Permanent Forum 1st Session
Introductory Statement by
Njuma Ekundanayo, vice president of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous
Issues, for the Region of Africa
New York, May 13, 2002
To the Ancestors, and to the Elders present
and not present at this meeting.
Please accept the respectful greetings of
the indigenous peoples of the Continent of Africa.
I want to thank the African states for the
confidence placed in my person. It is a unique experience for me as an
African woman to be found worthy of such confidence. It demonstrates that
something has already changed regarding the situation of indigenous
1. Just imagine that in this third
millennium, we are told: “If you want to speak to God, you have to learn
another language … If you have a child, give it a name that is easier to
pronounce….” As for his education, his learning and socialization must
follow standards and practices that have been imported!
This is the situation faced by indigenous
peoples, in addition to having been removed from their ancestral lands and
leaving behind their sacred sites … all in the name of progress!
As a result, the continent of Africa has
become the depository of toxic waste, of the diseases of civilization, and
the indigenous peoples are made to suffer without having a voice in the
actions of outsiders.
2. We want to stress the fact that the
indigenous peoples of Africa are not appreciated, but as long as the
system forgot about them, whether they lived in the desert, or in the
forest, or on the high mountains, they were not aware of the danger.
Today, interests have changed due to intolerance and the refusal to grant
the right to be different.
3. Since the system is made by humans, I
salute today the initiative and the encouragement on the part of the
United Nations for the benefit of indigenous peoples who have so much to
contribute to humanity. Let us remember that for thousands of years
indigenous peoples did not destroy the ecosystems from which they received
their livelihoods, not only food but also traditional medicines.
4. The indigenous peoples of Africa believe
that no development is possible without vital space for a human community.
Coming from a tradition of egalitarian societies they reject integration
by assimilation. They want to preserve their cultural identity while at
the same time consenting, for example, to seasonal education in literacy
which respects their socio-economic activities, but in their indigenous
languages, spoken as well as written.
5. Modern developments, from the North to
the South of the African continent, bring with them fighting and
unjustified wars, and the victims are indigenous peoples, their children
and their women. But as far as I know, there are no weapons factories in
Africa! The result of all these wars are many minority groups, some
passive and some more active, more or less unknown as to their location
6. It is our hope that the United Nations
will give its support to the efforts of the members of the Permanent Forum
to implement a systematic census of the indigenous peoples and of all
minority groups in Africa to facilitate better cooperation.
Finally, we propose a genuine partnership
with the political leadership in the decision-making process in matters of
public interest. Indigenous peoples must have a part in the restructuring
of the system, because the system must be adapted to the needs of all the
inhabitants of this world and assure their well-being.
New York, May 13th 2002