Political paradox clouds United Nations forum
- 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.
Its a sign of this contradiction that the Permanent Forum is not linked
with the UNs 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 years 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
New York Citys American Indian Community House, a focus of the United
States 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 Uwa 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 Yorks "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