CFSC staff and volunteers are at the UN Headquarters in Manhattan area of New York City for two weeks in May 2012, along with about 1500 other people from around the world, mostly Indigenous Peoples, to explore common concerns. This year’s Forum is focused on the Doctrine of Discovery. (Pictured: Monica Walters-Field, CFSC volunteer, second from the left in the front row, with Indigenous representatives from around the globe).
Update from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues – May 9, 2012
We are in our second day of the Eleventh session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII).
Jennifer Preston (CFSC staff) and Monica Walters-Field (CFSC volunteer) registered for the session on Sunday afternoon and picked up our SINGLE secondary pass that gives us access to the sessions. A single pass for each registered group. This single pass strategy is the newest solution that the UN has to accommodate a registration of 1800 in a room that holds 500. The first word of this new rule was posted on Friday morning – after registrants were on their way to the PFII from all directions of the globe. Jenn, set into gear phoning, texting and emailing to see if this was changeable. Seldom, does Jenn’s network fail to bear fruit. We are off to the Eleventh PFII with one secondary pass!
This officialdom was to be the start of the tone of this year’s PFII. Proceed to the chambers where confused participants in the PFII , not sure if they will get in – though the opening ceremonies was to be held in the Chamber of the UN General Assembly which is a room large enough to accommodate all. We are here with relief and needing to secure seats for our partners. Roger Jones (of the Assembly of First Nations) with whom Jennifer works closely requests that we secure seats for National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo and his assistant. This excites us, so we head into direct mode, which sees Jenn seat securing and Monica signing up the National Chief on the speaker list. We know how to do this – we have practiced this many times over the years … We have seats and a place second on the list.
The forum opened in the General Assembly Hall with the unique sound of the Australian digeree-do calling the delegates to their seats. Thomas Stelzer, assistant secretary-general at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, presided, providing the initial welcoming. He introduced the spiritual leader of the Onondaga Nation Tadodaho Sidney Hill, in accordance with the customs of the Indigenous Peoples and recognition of the peoples of this land.
Tadodaho Sidney Hill is the spiritual leader of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy. His invocation was spoken in the Onondaga language, and for the first time translated through the official UN translation system. The opening words of his invocation were “People, listen”. Sid Hill said further that “No matter how many the number of people at one place are gathering that it be first his word the giving of thanks. This is become my duty. I put through the first words. Now then, that this day, as it is, the sunlight, as it is, that peaceful our minds should be.” Throughout the invocation, he expressed thanks to the Creator and prayed for the good mind among the delegates. The good mind is a Haudenosaunee practice in which individual or collective thoughts are directed positively.
This too is our hope.
“This year Indigenous Peoples around the world will turn their eyes to the most important effort to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery, a 15th century Papal bull that has been exploited for five centuries to deny the human rights of hundreds of millions of people who continue to be subject to its powers”. The theme of the Permanent Forum is “The Doctrine of Discovery: its enduring impact on indigenous peoples and the right to redress for past conquests (articles 28 and 37 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)”.
Each year a Chair is appointed from the members of the Forum. For the first time in history of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues we have a chair elected from North America – Grand Chief Ed John!” Jessica Danforth, founder and director of Native Youth Sexual Health Network, wrote on her Facebook page. “And as he visited with our Youth Caucus today and told us the story of how they tried to beat the Indian out of him in residential school, all I could think of is if those school officials only knew he would grow up to be an official member of the UN Permanent Forum and tell the truth on an international human rights level so no other child’s story of abuse goes unrecognized.”
Grand Chief John is a Hereditary Chief of Tl’azt’en Nation located on the banks of the Nak’al Bun (Stuart Lake) in northern British Columbia, according to a biographical sketch on the First Nations Summit website. A lawyer for 30 years, Ed John has long pursued social and economic justice for Canada’s Indigenous people. He participated in the development of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In January 2011, he was appointed to a three-year term as North American Representative to the Permanent Forum.
This good news set the tone for the traditional opening welcome and prayer. Chief Ed John welcomed everyone and thanked the multitude of people, organizations and officials participating in the Permanent Forum. He also paid heartfelt tribute to the Indigenous peoples of the world ‘who relentlessly pursue their struggles for their survival, rights, dignity wellbeing, their own self determination, development divisions and priorities’. He recognized that IPs face an incredibly difficult struggle.
After the opening ceremonies the proceedings continued with the opening panel of experts on the Doctrine if Discovery. The panelists were all extremely informative, with a special highlight of Professor Robert Williams – awesome presentation. The dialogue was rich, the substance deep – it was so good and we were so engrossed that we didn’t bang out a summary for you – we just soaked it up. However, special note to Rob Williams presentation particularly criticizing Canada and its extinguishment policies – which he emphatically stated as being illegitimate. Am trying to get his presentation to circulate.
Former PFII member Tonya Gonnella Frichner was also on the panel. She spoke to how the Doctrine of Discovery could actually be called the Doctrine of Domination and she named it as the foundation of racism and sexism.
The other fantastic speaker was Moana Jackson – Maori – “may we all together walk on the path to justice”. He defined “discover” as “open up to the eyes of others” and spoke to the need to redefine and reclaim rights, rediscover who we were and who we might be.
Your friends in NY – Monica, Jennifer and now joined by our roving communications man – Don Alexander (CFSC board member)!