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Political paradox clouds United Nations forum

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  • Djehuti Sundaka
    Political paradox clouds United Nations forum Posted: May 09, 2003 - 9:52am EST by: Jim Adams / Managing Editor / Indian Country Today NEW YORK - More than
    Message 1 of 1 , May 10, 2003
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      Political paradox clouds United Nations forum

      Posted: May 09, 2003 - 9:52am EST
      by: Jim Adams / Managing Editor / Indian Country Today

      NEW YORK - More than 1,700 indigenous peoples representing 546
      organizations from around the world will converge on the glass tower of
      the United Nations for two weeks in mid-May. The occasion is the second
      annual meeting of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, a fledgling
      UN body that gathered with little mainstream notice a year ago. Its
      importance paradoxically is not that the UN is hosting the meeting but
      that such a wide array of Native peoples is coming.

      When the Forum convenes on May 12, it will mark the close of the UN
      Decade of Indigenous People, whose main achievement, some might say, is
      the establishment of the forum. Declarations of the rights of indigenous
      peoples have been limited by a fundamental contradiction.

      The UN is an organization of nation-states, which almost without
      exception have engulfed the ancestral territories of indigenous peoples
      and represent populations of latecomers. All the countries of three
      continents, North and South America and Australia, were established by
      invaders from Europe, and the nations of Europe itself derive from
      thousands of years of population migrations which, except in the far
      North, have obliterated most traces of the original inhabitants. This is
      not the most sympathetic audience for indigenous claims for sovereignty.

      By definition, indigenous peoples precede the politics of nation-states,
      and even politics itself, in its literal Greek sense of the governance
      of a city (polis). One of the concerns of many indigenous groups has
      been to preserve an environment and a compatible way of life threatened
      by the types of developments favored by the UN and parallel bodies like
      the World Bank. Such concerns ironically have brought Natives like the
      tribesmen at the headwaters of the Amazon out of their isolation and
      into alliance with counterparts throughout the world.

      The rise of a world indigenous movement will be dramatically on display
      at the Forum, where organizers are already seriously worried about
      overcrowding in the meeting rooms provided by the UN secretariat. But
      this movement derives from the growing political will and sophistication
      of indigenous groups and leaders, taking advantage of the networking
      opportunities that various UN meetings and commissions have given them.
      As might become clear at the Forum, indigenous rights originate
      independently of nation-state principles of international law and
      occasionally, as in border-crossing issues, clash with them.

      It’s a sign of this contradiction that the Permanent Forum is not linked
      with the UN’s General Assembly but is buried within its bureaucracy.
      Formally the organization is part of the Division for Social Policy and
      Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the
      United Nations Secretariat. The Forum itself, consisting of 16 members
      allocated to world regions, was established by the Economic and Social
      Council on July 28, 2000, on the recommendation of the UN Commission on
      Human Rights, after indigenous groups had lobbied for an outlet at the
      UN for more than 25 years. The first session took place at UN
      headquarters from May 13 - 24, 2002. It was only this February that the
      UN established a Secretariat for the Forum, to give it support staff.

      The Secretariat is charged with representing indigenous concerns to the
      rest of the UN and its agencies. It will also administer a Voluntary
      Fund for the Permanent Forum.

      The agenda for the second session emphasizes social issues rather than
      political rights. It is taking the theme "Indigenous Children and Youth"
      and devoting the next two weeks of meetings to its "mandated areas,"
      topics like "economic and social development," "environment," "health,"
      "human rights," "culture" and "education." If last year’s session is any
      indication, however, representatives tend to ignore the topics in their
      speeches and talk about their own burning issues.

      Much of the important work will probably take place outside of the
      sure-to-be cramped conference halls, in a series of receptions and
      networking events.

      New York City’s American Indian Community House, a focus of the United
      State’s largest concentration of urban Indians, will be one center of
      activity away from the UN. On May 19, it will host a Remembrance
      Ceremony for Ingrid Washinawatok, the Menominee activist murdered in
      Colombia while on a mission to its oppressed U’wa Indians. John Trudell,
      poet and veteran spokesman for the American Indian Movement, will read
      his poems at the tribute.

      Another event sponsored by indigenous peoples of North and South America
      will unroll May 14 at 9 a.m. at the door of the United Nations, when a
      delegation carrying the Sacred Staff of the Peace and Dignity Journeys
      will arrive from a run across New York state to deliver a traditional
      message. According to a press release, Spiritual Runners from this group
      have traversed the hemisphere three times since 1992. This run began May
      6 in Seneca territory in New York’s "Western Door" and will pass through
      other Haudenosaunee territories on its way to the UN.

      This article can be found at http://IndianCountry.com/?1052488680
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