Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happenings at the United Nations: Workshop for the Creation of an Indigenous Peoples’ Forum

Rome: Rome was the venue this past week for a crucial high-speed two-day workshop on the creation of a Forum to redress pressing agriculturally based concerns involving indigenous peoples.

Delegates representing indigenous groups from Latin America/Caribbean, Africa and Asia/Pacific gathered at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to hammer out details on the principles and framework of the Forum.  The Forum is platform by which partnerships with indigenous peoples with regard to agricultural activities can be strengthened, and institutionalized dialog between the United Nations and indigenous peoples can be promulgated.  The creation of the Forum is obligated under the principles and auspices of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

One hundred people including IFAD staff and observers were on-hand to witness the proceedings.  Many of the delegates were dressed in their traditional pomp, which made for a splash of eye-catching color.  Proceedings were carried out in on a tri-lingual basis.  English, as the official business language of the United Nations, was heard most throughout the elongated and acoustically smart IFAD conference space.  French and Spanish were heard almost as often.  Linguistic experts in cavernous booths behind the scenes feverishly interpreted the mĂ©lange to provide delegates with unwavering translation.

The right to self-determination is at the very heart of issues surrounding indigenous peoples’ struggles.   Full participation in decision-making connected to rights to land and resources is seen as a very necessary step to express self-determination.  This also includes the ability to re-define the definition of “poor” and “poverty.”  The concept of poverty to many indigenous groups is foreign, and likewise do not consider themselves to be “poor.” Many of those representing indigenous groups at the workshop wanted a common understanding and conceptual framework, which addressed systemic communication and agricultural processes between IFAD and themselves so that their voices were well-understood going forward.   Also expressed was that full participation and two-way information sharing is crucial to eliminate any overly “top-down” processes in the creation of agricultural policy carried out at local levels.

Other issues brought to the fore were climate change, development aggression, identity, totemism, gender balance, livelihood representation, equal regional community representation, and lived experience. This workshop was not a policy making fora, but a space to work out details of an agreed upon policy framework. The hope is the that Forum will provide a strong framework and continuum to allow for open dialog between and among indigenous communities, national governments, and IFAD on very important agricultural projects.  The outcomes will certainly have reciprocal importance for us all.  To follow the action, please see IFAD’s website: www.ifad.org.

By Sam Yellen

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