Indigenous Peoples battle UN over Climate Change

Current Conflict

On December 7, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will gather in Copenhagen to hammer out new protocols. Missing from that gathering will be the representatives of one third of humanity—the indigenous peoples whose lands and forests are being discussed. Center for World Indigenous Studies chair Rudolph C. Ryser says, “If you are not seated at the table, you are probably on the menu.”

During the first two weeks of December 2008, delegates from aboriginal nations around the world — the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change — gathered in Poznan, Poland to share their traditional knowledge with the UN and its member states meeting there for climate change talks. One year prior to this convergence to discuss a new vision for the survival of humankind, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; at Poznan, the tribal peoples challenged the UN to make that rhetoric reality.

This showdown between the UN and the World Indigenous Peoples’ Movement is a classic contest between faith–based fundamentalism and scientific observation. With faith in market doctrine plummeting worldwide, the proven track record of First Nations in conservation economics places indigenous peoples in the role of teachers. Still in denial, market–based institutions like the World Bank are struggling to maintain dominance by force, using the UN to implement its brutal schemes.

Rudolph C. Ryser — chief advisor to former Assembly of First Nations Chief George Manuel and National Congress of American Indians President Joe DeLaCruz – attended the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum in Poznan. Along with Indigenous Environmental Network director Tom Goldtooth and others — including Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp – Dr. Ryser composed a statement on behalf of the gathering to the UN. That statement demanded the immediate suspension of carbon market schemes and other commercial initiatives that undermine indigenous peoples’ human rights by commodifying the atmosphere, promoting privatization, and concentrating resources in the hands of oligarchs and transnational corporations.

As Ryser notes, “The world’s first nations are not non-governing organizations. They are governing authorities that exercise political and policing powers over nearly 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. They also govern nations that make up the bulk of about 3 billion people. Non-governmental organizations are a class of civil organization that ranks as a subordinate entity to the state. NGOs advise and advocate but cannot decide. They cannot determine policy by political decision. They can only attempt to influence decision-making of governing bodies. When the world’s original nations are treated as NGOs they are denied the proper role of co-equal governing entities. Such denial undermines the world’s ability to solve complex problems.”

About CWIS

For twenty-five years, the Center for World Indigenous Studies (CWIS), the premier indigenous think tank in the world, has worked in collaboration with indigenous institutions like the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in the US, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in Canada, the Nordic Sami Council in Scandinavia, and the National Aboriginal Council in Australia, developing the intellectual strength and historical knowledge to move forward on human rights initiatives in traditional knowledge, governance, trade, health and medicine, and environmental restoration. Indeed, past presidents Chief George Manuel and President Joe DeLaCruz, of AFN and NCAI respectively, were instrumental in establishing CWIS.

In the 1950s, when Chief George Manuel began organizing First Nations in Canada, the official policy of the two federal governments above and below the forty-ninth parallel was to exterminate indigenous peoples as independent political entities. Assimilation programs designed to annihilate the indigenous cultures was actually designated “termination” by the US Congress.

As tribal leaders in the 1960s, Manuel and DeLaCruz embarked on a journey that would take them to all corners of the globe, igniting a resurgence of aboriginal peoples leading to the formation of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples in 1979, and it’s successor, the Center for World Indigenous Studies (CWIS), in 1984. The foundation laid by Manuel, DeLaCruz, and CWIS chair, Rudolph C. Ryser, led to the creation of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982, and the establishment of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples in 2002.

Moving Forward

In 2007, CWIS associates witnessed the passage of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Only four countries – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States – voted against the declaration. In December 2008, a new generation of indigenous leaders journeyed to Poznan, Poland to join in the UN climate change talks, and were rebuffed.

As Ryser observes, “The time has come for the world’s first nations to elevate themselves, stop functioning as NGOs and begin acting as the governing authorities they are. States’ governments and multi-lateral states’ bodies must deal with nations on their terms, but with full understanding that they are governing nations. When this leveling of the playing field is achieved, nations and states will be able to directly address the challenges that test human kind.”


~ by Jay Taber on November 9, 2009.

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