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Who Speaks for Indigenous People?

2001 by

An Indigenous Peoples' Forum at the UN and Bureaucrats in every State Capitol

The United Nations announced in November that it would establish a fifteen member Indigenous Peoples' Forum that reports to the UN Economic and Social Council. Next to the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council is the most important United Nations decision-making body. The United Nations announcement arrived in August 2000 to great applause among a few indigenous people who have worked for years to establish this body, but few of the indigenous nations in the world noticed. Though many Fourth World nations will seek out the Indigenous Peoples' Forum in hopes that it will satisfy their gravest concerns, the new Forum will be unable to do more than write a resolution and soften criticism of states' governments and corporations. Establishment of this remote body in the bowels of the United Nations will become recognized as a frustrating and serious mistake that will undermine indigenous peoples not protect their interests. It will work to accelerate the assimilation of indigenous peoples into states, accelerate the confiscation of indigenous peoples' lands, natural foods, and natural medicines—their way of life.

The Indigenous Peoples' Forum is a hoax played on indigenous peoples. The central question raised by advocates of the Forum is not whether the forum can actually represent specific concerns and interests of indigenous nations or do anything about those concerns—they want to know whether they will personally be appointed to the 15-member body. Advocates of the Forum fail to note that membership in the new body will be determined by representatives of state's governments, not indigenous peoples. Advocates of the Forum fail to consider that 15 individuals cannot express loyalty to the more than six thousand indigenous nations; they can only reflect the bureaucratic aethos and customs of the United Nations and the state's governments.

The Indigenous People's Forum will be described as the goal long sought-after, and that even the now defunct World Council of Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) and its original founder Chief George Manuel would applaud the United Nations for establishing the Forum. While the WCIP might still, if it existed, proclaim victory, Chief Manuel would not applaud. He would see the folly in the suggestion to create an institutional organization so remote from Fourth World peoples that its membership can only vaguely comprehend the interests or needs of the people living on the ground. The Indigenous People's Forum will only create employment for a growing number of Fourth World bureaucrats who receive their legitimacy from state's governments and their international organizations—not from Fourth World nations.

The growing number of bureaucrats claiming to represent the views and interests of indigenous peoples at the international level is a mirror image of what happened over the last thirty years in state's capitols. In Canada they are the “pinstripers,”—Indians who got some education (usually as a lawyer), donned black-stripped suit and tie and then went to Ottawa, got a job as the “Indian” in a government agency and became the voice of Indian people to the government. In the United States, these people are called the “Washington Redskins,”—the Indian bureaucrat, not the professional gridiron sports team. The Fourth World bureaucrat works for the states' governments and earn their money their, and sit in offices in Moscow, London, Jakarta, Canberra, Johannesburg, Paris, Auckland, Mexico City, and virtually every other state capitol in the world. Many of these people are well intentioned when they join the ranks of bureaucrats, but after years of living the highlife, they lose contact with the ground. They become petty—concerned mainly for their next place of employment and level of salary. They dutifully follow the policies and practices of the state government and frequently become antagonists on behalf of the state government against the interests of Fourth World nations. They are no longer influenced by their culture; they are dominated by the state's aethos. As in any successful colonial administration, the best and brightest of those who are being colonized are scooped up and made to become the administrators of the colonial policy.

Fourth World people who have received education in state-sanctioned institutions struggle to become useful to their home nation. After they get their schooling they find that they are not prepared to live and prosper in their own nation. They get prepared by educational institutions to function in non-indigenous society, in non-indigenous institutions, in non-indigenous governments. They are led to believe they can take their newfound knowledge and become a part of non-indigenous governments and not become aliens to their own people. They are taught that they can move into high paying jobs in non-indigenous governments and then reform those governments so they will stop killing indigenous people. This is the folly. Indigenous people cannot reform governments or their organizations like the UN to suddenly, or even in the long-term become friends of indigenous people—not when it is transparently obvious that these same institutions have been the instruments most likely to steal Fourth World land, to take food and medicines, to remove whole Fourth World peoples from their homes and war against them.

Fourth World nations will only succeed in their confrontations with state's governments, with their military, with their international organizations by withholding their recognition and endorsement of those governments until they are willing to negotiate a working relationship with the individual nation. That means preventing access to Fourth World, people, lands and resources by whatever means. States' organizations like the United Nations, World Trade Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Labour Organization were established to strengthen the economic power of states' governments or corporations. They were not established to protect or ensure the survival of Fourth World nations.

Enforced treaties and compacts between Fourth World nations and individual states closest to those nations are the only potential mechanisms available to give voice to the interests and concerns of each nation. In these treaty negotiations, each nation speaks for itself. Each nation, with its own leaders and direct understanding of its situation must speak on its own terms. The only thing the international community must do is recognize that Fourth World nations are distinct peoples that have the right to freely choose their own social, economic, political and cultural future without external interference. In other words, Fourth World nations must have their right to self-determination, in its social, economic and political dimensions, fully and completely recognized.

The United States government has negotiated more than 600 treaties with Fourth World nations. Other states have negotiated treaties with indigenous nations. Treaties and compacts between Fourth World nations and state's governments must be enforceable and enforced. Such enforcement mechanisms already exist in Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions where a third party is responsible for overseeing the negotiation of agreements and must enforce on its own, or under a regional mechanism with others, the terms of the agreement. This or similar mechanism must be invoked.

Fourth World peoples do not have a voice in any international state's government organized body—even the United Nations with its newly announced Indigenous Peoples' Forum. Bureaucrats are made to substitute for the voice of Fourth World peoples. That voice is only possible to hear through direct state-nation treaty negotiations that set the conditions for relations between nations and states. Without such face-to-face agreements, Forums at the international level are mainly window dressing substituting for real representation of Fourth World nation views.

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