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Advocacy strategies on Indigenous Peoples issues

Report of the Consultation on Developing Advocacy Strategies for WCC work on Indigenous Peoples Issues, Church Centre, New York, 21-23 May 2013.

27 June 2013

Report of the Consultation on Developing Advocacy Strategies for WCC Work on Indigenous Peoples Issues

Church Centre, New York, 21-23 May 2013

The World Council of Churches has been involved in indigenous people’s issues for decades. It has played a key role since the beginning of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), especially in the process towards the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Issues, and also the work of Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

There are several member churches, organizations and individuals within the ecumenical movement committed to indigenous issues, and living in indigenous communities. In preparation for the world conference, and with a view to develop a coordinated advocacy agenda towards the UN World Conference on Indigenous People’s Issues to be held in conjunction with the first week of the UN General Assembly in September 2014, an ecumenical expert consultation was held in New York in May 2013.

In order to identify relevant issues for reflection and action to contribute substantially in the global dialogue and also for ecumenical advocacy strategies, this consultation focused on two key areas. These are: 1. The Doctrine of Discovery and its continuing impact through its legitimisation of extractive industries that displace and destroy many Indigenous People and other vulnerable communities besides harming the eco-system; and 2. Evangelism in relation to indigenous communities—historically and now, with a view to clarify the role of the ecumenical movement in supporting and advocating respect for cultural and spiritual traditions in the indigenous communities in the view of reconciliation and of re-creating confidence and trust.

The following issues were discussed:

  • Abuse of land and people
  • The increased threat by extractive industries to indigenous cultures, land and climate
  • The need to focus on spirituality: right to spirituality and spirituality as an integrated dimension of culture, in particular when approaching and interacting with member states around indigenous peoples’ rights.
  • Need to replace the Doctrine of Discovery with a “Doctrine of Reconciliation”
  • Need for liberation of theology and to “decolonize Jesus”
  • Need for analyzing processes of “othering” – the ‘we’ and ‘them’ syndromes, particularly in relation to mission and evangelism
  • Need for building a movement of solidarity with indigenous peoples
  • Two agendas for advocacy: (1) toward the UN and its member states, and (2) toward the WCC member churches
  • Advocacy at the UN requires a focused message and a strong identity of the messenger
  • Advocacy to churches must aim to encourage, educate, and inspire, and must invite churches to discover how indigenous spirituality and theological reflection can contribute to enrich and renew the broader ecumenical discourse and challenge the churches
  • Need for an ecumenical network in solidarity with indigenous peoples – to be pressure and pleasure groups within the ecumenical movement
  • Need for strategizing in preparation for the WCC Pre-assembly and Assembly, Permanent Forum in May 2014, World Conference in September 2014
  • Need for a WCC “platform” affirming and recalling positions previously adopted by the WCC on issues related to the indigenous peoples agenda at the UN, with the purpose of serving as a policy brief for advocacy in capitals and at the UN (Geneva and New York). Need to examine own statements, compare them to UNDRIP and hold governments accountable.
  • Need to address and to undertake the task to “dismantle” the Doctrine of Discovery as a means to embark on the road of decolonizing attitudes and “mission strategies,” and to prevent repetition in relation to the ongoing race for natural resources in the Arctic and elsewhere. Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery is not enough; dismantling it varies locally.
  • Should be a focus on extractive industries and the damage they cause, and how indigenous rights--as they have been recognized in UNDRIP and ILO Conventions No. 107 and No. 169, are abused.
  • The potential for making alliances with environmental organizations and organizations involved in advocacy around climate change should be explored.
  • Need to establish dialogue with extractive industries through Global Compact.
  • Right to land, spirituality and identity could be a relevant theme for reflection and focus on advocacy;
  • Need for storytelling within the church about experiences of indigenous peoples
  • Suggestions to submit reports to the UN on for example spirituality or any other theme that is relevant to the competence, experience and identity of the ecumenical movement
  • The need to acknowledge that UNDRIP is an invitation to work together, and that it is not a threat but a framework for reconciliation
  • Need to call member states to implement UNDRIP
  • Build awareness on the close relation between indigenous spirituality and connection to the land
  • Interdependence must replace the notion of dependence. As someone said, ‘we don’t need help; we need relatives”.
  • Recognize that there is an inter faith dimension to the work
  • The notion of metanoia should play an important role in theological reflection – “all my relations”.
  • Important to make member churches aware of how big the indigenous populations are around the globe (350 million?)
  • Bring in the discussions of the ‘s’ in relation to peoples, especially at the UNPFII.
  • Churches should be involved in the discussions on “Access to Justice” relative to the current study conducted by EMRIP.

Some suggestions for ecumenical advocacy:

  • Advocate for the ratification of ILO Convention No. 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries
  • Urge churches to advocate in their capitals for the recognition of UNDRIP and to integrate the rights in their legislative frameworks. UNDRIP calls for concrete steps to save the planet earth from destruction as well as framework for reconciliation with the First Peoples.
  • Discuss in what ways the ecumenical movement can contribute to the global discourse on indigenous rights by submitting reports addressing themes up for discussion, or by submitting shadow reports
  • Bring to the attention of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or belief that citizen rights are denied indigenous peoples who belong to other religious communities than the ones officially recognized. Documentation would be needed in order to state the case.
  • Contribute to the UNPFII’s work on Indigenous spirituality. WCC is uniquely placed to do this.
  • Create a network of ecumenists to coordinate actions and initiatives, and to share resources and knowledge
  • Invite churches to discover the connection between commitment to climate issues and the rights of the indigenous peoples, and encourage them to work jointly with environmental organizations as well as with indigenous communities.


1. Affirm that WCC must continue to support IP work

2. Need of a statement/call/mandate/platform to give to churches about urgency and immediacy of concerns as well as richness of IPs to ecumenical movement/WCC

3. Assembly

a. Strong and substantial message to the assembly

b. Need of focusing on extractive industries rather than DOD

c. Earn partnership of all activities

4. Share stories of good practice

5. Value of interdependence of life: share as an alternative to current value system

6. Interfaith dialogue

7. Initiate and expand dialogue on spiritual rights with a view to contribute to the UN work on IP rights.

8. Work toward an ecumenical network of Indigenous Peoples.

9. Work in partnership with World Evangelical Alliance on a number of these issues in view of the fact that many IP communities also belong to churches in the WEA.


Beatriz Ascarrunz, Andean Ecumenical Higher Institute of Theology, Bolivia

Sarah Augustine, Surinam Health Fund, USA

Geronimo Desumala, World Council of Churches,

Sarah Eagleheart, The Episcopal Church, USA

Mayra Gomez-Perez, The Peace Foundation, USA

Margareta Grape, World Council of Churches,

John Henriksen, Saami Parliament,

Tore Johnsen, Sami Church Council, Church of Norway,

Glen “Chebon” Kernell, General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church

Wilton Littlechild, Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, USA

Wati Longchar, Shrachi Centre, India

Deenabandhu Manchala, World Council of Churches

Stanley Mckay, United Church of Canada

Rex Reyes, National Council of Churches in the Philippines

Cecil "Mel" Robeck, Fuller Seminary, USA

Elsa Stamatopoulou, Columbia University, USA

Kaisa Syrjanen Schaal, Church of Sweden