An international NGO in consultative status with the United Nations
North Lawn Building, where most of the Forum was held.
Side event on violence against indigenous women sponsored by Foro
International de Mujeres Indigenas
was held May 7 – May 18, 2012
Kerry Coast attended meetings and the Forum from May 6 – May 14.
IHRAAM submitted two interventions, on rights to food and on violence against women and girls. Although Kerry was not invited to present those
statements during the Forum, the written interventions were submitted to DOCIP when she registered to speak, and those interventions are posted
on the DOCIP website along with all interventions submitted during the Forum. www.docip.org They are also included below in this report.
What follows here is a brief description of the salient and notable moments of exchange during the main subjects of discussion, equally brief reports
on the side-events I attended, and lastly some general observations and other interesting meetings.
First Global Caucus
A Global Caucus meeting was held Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5th, at the Church Center at the UN Plaza. On Sunday, some of the Permanent
Forum members attended and presented their new Chair, elected by acclamation: Chief Edward John of British Columbia, Canada.
This news was received with some surprise. Although Mr John has been a Permanent Forum member representing North America for several years,
his election to Chair strikes an odd note. John is the founding Chair of the First Nations Summit, an organization which “represents First Nations” who
are involved in negotiating Final Agreements in the BC treaty process. This process has been criticized by the UN Committee for the Elimination of all
forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) because it has been producing Final Agreements which extinguish the aboriginal title of those who ratify Final
Agreements. Mr John is cited as an important advocate of the process by his colleagues, aside from his involvement as Chair of FNS for the past 20
Ed John, new Chair of PFII, addresses Global Caucus, Sunday May 6, ahead of opening of PFII 11th session
Inadequate space for delegates
As it was in 2011, the Permanent Forum’s Secretary explained to angry delegates from around the world that, due to construction, the PFII could
again not be held in the Great Hall. The Forum was moved to the North Lawn Building, where space is limited to 500. As much of that space is
already reserved for state delegates and UN organizations, this left many visitors without access to the meeting. The Permanent Forum arranged
access such that only one member per organization would have a pass to enter the meeting. This news was announced at the Global Caucus
meeting on May 6, and much of the remainder of the day was spent discussing delegates’ dissatisfaction. Notice that space would be so limited was
only given by the Permanent Forum on Friday, May 4th, by which time most delegates were en route to the Forum. Many delegations brought five or
North Lawn Building, where most of the Forum was held.
The Forum was opened on May 7 in the Great Hall. It was a colourful event, as many delegates wore traditional regalia in recognition of the
solemnity of the Forum and its purpose of advancing state acknowledgment and respect for Indigenous Peoples.
The Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro of Tanzania, said, “We believe there can be no development without the
participation of indigenous at every step, with their free, prior and informed consent. …and yet we don’t have to go far to see examples of indigenous
peoples facing discrimination… even extinguishment.”
The informed observer would note that the Secretary General would only have to look to her left to see an example of forces bringing Indigenous
Peoples to extinguishment: the Chair of the First Nations Summit and new Chair of the Permanent Forum.
The 11th Session was dedicated to the prevention of violence against indigenous women – the sole purpose of IHRAAM’s presence at the Forum.
The “Rio +20” conference, in Brazil in June of 2012, was the subject of much remark during the Forum. In Opening Ceremonies, it was lauded as the
moment of securing guidance for sustainable development around the world.
In a somewhat novel move, the President of the UN General Assembly has nominated two facilitators for the World Conference on Indigenous
Peoples, 2014: Luis Alfonse de Alba, from Mexico, and John Henrickson of Norway, an indigenous appointee. The Secretary was congratulated
many times during the Forum for the inclusion of an indigenous co-facilitator.
The Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs at DESA, Thomas Stelzer, remarked on the importance of,
“…integrating indigenous issues into the UN system.”
A key address regarding this serious matter was given by Bienvenu Okiemy, Minister of Communications and Relations with the Parliament of the
Republic of the Congo. He mentioned that Indigenous Peoples will have a role in the government of Congo. According to the Minister, the majority of
indigenous people in Congo are subsistence dwellers, they are marginalized and do not have access to peace. However, the Minister was able to
refer to some important national documents promoting and protecting indigenous rights, as passed in 2002, and said that indigenous participation is
the basis of development in their traditional territories. Mr. Okiemy referred to the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the status of
Indigenous Peoples within that Charter, saying that the fundamental liberty of indigenous peoples was upheld and protected in that Charter, and that
Congo was progressing towards proper implementation of those related articles. He said that Africa wants, for example, for the indigenous peoples, a
way of life consistent with their culture, and referenced the work done in Bolivia and Brazil as possible examples of good practices.
Bienvenu Okiemy, Minister of Communications and Relations with the Parliament of the Republic of the Congo, addressing the opening session of
the Forum, Monday, May 7th
The full text of opening speeches is available on the Permanent Forum’s website: http://social.un.
1. Discussion on the special theme for the year: “The Doctrine of Discovery: its enduring impact on indigenous peoples and the
right to redress for past conquests”
Many delegations recommended that the Permanent Forum undertake studies of the ways in which the Doctrine of Discovery continues to underline
state laws, policies and attitudes to indigenous peoples within their borders. Many noted the fact that Terra Nullius, the declaration by the Pope that
any lands discovered by Christian explorers which were not populated with Christians were to be treated as if they were empty or people. Many
people say that indigenous peoples are still treated by states as if they did not exist and did not have such rights as self-determination, rights to
land, and rights to ensure the future of their people.
Speakers unanimously pointed out that there should be no discussion of “past conquests,” as indigenous peoples do not consider themselves to be
There is still some discussion among indigenous peoples as to whether the Doctrine of Discovery pertains to explorers’ presumed license to exploit
the non-Christian peoples they met and began to subjugate to their respective imperialist and extortionist wills. While many cite a case where an
American judge interpreted the Doctrine as a statement of new ownership, as in Johnson v. McIntosh, other interpretations are available, as well as
the text of the Doctrine.
In Worcester against the State of Georgia, (6th Peters Reports, pages 515-542), Chief Justice Marshal gave his opinion of the meaning of that
"The great maritime powers of Europe discovered and visited different parts of this continent at nearly the same time. The object was too immense
for any of them to grasp the whole; and the claimants too powerful to submit to the exclusive or unreasonable pretensions of any single potentate.
To avoid bloody conflicts, which might terminate disastrously for all, it was necessary for the nations of Europe to establish some principle which all
would acknowledge, and which should decide their respective rights as between themselves. This principle, suggested by the actual state of things,
was, “that discovery gave title to the government by whose subjects or by whose authority it was made, against all other European governments,
which title might be consummated by possession.” Johnson vs. McIntosh, 8 Wheaton’s Rep., 543.
In a more recent opinion of these events, Dr Bruce Clark, a Canadian lawyer, says, “This principle, acknowledged by all Europeans, because it was
in the interest of all to acknowledge it, gave to the nation making the discovery, as its inevitable consequence, the sole right of acquiring the soil and
of making settlements on it. It was an exclusive principle which shut out the right of competition among those who had agreed to it; not one that could
annul the previous rights of those who had not agreed to it. It regulated the right given by discovery among the European discoverers, but could not
affect the rights of those already in possession, either as aboriginal occupants, or occupants by virtue of a discovery made before the memory of
man. It gave the exclusive right to purchase, but did not found that right on a denial of the right of the possessor to sell.” In this opinion, the Doctrine
of Discovery continues to be a statement to the effect that the discovering nations cannot claim the right of possession without having fulfilled the
obligation to purchase.
The Global Caucus statement on the Doctrine of Discovery was produced during the first two-day Caucus meeting, but many regions did not have
the opportunity to review or add to the statement. This statement can be viewed here: (insert video)
2. Special Theme: Continuing impacts of the Doctrine of Discovery in violence against indigenous women.
IHRAAM submitted an intervention on this subject which pertains to the case of Loni Edmond v. Canada, the case presently being reviewed for
admissibility in the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: (see here)
Reports were delivered from various groups, including the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact. Their report, “Violence, Customary Law and Indigenous
Women’s Rights in Asia,” chronicled the results of local projects in Nepal and the Philippines. These projects involved education programs for rural
indigenous women who face such serious problems as forced migration for work, increased violence in traditional settings that have been corrupted
by state pressures on the communities, and lack of political representation at home as well as in the state. The report is on their website, www.
Other reports were different from the IHRAAM intervention in one remarkable way: many of the other statements called for increased state
involvement and increased state services such as policing to indigenous communities. This was said to be in the interests of the safety of those
3. Comprehensive dialogue with WIPO
Representatives from the World Intellectual Property Organization were present to deliver their views on the way WIPO is protecting indigenous
peoples’ cultural, traditional and spiritual knowledge, or collectively held intellectual properties. Indigenous delegates unanimously rejected WIPO’s
claims to satisfying indigenous objectives for recognition of collective rights to intellectual property and particularly genetic resources.
A summary of the day’s speakers is here:
Global Caucus Statement to WIPO delegates criticizing lack of protection of indigenous intellectual property, among other things. Photo by Helena
Perhaps twenty PFII delegates were wearing black T-shirts that had the WIPO logo but an alternate moniker: “World Intellectual Piracy Organization.”
A good representation of the concerns raised by indigenous peoples’ organizations is available here:
4. Half-day discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples to food and food sovereignty.
IHRAAM submitted its second intervention on this topic: (See here.)
5. Half-day discussion on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, 2014.
This conference is being organized by the UN General Assembly, and the President has nominated two facilitators for the World Conference on
Indigenous Peoples, 2014: Luis Alfonse de Alba, from Mexico, and John Henrickson of Norway, an indigenous appointee. The location has not been
Interventions on this subject included proper funding for regional groups to meet and prepare for that conference. The UN Voluntary Fund may help
with this – it is called ‘voluntary’ because states may contribute to it, or not, as they see fit. For example, the government of Norway contributed
$100,000 to the Fund for indigenous organizing for and attendance at the Conference.
Los Derechos de los Pueblos y Comunidades Indigenas an Mexico, en el marco de la proteccion a sus sitios sagrados. Caso Wirikuta / The rights of
indigenous peoples and communities in Mexico, in the framework of protecting their sacred land (Wirikuta Case) Sponsored by: Mission Permanente
de Mexico ante la ONU/National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Mexico
This presentation featured a state of the art computer simulation which was used to show categorically the importance of a certain area, proposed
for a mine. The area, Jalisco, is home to fourteen sacred sites, including the home of the sun and the universe. The computer-generated video
showed a 200 kilometer trail through the area, scenes from cultural and spiritual practices there, and super-imposed the potential impacts of the
mine to the people who call it home. The documentary was created with participation of three levels of government, three universities, and several
more organizations and authorities, including the Centro Ceremoniales de los Estados de Jalisco. The outcome was the protection of the fourteen
sites and 200km trail.
Mexico declared itself a pluri-cultural nation in 1992.
Indigenous Women’s Rights, Violence and Reproductive Health, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
During this panel, women leading the studies presented on the success of strategies that were based on traditional practices, and empowering
traditional community functions for justice.
Violence Against Indigenous Women: “A Life Without Violence, a Life With Autonomy” – Presented by FIMI (Foro Internacional de
Six speakers presented at this event. Two of them were attending the Forum as representatives of the Friendship Centers of Canada. They spoke
about the importance of the Friendship Centers in supporting aboriginal women, and providing urban cultural centers for indigenous people
displaced from home to the cities.
Three speakers were from South America, and they delivered messages about the importance of community organizing and empowerment for
women, as well as the assistance of the FIMI in their communities.
A women’s delegation from Il’laramatak Community Concerns, in Kenya, spoke to the domestic violence and sexual abuse that they have to
overcome in their communities. This group has engaged many women with tools for empowerment and to contradict the idea that “this is our culture.”
It is not. It is the result of dispossession of whole communities by state interests.
Speakers and guests participate in an opening prayer ceremony at the side event on violence against indigenous women sponsored by Foro
International de Mujeres Indigenas. The leader of the ceremony invited witnesses to videotape and photograph the ceremony.
Doctrine of Discovery: A Question of Genocide Presented by American Indian Movement – WEST (AIM – WEST), AIW – Grand Governing Council,
Peace and Disarmament, Three Nations of El Salvador, International Indian Treaty Council, National Prisoner Rights Network
Clyde Bellecourt and Tony Gonzales of AIM facilitated this round-table discussion. It was a very frank and open conversation where people at the
meeting were able to explain the conditions in the countries where they lived. For example, a woman from Panama explained that the government
says her people are extinct. A man living in the United States explained the assaults of the American government on his people’s rights to self-
determination. A woman from Guatemala explained the lack of progress in holding the government accountable for the genocide of 1982, and how
similar violently genocidal tactics are still in progress today. I was able to explain about the government’s coercive use of the Comprehensive Claims
Policy, where any indigenous nation involved in “negotiations” for compensation must abide the government’s bottom-line position that once
negotiations are complete, they have extinguished their claim to the titles or lands discussed, as well as how the “BC treaty process” is based on that
policy and leads to extinguishment. A different form of genocide than outright killing, and yet very effective. This information seems to have come as
something of an “ah ha” moment for the other participants, many of whom approached me later with thanks for the straight forward explanation and
information to establish contact. AIM is working on a paper to present to the Forum, actually continuing with a paper already presented, and plans to
use the contacts established in the meeting to increase its range and scope.
Sami Self-Determination - Galdu – Resource Center for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The Representative of the Sami Parliament and two lawyers who advocate for the Sami gave a presentation on Sami aspirations for self-
determination and rights to consultation when state-proposed developments would occur in their traditional territories. The Sami people in Norway,
Finland and Sweden elect the Sami Parliament, as well as having the vote in state government elections. The Sami Parliament does not have equal
powers to the state governments, but it creates an organized form of representation for Sami people across international borders. The presentation
included mention of Sami expectation for benefits sharing in resource developments on their territory, and their overall plans to be cooperative with
state plans so long as they did not seriously impact the reindeer-herding way of life.
Hawaiian Kingdom: A Voice for Sovereignty, Film Screening
The Hawaiian Kingdom continues its work for sovereignty, having status in the UN Special Committee for Decolonization and a case waiting for
hearing. The film, which can be ordered online, documented the American occupation of Hawaii, the deposition and imprisonment of the Queen of
their constitutional monarchy, military activities and operations on the islands, and present day efforts to restore the Kingdom. The film clearly
documents the American takeover and in discussions afterwards the Hawaiian delegates explained their progress towards decolonization within UN
La Doctrina del descumbrimiento como Marco del Despojo Permanente de los RRNN en los Territorios Indigenas - Centro de Estudios Aplicados a
los Derechos Economicos y Culturales – CEADESC - CIDOB – CONAMAQ
In this side event, the presenters showed and discussed the problems inherent in having only “consultation and accomodation” rights within UN
processes, as “observers” to the UN Permanent Forum. They believe that the changes Bolivia has made, in becoming a pluri-national state, are a
superior approach. A traditional and spiritual leader who was also invited to make a statement to the assembled was sharply critical of participation
within the UN, pointing out the fact that the member states of the UN are the cause of indigenous nations’ problems, and that these nations are the
least aspect of the world when seen through the eyes of member states: they are part of an uncharted, unrecognized country – the fourth world.
Jorge Cortes Fajardo, with Centro de Estudios Aplicados a los Derechos Economicos, Sociales y Culturales, Boliivia.
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues - Eleventh Session - Report
The PFII’s report can be found here:
Other events, meetings and observations:
I met many interesting people at the Forum and learned many things about the state of affairs in faraway places that one would never discover by
reading the news, or even by faraway web postings. I think a lot of the important discussions that go on at the Forum do so “informally.”
One person I was very happy to meet was a parliamentarian in the Central American Parliament, from Nicaragua. He is an appointed indigenous
delegate to the Comite Consultivo de Pueblos Indigenas y Afrodescientes de Nicaragua. In his statement to the Forum, while discussing the main
theme, he actually recommended that the theme of the 12th session of the UN PFII, next year, should be the co-option of indigenous leaders and
pseudo-leaders. He criticized the Forum, which almost no one does, saying that it should not be a Crying Wall but a place that produces concrete
action, and “not only sterile recommendations that in many cases are simply archived.” He said the Forum must be an accelerator to intensify
movement and progress in indigenous peoples’ struggles. I agree.
Kerry Coast and Lloyd Bushey Davis, Central American Parliament,
Consultative Committee of Indigenous Peoples and Peoples of African Descent in Nicaragua
As Mr. Davis remarked, there is an alarming level of state involvement in funding some of the indigenous delegations, and, as I discovered, a
recurring theme of malcontent with members of the Permanent Forum. When I discussed with many people, from all over the world, how surprising I
found the election of Ed John to Chair the Forum, and explained his close association with and advocacy for the BC treaty process, the modern day
process of extinguishing aboriginal title in British Columbia, I was sad to hear that many of the others have similar concerns about the sincerity of
their region’s Permanent Forum representative.
It is also worrying that discussion of these concerns seems to be taboo. Suffice it to say that I heard from other delegates about three other PFII
members, aside from John, who seem to be engaged in career paths that are very much state sanctioned and state supported. The individuals I
discussed these issues with also noted instances where their concerns and issues were not being advanced or even mentioned by their regional
representative on the Forum at the appropriate times, if at all.
When considering the discretion those individuals can exercise in including interventions in their Forum’s Final Report, and that this Report is the
height of indigenous participation at the UN, it is not hard to believe that states would be interested in influencing that agenda and the results of it.
To hear the state delegates deliver their remarks during the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, anyone would wonder why on earth the Forum
exists. Each state delegate used their time to declare that their government is implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with
as much gusto and resource as could be required to right any identifiable wrongs. These statements were invariably contradicted by the Regional
Statements made by the various regional caucuses.
Increased state involvement
In contrast to the character of the interventions delivered by IHRAAM, many other delegates seemed to be advocating for “equal rights” rather than
self-determination. This is reflected in their written interventions. In conversation, it seems that there is the perception that indigenous peoples in
Canada are “at the other end of the spectrum” from many indigenous peoples elsewhere in the world. There is also a great deal of misunderstanding
about the actual state of affairs among indigenous peoples in Canada. I often pointed out that increased state involvement, for instance the Indian
Act, is the main source of problems for indigenous peoples in Canada.
A child and family welfare agency from Australia, SNAICC, was about to give an intervention to the Forum that included the paragraph, “Canada and
North America have employed indigenous self-governance models since the 1970’s which provide key insight into how a child’s right to maintain a
connection to her family, community and cultural group can be ensured regardless of their out-of-home care status. Such experience provides
approximately 40 years of evidence-based international best practice that Australia desperately needs to catch up with. Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander family, community and cultural groups need to be granted increased participation in, and active ownership of, the enduring decisions that
impact children and young people’s holistic cultural wellbeing.” This statement was referenced to a paper titled, “Queensland Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Child Protection Peak, Long-term Guardianship Position Paper.” (2011) Since showing the delegates from SNAICC the pamphlet
about the Petition of Edmond v. Canada, and explaining that this statement cannot be true, it seems that they did not deliver that intervention, or that
particular part of it.
No Forum-directed studies of Canada
It is interesting to note that while the Forum has occasionally carried out many different studies of many particular countries’ implementation of the
UN DRIP, Canada was never one of them.
It seems that Canada has literally been making a reputation for itself among indigenous communities elsewhere in the world. I heard reports from
people in India, Australia and South America that they have been visited by delegations of indigenous people from Canada who make presentations
that include how aboriginal people in Canada participate actively in the government of the country, how they have their own universities, and how
much money they have from settlements and benefits sharing agreements. Generally speaking, there is no understanding among delegates to
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues of the reality faced by the majority of impoverished, criminalized, displaced and discriminated-against
aboriginal people in Canada.
Canada’s state intervention to the forum is here. It is important to note that Canada refers to “indigenous men and women,” not “indigenous peoples.”