on an equal basis,” he added.

Mr. Ban’s call was followed later by the announcement by Pita Sharples, New Zealand’s Minister of Maori Affairs, that the Government 
would reverse its decision and support the Declaration on the Rights  of the Indigenous Peoples.   New Zealand was one of four countries —  the others being Australia, Canada and the United States — that voted against the Declaration in 2007.   Australia reversed its decision  last year.  Greeted with enthusiastic applause, he said:  “We are pleased to express our support for the Declaration as both an 
affirmation of fundamental rights and an expression of new and widely  supported aspirations.”

Maori held a distinct and special status as indigenous people of New  Zealand, and their culture was of profound importance to national 
identity, he continued.  The Declaration was an historic achievement, the result of 22 years of hard work, and he acknowledged the long 
involvement of Maori in its elaboration.  It affirmed accepted international human rights and expressed new, non-binding, 
aspirations.  In supporting the Declaration, New Zealand affirmed those rights and reaffirmed the legal and constitutional frameworks 
that underpinned its legal system, he said.

Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Coordinator of the Second Decade of the World’s Indigenous 
Peoples, said the Permanent Forum had convened at a time of  “extraordinary progress” and its work had influenced the agendas of 
other organizations and financial institutions — a “ripple effect”  which testified to the Forum’s ability to change awareness levels.  
For its part, the United Nations would mark the midway point of the Second Decade with a report by the Secretary-General that evaluated  progress towards the civil, economic, cultural, political and social  rights of indigenous peoples.

Despite such advances, “we must recognize that the situations of  indigenous peoples in many parts of the world are critical”, he 
stressed.  Development efforts had damaged, rather than improved, their well-being and, in many cases, land rights, traditional sources 
of knowledge and cultural priorities had not been recognized, much less respected.  Echoing the Secretary-General, he said that society 
at large lost out when development approaches ignored customs and ancient practices, and he urged examining how indigenous perspectives  could become central to international, regional and national  development agendas.  In such discussions, the voices of women and  youth must be incorporated in meaningful ways.

He also asked the Forum to consider how Declaration articles 3 and 32  –- which respectively covered the right to self-determine political  status, and how lands, water and other resources were used -– could be  used to empower indigenous peoples.  Such work must be undertaken with  an awareness of the Millennium Development Goals.  “The Forum gives voices to people who, in many cases, would be otherwise voiceless”, he  asserted, and he encouraged delegates to share best practices and  strategize on new development models that protected and incorporated  the wisdom of indigenous cultures.

As is the Forum’s tradition, the ninth session was opened with an  invocation from Tadodaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation.  
Welcoming delegates, he asked them to respectfully put their minds  together and give thanks to the leaders of the medicines, the woods,  berries, animals, fresh waters and winds.  He gave thanks to the elder brother, the Sun, that he carry on his duties to help the plants 
survive, and to the grandmother, the Moon, to help maintain the water.

In other business, the Forum adopted the provisional agenda of its ninth session (document E/C.19/2010/1) and elected by acclamation Vice- Chairpersons from among its membership:  Hassan Id Balkassam from Morocco; Bartolomé Clavero Salvador from Spain; Michael Dodson from  Australia; and Tonya Gonnella Frichner from the United States. Paimaneh Hasteh, from Iran, was elected as Rapporteur.

The Forum also held a discussion on the session’s special theme with  United Nations specialized agencies, including the International 
Organization for Migration; the International Labour Organization(ILO); the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); the United Nations  Population Fund (UNFPA); the United Nations Institute for Training and  Research (UNITAR); the World Health Organization (WHO); the United  Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT); the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the Food  and Agriculture Organization (FAO) (also on behalf of the  International Indian Treaty Council); the International Fund for  Agricultural Development (IFAD); the United Nations Children’s Fund  (UNICEF); and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Also participating in that dialogue were Forum Members from Bolivia, Spain, and the United States, who respectively highlighted key themes  that had emerged throughout the day, including the vital need for the  collection of disaggregated data to ensure that the goals set by  Governments to tackle poverty and other social ills did not address  the particular situation of indigenous persons.  They also spotlighted  the concept of “living well”, which aimed towards a way of life where  human beings and nature lived in harmony.

Ahead of that discussion, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Forum expert from the Philippines, introduced the report on the expert group meeting on the  special theme (document E/C.19/2010/14), and the representative of UNESCO introduced the report of the Inter-Agency Support Group.  The Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme  (UNDP), speaking also on behalf of the United Nations Development  Group, also made a statement on that item.

The President of the General Assembly also addressed the Forum.  Ahmed  Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on  Biological Diversity, and Hamidon Ali, President of the Economic and Social Council, also delivered opening remarks.

Chairperson Carlos Mamani Condori, Permanent Forum member from  Bolivia, also gave an overview of the session.

The representative of Bolivia also spoke.

The Forum will reconvene at 10:00 a.m. Tuesday, 20 April, to continue  its discussion on the special theme for the year:  “Indigenous 
peoples: development culture and identity; articles 3 and 32 of the  United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Background

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues met today to begin its ninth  session, which was to focus on the impacts of development policies on  indigenous peoples’ culture and identity.  Almost 2,000 indigenous participants from all regions of the world were expected to take part  in the session to engage with members of the Permanent Forum, Member  States, United Nations agencies and civil society.  The two-week  session will be held from 19 to 30 April (For more information, please  see press release HR/5011).

Opening Statements

Opening the ninth session, TADODAHO SID HILL, Traditional Chief of the  Onondaga Nation, said people here today had come of one mind to greet  one another and give thanks to the Mother Earth, whose duty it was to care for what the Creator had planted.  In that context, he asked  delegates to kindly and respectfully put their minds together and give  thanks to the leaders of the medicines, the woods and the trees,  berries, animals, winged animals, fresh waters and winds.  He gave  thanks to the elder brother, the Sun, that he carry on his duties to  help the plants survive, and the grandmother, the Moon, to help maintain the water.  Finally, he thanked the Creator for having set  down love for all people.

BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General, said that, from the  Arctic to the African savannah, indigenous people often lived in some  of the most isolated places on earth.  Yet, the United Nations was  working to make sure that they themselves were not isolated.  “You  have a unique place in the global community.  You are special members of the [United Nations] family,” he said, stressing that the 
Organization would continue to support and protect indigenous peoples’  human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as their right to  pursue social and economic development.

The Secretary-General said he attached great importance to the United  Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which had been adopted in 2007.  In that landmark document, Member States and indigenous peoples had reconciled with their painful histories and had  resolved to move forward together towards human rights, justice and  development for all.  The United Nations had made significant progress  on indigenous issues over the past 40 years, including with the establishment of the Forum itself, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“And yet, we can not even begin to be content with our progress,” he  cautioned, noting that the first-ever United Nations report on the 
State of the World’s Indigenous People, released in January, had  revealed alarming statistics.  The report stated that indigenous 
people suffered high levels of poverty, health problems, crime and human rights abuses all over the world.  While they made up only 5 per  cent of the world’s population, they accounted for one third of the poorest people on the planet.  Moreover, a Native American was 600  times more likely to contract tuberculosis that the general population.  In Australia, an indigenous child could expect to die 
twenty years earlier than his non-native compatriots.

“Every day, indigenous communities face issues of violence, brutality and dispossession,” he continued, adding that indigenous cultures,  languages and ways of life were under constant threat from climate  change, armed conflict, lack of educational opportunities and  discrimination.  Elsewhere, their cultures were being distorted,  commodified, and used to generate profits which do not benefit 
indigenous people, and can even lead to harm.  “This is not only a  tragedy for indigenous people.  It is a tragedy for the whole world,” 
he declared.

Yet, slowly but surely, “people are coming to understand that the well-being and sustainability of indigenous peoples were matters that 
concerned us all,” he said.  Diversity was strength — in cultures and  in languages, just as it is in ecosystems.  He said that the loss of 
irreplaceable cultural practices and means of artistic expression  “makes us all poorer, wherever our roots may lie”.

According to current forecasts, 90 per cent of all languages could disappear within 100 years.  The loss of those languages eroded an 
essential component of a group’s identity.  That was why the special theme of the Forum’s work this year, “Development with Culture and  Identity,” was particularly appropriate, he said, adding that it  highlighted the need to craft policy measures that promoted 
development, while respecting indigenous peoples’ values and traditions.

“We need development that is underpinned by the values of reciprocity, solidarity and collectivity,” he said, calling also for development  that allowed indigenous peoples to exercise their right to self- determination through participation in decision-making on an equal  basis.

Vowing the United Nations ongoing support, the Secretary-General called on all Governments, indigenous peoples, the United Nations 
system and all other partners to ensure that the vision behind the  Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples becomes a reality for 
all.

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission (NATSIEC) urges Senators to vote against the Bill currently before them on Welfare Reform and Reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Despite the Senate Committee Majority Report indicating support for the Bill the overwhelming majority of submissions to that inquiry showed there are serious concerns about the Bill.

NATSIEC does not support the idea that we should pass faulty legislation and hope to sort it out later. We must ensure that legislation is passed which ensures the rights of all Indigenous Peoples are fully protected immediately. The faults that are apparent in the proposed legislation should be addressed before it is passed in the Senate.

“Good legislation is one that is well thought out and well researched. There is enough evidence for the Government to get this legislation right now. Why do we always have to put up with bad policies and bad legislation?” said Graeme Mundine, Executive Secretary of NATSIEC.  

While the proposed Bill does provide better protection than is currently available under the NTER, it does not go far enough. As it stands the bill will not fully reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act and, as the Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples found, Australia will continue to breach the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and will also contravene International Human Rights Conventions.

“This is not a choice between faulty legislation and no change. There is a third way -the Government can negotiate amendments to ensure the full reinstatement of the RDA and the full protection of the rights of Aborigines in the Northern Territory.

 I urge Senators to stand up for the rights of Aborigines and to negotiate improvements to the Bill before it is passed,” Mr Mundine concluded.

 For further comment: Graeme Mundine 0419 238 788