PANAMA CITY, May 8 - Indigenous leaders from around the
world are gathered this week in the Panamanian capital, where they
have launched a global appeal to defend their traditions against
the imposition of mass culture they contend is inherent in the
Delegates to the First Millennium Conference of Indigenous
Peoples discussed in the Monday plenary session the progress their
communities have made in development since 1994, the year marking
the start of the International Decade of the World's Indigenous
Peoples, declared by the United Nations.
The approximately 200 native leaders also deliberated the
creation of a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples within the UN
system, as well as the economic and cultural impacts of
globalization in their communities, and mechanisms to ensure
respect for indigenous rights.
Tuesday saw the reinforcement of the common stance the world's
native peoples will take at the UN World Conference against Racism
and Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to
take place this September in Durban, South Africa.
The delegates gathered in the Panamanian capital agreed that in
recent years a ''cultural and economic racism'' has gained
strength and is hurting the native populations' development
Chilean Mapuche leader, Aucan Huilcaman Paillama, explained
that this form of racism subjugates his culture with elements of
mainstream global culture and economic modes that only benefit
determined sectors of the population, and discriminates against
people who hold a conception of development that is closely linked
to the environment.
One example of this sort of discrimination is the exploitation
of forests or the drilling of oil wells in protected areas without
taking the views of the local indigenous population into account,
''leading to conflicts because our peoples have to defend
themselves against this kind of attack,'' he stressed.
Representatives from the Americas, Asia, Oceania, Africa and
Europe denounced that all regions of the world tend to follow a
single economic development model, one that does not encompass
protection of the environment, biodiversity or native peoples.
In the opinion of Marcial Arias García, of Panama's Kuna
Indians, this conference was organized with the premise that the
only ones who should comment on and propose solutions for the
problems of natives are native peoples themselves.
Arias García explained that one of the crucial aspects for
counteracting cultural and economic racism is achieving
recognition of indigenous peoples' rights to self-determination
and access to the benefits provided by the exploitation of natural
resources found within their territories.
''Our peoples must be recognized as the exclusive owners (of
the) cultural and intellectual property'' encompassed by ancestral
knowledge, he said, because this would allow native communities to
fight, for example, such phenomena as bio-piracy and the granting
of patents on living organisms.
''Governments must adopt policies that protect indigenous
intellectual and cultural property and the right to maintain their
customs, administrative systems and practices,'' stated the Kuna
He also asserted that the international community has to
recognize that indigenous peoples have suffered the same
experiences related to the exploitation of their cultural and
intellectual property and that they are capable of managing their
traditional knowledge themselves.
''We are open to providing this knowledge to humanity as along
as our definition of it and control over it are protected'' by the
UN and by the international community, instead of national
governments which tend to be at odds with indigenous communities,
said Arias García.
''The governments maintain a colonialist view of our peoples.
State, national and international agencies, in developing their
policies, must understand that we are guardians of customs and
knowledge, and we have the right to protect and control the
diffusion of that knowledge,'' argues the indigenous leader.
The First Millennium Conference of Indigenous Peoples has been
organized by Panama's Napguana (''core of the earth'', in the Kuna
language) Association, and sponsored by the Netherlands Center for
Indigenous Peoples (NCIV-Nederlands Centrum Voor Inheemse Volken).
Taking part in the weeklong meeting, to wrap up this Friday,
are some 200 indigenous leaders from around the world, UN experts
and representative of various international cooperation
organizations and agencies.
The native leaders gathered in Panama come from Australia,
Bangladesh, Bolivia, Botswana, Bhutan, Canada, Colombia, Chile,
Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mali,
Morocco, Mexico, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Rwanda, Russia,
Sudan, United States and the Scandinavian countries, among others.
The contributions made by the indigenous presenters and
delegates are to be assembled in a final document known as the
''Many of the contributions will serve as a basis for the
Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a text
that has been discussed over the last seven years at the UN
without the governments being able to reach an agreement,''
pointed out Napguana Association president, Nelson de León.
Copyright 2001 IPS