Human Rights · Riding A Dead Horse · United Nations

Final Report on the 23rd UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, Geneva, Switzerland, July 18-22, 2005

Greetings to all,

It was so great to see so many good friends, colleagues and relations this week! What a treat, and something of a shame that we are not able to see each other more often. I miss you all already!

As I had found out that UNPO among other organizations were doing daily write-ups of the WGIP, I felt it silly to be repeating the work, although many people noted that my reports can hardly be considered repeating anything, I felt I would save my daily energy and come up with something different to write-up the entire week as opposed to spreading myself thin each day. You all know anyway that the meetings I have mainly focused intensively on have traditionally been the Working Group on the Draft Declaration and the Commission on Human Rights.

Before I go into my analysis of the WGIP, I would like to mention the political situation that Ken and Tommy Deer (not related, but same name!) were forced into when the French government would not recognize Tommy’s Haudenosaunee Passport for a one-day visa in his layover to return to Canada, which left him arbitrarily detained in the Paris airport and caused both Ken and Tommy to lose their tickets back home. I was shocked by this, and know along with many of you, that this was a political statement made by the French government in line of their anti-human-rights-for-indigenous-peoples and obstruction of the Draft Declaration process on basis of denying self-determination and self-recognition of indigenous peoples, very possibly coupled by pressure from the USA and Canadian governments. Can you imagine?! Denying someone a visa so that they can catch a plane and leave the country?! It is so absurd in logical terms that the political nature of the French government’s crime is only highlighted. I just received news today that Ken and Tommy did get the money together, I beleive with the help of the lovely IndiGeneve organizers, and I wish them all the best in their journey back to Kahnewake. I pray that this time there will be no more rediculously unnecesary drama during their voyage home.

It was a very strange week, generally speaking, and an overwhelmingly peculiar meeting of the WGIP for many reasons. The non-indigenous takeover of the WGIP was by far the most disturbing of developments during the five days of the WGIP as well as the Caucus, which I discussed in my last report. But other than this, we received news that another well-loved Elder from the Maori people, Hati Winston Ponika, passed away earlier in the month, and it wasn’t until Tuesday the 19th that the family was ready to share the news with us all. I was devastated already to have received the news of Kee Watchman’s passing, and when I heard about Uncle Hati I was overwhelmed with grief and sadness. These men had been beloved mentors and friends, great teachers of mine, and my heart was bruised to think that I would never be able to give them a hug in this physical plane again nor hear their jokes or make them laugh. Their passing seemed to represent a general lack of spiritual presence at this WGIP, there very few Elders present at this meeting, and so few of the familiar faces from the very beginning of the WGIP, which set a melancholy tone for me at least, I can’t speak for anyone else on this one. But, in the positive spectrum, all of the Elders were honoured in the various ceremonies and within interventions that took place during the week, and this was really good. It brought to me some well-needed peace and healing, for they all truly believed that the UN would help to save their peoples and never gave up on this belief, even though the assistance moves much more slowly than anyone would prefer.

So back to the actual WGIP itself. We entered into a strange phase of the Twilight Zone in these five days. Indigenous delegates were almost outnumbered by the non-indigenous delegates, which at first did not seem to be a problem for anyone until discussions were also being dominated by them. For example, this German organization Friends of People Close to Nature (FCN) became a hugely contested topic as they appear to be doing fundraising on behalf of indigenous peoples, but no one had heard of them before and many were shocked that anyone was doing fundraising on their behalf without knowing anything about the organization. Their website has this PayPal thing where you can just debit money from your bank account or credit card and donate, just like that! And it is not clear what they do with the money, nor who is responsible for the website nor the organization. The question of Wilda Spalding also continued during the week, and apparently got pretty out of control at the Caucus to the point where one of the few Elders present was forced to speak with her about what she was doing and how it was affecting all of those in the WGIP. Ken Deer was joking at the Caucus meetings that once again the indigenous people were in the minority, which in reality is not a joke seeing that this is the Working Group on Indigenous Populations and all. I felt like half of the WGIP was Germans, it was wild and uncomfortable. Especially when during the Indigenous ceremony on Thursday morning when delegates share music and dances from their peoples, the Germans began doing a round dance to an Honour Song that was for Leonard Peltier. You don’t dance at Honour Songs! Oh, my heart was pounding and I felt sick to my stomach. This is why it is dangerous to meddle with things that you don’t understand about, and the Elders always say that it is messing with lives when you do it. ¡Que fuerte!, is what I would say in Spanish, and this moment to me summed up much of what appeared to be happening in the WGIP itself. Disrespect on a lot of levels. Part of me feels that it is because of the lack of Elders and other individuals who have historically been very involved in this WG opened the door for a lot of strange folk to wander into the WGIP and begin taking it over. As if this is what indigenous peoples need in their own forum! Their voices being overshadowed by white people! I will reiterate from my first report on the WGIP that we non-indigenous supporters and allies need to remember our place in this struggle, which is on the periphery, even if some of our organizations are providing money and the like. This does not give us the right to speak, nor expect to be lauded within the struggle, as this is not our struggle. We have our history of oppressing indigenous peoples through colonization; our peoples are the ones that have created such a drastic situation that threatens the existence of many indigenous groups around the world and we need to not forget this. Our place in this struggle is on the sidelines, not the forefront.

Aside from what I am referring to as the non-indigenous takeover of the WGIP, there was an appalling absence of the actual Working Group members themselves. Mr. Yokota and Mr. Guissè were absent, and Ms. Motoc only came to the WGIP on Thursday but wasn’t really present in the meetings very much aside from her presentation. On the positive side, Ms. Haimpson participated greatly and I was very thankful to her when she rebutted the statement made by the European Commission which basically stated that indigenous peoples are obligated to share their natural resources with the world and that the EC looks forward to a fruitful collaboration with indigenous populations. Ms. Haimpson took the floor immediately afterwards to highlight the rediculousness of their intervention, noting that if something is yours, then you decide whether you want to share it or not, one is not obliged to share unless, it would seem, one is from an indigenous group. Ms. Haimpson pointed out how absurd it would be if one State obligated another State to share resources against their will, and that of course it would never happen. She presented some great work about disappearing and threatened States and their indigenous peoples, which was frightening but also timely considering we are seeing the effects of global warming getting stronger each and every day.

It also appeared with many of the new faces to the WGIP that people did not understand what the WGIP is about in general. Many indigenous peoples who were coming for the first time were very upset that they were not able to present their claims of human rights violations within their interventions, and didn’t understand how and what exactly the WGIP does in its work. This was frustrating to the Chair, Señor Mártinez, who had to use his gavel excessively because people were straying wildly from the topics under discussion, and needless to say this was upsetting to the speakers as well who didn’t know that if you are gaveled you need to put the earpeice on immediately to hear why the Chair interrupted you and get yourself back on his track. Señor Mártinez kept saying, I don’t know if it’s because I am being badly translated and no one understands what I am saying but you need to stick strictly to the agenda item under discussion! Talk about stressful! I understand both sides, because people come from very far to tell their story, only to find that everyone knows their story already and that the WGIP isn’t in fact the place to go to seek justice for their claims. A gavel banging is a rude awakening, I must say. But I did get a small malicious pleasure when Señor Mártinez was forced to gavel the governments of Chile and a couple others for straying from topic in their Pre-Emptive Defense Statements about how they are protecting all of their indigenous populations and there is no discrimination against their indigenous peoples anymore in their country. Their hypocrisy deserves a gavel over their heads just on principle, in my view. I’m sure many of you would agree with this.

Among the extensive debates during this WGIP was of course the proposed UN Reforms by Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the UN, who would like to see (among other things) the dissolution of the Commission on Human Rights in place of a Human Rights Council which would be more on par with the Security Council, with fewer members and more power. This is very problematic on many levels, as the USA has their meddling blood-stained hands right in the middle of the reconstructing plans of the UN which can’t be a good sign, as well as the fact that if the Commission is disbanded then all of its special mechanisms will probably be dissolved as well. This means the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, all of the various Working Groups (there are dozens ranging in all the human rights issues, not just indigenous issues) and no one is really sure what will emerge when all of these special mechanisms are destroyed. Aside from UN reforms, the WGIP is under threat from a huge contingent of governments who feel that the Permanent Forum is a grand enough forum for indigenous issues in general and that the WGIP has outlived its usefulness. Hm, tell that to the dozens of people who are unable to participate in the Permanent Forum because the USA government will not issue them visas on racist grounds.

The discussions on traditional knowledge were really great, and indigenous peoples from all around the world discussed not only what this topic means to their community, but also how their traditional knowledge has been exploited by multinational corporations as well as the governments whose false borders surround indigenous nations. This was quite intense, especially in the places where whole indigenous communities are being exterminated for access to their natural resources. There were also recommendations that were made in regards to indigenous peoples and conflict resolution, some of which were very strong and hopefully will make their ways back to their respective governments.

But all of this can be found on the UNPO and doCip, and various other websites. I will talk about the things that they won’t mention, the more human aspects of the WGIP.

Many women have pointed out to me in the past at how disturbingly like a bar/meat-market atmosphere the WGIP tends to be, much to our discomfort and disgust at times. This year was markedly and refreshingly different in this regard, as there was hardly any of the usual sexual harassment that goes on towards the young women present, and I wonder if it had to do with the unsettling imbalance between indigenous and non-indigenous supporters. In any case, I found this a noteworthy difference and I do hope that future WGIP’s will have similarly woman-friendly atmospheres instead of the constant battle that most of the young women tend to face during the course of the week to be recognized as a human being and not a doll with perverse uses.

I had already mentioned the indigenous ceremony on Thursday the 21st morning, where different indigenous delegates presented traditional dances and songs. Aside from the horrific display of round-dancers during an Honour Song, that morning was absolutely wonderful. The ceremony opened with a moving prayer from a Quechua woman from Bolivia. As we were praying to each of the directions, above us flew two hawks who appeared to be dancing with each other. They circled in that way only hawks and eagles do, gliding as if the air was their water, dipping and weaving, so close to us! Whenever I see them I feel the Angels are trying to tell us something and I always think about what Grampa Tony used to say about eagles. He said that whenever things get bad or difficult, we have to rise above the world and see it the way The Creator does, the way an eagle does, from way, way up there and all of a sudden with that new perspective, things are always clearer. Things are better, we are better, it is easier to see that nothing is as bad as it seems. And that the Creator is looking down on us, and sending us messages, so we rise above it and Let the Spirit Lead. This was a beautiful moment: a lulling Quechua prayer reminding us of dreams, the beauty of life, giving thanks to the Creator and all of Creation for the wonder that surrounds us in each second of our lives. Precious.

During the Indigenous Reception on that same Thursday night, we had wonderful weather by the lake, the Sun gleaming off of snow-capped Mont Blanc in the distance. Everyone relieved to be outside and away from the draining energy of the UN, good food and great company. The All Nations Singers played the Drum as if the Spirit World had crossed over to our side for those moments, reaching all the way into my heart and pulling out all of the pain I had been suppressing from so much accumulated loss just to be able to get through the week with a smile. I could do nothing but weep openly and shamelessly, thinking about and praying for Grampa Tony, Kee, Uncle Hati, Leonard Peltier still suffering in prison, Wendy, and so many others. I heard the voice of one of my teachers telling me to cry if it hurts, and so I did, knowing that underneath so much sadness was laughter waiting to bubble its way through my eyes. Afterwards, the small group of us who understood what had happened walked as if the ground were made of water and our feet floating along like dragonflies. It was difficult to speak, in fact. Words had, in the course of those songs and through the heartbeat of the Drum, simply lost all meanings. Me, I was in the Black Hills with the smell of buffaloes in my nose and their pounding hooves trembling my body. We hugged without words, our eyes still tearful saying everything, knowing our hearts would always be connected through the Drum and the love we shared for so many magical people who have passed into the Spirit Realm. Life is good and each day a good day. How blessed we are to be alive. I give thanks.

On Friday, the WGIP ended with Honour Songs for Kee and Uncle Hati, for Grampa Tony and Leonard, for all of those in trouble and those lost during this 500 year old struggle. I was not there to see it. For me, the WGIP ended on Thursday night after the healing Drum.

Now to upcoming business. The dates of the WG on the Draft Declaration were finalized, finally, and the first segment will take place from December 5-16, 2005, and the final week of the 12th WGDD will be the last week of January going into February. As all of you know, that has been the meeting I most intensively write-up (along with the Commission on Human Rights) and so if there is an organization that would like to sponsor me to return to Geneva to write my reports I am sure the thousands of peoples these reports are read by would thank you deeply, and for me I am becoming financially unable to fund myself as I am a jobless PhD student these days with seriously limited financial means. It was really nice during the meeting to hear such good feedback about my various series of reports, especially my reports during the Commission. I thank those who offered their kind and loving words of support, which really encourages me to keep going with this, along with Grampa Tony’s voice in my head pushing me forward as well. It lifts my spirit and lightens my heart, truly it does. Pilamaya, gracias, thank you!

Until next time, I wish you all the best in your work and your life. Keep your chin up to the stars and a smile in your heart. See you very soon…

In honour of Tony Black Feather, Kee Watchman and Hati Ponika,