Indigenous groups give cautious welcome to deal struck at UN

Date of publication: 
23 September 2014

Governments pledge to consult native groups over projects on indigenous lands and improve access to education and services

Governments have agreed to draw up national plans to protect the rights of indigenous groups in their countries as part of a hard-fought agreement during a two-day conference in New York.

The agreement document was adopted on Monday at the first UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, held to focus attention on the patchy implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007.

At the conference, attended by more than 1,000 delegates, leaders reaffirmed their commitment to uphold the UN declaration. Although no great strides were taken to advance the contents of the declaration, the agreement was considered a strong outcome.

The conference has been criticised for not inviting more indigenous groups to the discussion table, and the UN said it was investigating claims that some delegates from Russia and Asia were denied visas to the conference or had their visas delayed.

The outcome document said governments pledged to consult, cooperate and obtain the consent of indigenous groups before any projects that could affect their lands or resources are agreed. They also committed to empower indigenous groups, improve access to appropriate education, health and socio-economic programmes and to make a priority the elimination of violence against indigenous groups, particularly against women.

It also called on the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, to appoint a high-level official to consult with indigenous groups and support member states to implement the agreement.

Ivan Šimonović, UN assistant secretary general for human rights, said the outcome document called for celebration and action. “We celebrate the focus on rights of indigenous people being more recognised today than they were in the past, but [it’s] also a call to action to do even more to promote and protect these rights to implementation,” he said.

“Indigenous peoples are too often affected by poverty and discrimination, they are more often in prison than in universities, child mortality rates are higher and life expectancy lower. They pollute less but their livelihoods are more affected by climate change … these trends must be reversed, and can be achieved only if governments work in partnership with indigenous peoples.”

He said he sincerely hoped that governments will follow up on their commitments to create action plans and stressed the important role indigenous groups had to remind their leaders of their promises.

Aili Keskitalo, president of the Sami parliament in Norway, which represents people of Sami heritage, called the staging of the conference a historic moment. She said the outcome document was “action-orientated”, containing concrete commitments to implement the UN declaration. She welcomed the move within the UN human rights council to create a new mechanism to monitor, evaluate and improve member states implementation of the document.

“It has been a long journey for all of us,” she said.

But Patricia Gualinga, from the Sarayaku community in the Ecuador Amazon, who travelled to the conference with Amazon Watch, was more sceptical about what the new document would bring. She doubted the promises would lead to any sudden fundamental change, although it would provide another small weapon to push governments to action.

“Until now what I have seen and heard is that all presidents have beautiful discourses, but where I come from it just stays on paper and in discourses and not in application.

“I don’t think the conference will make major changes, but indigenous peoples can use the conference to show the international commitment … for us it will be a small contribution for advocacy at local level … so when the government commits violations of our rights then we can use this document. In that case, it will be useful.”

She said a major sticking point for governments implementing the UN declaration was the clause to obtain prior consent from indigenous groups before projects are given the green light.

Gualinga said in 2012 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in Costa Rica, delivered a historic ruling to prevent an oil company from drilling on their land because the government had failed to get the community’s consent. But it was a long process. The court action began in 2003. Next week, the government is due to issue a formal apology to indigenous communities for their actions.

“They [the government] talk about consultation but don’t go beyond that,” Gualinga said. “Often they justify resource extraction to say this is to reduce poverty, but we don’t believe that.”

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, indigenous people make up 5% of the global population, but represent 15% of the most disadvantaged groups. They account for one-third of the 1 billion people living in extreme poverty and experience regular discrimination, forced evictions from their land and loss of identity.

Ahead of the event, Olvy Octavianita Tumbelaka, from the Dayak Benuaq community and a member of the Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago, in Indonesia, said palm oil plantations and extractive industries had led to the erosion of local practices traditionally carried out by women in her communities.

“Dayak indigenous women associate themselves with the forest, land, and river. So when we lose access to those three, we are missing the vital part of survival. Women’s knowledge about food and medicinal plants has been undermined. Many used to work in the fields but with the land-clearing and land-diversion into palm oil plantation and extractive industries, many settlers and temporary workers, mostly men, come to indigenous lands.

“The land that used to feed indigenous women is gone … The work that they used to do has no value and they have no place. The traditional medicine that used to be widely available has vanished. Modern medicines are costly and not easily available from their locations. This affects the health quality of indigenous people.”


Indigenous people and the crisis over land and resources

Do indigenous groups need saving from poverty? And why do they come into conflict with conservationists seeking to protect their land?

Martin Mowforth – –

23 September 2014

Indigenous groups are now represented globally by a range of international organisations – the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), the Assembly of First Nations, Survival International, the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Environmental Network – and by many national organisations, along with a host of declarations on indigenous issues by UN agencies and international groups.

Acceptance in Latin American nation states of a multicultural citizenship which is inclusive of indigenous groups has become standard practice on the statute books. A range of rights has been accorded by Central American governments to their indigenous populations. In most cases the recognition is only on paper. The Honduran government, for instance, sidesteps its legal obligations to indigenous populations and their communal land rights by legislating in favour of individual ownership, which directly undermines the principle of communal ownership in indigenous territories.

It is clear that indigenous peoples have been recognised; but it is also clear that legal recognition does not mean that the rights, territories, resources and cultures of indigenous peoples are respected. Governments, corporations, loggers, campesino farmers, cattle-ranching companies and many others still covet their land and resources, and continue to find ways to acquire them.

The resurgence of indigenous self-esteem which has accompanied these developments has coincided with the global financial crisis. The crisis has reinforced “a battle [that] is taking place for natural resources everywhere”. As Victoria Tauli-Corpus (an indigenous Filipino and UNPFII chair) says:

“There are more and more arrests, killings and abuses. This is happening in Russia, Canada, the Philippines, Cambodia, Mongolia, Nigeria, the Amazon, all over Latin America, Papua New Guinea and Africa. It is global. We are seeing a human rights emergency … Much of the world’s natural capital – oil, gas, timber, minerals – lies on or beneath lands occupied by indigenous people.”

The emergency takes the form of land evictions, displacements, forced relocations, and state and corporate violence against indigenous groups. Such conflicts in Central America are frequent and violent, but are rarely covered in the international press. Behind the protests there generally lurk concerns over natural resources or contamination from the activities of mining, oil, energy, logging and agribusiness.

It is this battle, this crisis over land and natural resources, which principally explains why indigenous issues are also environmental and development issues.

Poverty is a development and environmental issue, but the definition of poverty with respect to indigenous peoples is contentious. By the widely used UN standards, indigenous peoples suffer a consistently higher degree of financial poverty than the rest of society. Jason Paiement describes indigenous peoples as:

“Among the poorest and most excluded populations in the world. They have almost universally suffered injustices and discrimination in terms of their basic rights to life, property, languages, culture and citizenship. Many continue to be denied access to essential services such as healthcare and education, and the material conditions for living a satisfying life.”

Yet indigenous peoples have expressed that “they do not like to be labelled as poor because of its negative and discriminatory connotations highlighting instead the process of impoverishment caused by dispossession of their ancestral lands, loss of control over their natural resources and indigenous knowledge, and their forced assimilation into mainstream society and integration in the market economy,” according toJoji Cariño.

Vandana Shiva distinguishes between poverty as subsistence and misery through scarcity and want:

“It is helpful to distinguish between a cultural concept of a simple and sustainable life, understood as poverty, from the material experience of poverty as a result of dispossession and scarcity … [S]ubsistence economies which satisfy basic needs by means of self-supply are not poor in the sense that they are wanting. The ideology of development, however, declares them to be poor for not participating significantly in the market economy and for not consuming goods produced in the global economy.”

Many indigenous groups and representatives are keen to improve the state’s and society’s acceptance of indigenous peoples and issues, but are clear that this does not mean that they wish to join what a NACLAreport describes as “the misplaced social and economic priorities of neoliberal capitalism”. This echoes many groups representing indigenous peoples that, while they want recognition of their cultures by the dominant society, they do not wish to participate in an economic model which is likely to exploit their labour, land and resources for the benefit of a small powerful group. It is of course relatively easy to find individual exceptions to this general feeling, particularly among the young, some of whom see exciting chances to make money.

An issue of contention is the coincidence and conflict between conservation strategies and indigenous peoples. The fact that areas inhabited by indigenous peoples are often also deemed crucial for conservation has been the focus of long-standing conflict and debate. It is estimated that 85% of designated protected areas in Central America are inhabited by indigenous peoples. That the subsistence lifestyles of indigenous peoples are less destructive to the environment than the agro-industrialised economies of non-indigenous peoples should not surprise anyone.

It is often noted that indigenous peoples have an intuitive relationship with nature, a wealth of traditional knowledge, and have used natural resource management practices for centuries to preserve their lands. The stewardship role of indigenous peoples strongly supports the possibility of collaboration with conservation organisations for maintaining biodiversity.Mark Dowie contends that for both parties, maintaining a “healthy and diverse biosphere” is key. Furthermore, the land and ecosystems that both conservationists and indigenous peoples are so keen to defend are seriously threatened by multiple demands, including intensive agriculture, industrial forestry and large-scale development projects such as dams and mines.

But it has been suggested that there are inherent and irreconcilable differences in the agendas of indigenous peoples and conservationists. While the former are primarily concerned for their economic well-being and protecting their land for their own use, the latter want to keep nature intact, prioritising protected areas and programmes grounded in biological and ecological science.

Mac Chapin (pdf) provides a damning critique of the three largest and dominant global conservation organisations: World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International and Nature Conservancy. He noted that their neglect of indigenous peoples in conservation programmes is partly due to their corporate and government funding and the conditions attached to it. He points out that indigenous resistance is often directed at projects executed by the organisations’ funding partners, who are also often perpetrators of environmental degradation.

• This is an edited extract from The Violence of Development: Resource Depletion, Environmental Crises and Human Rights Abuses in Central America by Martin Mowforth, published by Pluto Press


Free, Prior & Informed Consent of Indigenous Under Fire, IPU Handbook

By Matthew Russell Lee –

22 September 2014

UNITED NATIONS — During the World Conference on Indigenous People, the Inter-Parliamentary Union released a handbook to help parliamentarians implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Inner City Press asked IPU Secretary General Martin Chungong, Wilton Littlechild and UNDP’s Charles Chauvel about free, prior and informed consent, and about proposals for minimum percentages or numbers of indigenous people in parliaments. Charles Chauvel said such set-aside or devoted seats have long existed in New Zealand; Chungong said IPU counts only 1000 indigenous legislators among 47,000 worldwide. He added that Bolivia incorporated the entire Declaration into its Constitution. Littlechild emphasized that free, prior and informed consent is not a veto, but imput. In the hallway afterward another indigenous long-time activist said to watch for Canada opposing free, prior and informed consent. We will. Rigoberta Menchu about recent killings of indigenous people in Guatemala, and how the UN Declaration has impacted Guatemala. Rigoberta Menchu replied about the incident, involving the cement company San Juan; she referred to free, prior and informed consent. The president of the Sami parliament Aili Keskitalo began by saying the delegates to the WCIP from Russia had been blocked. Inner City Press had heard Vietnam also blocked delegates, and asked. The Sami parliament president said yes, she’d heard a delegate from Asia had been blocked. We’ll see.


Assembly of First Nations Welcomes the Adoption of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples Outcome Document – Calls on Canada to Stop Trying to Obstruct and Deny Indigenous Rights

Turtle Island News –

24 September 2014

New York City, NY, Sept. 23, 2014 – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Ghislain Picard and AFN Saskatchewan Regional Chief Perry Bellegarde are participating in the inaugural World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) taking place at the United Nations in New York City. Indigenous peoples from around the world are gathered since yesterday to move forward on implementing the rights of Indigenous peoples, including the principles and objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Yesterday, participants at the World Conference officially adopted an action-oriented “Outcome Document” on the implementation the rights of Indigenous peoples and the promotion of the achievement of internationally agreed development goals

“This important international conference and the adoption of the Outcome Document signal a new way forward as recognized at the highest level of the United Nations structure and now commits all members states to work with Indigenous peoples to take action on Indigenous rights and the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said AFN National Chief Picard. “We now have real momentum for change and this marks a great achievement for us all. It is deeply concerning, though, that Canada continues to embarrass itself and isolate itself on the world stage by offering to explain their vote yesterday and outlining a series of objections. In particular, they object to the important principle of free, prior and informed consent by Indigenous peoples on activities taking place in their lands and territories, even though this principle represents the best way forward for shared, respectful and responsible development. This is the same government that voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. These actions are not consistent with our much-needed work towards reconciliation between First Nations and the Crown. “

AFN Saskatchewan Regional Chief Perry Bellegarde, who is part of the AFN delegation at the UN, will be presenting today to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples roundtable on Indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources. Regional Chief Bellegarde will speak to implementation of the UNDRIP, the recent Tsilhqot’in Nation decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, the principles of free, prior and informed consent and the importance of Treaties and the Treaty relationship.

“For Treaty Nations, through our treaties, we extend our relationships to Canada and create mutual obligations, both to each other but, more importantly, to our lands, territories and resources,” said Regional Chief Bellegarde. “Honouring and implementing Treaties, agreements and constructive arrangements in accordance with their original spirit and intent as understood by Indigenous peoples is critical for achieving peace, justice and reconciliation.”

During the WCIP conference, the AFN delegates will make interventions on actions required to implement the UNDRIP domestically and on issues related to lands and resources. The AFN delegates will also follow up on all aspects of the Outcome Document to ensure that the commitments expressed are followed by immediate actions.

Information on the first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples is available at:


Ottawa buries official statement criticizing UN conference for giving Indigenous people too much power

By Jorge Barrera, APTN National News –

24 September 2014

Ottawa didn’t think much of the high-profile UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples’ outcome document and quietly posted an official statement outlining its displeasure in a back corner of its website.

The statement is posted under Foreign Affairs’ website for the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations. It’s not easy to find on the website as it’s not highlighted on the front page. It can be found first by clicking through a section on “Canadian Statements” and then the section subtitled “Statements on Human Rights.” The statement also did not make it onto Canada’s UN mission’s Twitter stream.

The Assembly of First Nations’ website, however, posted Canada’s statement under “Latest News.”

The first ever World Conference on Indigenous Peoples ran over two days and ended Tuesday.

Canada rejected the conference’s outcome document because it gave Indigenous people too much power over development on their territories. In particular, Canadian diplomats rejected the conference document’s position on “free prior and informed consent,” which is one of the key aspects of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Free, prior and informed consent…could be interpreted as providing a veto to Aboriginal groups and in that regard, cannot be reconciled with Canadian law, as it exists,” said Canada’s official statement. “Agreeing…would commit Canada to work to integrate (free, prior and informed consent) in its processes with respect to implementing legislative or administrative measures affecting Aboriginal peoples. This would run counter to Canada’s constitution, and if implemented, would risk fettering Parliamentary supremacy.”

The statement also reiterated Canada’s position that the UN declaration on Indigenous rights was merely an “aspiration document” that had no force in Canada.

“The government’s vision is a future in which Aboriginal families and communities are healthy, safe, self-sufficient and prosperous within a Canada where people make their own decisions, manage their own affairs, and make strong contributions to the country as a whole,” said Canada’s official statement.

The AFN issued a statement blasting Canada for its position for watered down and limited Indigenous rights.

“It is deeply concerning…that Canada continues to embarrass itself and isolate itself on the world stage,” said interim AFN National Chief Ghislain Picard. “These actions are not consistent with our much-needed work towards reconciliation between First Nations and the Crown.”

Picard said during a press conference Wednesday First Nations also do not equate free prior and informed consent with a veto.

The AFN obtained the statement from the Canadian delegation at the conference and then posted on its website.

The AFN said it posted the statement for the historical record.

“The AFN takes the position that this is important information that is on the record and should be shared with First Nations and others,” said an AFN spokesperson.

A Foreign Affairs spokesperson directed APTN National News to the location of the posted statement.


Canada sets lowest standard at World Conference on Indigenous Peoples

Matthew Coon Come says Canada contradicted own endorsement of UN Declaration this week

By Matthew Coon Come for CBC News –

27 September 2014

Matthew Coon Come is the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and the chairperson of the Cree Regional Authority.

The World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP), an historic two-day meeting, began on Sept. 22 at the UN General Assembly in New York.

I and other indigenous leaders attended the meeting with heads of government, ambassadors and ministers. We went there to witness and contribute to a new chapter of our history. We went to celebrate indigenous peoples’ human rights and new and renewed commitments by UN members states in international law.

Canada’s aboriginal well-being efforts ‘insufficient,’ UN envoy says Visit CBC Aboriginal for more top stories

Matthew Coon Come

Matthew Coon Come is the Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and the chairperson of the Cree Regional Authority. (CBC)

Unfortunately, Canada’s prime minister did not attend. Nor did any minister from Stephen Harper’s government. Since its election in 2006, the government has refused to acknowledge within Canada that indigenous peoples’ collective rights are human rights.

The idea for WCIP arose in 1993 at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria. However, it was indigenous leader Evo Morales who worked to achieve the WCIP. Upon his election as president of Bolivia in 2006, he pledged that he would propose a WCIP. It was the impetus of Morales that resulted in the UN General Assembly officially agreeing to hold a WCIP in 2014.

The highlight of this conference was the General Assembly’s adoption by consensus of an outcome document, which includes the commitments of UN member states on a wide range of issues. Key matters are addressed such as indigenous youth, health, language and culture, access to justice, and violence and discrimination against indigenous peoples and individuals, in particular women.

Only Canada questioned ‘free, prior and informed consent’

The centrepiece of the document is the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In his opening remarks, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared,“I am proud that the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples during my first year in office … that set minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of indigenous peoples. … And we are joining forces with indigenous peoples to reach our common goals.”

Regretfully, Canada was the only state in the world that chose to request an explanation of vote. In regard to the outcome document, Canada claimed it cannot accept the two paragraphs on “free, prior and informed consent,” which is widely accepted in international law.

Canada implied consent may constitute some kind of absolute “veto,” but never explained what the term means. Canada also objected to the commitment “to uphold the principles of the declaration,” since it was somehow incompatible with Canada’s constitution.
Arguments ‘contradict own endorsement of UN declaration’

These arguments are false. They contradict Canada’s own endorsement of the UN declaration in 2010, which concluded: “We are now confident that Canada can interpret the principles expressed in the declaration in a manner that is consistent with our constitution and legal framework.”

Canada failed to disclose this conclusion to the General Assembly. In so doing, Canada has misled the General Assembly, member states and indigenous peoples globally. Canada has failed to uphold the honour of the Crown.

Such actions against the human rights of indigenous peoples betray Canada’s constitution. Good governance is not possible without respect and protection for indigenous peoples’ human rights. Harmonious and cooperative relations — which is also highlighted in the UN declaration — require no less.

For years, the Harper government has refused to consult indigenous rights-holders on crucial issues, especially when it involves international forums. This repeated failure to consult violates Canada’s duty under Canadian constitutional and international law.

In his opening remarks, Ban declared to indigenous peoples from all regions of the world, “You will always have a home at the United Nations.” Yet in our own home in Canada, the federal government refuses to respect democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

For thirty years, the James Bay Crees have always defended and advanced indigenous peoples’ rights at the UN and other international forums. And we will continue to achieve success.

Canada’s low standards have not and cannot prevent the increasing influence of the UN declaration in Canada and worldwide.


National Inuit org “concerned” about Canada’s position on indigenous rights

ITK says federal government contradicts its 2010 support of UN indigenous rights declaration


26 September 2014

Canada’s national Inuit organization says it’s concerned about Ottawa’s interpretation of a section of the outcome document passed at this week’s World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

In that document, Inuit and Aboriginal delegates from around the world reaffirmed support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP, at the New York City gathering Sept. 23, including the right to free, prior and informed consent.

But Canada objected to paragraphs in the document asserting that principle — that indigenous peoples must give free, prior and informed consent to any development that could potentially impact their lands.

“Free, prior and informed consent… could be interpreted as providing a veto to Aboriginal groups and in that regard, cannot be reconciled with Canadian law, as it exists,” said Canada’s Sept. 22 statement.

“Inuit celebrated the government of Canada’s support for the declaration after it was announced in the Speech from the Throne in 2010,” said ITK president Terry Audla in a Sept. 25 release.

“But we are deeply concerned by Canada’s statement this week in response to the outcome document, in particular the government’s interpretation that free, prior and informed consent cannot be reconciled with Canadian law.”

Audla pointed out that the five constitutionally protected land claims agreements which Canadian Inuit have negotiated with the Crown require the active participation of Inuit on issues that impact those regions.

“The government’s statement this week contradicts its own confidence in 2010 that Canada can interpret the principles expressed in the declaration in a manner that is consistent with its Constitution and legal framework,” Audla added.

ITK’s sentiments echo those of a number of other indigenous organizations such as the Inuit Circumpolar Council and the Assembly of First Nations, both of whom accused Canada of undermining indigenous rights.

The Canadian government kept a low profile at the conference and was not represented by either the prime minister or a cabinet minister.

In a Sept. 25 statement sent to Nunatsiaq News, the office of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt pointed to the federal government’s “constitutionally-entrenched framework that ensures the consultation and accommodations as appropriate, of Aboriginal interests.”

“Since 2006 our government has passed unprecedented reforms that give Aboriginal peoples access to the same basic rights that other Canadians have long enjoyed,” read the statement.

“We have recently announced specific actions to ensure that positive and productive relations with Aboriginal communities continue, giving women living on reserves the same matrimonial rights as all Canadians, providing First Nations with drinking water standards comparable to those off-reserve and investments for on-reserve housing.”

In situations where there is no land claim or treaty, Ottawa it is still obliged to respect the principal of Aboriginal title.

The Supreme Court of Canada reaffirmed that in the Tsilhqot’in decision, released in June.

Even in cases where land claims have been signed and Aboriginal partners have surrendered title to large chunks of land — as is the case with the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement — some lawyers argue the Tsilhqot’in ruling still compels the Crown to negotiate for consent.