Re-posted from the Eastern Door

Not a seat in the UN, but...

Editor, The Eastern Door

The recent opening of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was a landmark occasion in international events. There is no other body quite like it in the entire UN at such a high level. It is the only one where Indigenous persons have equal status to other international experts.

It is not a seat in the UN General Assembly but it's a notch closer. To get a seat in the UN is a totally political process which would require the acceptance as a member from all the member states of the UN; not likely at this time.

But the Permanent Forum is useful in bringing our concerns to the highest levels of the UN. Hundreds of interventions by Indigenous representatives flooded the forum's speakers list. It was clear from the start that Indigenous spokespersons have high expectations for this UN body.

Others were not so sure that the Forum would work well in our favour.

Some feel that the Forum is a trap where Indigenous concerns would be subverted by the government-elected experts on the Forum. But that did not happen at this first meeting. As a matter of fact, several of the government experts were Indigenous themselves and were very supportive of Indigenous Peoples and their plight.

It was assumed that there would be a power play by government experts to dominate the officers of the Forum. However, it turns out that the Chairman, Ole Henrik Magga, a Saami from Norway, and the Rapporteur, Willie Littlechild, a Cree from Alberta, were both Indigenous and elected by the Forum to their positions. Four vice-chairs were also elected and only one of these, Ms. Nyuma Ekundanay of the Congo, was a government expert.

If anything, the officers of the Forum were heavily weighted toward the Indigenous half, a development that was not lost on the participants.

The Indigenous Chairman and the Rapporteur demonstrated that they are more than capable of handling an international meeting of this magnitude. They were both fair and balanced in managing the meeting and the writing of the final report.

Another concern that did not materialize was the possible disruption of the flow of the meeting by large numbers of new participants who are not familiar with the rules of procedure of the UN. While some new participants had unrealistic expectations of the process, everything went smoothly.

Surprising, though, was the absence of many of the large Tribal Councils, the National Congress of American Indians and casino interests which one would expect to be at this meeting. While there were many representatives from inside the U.S., it seems that the Native American establishment stayed away.

In conclusion, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was more successful than some had hoped and not as successful for some others.

It did not end up in a deadlock between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Forum members. Everyone seemed to have a deep interest in trying to resolve the longstanding grievances of Indigenous Peoples. The proof, however is still in the pudding and the forum will be judged by the impact it will have on the UN system, a system entrenched in its ways and difficult to move. But with the support of friendly governments and the support of the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, we can hope that the UN will move in a positive direction to improve the conditions which Indigenous Peoples live in throughout the world.

Kenneth Deer, is editor of The Eastern Door.


Copyright © 2002 Kenneth Deer/Log Cabin Chronicles 06.02