Indigenous nations such as the Onondaga, Mohawk, Seneca and Oneida have expressed deep concerns about the way the United Nations member states will carry out the High Level Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly on 22 September dedicated to identifying “best practices for implementing” the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Committed as they are to constructing good faith relations between indigenous nations and UN member states perhaps a score of indigenous governments around the world have worked to ensure that the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples [WCIP] (as the High Level meeting is called) will result in the “full and effective participation” of indigenous peoples. Many individual indigenous academics, non-governmental organizations and other advocates of indigenous rights have expressed some of the same doubts as indigenous nations, but significant numbers have taken the position that the WCIP should either be canceled or postponed.
The Haudenosaunee and a few other indigenous governments have taken a more measured position with the United Nations and they demonstrated their tolerance for the awkward responses of UN member states at the UN General Assembly President sponsored “informal consultation” concerning the themes and topics that may be considered by the World Conference. Fourteen UN member states (including Mexico, Denmark, Bolivia, Finland, the Russian Federation, the United States and People’s Republic of China) delivered three and four minute remarks.
The President of the UN General Assembly asked repeatedly for “concise action oriented” recommendations for him to recommend to the World Conference. And, to that request several speakers did offer their suggestions.
The Chinese representative emphasized his government’s view that the World Conference outcome document should focus on implementation of the Declaration, but avoid using the process to extend the concept of indigenous peoples (presumably to other peoples such a Tibet and Uygurs). A second point was made emphasizing the role of “development as the fundamental guarantee of indigenous rights.” Finally the Chinese delegate suggested that the WCIP outcome document should include measures for providing development support from UN agencies to indigenous peoples in developed as well as less developed countries.
Norway’s representative stated his government’s support for the General Assembly President’s road map for full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and emphasized the point that state domestic level dialogue to ensure full and effective participation in decisions affecting indigenous peoples must be part of the action oriented outcome.
The United States of America’s representative advanced the view that her government has been working and consulting with indigenous peoples and suggests that it agrees that the outcome document should stress greater participation of indigenous peoples in the United Nations and full and meaningful participating. She emphasized how the US government consulted indigenous peoples closely and will continue to consult closely with US based indigenous peoples. The US representative stressed the point that her government has supported the meaningful participation of indigenous peoples in the UN…especially US recognized Indian tribes and agreed that violence against indigenous women and girls is a topic that should be considered by the WCIP.
The US government statement basically echoed two points (involvement of indigenous peoples in the UN and violence against women and girls) that had been made by the US based organization National Congress of American Indians and statements made by the Haudenosaunee and the Indian Law Resource Center. These speakers stressed the permanent involvement of indigenous governments in the UN, a UN monitoring body and cultural property rights as topics (notably missing from the US position) reflective of the Alta Declaration of 2013 where indigenous delegations from all seven regions of the world met to consolidate an overall statement of themes and topics for the World Conference.
The other governments generally referenced the process of “full and effective participation” instead of specific topics for the President of the General Assembly to include in his recommendations to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.
It was the Latin American and Caribbean Caucus representative who urged that the principle of “free, prior and informed consent” become part of the outcome document. Seemingly caught up in the expression “full and effective participation” virtually all others missed a central matter of consent in consideration of best practices for implementing the UN Declaration. The delegate also emphasized the importance of attaching specific outcome statements to preventing extractive industries and state rules from continuing to harm indigenous lands, resources and peoples; and a specific emphasis for the outcome to state that all member UN states adopt domestic legislation pledging to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Arctic Region stressed the importance of attaching UN resolution 67/94 (the Alta Declaration of June 2013) to the WCIP outcome document as Representatives of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Denmark, Finland, Guatemala, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway and Peru to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General. The Arctic Region delegate also recommended that the outcome document call for implementation of a mechanism at the state domestic level to monitor implementation of the UN Declaration; and the appointment of an undersecretary general on indigenous issues in the UN structure..
The 15 UN member states, seven regional indigenous organizations, four UN organs, the European Union, and the National Congress of American Indians joined by the Indian Law Resource Center (two non-governmental organizations) made up the 28 interventions presented during a morning session at the UN Headquarters in New York City. This session was in anticipation of another meeting, the UN Interactive Session on the WCIP scheduled for the 16th and 17th of June 2014, where it is expected that participants will engage in dialogue and refinements for protocols for the World Conference as well as how the actual outcome statement will be drafted.
Those non-governmental organizations and indigenous activists opposed to the WCIP such as the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus (NAIPC) were essentially preempted by representatives from North American Indian and Alaskan Native governments attending and presenting at the Informal Consultation.Only the Russian government expressed concerns about the World Conference seemingly ignoring the regular protocols of the UN General Assembly. But, of course that is not what the opposition was concerned with. They wanted equal participation of indigenous peoples as an affirmation of “full and effective participation.” Those extreme positions were not likely to win the day in the moderate consultation held in New York City.
It is apparent, by virtue of the official meeting concluded in New York, the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples will convene in September 2014 and with the participation of indigenous peoples. Noting as we should the careful and plodding states’ government movements inching toward the possibility of implementing some or all of the UN Declaration principles and mandates it will be fair to say that there is now a new phase in the international discussion of the rights of indigenous nations. That process, however awkward, plodding and inching is now moving toward “dialogue.” How that dialogue unfolds will be initially signaled by the Interactive Session on the WCIP in June 2014 and the WCIP itself in September. To be sure, the process will not accelerate, but it will proceed at a pace with significant implications for indigenous people and their nations all over the world. The more than 1.3 billion people who fall within the frame of “indigenous peoples” will now significantly rewrite the international relations rule book while having to make major adjustments to their new and demanding role as international players with a voice.