15 May 2006

Background Release

Indigenous Peoples Seek Action on Health, Education, Inclusion in Decision-Making at United Nations Forum, 15 - 26 May in New York

High-Level Session to Announce Actions for Second Indigenous Decade, Will Attract over 1200 Participants

NEW YORK, 12 May (UN Headquarters) -- Indigenous leaders, senior United Nations officials, non-governmental organizations, academics and over 1200 indigenous community members will convene in New York next week to discuss the challenges and strategies for improving the conditions of the world's indigenous peoples.  The fifth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will be held in New York from 15 to 26 May, giving indigenous peoples a platform to voice concerns, recommend solutions and deliberate with Governments and the intergovernmental system.

The opening ceremony will launch the Programme of Action for the Second International Decade of World's Indigenous People, with its five objectives, which reaffirm the main priorities till 2015.  Serious gaps remain in many areas, including education, health, culture, environment and human rights.  The session will also highlight the deficiencies in social and economic development, and will call for more sophisticated, researched development programmes for indigenous societies.  The absence of information and data regarding HIV/ AIDS in the indigenous community -- an increasing concern -- will also be prioritized at the meeting.  Inclusion of traditional knowledge and full participation of indigenous peoples in decisions that impact their lives, based on the principle of free, prior and informed consent, will be emphasized.

The end of the Second Decade in 2015 coincides with the year benchmarked for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, building a close overlap of the two issues.  The Permanent Forum will focus on key developmental concerns through this year's theme "Millennium Development Goals and indigenous peoples: redefining the goals".

"The timing of this meeting is very important, especially as Governments strengthen efforts concerning the Millennium Development Goals.  The upcoming session will demand the need for inclusion of indigenous peoples in all evaluation, and stricter monitoring processes on the progress on the Millennium Development Goals.  Disaggregated data collection, a prerequisite for accurate evaluation, especially to understand where indigenous societies stand in this process, will be highlighted at the meeting," said Elissavet Stamatopoulou, Chief of the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Indigenous Peoples at International Level

Estimates point to more than 370 million indigenous peoples in some 70 countries worldwide.  While they are from diverse geographical and cultural backgrounds, they share common difficulties:  lack of basic health care, limited access to education, loss of control over land, abject poverty, displacement, human rights violations, and economic and social marginalization.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was established by the United Nations Economic and Social Council in July 2000.  The Forum was called upon to provide expert advice and recommendations on indigenous issues to the United Nations system through the Council; raise awareness and promote the integration and coordination of relevant activities within the United Nations system; and disseminate information on indigenous issues.

The Permanent Forum is comprised of 16 independent experts, functioning in their personal capacity.  The Economic and Social Council appoints the members, eight of whom are nominated by Governments and eight directly by indigenous organizations in their regions.

Efforts to highlight indigenous issues at an international, intergovernmental level started in 1923, when Haudenosaunee Chief Deskaheh went to Geneva to speak to the League of Nations and defend the right of his people to live on their land, under their own laws and faith.  Maori Leader Ratana made the same journey to Geneva in 1924, to plead the case of his people.  Even though they were not allowed to speak at the League of Nations, their vision nourished the generations that followed.

The participation of grass-roots indigenous peoples in discussions and programmes that impact them is a top priority of the Permanent Forum.  A Trust Fund for the Second Decade has been established, which will make small grants to projects focusing on culture, education, health, human rights, the environment, and social and economic development by and for indigenous peoples.  The first call for projects ended in January and a second call will be announced soon.

Attended by high-level Government representatives and United Nations system officials, the opening session in the General Assembly Hall on 15 May at 11:15 a.m. will showcase diverse indigenous performers, as well.  P. Town Boyz from the Great Lake Nation, United States; Band Elvel from Siberia; Saami musicians from Norway; Descendace Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Dance Theatre from Australia; and native rock artist Robby Romero are part of the line-up.  An indigenous exhibit to coincide with the session will be inaugurated at 6:15 p.m. on 16 May.

For media enquiries or interviews on these issues, please contact:  Oisika Chakrabarti, Department of Public Information, tel: 212-963-8264, e-mail: .

For the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum, please contact:  Mirian Masaquiza, Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, tel: 917-367-6006, e-mail: .

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