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Messages of Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations for Rio+20

On Tuesday, 8 May, three civil society organizations convened a side event to the Eleventh Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) entitled “The Road to Rio+20: Indigenous Peoples’ Key Messages and Actions.” These organizations — Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education); Mainyoito Pastoralists Integrated Development Organization (MPIDO) of Kenya, and the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network (AIWN) – framed their discussion in the context of the Rio Principles that arose from the 1992 Earth Summit, and strategized on key points of advocacy for indigenous peoples’ sustainable development.

Oren Lyons, Faith keeper of the Turtle Clan and member of the Onondaga Nation’s Council of Chiefs, illustrated the concept of a “statement for the seventh generation” (keeping in mind the seven generations of impacts) as a guiding principle for world leaders in their decisions about sustainable development. In Rio in 1992, Mr. Lyons stated, indigenous peoples fought to be included in the agenda for sustainable development, along with women and youth, and addressed issues of mining and extraction, violations of human rights, and labor. These issues, he continued, are still at stake today; how much attention was paid to the earlier discussions? As a result of the world’s lack of corrective action on environmental challenges, climate change is part of our daily realities; Mr. Lyons concluded by emphasizing the necessity of humanity’s recognition that it is part of nature.

Focusing her intervention on the two themes of the conference (green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and the institutional framework for sustainable development), Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of Tebtebba stated her support for enhancing the Commission on Sustainable Development into a Sustainable Development Council, a standing body to regularly discuss relevant issues. Differences between developing and developed countries on the issue of green economy, however, ensure that the parameters of the issue are unclear. Additionally, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz highlighted the politics of language in international conventions regarding indigenous peoples; the plural (peoples, as opposed to people) as the preferred language, as used in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The particular circumstances of indigenous peoples in Africa formed the subject of the remarks of MPIDO’s Joseph ole Simel. Sustainable development, often in conflict with government and private sector-led development activities, must address land use and pastoralism, along with the vulnerability of women. At a preparatory meeting of indigenous peoples held in Tanzania, participants agreed on a declaration that advocated the inclusion of a pillar of sustainable development for cultural identity and dignity. Sustainable development, the declaration stated, must be based on a human rights approach, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to ensure its achievement. Focus must be on implementation: financing, indicators, and reporting, no matter the outcome of Rio, Mr. Simel concluded.

Referring to another planning meeting for indigenous peoples, Grace Balawag of Tebtebba and the Major Group for Indigenous Peoples shared the results of the Manaus Declaration, decided upon in August 2011, which form the key messages of indigenous peoples for Rio+20. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples should be a foundation for sustainable development, the Manaus meeting decided. Participants also called for the integration of a cultural pillar of sustainable development, one that includes a focus on spiritual and moral values. Green economy, too, should recognize the value of traditional knowledge and the diversity of local economies as part of sustainable development, the declaration continues, and the approach of indigenous peoples – inter-cultural and gender-sensitive, focused on human rights and the ecosystem – is an important contribution to conversations on sustainable development. Ms. Balawag concluded that despite disappointments in the ongoing negotiations of the outcome document, including the continued bracketing of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, one of the 21 agreed paragraphs so far confirms the importance of indigenous peoples for sustainable development.

The final panelist, Jadder Lewis of the Centro para la Autonomia y Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indigenas (CADPI), stressed the importance of the fourth, cultural pillar for indigenous peoples, especially those of Latin America. The concept of buen vivir, or the right to a good life enshrined within the rights of nature, is central especially within relation to questions of territory and self-governance. At Rio, indigenous peoples will hold a conference on self-determined sustainable development, to focus on key messages including: buen vivir; food sovereignty as a fundamental basis for sustainable development; the impact of extractive industries on the quality of life of indigenous peoples; and a focus on climate change and biological diversity. Between 70 and 150 representatives at the global level are expected for this conference, Mr. Lewis concluded.

In her final statements, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz, who chaired the event, shared plans for a report to be launched after Rio, assessing the outcomes of the conference and illustrating best practices of indigenous peoples’ sustainable development. She concluded by highlighting current concerns with the process of the negotiations thus far, particularly the Rio principles of common but differentiated responsibilities, free prior informed consent, polluter pays, etc, being undermined. As regulatory frameworks are weakened in favor of a strong private sector, challenges to sustainable development increase.

At a related side event, “Resisting a Climate Conquest,” organized by the Indian Law Resource Center and the Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indigenas (CAOI), participants focused on the impacts on indigenous peoples of extractive industries and the destruction of natural resources. CAOI’s Miguel Palacin Quipse illustrated the biodiversity losses and water insufficiency in the Andes region as an example; indigenous people there, he stated, are “climate refugees.” Mr. Palacin also referred to the concept of buen vivir, defining it as harmony with nature and among people and recommending that a new paradigm of civilization be based on this alternative model. He concluded by emphasizing the importance of food sovereignty.

Nancy Iza, also of CAOI, placed the blame for these crises squarely on Western civilization, free trade agreements, and the privatization of natural resources. She, too, advocated buen vivir as a return to balance. The rights and role of women, she concluded, should be respected, especially within the context of food production.

Panelist Gretchen Gordon shared a working paper, “International Law Principles for REDD+,” of her organization, the Indian Law Resource Center. This paper outlines incentives to combat illegal practices among indigenous people, in relation to the obligations under international law of international agencies and States. The rights of indigenous peoples, Ms. Gordon asserted, must be respected in both project implementation and initial processes of decision-making; free, prior and informed consent is essential, as indigenous peoples must have the choice to engage or not in REDD+ programs.

(Photo: Indigenous Peoples Global Conference on Sustainable, Self-Determined Development)