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NAIPC Says UN Indigenous Conference Insults Indigenous Peoples

In a bold act of resistance to being denied an equal role in the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus has called for the immediate cancellation of the United Nations event and promised to encourage other regions to join in a global consensus to stop it from taking place.

The decision to call for the cancellation of the U.N. General Assembly’s “High Level Plenary Meeting known the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples” (HLPM/WCIP), which is scheduled for September in New York, was adopted by “absolute consensus” at a meeting of the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus (NAIPC) in Kamloops (Secwepemc Territory), British Columbia, Canada on March 1-2, after the President of the General Assembly (PGA)  John Ashe made it clear that Indigenous Peoples would not have full and equal participation on par with states in preparing for and at the conference. Most significantly, NAIPC said, Indigenous Peoples would not be involved in drafting the conference’s outcome document, which would sum up the conference’s decisions on how to define the scope of Indigenous Peoples rights, the best practices for implementing those rights and other issues affecting the relationship between states and the world’s 379 million-plus Indigenous Peoples. The NAIPC is one of seven voluntary global caucuses that represent the world’s Indigenous Peoples at the U.N.

In a letter dated March 5, NAIPC Co-Coordinators Debra Harry and Janice Makokis notified Ashe of the caucus’s decision. “The North American Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus operates from the foundational principle that every deliberation, decision or document, by any entity, that fundamentally affects us, our territories, our interests, or our future generations, must include our full, equal and effective participation. This principle applies no less to the decisions and organs of the United Nations than it does to any other entity… The United Nations is duty bound to honor and to respect the fundamental rights of all peoples, as embodied in the U.N. Charter, the Human Rights Covenants, U.N. Conventions… and Declarations, including the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” they wrote.

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The NAIPC letter reminded Ashe of Indigenous Peoples meetings last year in Sycuan territory and in Alta, Norway, where conditions and standards of analysis and review of the WCIP as well as the requirement for full and equal participation were established by consensus. Because those conditions “have not been respected and have been ignored by the PGA… the NAIPC calls for the immediate cancellation of the HLPM by the U.N. General Assembly… Additionally, NAIPC advances the position throughout Great Turtle Island, and to the world’s Indigenous Peoples, to call for the cancellation of the HLPM, and to withhold any and all support and participation. We call for the withdrawal of any support, active or tacit, for the HLPM by Indigenous Peoples anywhere in the world,” the NAIPC told Ashe.

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Harry and Kenneth Deer, the two NAIPC representatives to the Global Coordinating Group of the WCIP traveled to New York March 5 to deliver the letter to a group of states and to formally withdraw NAIPC from the Global Coordinating Group.

Ashe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Harry told Indian Country Today Media Network that NAIPC’s call to cancel the WCIP was made with both an immediate and long term perspective in view, “The original Nations and Peoples of Great Turtle Island have taken a strong stand to say that we will not agree to, or lend any tacit or active support, to a process where states are free to develop an outcome document on Indigenous Peoples without Indigenous Peoples direct and equal participation. To do otherwise would undermine our inherent rights as peoples and nations, be contradictory to our right of self-determination, and could result in negative impacts on our lands, territories, treaties, rights, and future generations.”

The real power is in the drafting of the outcome document, Deer told Indian Country Today Media Network. “There is nothing that we can gain from the HLPM/WCIP and a lot to lose if States have unfettered drafting of the outcome document. The big speeches in the General Assembly and in the roundtables will not impact the outcome document. It will be finalized before the meeting even opens,” he said.

The NAIPC expects the WCIP to be a major topic at the annual meeting of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York May 12-23, Harry said.

“We trust that through these discussions it will become clear that the (WCIP) is a dangerous state-controlled process and Indigenous Peoples around the world will join with us in calling for a cancellation of the meeting,” Harry said. 

“And many States will agree with that once they realize that there is no hope for full and equal participation of Indigenous Peoples which they support,” Deer said.

The Arctic, Asia and Pacific regions have called for Ashe to allow for full, effective, direct, and equal participation of Indigenous Peoples and in their direct participation in the development of the outcome document and organizational matters of conference. Without this level of participation, the Arctic region will not be involved or engaged in the process, the Asia region will disengage in the process and seriously consider calling for cancellation and the Pacific region will reconsider its engagement and involvement in the WCIP, Harry said. The other regions including Africa and Latin America do not seem to have developed positions yet, she said.

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