Dialogue Transcription
Ida Nicolaisen & Lucy Mulenkei



Recorded at the United Nations Permanent Forum
 on Indigenous Issues
United Nations Headquarters, New York City
May, 2003

Ida Nicolaisen and Lucy Mulenkei

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 have.

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 forward.

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.

Lucy: 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.

Ida: 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.

Audio: English


Return to Home Page
S I T E   M A P M A P A   D E L   S I T I O

Copyright Natalie Drache 1999