Tadadaho Sid Hill
Spiritual leader of the Haudenosaunee
OPENS THE PERMANENT
By: Kenneth Deer
Stepping into United Nations Meeting Room Two, you come upon a sea of
people from all corners of the world. Some are dressed in typical Western
attire of suit and tie for men and trim business outfits for women. But
also in this room, there are far more colorful traditional dress of
Indigenous peoples from around the world.
There are Inuit from Greenland with their
brightly colored sweaters and sealskin boots and leggings. The Sami of
northern Europe are wearing red and blue felt tunics decorated with silver
clasps and medallions.
Mayan women from Guatemala are wearing
vibrant blouses and skirts that reflect their regional hallmarks. People
in ribbon dresses and ribbon shirts are scattered about the room with a
great accumulation in the area where the Haudenosaunee are sitting.
To add to the unusual sight, governments
were sitting to one side of the room and Indigenous on the other. A
distinct departure from the usual UN practice of having governments sit in
the front of the room and Indigenous peoples and NGOs in the back.
Room Two holds 600 people and it is almost
full. As the first meeting of the Permanent forum on Indigenous Issues,
there is a certain amount of electricity in the air. Indigenous Peoples,
governments and many interested parties were very anxious to get this
first meeting off the ground. Before the meeting officially opened, the
room was abuzz with Indigenous representatives greeting one another,
shaking hands and many with warm embraces.
An Aborigine from Australia sat in the
upper gallery and began playing a diddgerdoo whose haunting sound rippled
through the room. Cameras began flashing and the music became a pleasant
sedative to the noise in the room. Like a musical signal, people slowly
started to settle in their seats.
\par Finally the gavel sounded and, after a little coaxing, the room
became silent as the chairperson began the formal meeting. The High
Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, welcomed everyone to
the United Nations and to this first meeting of the Permanent Forum on
Indigenous Issues. To open the meeting she called upon the Onondaga Chief
Sid Hill who carries the title of Tadodaho to present an opening address.
Tadodaho stood to welcome all the
participants and recited the traditional thanksgiving in the Onondaga
language, giving thanks for all of creation. Later he made a statement in
English outlining the aspirations of Indigenous Peoples and their
expectations of the Permanent Forum. In a powerful discourse, Tadodaho
reminded the audience of the effort of Cayuga Chief Deskaheh to speak to
the League on Nations in 1923 in Geneva almost 80 years ago. And he went
to talk about our situation today.
We, the Indigenous Peoples, welcome this
opportunity to be heard in the world family of nations as champions of
peace and progress. But peace and progress for us doesn't mean the
same thing for you.
Peace and progress means our right to
determine our belief systems, to determine our languages, to determine our
relationships with each other and with our lands and territories. It means
the right to self-determination.
Tadodaho encouraged the ratification of the
Earth Charter to be decided at the World Conference on Sustainable
Development this coming summer.
We believe there will be no peace on Earth
as you continue to challenge the laws of regeneration as the ice continues
For us to know peace and to make progress
in the healing of Mother Earth, we need the Earth Charter to be ratified,
a charter that will have the same power as the Charter on Human Rights. We
speak for our relatives the Waters, the Fish, the Plants, the Animals, the
Trees, all our relatives who do not have a voice to speak for themselves.
He went on to describe the need for the UN to ratify the Draft Declaration
on the Rights of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples and to call for a world
conference on Indigenous Peoples. He also called for the recognition of
We need to improve our relationship with
you, be being able to sit as Nations in the U.N. bodies - especially when
the discussions concern our lives and lands. Indigenous Nations are absent
from the decision-making bodies of the U.N.
We offer our hand in friendship to you in
our commitment to work together. There are more than 300 million of us.
Our future is your future and today can be the beginning of a new
relationship of respect. We can be humbled by our responsibility to each
other and to the natural world. We have within us, all of us, the power of
unity and the good mind. We have the ability to make progress.
Only then can we speak of peace.
The speech was met with enthusiastic
His message was not lost on the High
Commissioner for Human Rights. In her statement she acknowledged the
contribution that indigenous Peoples can give the UN.
There is a natural tendency to focus on
what the UN system can do for Indigenous Peoples. But I think it is
important that we give at least equal weight to what Indigenous Peoples
can do for the United Nations. I was moved last week by a young Maori
boy's spiritual invocation at the beginning of an event. Today we have
been privileged to receive the traditional welcome of the Haudenosaunee.
Beyond their traditional knowledge and cultural accomplishments, the
Indigenous Peoples of the world are possessed of a unique spirituality,
vision and sense of community. If the members of the Permanent Forum can
find a way to share some of the wisdom and world view of their peoples
with the United Nations family and with the wider international community,
then this may prove to be their most important and enduring achievement.
There were many other speakers that first
day but these two set the tone for the Permanent Forum.