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International meeting details developments in United Nations

Often at meetings, when people are giving speeches, or in newspaper articles, acronyms are used such as UNN, UNPO and NGO as well as the famous UN meaning the United Nations.

I knew what the other acronyms were for: UNN stands for United Native Nations, UNPO is Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization and NGO is a Non-Governmental Organization.

But, if they worked together and how, was always a little fuzzy. A couple of weeks ago, Willie Little Child and Tonya Gonnella Frichner made it all very clear at an international meeting in the Black Hills near Rapid City, S.D.

Little Child is an Ermineskin Cree and an international attorney from Canada while Frichner is Onondaga and president of the American Indian Law Alliance in New York City.

For the past 20 years, they and other American Indians, including Tony "Buzzy" Black Feather from the Pine Ridge Reservation, have been working with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to bring forward issues that affect millions of Indigenous people all over the world. The process has been very slow, but with patience and persistence, their efforts have reached significant levels for all people.

The work they are doing was explained in a meeting in the Black Hills at Storm Mountain Retreat Center late last month. Representatives from 18 different Native American nations from the United States and Canada attended.

The attorneys explained that the UNPO is an NGO, and its representatives can attend meetings at the United Nations, giving information and testimony. They said that many states which belong to the United Nations are non-Indigenous states, meaning their governments consist of people who are not native to the land they govern, such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. Unfortunately, these same countries try to block Native or Indigenous people from having any input into the United Nations.

Since many Indigenous nations have treaties with larger governments, such as the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 between the United States and the Great Sioux Nation, some of the Indigenous nations chose not to seek status as a NGO under the United Nations. They are leery that such a designation might ruin their status as a nation and muddy the legal water regarding redress of treaty issues.

Consequently, many of the Indigenous or Native nations have formed a United Native Nations or UNN made up entirely of Indigenous nations.

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A meeting of the UNN is scheduled Oct. 22-26 at D-Q University, Davis, Calif.

Some of its purposes include networking and interfacing with all nations of the world; engaging in humanitarian efforts for Indigenous people in need; stopping corporate raiding of Indigenous resources; securing, advancing and protecting Indigenous human rights, and recovering and strengthening traditional institutions of culture and heritage.

Efforts to work with the United Nations started with Indigenous people approaching the UN Commission on Human Rights. In 1982, a Working Group on Indigenous Populations was formed under the commission and a study on treaty issues was delegated to Special Rapporteur Dr. Miguel Martinez.

These were only temporary actions but gave the commission an idea of the depth of the problems confronting Indigenous people around the world, including the United States.

Consequently, Little Child said, in 1993 Denmark introduced the concept of a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. He said last July the UN General Assembly approved the Permanent Forum to be established under the Economic and Social Council. This gives Indigenous people a permanent voice into the United Nations General Assembly through the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and is only one step from status in the General Assembly.

Because of the large population of American Indian people in South Dakota, we forget to realize that most Americans in the United States believe that American Indian people no longer exist. For example, how many people in New York, Philadelphia or Boston have ever seen a real, live Native American? Not very many. Most Americans also think that if we exist outside of television, then we want to live the American lifestyle. What they don't know is that we have been forced, not asked.

In a speech given in 1993, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, secretary-general of the United Nations said, " ? Diversity is another name for the world What would the world be like if there were no differences? What would the world be like if there were only one language? ? Allowing native languages, cultures and different traditions to persist through 'non-assistance to endangered cultures' must henceforth be considered a violation of human rights. An inadmissible violation.

"We might even say that there can be no human rights unless cultural authenticity is preserved. ? We can no longer allow a single act of ethnocide to take place. Let us promise to be more vigilant in this respect than we have been until now. Let us organize the watch and let us sound the alarm as soon as a civilization, a language or culture is in danger."

Willie Little Child, Tonya Frichner, Tony Black Feather and Kent Lebsock, the meeting organizer, to name a few are to be commended for their ceaseless efforts to ensure that Native American civilizations in Canada and the United States are not destroyed, to ensure that diversity is allowed to continue in the world. They are also to be commended for educating use about the process, about the acronyms, and about their work with the United Nations.