"UN-Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues" in NYC

Oren Lyons: We need a Convention!

 Chief Oren Lyons during the

Chief Oren Lyons during the "Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues" at the UN in NYC, 24 April 2017. On the following day from the podium, Lyons called for an Indigenous Convention (image © Claus Biegert).

Can't we simply be satisfied? First Peoples and Mother Earth receive our honor and respect. Justice has gained admission into the indigenous world. There is even a UN-document that regulates everything: "The Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."

The document was enacted in 2007. Ten years. The "Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues" provided the venue for the decennial celebration. In the venerable General Assembly Hall at the UN in New York, officials took turns at the lectern to prove how well, over the years, they had learned to express themselves to the satisfaction of all. On April 24th, one of the first speakers, Carolyn Bennett, the Canadian minister for "Indian and Northern Affairs," declared her honor to be here in the Land of the Lenape. Like she was a blood brother. And perhaps she considers herself as such – even as, in the boreal Canadian north, the extraction of oil from tar sands defiles and devours Indian territory.

INDIGENOUS. The assembly walls trembled at each mention of the word. And each official emphasized the word in almost every sentence. INDIGENOUS. Glory be. Eventually, Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), somewhat righted the picture by pointing out that one would have to be quite ignorant to deny that, worldwide, the industrial race for land resources has not invaded and diminished the habitats of indigenous peoples. "Mining corporations treat indigenous populations as obstacles to profit."

Finally, on the second day, in a flaming speech, Bolivia's President Evo Morales established the forum's tenor for the following two weeks: capitalism evolved from colonialism, and capitalism's war against nature is also a war against nature's protectors. "Indigenous peoples are the moral compass of humanity, with their own ways of organization and production," he said, going on to stress that it is their responsibility to organize a global response "to save humanity and the world."

The busy program demonstrated that quite progressive forces are at work within the forum: a half-day panel addressed the issue of worldwide violence against indigenous women. Also, for the first time, an "Indigenous Media Room" – a resource center honoring the continuous and careful accomplishment of indigenous media – was set up and intensively used by journalists.

Amidst the news of the persecution of conservationists indigenous and not, emerged one positive happening signaling the slow paradigm change underway in the world: only a few weeks ago, the New Zealand Parliament ruled that the Whanganui, the sacred river of the Maori, must be allotted the legal rights of a human being. The eyes of the Maori delegates glittered as they told of this decision.

Still, although UN officials consider the Declaration a viable, 21st century tool of leverage, among the populations it is meant to protect, the non-legally binding UN-document has proven to be only another step on the long road that began forty years ago in a small office of the International Indian Treaty Council at the "Church Center for The United Nations," before emerging into the public's eye at Geneva's Palais des Nations in September, 1977, during the historic "International NGO Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas."

Phyllis Young, 70, has been an activist in the movement since its outset. As the spokeswoman from Standing Rock at the UN form, Phyllis sent out an invitation for forum participants to attend a gathering at the Church Center for The United Nations. There, she assured her listeners that President Trump will never be able to break Dakota Access pipeline resistance, nor the environmental protests raging against the mining of uranium, rare earth, tar sands, zinc...

Crystal clear is that our industrial society is only sustainable through the violation of human rights. Driving this point home is a documentary film presently traveling the US: First Daughter and Black Snake. The film, a manifest against oil pipelines, is a road movie featuring the powerful work of indigenous activist Winona LaDuke.

The Declaration: one step. The goal: a Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

What surfaced as the center of conversation at a reception hosted by the Seventh Generation on the first evening, became part of the UN protocol on April 25th, when Oren Lyons, Chief of the Onondaga Nation, spoke in the name of all indigenous nations throughout North America. He was allotted three minutes. Lyons, who will soon turn ninety, approached the speaker's lectern relying on his cane, leaned it to rest, adjusted the microphone, and then grew younger with each word. For two and a half minutes he spoke of the consequences of global warming, and of the need for indigenous and non-indigenous folks to unite in the face of the impending catastrophe. Then he came to the point: the Declaration achieved what it could, but what now is needed is a Convention. The idea was finally out! Like the international, legally-binding Geneva Conventions, what is needed is an Indigenous Convention!

Again decades will go by. We, an Indian poem of the seventies announces, we know endurance and will prevail... The younger generation, now wandering the halls of the UN for the first time, will continue the work of their elders. And at some point during the 2050s, assuming that the UN General Assembly Hall in Geneva still stands, the Tadodaho of the Haudenosaunee (the highest chief of the Iroquois Confederation), will step to the lectern and open the adoption proceedings to the "Convention for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."

On April 29th, many of the forum participants traveled to Washington, D.C., to take part in the People's Climate March. Activists from Indian nations across the hemisphere led the protesters to Washington Mall, Leonardo DiCaprio in their midst. One can also depend on DiCaprio tomorrow...

While Trump at a rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, celebrated the "greatest" first 100 days of anyone's presidency, 200,000 marchers in Washington D.C. demonstrated for climate justice and environmental responsibility. While Trump before his base denied global warming and talked about undoing the Paris climate accord, on the streets of Washington it was 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit – the hottest April 29th on record at the nation's capital.

English translation: Craig Eldon Reishus