Tadadaho Sid Hill
Tadadaho Sid Hill
Spiritual leader of the Haudenosaunee

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 to melt.

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 Indigenous Nations.

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 applause.

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.


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