Kenneth Deer

The great failure of the Summit: 
Kenneth Deer, The Eastern Door

The Summit of the Americas was the perfect opportunity to correct all the wrongs that it perpetuates against the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas but it failed to do so. 

All 34 states that attended the Summit are on Indigenous land, and all of them have acquired wealth from the resources of that land. But Indigenous Peoples were left on the outside looking in and our demands to be recognized as peoples was pushed aside. 

We had great hopes of change with the remarks made by Prime Minister Jean Chretien when he mentioned Indigenous Peoples twice in his opening statement to the heads of state of 33 other countries. The resulting Quebec Declaration brought our hopes crashing down. 

The Summit of the Americas Declaration and Action Plan, which is the document expressing the consensus of the governments, says that the term Indigenous Peoples "in this document cannot be construed as having any implications as to the rights that attach to the term under international law." 

This means that governments do not agree to recognize our right to self determination and other rights that flow from that right. Our hopes were also raised by meetings in Washington with the Organization of American States (OAS) just two weeks before the Summit, where the very same governments agreed that the term "Indigenous Peoples" could be accepted. But somehow, that agreement was not transmitted to the drafters of the Quebec Summit. 

There was some progress though. The Summit Plan of Action did not close the door on recognizing us as Peoples. It qualified its statement by adding that the rights associated with the term "Indigenous Peoples" will be determined in multilateral negotiations that deal specifically with such rights. This is in reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples currently under discussion in the OAS. The battle for our right to be called peoples equal to other peoples continues at these levels. 

One important statement that the governments did make in the Summit Declaration was to ensure that the input from the Indigenous Conclave of the Americas, held in Guatemala, and the Indigenous Peoples Summit of the Americas, held in Ottawa in March, is reflected in the implementation of the Summit Declaration and Plan of Action. This binds the 34 governments to take into account the demands of Indigenous Peoples from these two meetings. 

Primary in the declarations out of Guatemala and Ottawa is the right to self-determination, especially that the rights recognized in international law to peoples also be applied to Indigenous Peoples. 

The Indigenous Declarations also emphasize the right to land and its resources, both surface and sub-surface. 

Paragraph 16 of the Action Plan of the Quebec Summit outlines the objectives governments will try to achieve in the next three years, such as: promote sustainable cultural, economic and social development; acknowledge our world views, customs, and traditions; increase accessibility to education; develop strategies to ensure comprehensive health policies and programs; reduce the digital and information gaps; and support and reform the Inter-American Indian Institute. 

These goals, while admirable and likely to improve the lot of Indigenous Peoples if applied, lie in the field of social development, not political recognition. 

Indigenous Peoples cannot survive without land and the right to control their own lives and choose their own political path. These are fundamental issues that the Summit of the Americas has not acknowledged. For this reason, the Summit was a colossal failure in the eyes of Indigenous Peoples.