2 April 2003

Deputy Secretary-General Celebrates "Diversity and Richness" Aboriginal People Give to Human Family, at Ottawa Awards Ceremony

NEW YORK, 1 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following are the remarks of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette at the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards Ceremony in Ottawa on 28 March:

It is a special pleasure for me to join you for this tenth anniversary celebration. And a true celebration it is. A celebration of the diversity and richness that aboriginal people give to the human family, not only here in Canada, but all over the world. How wonderful it is to affirm that it is the differences among us that make this Earth's patchwork of people so appealing, and strengthens the bonds that unite us as human beings.

There are far more indigenous people in the world than is commonly realized -- some 300 to 500 million, or roughly one in every 20 members of the human family. Their histories, heritages and background are as diverse as the parts of the globe they hail from. Some may be hunter-gatherers, and others cosmopolitan city-dwellers. Some live in the world's most developed and powerful countries, others in the remotest, most undeveloped places on earth. Some are tiny minorities; others make up significant percentages of their country's population.

Their points of view are just as diverse. Some are concerned primarily with land, others with culture. Some may want to preserve, unchanged, their ways of life, while others want to participate fully in the material and cultural life of the societies around them. Like all cultures and civilizations, indigenous peoples are always changing, growing, and adapting themselves to new times and new realities. At the same time, a joint sense of their distinct cultures creates strong bonds of solidarity. Nearly all indigenous peoples attach profound importance to practices and objects endowed with spiritual significance, and show a deep and abiding reverence for the natural world. They also have a shared history of grievances -- the years and centuries of injustice, conquest, discrimination, repression and exploitation to which they have been subjected. Even today, this legacy blights far too many lives.

The United Nations has always been devoted to the cause of dignity and development for the world's indigenous peoples. For many decades, the Organization has been fighting to promote and protect their human rights.

Last year, in a major breakthrough, a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was established, raising the profile of indigenous issues at the United Nations. The Permanent Forum is a unique body, composed of both representatives of Member States and indigenous peoples. It is a platform, in the house of all nations, where their voices can be heard; where their identities can be affirmed; where their unique knowledge can be showcased; where they can come together, with each other and all of humankind, to work for a better world.

An indigenous leader once said, "Even though you are in your boat and I in my canoe, we share the same river of life." That is wisdom for the ages. Most of all, it is wisdom for times when all peoples share so many challenges, and depend so much on each other's solidarity.

In that spirit, I salute the award winners, all of which have contributed in different ways to opening minds and becoming instruments of change. They have shown, once again, that the power of individuals to influence society is boundless.

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