Mr. Ole Henrik Magga, Norway - Photo Credit: Dannielle Hayes
Mr. Ole Henrik Magga

The First Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
New York, May 13, 2002

They come to me
and show books
Law books
that they have written themselves
This is the law and it applies to you too
See here

But I do not see brother
I do not see sister
I cannot
I say nothing
I only show them the tundra

I see our mountains
the places we live
and hear my heart beat
all this is my home
and I carry it
within me
in my heart

I can hear it
when I close my eyes
I can hear it

And I can hear it
even when I open my eyes

But they keep coming asking
where is your home
they come with papers
and say
this belongs to nobody
this is government land

everything belongs to the State
They bring out dingy fat books
and say
this is the law
it applies to you

What shall I say sister
what shall I say brother

You know brother
you understand sister


/Nils-Aslak Valkeapaa

Inaugural Session UN Permanent Forum

Dear Indigenous brothers and sisters, representatives of the UN agencies, governmental representatives and non-governmental organizations. On behalf of my fellow colleagues and myself, I welcome you all to this the first, historic, session of the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues (First in the Saami language, then in English). My opening words were parts of a poem written by the Saami poet, musician , painter and actor Nils-Aslak Valkeapaa who died last year. He devoted all his life to the work for Saami and Indigenous culture and the rights of our peoples.

I am extremely happy to see so may prominent people gathered here at this historical event. For the first time in the United Nations history, Indigenous Peoples and governments meet here on a truly equal basis. In particular, I am happy to see so many Indigenous sisters and brothers present, and I extend my warmest thanks from the bottom of my heart to all of you who have fought so hard and so long to make this Forum come true. At the same time, we must never forget that there are immensely more of our peoples that for many reasons do not have the opportunity to participate in this meeting here today. Let us remember this all from the beginning.

I would like to thank my colleague members of the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues for the confidence that you have shown me by electing me as the chairperson for the Antonio Jacanamijoy Permanent Forum for the first year. In particular, I would like to thank you, Antonio Jacanamijoy for nominating me for this position. This election is by far the highest honour I have ever experienced in my life, and I promise to use all my abilities to make the first year of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as successful as possible. To carry out our task, however, we need all the sixteen members this Forum will have. I am very impressed by the contributions that you have already made to our work, and am confident that with all your collective experience, skills and talents, we have an excellent basis for meeting the many challenges we will face in establishing the Permanent Forum as truly permanent. During the first week we have been working together, the Forum members have already demonstrated their will and ability to work as a team with no dividing lines between members nominated by Indigenous organisations and governments.

I also want to thank the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for their preparations of this meeting and UNITAR for organizing a one-week seminar for the Forum members prior to this session. In that cont4xt, I extend our deepest gratitude to the governments of Canada and Germany for providing the resources that made the seminar possible.

The Permanent Forum will not be able to accomplish anything by itself. We depend on the full and undivided support form states, the UN bodies and agencies as well as from international organizations. We will need your political support as well as your financial backing. Therefore, I again want to welcome the representatives of the UN agencies to this meeting and we are all looking forward to hear from you as the meeting proceeds. But foremost, the Permanent Forum will need the support and backing from all the world's Indigenous Peoples. We will need to be in constant communication with all of you, from the organizations represented at this meeting to the grassroots level. Only through the Indigenous Peoples themselves can the Permanent Forum receive input and information about how we can make at least some of our dreams come true.

And certainly, there are a number of concerns to address. Even though the international community has paid more attention to Indigenous Peoples during the last couple of years, many Indigenous Peoples remain among the poorest and most marginalized groups in the world. This, the Permanent Forum must address. The violence in different forms must be stopped. Food must be provided for the hungry. Many of our people die now when we meet here in New York. We must all stand together in putting an end of the ongoing, and in many cases, blatant, discrimination of Indigenous Peoples. The Permanent Forum must put an end to the deforestation, desertification and polluting of Indigenous territories. It must work for the termination of harmful military activities and excessive mining and lodging on Indigenous land. It must stop the construction of power plants in Indigenous waters against their will.
Humanity is at stake. And our peoples must be recognized for whom they are and !
want to be. All this we will address from the very beginning.

We start a historical process here today. Since Indigenous Peoples and governments meet here on an equal basis, the Permanent Forum symbolizes a new form of co-operation between the two. Our work must be done with the respect to our peoples and their experiences and aspirations generated through centuries and millennia. It must be carried out with respect to the UN system and other international organizations, in particular to the ECOSOC who has established the Forum. And we will pursue our goals in respect to the governments and we will seek co-operations and invite to partnership in all our work. I am looking forward to working with you all during the first, exciting, years of the Permanent Forum.


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