UN forum pushes for indigenous rights declaration

Poverty cited as major obstacle

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

SIKU CIRCUMPOLAR NEWS SERVICE

As the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues continued its fourth session in New York City this week, participants highlighted the disastrous effects of poverty, continuing conflicts and lack of access to education, and stressed the need to complete the UN’s draft declaration on indigenous rights.

Describing poverty as a “major obstacle” to indigenous rights, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, noted that indigenous poverty levels were higher than national averages, and the consequences of poverty were more severe than for other populations. Poverty, he said, refers not only to low income levels, but a lack of social services and water resources, as well as ancestral lands and other natural wealth.

Stavenhagen said persistent poverty among indigenous peoples is due to continued denial of their basic rights.

Several speakers also emphasized the importance of rapidly completing and adopting the draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, which has been in the works for 24 years.

Also discussed were the forum’s previous themes on indigenous women and youth. Regarding youth, speakers expressed dismay at the continuing exploitation of children in some nations, as well as the need for improved education and health facilities.

Regarding the Convention on Biological Diversity, forum members noted that many states were formulating legislation on access and benefits and asked about the status of benefit-sharing for indigenous peoples. Sovereignty over natural resources by indigenous peoples was the key issue to be pushed within the Convention on Biological Diversity, they said.

A representative from the University of Toronto drew attention to the Yukaghir people of Yakutsk a small group living on the brink of “ethnic catastrophe” in North Asia. She said that it is ironic that the area was known for the discovery of a mammoth, but that no one expressed any sorrow about the people living there. They suffered from poverty, as the reindeer stock, the main diet, had been reduced.

Living in Arctic conditions, men are overcome by depression and alcoholism; women are left without providers; and there is an increase in the number of single mothers.

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