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News from New York: International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples 2008

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Reconciliation Progress Between States and Indigenous Peoples is 'Good Sign' But 'Not Enough' Say Indigenous Peoples

See for details. Photos & Illustration: eEyeCam

New York, August 9, 2008- The world's estimated 370 million Indigenous Peoples are celebrating the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples today, but with heavy hearts as they are faced with the inevitability of life in miserable conditions in their own countries.

At the UN Headquarters in New York, the day was commemorated jointly by the Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues DSPD/DESA, the NGO Committee on the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, and the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on August 8th instead of the official observance day, August 9th.

At the event, a panel discussion, “Conciliation and Reconciliation between States and Indigenous Peoples” was held. The panelists were Gert Rosenthal, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the United Nations; Henri Paul Normandin, Deputy Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations; and Chief Oren Lyons, spiritual leader, Onodaga Nation, Andrew Goledzinowski Deputy Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations, Marcie Mersky, Liaison Officer with the United Nations Department of Political Affairs, and Barbara James Snyder, Washoe & Paiute Nations.

The speakers highlighted the history of mistakes and oppression by governments in their respective countries, and how new governments are trying to reconcile with their indigenous peoples by offering official government apologies, paying monetary compensations, granting traditional land rights and instituting self rule.

In its statement, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) says: "Reconciliation between indigenous peoples and States can take many forms that differ from country to country. Generally it involves recognition for past injustices, justice for victims and the healing of relationships. The adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, after more than 20 years of negotiations among States and indigenous peoples with the mediation of the United Nations, is itself an historic act of reconciliation."

Panelists at the UN Headquarters celebration day on August 8, 2008. Photos: eEyeCam

UN Headquarters as seen on August 8, 2008.

In a message to mark the Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the importance of the international day and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which was passed last year by the UN General Assembly, saying "In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the 9th of August as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. There were many reasons for this decision, but the fundamental motivation was the Assembly’s recognition of the need to place the United Nations clearly and strongly behind the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, in order to put an end to their marginalization, their extreme poverty, the expropriation of their traditional lands and the other grave human rights abuses they have faced and continue to encounter. Indeed, the suffering of indigenous peoples includes some of the darkest episodes in human history.”

“Important as it was, proclamation of the day was only a prelude to an even greater milestone: last fall’s adoption by the General Assembly of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration is a visionary step towards addressing the human rights of indigenous peoples. It sets out a framework on which states can build or re-build their relationships with indigenous peoples. The result of more than two decades of negotiations, it provides a momentous opportunity for states and indigenous peoples to strengthen their relationships, promote reconciliation, and ensure that the past is not repeated."

He urged the UN member countries and Indigenous Peoples to come together in a spirit of mutual respect, and make use of the Declaration as the living document it is so that it can have a real and positive effect throughout the world.

The UN General Secretary Moon also emphasized the preservation of the indigenous languages. He said "As 2008 is the International Year of Languages, this International Day is also an opportunity to recognize the silent crisis confronting many of the world’s languages, the overwhelming majority of which are indigenous peoples’ languages. The loss of these languages would not only weaken the world’s cultural diversity, but also our collective knowledge as a human race. I call on states, indigenous peoples, the UN system, and all relevant actors to take immediate steps to protect and promote endangered languages, and to ensure the safe passage of this shared heritage to future generations."

Participants at the event

Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs and Coordinator of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People said that the Declaration is a manifestation of reconciliation between indigenous peoples and states – and a mechanism for carrying that reconciliation forward. Indeed, 2008 has already witnessed concrete measures towards reconciliation in several countries.

Some recent examples of reconciliation efforts by the governments include:

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Michael Rudd is seen delivering his national apology. Photo: eEyeCam

During this event, "The Apology", a 30- minute documentary film was screened by the Permanent Mission of Australia. In it, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Michael Rudd is seen delivering his national apology.

-On February 13, 2008, the Australian Government officially apologized to members of the “Stolen Generations” and their families, the aboriginal peoples, for the policy of forcible removal of indigenous children, which affected generations of indigenous Australians.

The 26th Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Michael Rudd delivered his historic national apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples at the House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra, Australia on February 13, 2008. Following are excerpts of his speech:

"That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
We reflect on their past mistreatment.
We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations—this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.
The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.
For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.
We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.
A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.
A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.
A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.
A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.
A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia."

-On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Harper of Canada offered an apology to the approximately 80,000 former students of Indian residential schools still living, to their family members and their communities, for the forcible removal of children from their homes.

-On June 6, 2008, the Government of Japan formally recognized the Ainu people as indigenous people of Northern Japan.

In a separate message, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO said "The 2007 Declaration acknowledges the significant place that indigenous cultures occupy in the world and their vital contribution to our rich cultural diversity, which constitutes, in the words of its preamble “the common heritage of humankind”. By approving this landmark Declaration, the UN has taken a major step forward in the protection and promotion of indigenous peoples’ rights in terms of culture, languages and education within the larger human rights framework and has sent a clear signal in this regard to the international community. It is now the responsibility of the United Nations, and in particular UNESCO in its capacity as the specialized agency of the UN for culture, science, education and communication, to ensure that this message is widely disseminated, understood and – most importantly – translated into concrete policies that will enable indigenous peoples to participate fully and equally in the national and international life."

But, far from these messages, there were outcries from the Native American indigenous peoples even at the UN Headquarters' celebration venue.

Alan (Spottedwolf) Champney of Aninnan Penicook Nation

Alan (Spottedwolf) Champney of Aninnan Penicook Nation, Bear Clan and the Advisor of the United Tribal Nations objected to the Canadian government representative, Henri Paul Normandin, Deputy Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations asking why the governments of Canada and the United States put barriers to prevent Native Americans from freely crossing borders to see their relatives on either side of their country. He said "I want to make it very clear that I am not recognized as any national because of what you have taken away. I am not recognized in Canada. I ask you, how can you bring people like me to my people? How can you bring me back home to my ancestors?"

Onondaga Indian lady showing their treaty papers.

Onondaga Indian man

Another Native American community, the Onondaga Indians, were there to show the treaty between the King George IV and the Six Nations Indians dated 1768, proof that they were, indeed, sovereign nations.

There was a special performance presented by Hula Indigenous Peoples from Honolulu, Hawaii which cheered and relaxed an otherwise tense celebration event.

Hula Indigenous Peoples from Honolulu, Hawaii. Photos: eEyeCam

Meet Kaena Hopkins (above) and her friends from Honolulu Hawaii

-Pradeep Thapa Magar in UN Headquarters, New York. Comments? 551-358-7726
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» Special photo Feature: Colourful Indigenous Peoples in Kathmandu
» Meet Kaena Hopkins and her friends from Honolulu Hawaii
   Hula Indigenous Peoples from Honolulu, Hawaii
» आज विश्वभर अन्तरराष्ट्रिय आदिबासी दिवस मनाइदै
» Voice for Nepalese Indigenous Peoples Rights
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» नेपालमा विश्व आदिवासी दिवस अगष्ट ९ मनाउइदै
» 16th World Indigenous Day August 9 Celebration in Nepal
Press Statements and Declaration on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples
बिश्व आदिबाशी दिबशको अबसरमा जारी गरिएको घोषणापत्र र प्रेस बक्तब्यहरु:
» World Indigenous Day Kathmandu Declaration 2008
» विश्व आदिवासी दिवस काठमाडौ घोषणापत्र २००८

» Prime Minister of Nepal Message on the World Indigenous Day
The UN Secretary General's Message on the the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples

» The UNPFII Chairperson's Message on the the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples
» Press Release of Federation of Indigenous Peoples of Nepal in America (FIPNA)
» नेपाल आदिवासी जनजाति महासंघ अमेरिका (फिप्ना) को प्रेस बक्तब्य
» लोकतांत्रिक आदिबाशी जनजाति महासंघ, युएसए' को प्रेस बक्तब्य
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