J. Wilton Littlechild

International Organisation of Indigenous Resource Development

Willy Littlechild
Presentation to the Permanent Forum
PM Session, May 13, 2002
Audio Clip

J. Wilton Littlechild
Guatemala, 2001

Let me begin by relating an experience in Council with our Elders with respect specifically to participation. Participation has been an issue since the beginning for our dialogue with States on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In the early 80's when we began this international initiative our Elders sat us down and they said, first of all, we asked them (speaking in Cree), we asked the Elders "How should we approach these new initiatives that are being discussed: laws being proposed that will affect Indigenous Peoples?". And the response that they gave us was: (speaking in Cree) "It is much better for you to be in the arena personally, discussing and helping contribute to the development of laws that will impact you, (speaking in Cree) it's much easier to criticize from the outside others who are involved with legislation. So (speaking in Cree) it's much better for you personally to be there representing yourself."

So I start with that bit of history because that has been our approach ever since then…ours and the…(speaking in Cree)…the Cree Nation of Bear Hills Treaty Six Territory of Alberta. As we participate in these different international arenas, we always recall the words of the Elders who advised us to be in the room representing our interests and representing ourselves, speaking on our own behalf, that's what we've tried to do in all of this endeavour.

Now we come across three different forums: of course there is the International Labour Organization, there's the United Nations and now the OAS itself, the Organization of American States, all of which have designed legislation, or international instruments regarding the rights of Indigenous Peoples. We have tried to be involved at every stage of those in the best way that we can from a positive approach to make sure that we not only protect our rights, specifically our treaty rights, but also try to maintain those rights and having done so also try to strengthen or enhance those rights at each of those arenas. We found that over the decades because of the evolution of instruments of time, of course, we've tried to improve on each step of the way and that's the approach we've used.

A new development, a very recent development at the United Nations is the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples. That initiative actually took eleven years. It's not an easy move to convince the United Nations to establish a Permanent Forum within eleven years, but in retrospect, that was actually fast. When you look at the pace the United Nations moves with other instruments, for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, that took twenty seven years. For the Declaration on Minorities, that took seven years. The Convention on the International Criminal Court took three years. So one needs to question how come after nineteen years we have not come to an agreement on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? And obviously when you compare with the other instruments, wherever there is political will they can do things, the UN can move, the OAS can move.

So it is up to us to try and convince the State members that what we are trying to do in seeking to protect our rights is to contribute to either the OAS family or the United Nations family or the ILO family or any other international entity that has to deal with our rights as Indigenous Peoples.

The Permanent Forum that has been established at the United Nations happened fairly fast because, while it is eleven years, it is fairly fast - because we put a time limit on the discussions and that's what may have to be considered for the discussions with the UN Declaration so that we can come to an early decision on it because after nineteen years there is a resolution that the General Assembly has passed, that the Declaration be passed by 2004 which is the end of the International Decade for Indigenous Peoples. So there is a time frame that's there, but we need to refocus on that.

So participation is very important for us. We were instructed by our Elders to be there, so we try and make every effort to participate. We want to ensure for our brothers and sisters from other areas, the Indigenous Peoples from all other areas, whether it's the Americas or elsewhere, that what we seek in participation, is full, equal and direct participation. That means we want to be there speaking for ourselves. If it includes a right to vote, it's full participation. Then that is what we seek.

The very positive aspect of the UN Permanent Forum, a unique and very important positive aspect is that we have equal status at the UN Permanent Forum, equal status meaning there are going to be sixteen representatives selected from eight global regions around the world, eight will represent State members of the UN and eight will represent Indigenous Peoples from around the world. That equal representation is very significant, especially for us from Treaty nations who argue that we signed Treaties on a nation to nation basis and equal participation to us would mean that nation to nation Treaty relationship aspect. So for us it was a very significant advancement when the ECOSOC passed the resolution to establish the Permanent Forum. So it allows us to participate more internationally. What we would like to see, of course, is a similar initiative at the OAS, at the OAS level, because while it took us some twenty four years to advance at the UN, it has taken us a similar amount of time in retrospect at the OAS, because we simply do not have a level of participation possible at the OAS.

So now we have an entity, a possibility at the OAS that would be similar to the UN where we could establish a Permanent Forum. That would be moving actually, the OAS Forum miles because when we began with the OAS initiative in 1995, the OAS simply does not have a mechanism for anyone to participate, anyone, meaning civil society to participate, whether its women or disabled people - there is just no form for civil society to participate at the levels that we want to participate at the OAS, so it's a very significant advancement in how the OAS deals with its business that we have even been able to participate minimally as we have in the past with the OAS Declaration. So that's important. It would be very significant and it would probably move the OAS much faster than the eleven years it took for the UN to establish a Permanent Forum.

So what do they do at the Permanent Forum? They discuss under the current mandate economic, social and cultural rights, human rights and other rights that can be brought forward by any particular Indigenous representative that has concerns or state representatives that has concerns with Indigenous issues. So I look forward to the work of the Permanent Forum being very meaningful for us in advancing our rights.

For example, the UN Declaration could be an initiative that could be brought to the Permanent Forum now that it is going to be established, either to complete the work or to improve on it if improvements are necessary and I am sure there are. The OAS Declaration could be an instrument that could be given to the Permanent Forum, while it would remove it from the OAS, maybe there would be disagreement on that. But I see potential work immediately for the Permanent Forum, it's what I mean. So, hopefully we'll get to that stage as well with the OAS (continues speaking in Cree).


Indigenous Peoples
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

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United Nations Press Release:

Fifty-sixth General Assembly
Third Committee
29 October 2001
24th Meeting (PM)

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