17 May 2005

Background Release

UN Forum to Consider Impact on Indigenous Peoples of Millennium Development Goal Implementation, 16 - 27 May

NEW YORK, 13 May (UN Headquarters) -- The United Nations will host an expected 1,500 indigenous leaders, activists and representatives who will participate in the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from 16 to 27 May.  At this, its fourth session, the Forum will examine situations faced by indigenous peoples as countries and organizations strive to meet the Millennium Development Goal targets, with special focus on the first two Goals -- to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and to achieve universal primary education.

Often the most marginalized peoples in society, without adequate access to education, health care and water, indigenous peoples are frequently deprived of the right to participate in and shape their own sustainable human development.  Concerns have been raised that the achievement of the development goals agreed by all Member States five years ago at the Millennium Summit could inadvertently result in harm done to indigenous and tribal peoples, and there have been calls to revise the Millennium Goal indicators to capture their specific needs.  With its mandate to oversee and coordinate efforts involving indigenous peoples within the United Nations system, the Permanent Forum is in a position to effectively advance the concerns of indigenous peoples over the next 10 years as Millennium Goal-related projects are implemented.

Scheduled to speak at the opening of the session, at 11:30 a.m. 16 May in Conference Room 2, are United Nations Deputy-Secretary-General Louise Fréchette, a Vice-President of the General Assembly, Economic and Social Council Vice-President Ambassador Johan Verheke, and Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, Rachel Mayanja.  The session will begin with ceremonial music and a blessing by Sid Hill, the traditional Chief of one of the native peoples of New York, the Onondaga.

That afternoon, United Nations Millennium Project Director and Adviser to the Secretary-General, Jeffrey Sachs, will launch the high-level discussion on the Millennium Development Goals concerning extreme poverty and hunger.  Also participating will be United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and the Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet Mark Malloch Brown.  Observers representing Member States, United Nations bodies, indigenous groups and non-governmental organizations are invited to participate as well.

A number of other experts are expected to participate throughout the two weeks of the Forum, including José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Coordinator of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, and high-level representatives from the United Nations system and other international organizations.

On 23 May, the Forum will hold a dialogue with two independent experts working with the Commission on Human Rights:  Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Special Rapporteur on the situation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, and Miguel Alfonso Martínez, Chairman of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

A pre-sessional meeting from 11 to 13 May included a session with the United Nations Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues.  Composed of representatives from United Nations departments, agencies, funds and programmes and other inter-governmental organizations, the Group was established to promote the mandate of the Permanent Forum within the United Nations system.  At its annual meeting last September, the Group stressed that indigenous and tribal peoples have the right to benefit from the Millennium Development Goals, and from other goals and aspirations contained in the Millennium Declaration, to the same extent as all others.

Throughout the session, the Forum will focus on its mandated topics of economic and social development, environment, health, human rights, culture, and education.  It will also address follow-up to previous special themes and future work.

Last December, the General Assembly proclaimed the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, beginning in January 2005, for the purpose of strengthening international cooperation to solve problems faced by indigenous people in areas such as culture, education, health, human rights, the environment and social and economic development, through the implementation of programmes, projects, technical assistance and standard-setting activities (resolution 59/174).  The Assembly asked the Secretary-General to appoint the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs as Coordinator for the Decade and to establish a voluntary fund as a successor to the current Voluntary Fund, and it urged all parties involved in negotiations on the declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples to present a final draft for adoption as soon as possible.

Numerous special events are scheduled, such as films, presentations, exhibitions, book launches and panel discussions on a variety of topics, such as human rights violations, poverty reduction, indigenous economies, Native American writers and the protection of sacred species.  An exhibition mounted by the Department of Public Information will be opened at a cultural event and reception at 6:10 p.m. on Tuesday, 17 May, in the Public Lobby of the Visitor’s Entrance.  A list of special events is available at Documentation for the fourth session can be found at

Since indigenous peoples are invisible in the process of defining the Millennium Development Goals, their perspectives should be included in the review of the Goals’ implementation, so that the achievement of the Goals will not exacerbate poverty among indigenous peoples.  Achieving the Goals should respect indigenous concepts of development, take into account indigenous identity and cultures and be founded on a rights-based approach.

Indigenous Children’s Education and Indigenous Languages

An expert paper on Indigenous children’s education and indigenous languages (document E/C.19/2005/7) shows that educational models for indigenous and minority children that use mainly dominant languages as languages of instruction have extremely negative consequences on the right to education and perpetuate poverty.  Education through the dominant language prevents access to education, since it creates linguistic, pedagogical and psychological barriers.  Without education mainly in the mother tongue in public schools, with good teaching of a dominant language as a second language, most indigenous peoples have to accept education through a dominant/majority language, at the cost of the mother tongue which is displaced, and often replaced, by the dominant language.

Research on results of indigenous and minority education shows that the length of education in the mother tongue is more important than any other factor -- including socio-economic status -- in predicting the educational success of bilingual students.  The worst results are with students in programmes where the students’ mother tongues are not supported at all.  Education in the dominant language curtails the development of capabilities in indigenous children and perpetuates poverty.  The report presents recommendations to address these problems.

Free, Prior and Informed Consent

The Permanent Forum will have before it the Report of the International Workshop on Methodologies regarding Free, Prior and Informed Consent and Indigenous Peoples (document E/C.19/2005/3).  The Workshop, held from 17 to 19 January 2005 and attended by 67 experts, examined the legal instruments and practices relevant to the principle of free, prior and informed consent, heard examples and identified challenges to its application.  The principle was particularly relevant in relation to policies, treaties, indigenous lands, natural resources, extractive industries, conservation, building of hydroelectric dams and tourism.  The experts recognized that not consulting indigenous peoples who are the end-users -- and sometimes the victims -- of development projects may lead to delays, lack of sustainability, conflicts and loss of their resources.

Free, prior and informed consent was an evolving principle, adaptable to different realities.  It should be viewed as a process leading to equitable solutions in co-management and decision-making.  Recommendations to the Permanent Forum included promoting better methodologies on free, prior and informed consent; making governments, the private sector and indigenous peoples aware of the principle when planning development projects; and developing the capacity of indigenous peoples to participate in the process.

Background of Forum

The Forum, which meets once a year for 10 days, is the first official United Nations body where indigenous voices nominated by indigenous peoples can be heard as members.  It advises and makes recommendations to the Economic and Social Council on economic and social development, culture, human rights, the environment, education and health.  It has also been asked to raise awareness, promote the integration and coordination of activities relating to indigenous issues within the United Nations system, and prepare and disseminate information on indigenous issues.  States, United Nations bodies, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and organizations of indigenous people may take part as observers.

The Forum’s 16 Members -- eight nominated by indigenous organizations and eight nominated by States -- may serve in their personal capacities for up to two three-year terms.  Among the 16 elected to serve for the three-year period from January 2005 to December 2007 are a number of new members.

Those nominated by indigenous organizations include:  Michael Dodson (Yawuru, Australia) Wilton Littlechild (Cree, Canada), Aqqaluk Lynge (Inuit, Greenland), Nina Pacari Vega (Quichua, Ecuador), Pavel Sulyandziga (Udege, Russian Federation), Parshuram Tamang (Tamang, Nepal) and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Igorot, Philippines).

Those nominated by States include:  Eduardo Aguiar de Almeida (Brazil), Hassan Id Balkassm (Amazigh, Morocco), Yuri Boychenko (Russian Federation), Ralph Joey Langeveldt (Khoe-San, South Africa), Merike Kokajev (Estonia), Otilia Lux de Coti (Maya, Guatemala), Ida Nicolaisen (Denmark), Liliana Muzangi Mbella (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Qin Xiaomei (China).

For further information, please contact:  Ellen McGuffie, United Nations Department of Public Information, tel.:  (212) 963-0499, mobile:  (201) 953-5670; e-mail:

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