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Message on Indigenous Peoples' Collective Right to Land for the 17th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (April 2018)

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Indigenous Peoples’ Network Reference Group (EIPNRG), representing communities, churches, and ecumenical partners from the different regions of the globe, is concerned about the lack of significant advances in guaranteeing, at national and international levels, the Indigenous Peoples’ collective right to land as it is stated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP, Article 26).

23 April 2018

WCC Ecumenical Indigenous Peoples’ Network Reference Group (EIPNRG)

MESSAGE ON INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ COLLECTIVE RIGHT TO LAND for the 17th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues - New York, 16-27 April 2018

Introduction

We, the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Indigenous Peoples’ Network Reference Group (EIPNRG), representing communities, churches, and ecumenical partners from the different regions of the globe, are concerned about the lack of significant advances in guaranteeing, at national and international levels, the Indigenous Peoples’ collective right to land as it is stated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP, Article 26). The absence of substantive policies to guarantee Indigenous Peoples’ collective right to land, to address discriminatory and disrespectful actions against them, and the continuing existence of oppressive policies that prevent them from enjoying this right, pose serious threats to their survival. (UNDRIP, Article 27)

Indigenous Peoples’ unique relationship with the land (mother earth) is essential for their existence. Land is integral to Indigenous identity, spirituality, health and wellbeing, rootedness and belonging, cultural values and practices, self-determination, sacred beliefs, ancestral links, and the possibilities of a future. For Indigenous Peoples this relationship to land is indispensable to the realisation of their agency, autonomy, and the development of living conditions conducive to the full enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms (UNDRIP, Articles 25, 26). Indeed, much of Indigenous ancient teachings, knowledge, and traditional practices continue to offer sustainable holistic means to care for the earth now and for generations to come, and should be taken seriously as key contributing factors to resolving the major crises our world faces today such as achieving sustainable development and reducing the impact of climate change - to name two.

Recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ collective right to land creates a fertile space for peace where Indigenous Peoples can practice their cultures, utilise their knowledge, and share ancient stories that remind all humanity of our interconnectedness to one another. This powerful connection to land and to all creation reflects the best part of the human condition and is therefore of universal value, worthy of protection and preservation. It is an invaluable resource for humanity’s search for a sustainable future characterized by a life-giving balance between human interconnection and the natural environment.

Unfortunately, in spite of good intentions by many in the international community, Indigenous Peoples continue to face dispossession and forced displacement from their land through systematic discrimination, conflict, murder, threats, increased poverty, and the on-going impact of colonialism. Indigenous land are being stolen, grabbed, and/or destroyed by legal and illegal means, and subjected to intervention without proper consultation. In many cases governments collude in such actions either by the lack of protection measures for Indigenous communities or because state economic and political agendas promote a development model that is contrary to Indigenous values of integrity and inclusion. It is time for governments and the civil society to take concrete actions.

Recommendations:

We therefore urge the United Nations to:

  • Honor and affirm Indigenous Peoples ́ call for full access and ownership of theirancestral and traditional land as a collective right fully integral to their right to life - a right that is guaranteed to every human being (UN Universal Declaration of Humans Rights, Articles 1, 3); and

  • Call on governments, state agencies, and the civil society to proactively affirm their commitment to justice and peace for all by respecting and fully implementing Indigenous Peoples’ collective right to land, ensuring that adequate measures are in place allowing Indigenous Peoples to enjoy these rights without prejudice or harm (UNDRIP, Article 27; UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2).