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Intervention to the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations

27 July 2001

23-27 July, 2001

Item 5:
Review of Developments pertaining to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous Peoples

Madam Chair, distinguished members of the Working Group, indigenous brothers and sisters,

Thank you for this opportunity to address the meeting. I am a Maori from Aotearoa New Zealand, representing the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Throughout the past two years the WCC has facilitated three significant meetings for Indigenous Peoples exploring issues of land and identity, environment and racism, and inter religious dialogue.

In each of these meetings, Indigenous Peoples said the same thing. "We continue in the struggle against oppression, against that which would make us less than who we are, against that which would seek to separate us from the core elements of our identity, that is - our land, language, culture, and self determination."

Madam Chair, the WCC remains committed to the struggle of Indigenous Peoples. We welcome the incremental progress of the establishment of a Permanent Forum and the recent creation of the post for a Special Rapporteur. We look forward to the adoption of the draft declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and we view each of these mechanisms as vital to ensuring that basic human rights of Indigenous Peoples are upheld.

Of course, in tandem with these developments is the need for full and meaningful participation of Indigenous Peoples in these same processes. Indeed, the preceding interventions have also highlighted this same issue. Indigenous Peoples continue to call for consultation that is cognisant of their right of participation in processes, which will impact upon them. The WCC takes seriously this challenge, and within its own limited means, continues to accompany Indigenous Peoples in the regional processes for the selection of indigenous representatives to the Permanent Forum. We would encourage member states and relevant UN representatives to do the same.

Madam Chair, the processes and forums of the United Nations are very much removed from the day to day realities of ordinary people who wish merely to enjoy a fullness of life that should be theirs by right. As we sit in meetings, children grow up in the midst of war; as we lobby delegates and other UN representatives, parents wonder how they will find the food to feed their families today; and as we argue over words and semantics, entire communities find themselves subjected to a jurisprudence of oppression that is overwhelming in its power.

I would like to end with the words of an indigenous woman from northern Ghana, shared in a WCC meeting, who faced with the onslaught of desertification on her tribal lands, as a result of poor development models says:

"If I had poisoned darts, I would shoot at this monster that dries up the streams, that drives dusty winds into my eyes and blows the top soil away. The heartless monster that dictates what we eat, and that has enslaved me to work for it."

Madam Chair, there is an urgency to these words that we cannot ignore. There is a cry for help that we cannot turn away from. The responsibility is ours and the moment is now.

Thank you.