Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues opens fourth session with focus on Millenium Development Goal

In Efforts to Achieve Goals, Indigenous People Must Not Be
Forgotten, Discriminated Against or Marginalized, Forum Told

Indigenous people are called ‘first peoples’, ‘tribal peoples’, ‘aboriginals’ and ‘autochthons’ They have a historical continuity with the pre-invasion or pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories. They consider themselves distinct from other sectors that make up the dominant society where they find themselves. There are at least 5000 indigenous groupings made up of about 300 million people, living in more than 70 countries on five continents.

Indigenous people in many nations are still among the poorest and most marginalized, and their communities are often victims of the effects of armed conflict, Louise Fréchette, Deputy Secretary-General, told the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Member States have still not adopted the declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, despite many years of negotiation and advocacy.  Indigenous people and the international community must draw up a concrete plan of action leading to measurable improvements in standards of living and greater respect for indigenous rights.

Bringing together some 1,500 indigenous leaders, activists and representatives, this year’s Forum is focusing on indigenous people and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and achieving universal primary education. It will offer to the UN system recommendations based on discussion in its 6 mandated areas: culture, economic and social development, education, environment, health, human rights. Indigenous people must not be forgotten, discriminated against, or remain marginalized in efforts to achieve the MDGs.

Addressing the Millennium Goal on poverty, Nana Effah-Apenteng (Ghana), Acting President of the General Assembly, stressed that Indigenous perspectives should be integrated into the Millennium Goals process. She said that development models affecting indigenous people must be in harmony with the values and life vision of indigenous peoples. Too many indigenous groups face threats to their land, natural resources, identities and even existence.

During the discussion on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, the link between poverty and human rights was stressed. Those people born into poverty remain where they are unless relevant rights are implemented.  Pointing to studies that show indigenous people suffered more than others from extreme poverty, Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasized that such groups had a right to participate fully in development efforts. Poverty reduction programmes must not lead to injustices against indigenous peoples, by depriving them of their lands or traditional means of existence.

Underscoring the importance of community involvement in reducing poverty, Jeffrey Sachs, United Nations Millennium Project Director and Adviser to the Secretary-General, stressed the importance of considering the specific conditions of each community. Comparing the Forum’s goals to those of the Millennium Project, he said they both focused on local empowerment and active community participation in their own futures. 

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