Recorded at the United Nations Permanent Forum
United Nations Headquarters, New York City
Ida Nicolaisen and Lucy Mulenkei
Lucy Mulenkei: My name is Lucy Mulenkei, Indigenous Information Network
and also the Chair of African Indigenous Womenís Organization and today I
have a friend, a very good friend, in that not only as a friend as a lady,
but also from a different nation and also being one of our Permanent Forum
representatives. I think it would be very good if she can introduce
herself and tell us where she comes from.
Ida Nicolaisen: I am Ida Nicolaisen. I am an anthropologist and I worked
in Africa. I worked in Chad, with hunting gathering peoples there. And I
have worked mainly with the Tamazigh people of West Africa in the Sahara,
the sahil area and published books about them. But I am here, also as a
member of the Permanent Forum, elected by the Western European section.
Lucy: Now, Ida, probably you can tell us your experiences
in brief in Africa, especially with the Tamazigh people, knowing that here
we are in the Permanent Forum discussing about Indigenous Peoples and many
times, me, even from Africa, we still find that as from Africa we still
have a long way to go to come to the level of other colleagues. What is
your experience and do you see how we can advance in future?
Ida: You are definitely right. I also feel that it's a
big problem in that in Africa, this huge continent is not more forcefully
represented in the Permanent Forum and we all know that the reasons for
that, is that African peoples, African Indigenous Peoples donít have this
long tradition of organizing themselves, as say, the Latin American groups
And that the ones that identify themselves as indigenous live, they are
scattered. So just to get together and get organized is hard. It is also
my feeling that many of the Indigenous groups in Africa are even less,
have even less school training or power to organize themselves. So I see
that as a main problem.
I mean, If you take the Tamazigh people, they have of course organized
themselves, but this has been very much in opposition to the governments,
as you know there has been a number of conflicts going on there over the
past, more than twenty five years. The region I worked in, in Chad, has
been, thatís another of Africanís, an all over overarching problem is the
insecurity, the lack of security, wars, local wars, international wars.
Lucy: My region, Kenya, mainly, the main conflict that
comes within the eastern African region is land and its resources and
thatís where actually, most of the time we have conflict not only with the
government but also within our own tribal communities. Like for example
you could find that the pastoralists Tukana, when Lake Tukana up in the
north rift, and the Tukana Lake is shared between others, then when there
is a dry season on this side, when they cross over, there are conflicts
all over. And the main issue is, of course, fighting for resources. I am
just wondering whether the Tamazigh, you can see a relationship between
those nomadics of the north and the nomadics of Eastern Africa, and how
probably we can be able to share, together, you think, if, for example,
getting together, and sharing our experiences could help us in moving
Ida: I think that is one of the things that should really
be strengthened is collaboration between East African pastoralists and
West African pastoralists. And the problems you mention are exactly the
same problems that many of the Tamazigh groups face, in that, due to
demographic development, agriculturalists move up, towards, into the Sahil,
and up towards the Sahara in increasing numbers, also into regions where
agriculture actually is ill suited, these areas are better suited for
pastoral peoples. And thatís where the Tamazigh have been living for
thousands of years. So this conflict between agriculturalists and
pastoralists which is also then an ethnic conflict. And then on top of
that, I believe that pastoralists in general, and I think that goes
across, almost across the world, that pastoralists by most States are
considered a threat. They donít really like pastoralists in the sense that
pastoralists are moving people. And States and bureaucrats, they like
people to be settled. They like to have them in a place where they can
count them, you know, and collect taxes. And these people who move around.
You know, itís disorder. And that makes it, itís difficult for
pastoralists and also for the hunting and gathering groups and of course
it also makes it difficult for states to provide social services, because
you are not in one place, ever.
Lucy: Being a researcher and anthropologist, do you think
the groups that have been categorized as Indigenous Peoples, especially in
Africa, are really worth to be called Indigenous Peoples, compared to
others, because we still have a big conflict. Everybody says no. There is
no question of you feeling you are more indigenous than others. But our
history tells us, and you know, and as you look at the history related to
land and who was there, and other issues like traditions and cultures that
we still keep, do you think you, in your own opinion as an anthropologist,
do you think that is qualifying?
Ida: I think that there are definitely groups in Africa
that, I mean, there is no objective way of deciding who are indigenous and
we have also in the Forum and elsewhere, I mean, we use the criteria of
self-identification, because otherwise it gets too complicated. But I
would think yes, there are groups.
Again, If you go to West Africa which I know best, it is definite that
when people move into an area where the Tamazigh are living. It has to do
also with the creation of the states, of course, and who got into power.
Lucy: Okay, We in the Permanent Forum, this is our second
session. How do you see the progress of all the statements we are making
on different thematic areas? Do you see that the UN, after you present
your, you present our recommendations to the ECOSOC, do you see a step,
comparing it to what was there last year?
Ida: Yes, I see there is a step. I think we have to have
patience, one always has to have that in political processes, but what I
have felt is, there is a great willingness within the UN bodies to work on
these issues. But we must also remember that they cannot push it further.
I mean, they have, some States at least that pull them back. But I think
it is a tremendous step forward that we have got the Permanent Forum,
because I think Indigenous Peoples, can so to speak, push their agendas
from bottom up and then the UN system can hopefully push the States from
the above down and in that way I am confident that progress will be made.
And I think, an issue which hasnít been touched but is really a key issue,
is visibility. We know that the world is ruled by media. And I think
Indigenous Peoples, in this sense, have to be much more attuned into the
media than they are. I mean, they do their best and some get a little web
site. Thatís not the way it works. If I was indigenous organizations, I
would really work together on a media strategy because that is how you
have to get your message right up there. And thatís the way politicians
are forced to act.
I also wish you people, the Permanent Forum
representatives quite some luck, because I think, at the same time, we
give you a lot of push that we donít have that of patience, but I hope
that you can also understand that itís really issues we want to move
forward because Indigenous Peoples also are a bit disappointed with the
slowness of the draft declaration. And now they see this as an opportunity
to be able to push things forward.
We have not yet had the draft declaration on our
table because we are waiting for the word and we also know it will be a
very controversial thing that has been pending for a long time Ė but we
are definitely prepared to take up that issue. And about impatience, yes,
please, push us, please push us.
And I think, if anybody is impatient in this room with Indigenous Peoples,
States and agencies, the most impatient are probably the Permanent Forum
because we really want to do this. We feel great responsibility. We truly
feel great responsibility of moving history.