A World Conference on Indigenous Peoples With No Indigenous?

Gale Courey Toensing

With no assurance from the United Nations General Assembly’s top official that Indigenous Peoples will participate on a full and equal basis with states at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, indigenous activists are saying they will not participate in the conference and that it should be delayed or cancelled altogether.

A delegation of indigenous representatives met with the President of the General Assembly (PGA) John Ashe at U.N. headquarters in New York on January 28 to try to persuade him to re-appoint an indigenous co-facilitator to participate on an equal basis with a state co-facilitator in organizing and facilitating the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) that is scheduled to take place at the U.N. in September. John Henriksen, Sami, and the international representative of the Sami Parliament of Norway, was appointed co-facilitator along with a state representative by a different PGA in 2011, but Ashe has declined to re-appoint him. Henriksen is widely supported by the indigenous activists involved in the U.N. process. On January 15, indigenous representatives from more than a dozen countries around the world wrote urging Ashe to re-appoint Henriksen.

The delegation included Kenneth Deer, Mohawk, representing the Oneida Nation Council of Chiefs, Roberto Borrero, Taino, from the International Indian Treaty Council, Rosalee Gonzalez representing the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas, Quapaw Tribe Chairman John Berrey representing the National Congress of American Indians, and Quapaw legal consultant Allen Mauk.

“My position and the position of the chiefs that I represent – the Oneida Nation Council of Chiefs and others -- is no indigenous co-facilitator, no conference. And all of us at the meeting were in agreement about no facilitator, no conference,” Deer told Indian Country Today Media Network. “Unless we have representation the conference should not go forward. A process should be re-done to delay or cancel the conference.”

The delegation met with Ashe and five of his top advisers, most of whom were ambassadors. “So that was significant,” Deer said. “He said we were the first Indigenous Peoples he’s met and he was waiting for this meeting.”

Regardless of his eagerness to meet Indigenous Peoples for the first time, Ashe was not swayed into appointing an indigenous co-facilitator on an equal footing with a state representative for the conference.

“The PGA is not in favor of an indigenous co-facilitator. He said he’s stuck between two opposing groups of governments – one group of states that support an indigenous facilitator and another group that is adamantly against it. He’s responsible to those 193 member states and to no one else,” Deer said. And the decision is his alone to make.

The opposing states are Russia, China, India, Malaysia and Indonesia who argue that the conference should be run by U.N. state members, particularly for a world conference at a high level meeting of the General Assembly. “They view this as an incursion of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) into the U.N. We argued that the chiefs and chairmen are heads of governments of indigenous nations,” Deer said. “We tried to convince him that it’s important that we be treated as equals and that’s the position of Indigenous Peoples around the world and that we can’t accept anything less than equality. He said he has no horse in this race and that he considers himself neutral and stuck between these two opposing parties.” It was not clear why, if Ashe is neutral, he has chosen to support the opponents of an indigenous co-facilitator.

The indigenous activists’ biggest concern is that states that are hostile to indigenous human rights will use the conference to undermine the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the “outcome document” – the political statement that will become a U.N. General Assembly resolution, Deer said.

On January 29, Ashe made three new proposals: 1. that he appoints two state co-facilitators and one Indigenous advisor; 2. that he appoints two state facilitators and one indigenous co-facilitator, and 3. that he, as the PGA, be responsible for the outcome document with the assistance of States and Indigenous representatives. None of the proposals met the need for full and equal participation by an indigenous representative, said Glenn Morris, a member of the Leadership Council, American Indian Movement of Colorado and director of the Fourth World Center for the Study of Indigenous Law and Politics. Of Ashe’s three options. “No. 1 was already dismissed as unacceptable per the Alta outcome document [that was adopted last June at a conference in Alta, Norway]; No. 2 is untenable because the PGA has now stated repeatedly that he has no intention of implementing that; and, No. 3 is not acceptable because, even if the PGA were to adopt it, it also violates the tenets of the Alta outcome document, and even if it didn't, it is so remote as to be a waste to spend much of our time to consider, seriously.”

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The General Assembly passed a resolution in December 2010 to organize the WCIP in December 2010 in order “to share perspectives and best practices on the realization of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and to pursue the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

In a clear case of irony deficiency, by refusing to appoint an indigenous co-facilitator the PGA violates Article 18 of the Declaration, which says “Indigenous Peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.”

The best thing would be for the PGA to a realize that in order for the conference to be viewed as legitimate by Indigenous Peoples it needs to begin by implementing Article 18 of the Declaration, according to Andrea Carmen, executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council.

“We know there is a lot of pressure on him by a few states that want to make sure that the outcome document from the WCIP is controlled by states without our real and effective participation. We could not accept that during the development of the U.N. Declaration and we certainly can’t accept it now that the Declaration has been adopted and we are planning a conference focused on implementation,” Carmen said. “If the PGA continues to hold out for an unequal formula for our participation in this case, I imagine that many Indigenous Peoples will take the position that IITC has stated, that it will not be possible for us to participate. Many may agree that the best case scenario would be to call it off. We are still working for a correct decision by the PGA and I think we will know either way very soon. Then will be the time for deciding next steps.”

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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
This is what happens when you have elitist with an agenda. To hell with the rest of us who do not fit their agendas! I think this would be a good place to have an Idle No More march at! How about the rest of you folks my friends all across Indian Country? A meeting about US that doesn't include any of "Us" is no longer a meeting for "Us". The more these elitist want to control everything the more they distance themselves from US! Reminds me of the meetings the US government has throughout it's existence. They claim these meetings are for us, yet so many times not one person of our many people are even at the table! It's almost laughable if it wasn't so pathetic! A meeting WITHOUT any of US at the table is no meeting at all to represent OUR needs, concerns & justice for OUR many peoples across Turtle Island!

curtj's picture
Submitted by curtj on
As Indigenous my thoughts on the difference between "state" and "Indigenous" and the refusal of the PGA to recognize the Indigenous leaders or ambassadors is: State- is a fancy word for colonial governments who have in the past, or, are presently, engaged in forcing their centuries old policies of colonialism on other countries and governments. Indigenous- Bonded by centuries of living on their lands and taking the bounties of sustenance from its lands and waters. Colonialism- The act of invading other countries, to allow, or enable, Freebooters, Thieves, Murderers, and Corporations to steal, or, coerce their natural resources. Colonialism- The act of European, or American government agencies(MI6. Mossad, CIA, NSA) to actively work to destabilize democratically elected governments, by manipulating coups and assassinations, to set up, and prop up, groomed despot dictators, for the express purpose of bribing them, to allow the theft of their countries resources. A brief description of the policies and its results. We spend trillions to destabilize other governments, from the 750-900 military bases worldwide in 125-235 countries, according to Ron Paul and Jesse Ventura, manned by the CIA, military intelligence and hired mercenaries. We spend the trillions and foreign owned conglomerates get the profits, which trickles into bribed dictators pockets, and eventually the "trickle down effect" ends up in our corrupt political prostitutes pockets. They get the profits and Americans get the trillion dollar bills and resulting terrorist attacks by people incensed at seeing their people terrorized, raped, kidnapped and murdered for the sake of the theft to happen. As can be seen, the Indigenous Peoples Forum of the United Nations is easily manipulated by the Colonial governments, whose policies of theft and murder will be affected by Indigenous governments demanding their human rights and reparations by the white collar thieves and murderers who are masquerading as politicians. My complaint is our so called leaders have no imagination, are loath to self educate themselves on the history of colonialism and its murderous impacts to many Indigenous cultures. They are forced to think and make decisions based on the philosophies, ideals and parameters of colonial thieves and murderers hiding behind their governmental cloaks. our leaders refuse to call out the thieves and murderers responsible and are reduced to holding their hands out for government money, even while their resources and lands are being stolen and utilized by others.