The Indigenous Peoples Summit of the Americas
Opening Remarks
Matthew Coon Come,
National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (Canada)


Willie Littlechild, QC: ... (inaudible)... for this tremendous, tremendous success. Remember that of the 350 million people, indigenous peoples around the world, 45 million of those are from the Americas, 45 million of those that you represent. As trade agreements are made, as Chief Moses described earlier, we have to be there. And this is one way we can be there.

While I said we could not be into the buildings of the UN some twenty years ago, today you, through this technology, are there, and the UN is there in Ottawa. It was only a matter of time, wasn't it? Recall that there was some concern at the World Conference Against Racism about the use of technology for the promotion of hatred. And yet you, congratulations on using technology for a very positive use.

So, in concluding, I can in no way other than congratulating you express our thoughts and excitement here in Geneva as you launch your Indigenous Peoples Summit. So with that, it's a tremendous honour to introduce to you a man who has been instrumental for the many years that indigenous peoples have been involved, because of his genuine concern of international issues. Our National Chief, Matthew Coon Come: [Applause]

Matthew Coon ComeMATTHEW COON COME (National Chief, Assembly of First Nations): That's pretty wild, isn't it? We've come a long way from smoke signals and snowshoes; skidoos now and airplanes, now Internet. [Comments in Cree language]

I just want to welcome everyone. It is my honour as national chief to welcome all indigenous brothers who have come here from a long distance. We are gathered here together in the traditional territory of the Algonquin people, and I wish to express my thanks to the Algonquin leaders and people.

Many of you have travelled a long distance to come to this summit. Those of us who came from nearby are very grateful that you have made that effort. It's interesting, I would not dare to list or I would probably forget, the indigenous peoples that are represented here, but I think it is safe to say that no matter what we call ourselves, whether it be Cree, Mohawk, or Machupess(?) or Kiapoh(?), but the names of our nations and of our tribes mean that we are a people. It literally means humans, it means people.

We always knew we were not inferior societies, that we are a nation, that we are a people, that we have the right to self determination. I am well aware of the raw life and death nature of the indigenous struggle for rights and basic survival for many of the countries in the Americas. Our struggle for survival in Canada, in comparison, are relatively safe. With only a handful of exceptions, state violence against our people is hardly used. Our people are not being killed or assassinated by agents of the state. We are still sometimes able to access institutions, even though we may not prevail.

And yet I have travelled to meet with indigenous peoples and leaders in North, Central and South America, and in all of these places we understand each other. That our peoples are oppressed. That there are no degrees of acceptability or unacceptable oppression. All dispossession, all marginalization, all discrimination, and all extinguishments are violations of basic fundamental human rights. Our indigenous experience in the Americas, from the Arctic to the southernmost tip of this continent, stands right alongside the other colonial and genocidal crimes against humanity throughout history. And we indigenous peoples recognize this easily.

And yet there are wonderful stories, success stories and important achievements among all of our indigenous peoples and nations. And we need to celebrate our survival. Let us wonder at the continuing and rich diversity of our cultures and at the infinite value of our philosophies, of our languages, of our music, our tradition knowledge, and our beliefs. Let us showcase our triumphs in business, the arts, technology and other fields.

But here in Canada, I know this may seem to be an unthinkable assertion here in Canada, but yet in the 1990s a federal Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples spent five years investigating the situation facing our peoples in Canada. Its conclusions are applicable to indigenous people throughout the Americas, particularly with respect to land and resources and their link to our cultural survival.

The Commission stated that indigenous people, and I quote, "need much more territory to become economically, culturally and politically self-sufficient. If they cannot obtain a greater share of lands and resources in this country, their institutions of self government will fail. Without adequate lands and resources, aboriginal nations will be unable to build new communities and structures, the employment opportunities necessary to achieve self-sufficiency. Currently on the margins of society, they would be pushed to the edge of economic, cultural and political extinction. The government must act forcefully, generously and swiftly to ensure their economic, cultural and political survival." End of quote.

There is only one solution for the situation facing indigenous peoples in the north, south, west and east in the Americas. It is not more exclusion or denial or oppression or extinguishment. The only solution is a full recognition and full respect of our peoples' status and rights as peoples and, most important of all, our fundamental human right to self determination.

It is currently being said that governments and their officials do not have any taste for a rights agenda at this time. Leave your quest for rights aside, we are being told. I reject this discriminatory thinking. Our rights are fundamental. We have the right to self determination. We have the right never to be deprived of our own means of subsistence. We have the right to retain and freely dispose of our own natural wealth and resources. These rights are essential to our survival as a people and as a nation.

Leaders of the governments of the dominant societies of the Americas will meet soon in Quebec City regarding a new Trade Agreement in the Americas. Indigenous peoples are not being involved or even consulted in this exercise. If the trade agreements of the last few centuries are anything to go by, there will be little in these arrangements that will benefit us, and there may be much in these agreements that will harm us.

Indigenous peoples have always been traders, among ourselves and with others. Trade itself does not frighten us. However, we cannot accept trade that is inequitable, unsustainable and which excludes us or is imposed upon us. Such trade will not improve our condition.

The theme of this OAS summit is called Connecting to the New Economy. We just witnessed it. I believe that our children could be the agents of change. We can use technology. With access to new Internet infrastructure that can be a applied with the best networking capacities that are there, we can connect our communities, our hospitals, our schools. While as the leader, I do not want to miss the new information technology. We missed the Industrial Revolution; we will not miss the information technology.

However, let us not forget that, in the end, all economies, whether new or old, are built on foundations of access to land, natural wealth and resources. All peoples need food, clothing, housing, transportation, community infrastructure, clean water and sanitation, health and social services, education, roads, communications, and a physical place to play and work. Even in the most highly developed countries in the world, such as Canada, there are gross disparities between the amenities and services provided to indigenous peoples and those that non-indigenous peoples can sometimes take for granted.

On its own, bringing high-speed digital hook-ups into indigenous communities where there's inadequate sanitation infrastructure, 90 percent unemployment, gross overcrowding in housing, ill health, gas sniffing, epidemic suicide, can make little or no difference, whether they are in North America, Central America or South America. These indigenous communities need their lands, resources, jurisdiction, ownership, status, recognition, human rights and dignity restored to them, whether they be here in Canada, or the States, or in Brazil, or in Guatemala, or in Peru or Mexico.

This indigenous summit is historic. Because we are still here. Because we are no longer willing to move aside in the name of development that excludes us without our fair share of the natural resources. And we will not accept being dispossessed, we will not accept being marginalized, we will not accept being told to move aside. Because our human rights are peoples' birthrights. Because we have come together to discuss and assert our human rights and to insist that our fundamental human rights remain paramount when government and corporate trade agendas are being explored.

I'd like to do something different. I cut down my speech, believe it or not. I'd like to read something that I think... a leader wrote, which is the Prime Minister of this country. I thought it was unique. He could not make it, and it reads, "As Prime Minister of Canada" -- that's me, no, just kidding -- "As Prime Minister of Canada, I am pleased to welcome representatives of indigenous peoples from throughout the hemisphere to Ottawa for the first Indigenous Peoples Summit of the Americas.

Shared prosperity and inclusion are pillars of the hemispheric agenda that the democratically elected leaders of the Americas will be advancing at the third Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. Indeed, the respect for the rights, needs, and any challenges of indigenous peoples is essential if we are to succeed in fully implementing our agenda.

Far too long", the Prime Minister writes, "the voices of aboriginal peoples have not been heard in the councils of government or in the management of their own economic, social and cultural affairs. Too many still live in grinding poverty and lack the tools necessary to improve their quality of life.

To overcome these challenges, we must enter into a true dialogue and a true partnership with the goal of building a better future." He continues writing, "We are all responsible for finding ways of working together. We must broaden partnerships with indigenous peoples, empowering them to set their own priorities in cooperation with governments."

And he writes, "I am convinced that this summit will be a catalyst for establishing a (inaudible) network to promote constructive dialogue through the Americas. Beginning with the first Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994, Canada has made a special effort to promote the interests of indigenous peoples throughout the Americas."

And I like this part. We all wonder what's going to happen after we meet here. He writes, "And I intend to bring the views articulated at this unprecedented gathering to the attention of the heads of state when we meet in Quebec City. The government of Canada will work to ensure that your input influences the implementation of the hemispheric summit declaration and plan of action. And again, welcome to Ottawa and I wish you every success in your discussions."

That's a great letter, Minister John Manley. I would hope that every leader in this hemisphere could write such a letter to the indigenous peoples in their respective countries.

And with that, we have a lot of work to do. I look forward to discussing these important issues and working for the next few days here in the Algonquin traditional territory.

We must strive to be heard and to be heeded. This is not an Assembly of First Nations meeting, it is not a Métis meeting, it is not an Inuit meeting, it is not a women's conference, it is not a youth conference. This is about our people, of their right to be heard. And we are here to work together, and as one of the leading co-hosts, I welcome all of you and wish you a very successful three days' working session. And I thank you very much.

Assembly of Frist Nations
Press Release


Index of Draft American Declaration | History | Proposed American Declaration | Working Document Comparing Proposed Declaration | Dialogue 2001 | Journey to the Summit | Third Summit of the Americas 2001 | Dialogue 2002 | Dialogue 2003 | Negotiations with Indigenous Representatives 2003 | Second Meeting of Negotiations 2004 | Third Meeting of Negotiations 2004 | Consolidated Text of Draft Declaration | Interactive Version of Consolidated Text

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