Marcos Terena presents the Kari-Oca Declaration to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, (UNCED) Rio, 1992

(English translation of the original Portuguese video)


Mr. Marcos Terena is the next speaker. He is the representative of the non-governmental organization, the Committee Inter-Tribal. He has the floor.

Marcos Terena:

Ladies and gentlemen, it's a great pleasure to be here at this United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. I am a Brazilian Indian and I have been asked by 92 Indigenous organizations of the five continents of this planet to talk to you this afternoon.

The main problem we have faced is that over these 500 years that are now being celebrated in 1992, the Indigenous Peoples always try to be heard, to have their voices heard, and to have their problems listened to, however the ears of the world were never open to what we had to say. But the history of mankind, the history of the world, of the contemporary world, of the peoples' 21st century is already showing through it's machinery that something is wrong with the so-called development and this is why you have all come from Rio de Janeiro, from many places in the world to discuss what can be done with our planet earth.

We Indigenous Peoples of the world, we did not have a podium, we did not have a forum. We have no place to have our voices heard. So we tried to make our own forum, according to our own technology, according to our own wisdom and our own science, according to our own architecture. And we set up an Indigenous village right here in Rio de Janeiro. When we thought about doing that there were many people who think of themselves as experts on Indigenous issues, who began to say, what you are doing is just folklore, it's just going to be something to make the UN happy. But that's not so. This temple of centuries old wisdom, this life code that no scientist have ever managed to unveil, rests with the Indigenous Peoples. And it is exactly that that you are looking for, here, at this conference.

You don't have to look any further or research any further, or spend millions of dollars on new research, we the Indigenous Peoples would like to offer you our science, our wisdom, for your civilization. And once again, we have to ask you, "are you prepared for that?" "Is the contemporary world prepared to listen to what we want to convey after 500 years of silence? Silence that was forced on us by colonizers, by the priests, with a catechism, this is why we came here to Rio and to this Kari-Oca village." We have tried to put down on paper our philosophy, our thoughts, because we know nature, we practice sustainable development, for us, this has been a daily routine in our lives, it is not an alternative approach as it is known. We have drafted our own Earth Charter.

We wrote our Earth Charter, but what are we going to do with that piece of paper? What should we do with these proposals here? We would like you who are listening to us, we would like to ask you to ponder about what it means to be a person? What does it mean to be an individual, because we Indigenous peoples, we have always been neglected as second rate citizens in the relations between peoples. Right here at this conference, we cannot speak as Indigenous Peoples. We can just speak as Indigenous Populations. That is our status, but why? Why is that so? Why do you do this to us? I am using the same clothes that you are, I might be even wearing a tie.

I can learn English, I can learn French. We have our own policies, we have our own style of government, it's different from your own of course, but, never the less, this is no reason for us to have been considered as wild people as the Brazilian press has said this week. We are not wild, because we do not kill our children as happens in the large urban centers. We do not have slums as the big cities do. We do not have psychiatric hospitals in our villages. So, we wonder what does living mean?

When the Minister of Norway said, "Let us ensure our common future", what do you mean by that?

You cannot just squander millions and millions of dollars on a conference such as this, if you do not want to listen to what the earth has to tell you. Nature is being destroyed every minute. Each jet that crosses the Atlantic is destroying Mother Nature. Each atomic, nuclear explosion in the Pacific or any ocean is destroying Nature. Every time money is allocated to research under the aegis of peace for new nuclear weapons, we are destroying Nature again, we are destroying our own lives. It's not just the lives of the Indigenous Peoples that are being destroyed, but this is why we wonder why we have five to seven minutes to speak after 500 years of silence. But will we be heard?

Like everyone, can we get into your minds, can we get into your hearts? Can we sensitize you as people? As individuals? We did not come here to Rio to just pretend, play at being Indians. We did not come here to please the leaders. We came here to fight for life. We came here to fight for our life, for our survival, but also for the survival of the planet, and the planet is just like a big canoe, a big boat, where we have blacks, Indians, whites. Because, when your lungs fail, can no longer breathe this air, your bodies will be sick and so will ours. And when we no longer have any water to drink, when you can no longer quench your thirst with the water from rivers, when you can no longer have forests, what are you going to do? You many invent some kind of pill to quench your thirst, but this will never taste as good as the fresh waters that we drink in our forests.

And we might mention here, several things from Indigenous lore, of Indigenous philosophy and wisdom, but it would be useless unless you are prepared to listen to what we have to say about Agenda 21 for example. About this business of not reaching consensus about what biological diversity means. We have our own biodiversity and we are fighting for the demarcation of our land for this very reason because behind the fight for land lies our heritage, our heritage for survival, the medicines given to us by Mother Nature, the food that is granted to us by Mother Nature. This is why we are saying that over these past few days of UNCED, you should try maybe to listen to what we could convey to you in this paper, through these words that are on paper. It is very important to us to be addressing you here, in person, because you, you are representatives of your respective governments, and we, what are we? What do we represent to you? I do not want to go on a harangue of Indigenous wisdom here, but I do want to ask you to open your hearts.

We have been following the prepCom activities for over a year. Very often I was embarrassed when I saw small countries, the so-called Third World countries rushing after the representatives of the so-called First World with their hands out, asking for money. This is not sovereignty. This is not dignity. We Indigenous Peoples want dignity. We want equal treatment, serious treatment as Indigenous Peoples. Maybe some day we will have a seat in this hall, when the minds of white men open out to understand that we are no threat to your civilization. Quite the opposite, we have always been threatened. Many of our Indigenous Nations have been extinguished.

For this reason, I think it is very important to be here addressing you, not as a Brazilian Indian, but as a native, as an Indigenous person, a citizen of the forest, the waters and of Mother Nature. And here in Rio de Janeiro, we also tried to show that we are not just on discourse, that our words are not just plain rhetoric. We do have values that we would like to share with those who live in the city. You talk about stable development. But what does that mean? You talk about transfer of technology. What might that be to you in your understanding? What does it mean to be developed in your mind?

When I left my village and I arrived in the city, I was seen as a poor boy. I didn't know what poverty was, though. I didn't know what it meant to be rich, because in my village, there was no money, there was no coins, we had food, we had freedom - like birds, like wildlife. But here, the children who are our future are increasingly becoming extinct. So I'd like you to think this over. Look at what we propose here. I am going to hand this over to the Chairman. Perhaps I should have given this document to Mr. Strong (Maurice Strong), but he must be elsewhere doing more important things.

But the mere fact that each one of you is listening to me wherever you are is much more important than the political issue which might be in the headlines in tomorrow's papers. Because we want to tell you that for 500 years, we held this biodiversity, the wealth of our peoples in our hands. We don't want to do that alone anymore. We want to share this with you because you hold the technology, because you hold the machinery and because we have the wisdom of nature.

Could I maybe dream about this? We believe we can dream of this. We believe that we can hope, can you?

Can you dream of this and hope for this?

When we drafted the Kari-Oca Declaration, we were hoping to tell you that our entire future is seen and will develop on the footsteps of our forefathers. This is our culture. This is our strength, the spiritual strength that mankind is losing. The spiritual strength that has become religious strength, and which becomes political strength. Don't play with the spirit. Your spirit is holy. Your spirit is sacred, it is your strength, not anybody else's strength, and so, all of this planning which we will develop in our relations with the white man will be based on that.

Next year (1993) the United Nations will offer the Indigenous Peoples the International Year for Indigenous People. What can we do during that year? Sign Convention 169 which has brought so many problems to Indigenous communities? Sign the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? More than that, we must establish a new order of relations amongst the peoples, but we will also have to rethink economic issues, we must establish a new economic order between Indigenous Peoples and settlers. So, this is why one of the most controversial proposals, not for us, but for the government leaders is the establishment of an Indigenous fund; everyone seems to fear this. Please, do not fear anything, because our struggle is a struggle for life, survival.

The new economic order between Indigenous Peoples and the colonists might arise here, in this forum, because the United Nations has to think in terms of everyone: Indigenous Peoples, blacks and whites alike. On an equal basis.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman and distinguished delegates who are listening to me this afternoon, I would like to read to you the Declaration we drafted at Kari-Oca village. It does not say maybe, exactly what you might expect, but it talks about our hearts. The technical issues are here, there are several pages dealing with our technology and the Declaration that we drafted, that we would like to share with mankind says that

We, the Indigenous Peoples, are marching towards the future in the footsteps of our ancestors. From the greatest to the least important individuals, from the four directions, the air, the wind, the earth and the mountains, the Creator placed us, the Indigenous Peoples on our land, which is our Mother Earth. The footsteps of our ancestors are there all the time. They are forever imprinted on our land and this is why we fight for our land. Not just for the sake of land ownership, but we fight for land as Mother Earth. We, Indigenous Peoples, intend to retain our rights to self-determination, self-determination that so many people fear that Indigenous Peoples might achieve someday, as you all have in your relations with other peoples.

We want to have the right to decide on our own forms of government. We want to use and enforce our own laws. We want to educate our own children. We want to have the right to our own cultural identity with no interference, with no outside interference. We will continue to struggle for our inalienable rights on our lands and peoples, and on our own resources also - from the soils, from the underground areas and from our waters. And we re-affirm our commitment and our responsibility to share these rights, not to other people, but to our children, to our future generations. We cannot be dislodged from our lands, because, we, the Indigenous Peoples are united by a circle of life that the white man does not understand. It is a circle of life that circles the earth, waters, the air, what you call, here at this meeting, the environment.

We, the Indigenous Peoples, are moving towards the future along the trails left by our forefathers. Do you believe this? Could you think about this? When you sign the Conventions here, we might not be here in this hall, but you will be. When you sign the Conventions dealing with the future of this planet, we, who believe are most familiar with nature will not be sitting here among you, but you will be here. And, you must become our allies. You have to be partners with the future. This is why we always say, "this is the Earth's Charter." Very simple. Straightforward. It is as obvious as your lives, as our lives are. It is straightforward and simple as children are, and as the colours of the rainbow are. Please believe this. All of you, government authorities and leaders, do not fear us, because the future of the Indigenous Peoples is your future too, and it is also the future of our planet.

Thank you very much.

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