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
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
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
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
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.