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 peoples.

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 and numbers.  


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


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