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Morales to open seventh session of UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Forum to focus on climate change

NEW YORK - More than 2,500 representatives of the world;s 370 million indigenous people gathered in New York for the seventh session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The forum started April 21 at U.N. headquarters and will run through May 2. This year's special theme is ''Climate change, biocultural diversity and livelihoods: The stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges.''

The Permanent Forum is an advisory body to the U.N.'s Economic and Social Council, with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. It is intended to provide expert advice and recommendations on indigenous issues to ECOSOC, as well as to programs, funds and agencies of the United Nations, through the council; raise awareness and promote the integration and coordination of activities related to indigenous issues within the U.N. system; and prepare and disseminate information on indigenous issues, according to its Web site at

Bolivian President Evo Morales spoke at the opening ceremony.

Morales, an Amayra, made history when he was elected president of Bolivia in 2005, becoming the country's first indigenous head of state.

A progressive leader, he has been working to reverse the effects of centuries of discrimination and oppression of Bolivia's indigenous peoples.

On Nov. 7, 2007, less than two months after the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Morales announced the passage of National Law 3760, which essentially adopted the declaration as the law of the country. The announcement drew cheers of support from hundreds of Native leaders and other representatives who attended the event.

Bolivia is the first country in the world to adopt the declaration as national law.

On April 28, there will be a daylong discussion on human rights with the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people and with other special rapporteurs. The discussion will include a study on the structures, procedures and mechanism that currently exist or that might be established to effectively address human rights situations of indigenous peoples.

On March 26, the U.N. Human Rights Council appointed James Anaya, University of Arizona's James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy, as the new special rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people. He is the second person to be appointed to the post since it was created in 2001.

The appointment calls for Anaya to evaluate the conditions of human rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples around the world.

One of the world's leading human rights advocates and legal scholars, Anaya has written several books, including ''Indigenous Peoples in International Law,'' and countless articles.

Anaya has been advocating for indigenous peoples' rights for years. In a press release from the University of Arizona, Anaya said that challenges obviously continue to exist, but the world community and the United Nations now look ''sympathetically'' on the demands of indigenous peoples and the solutions they present.

The solutions, he said, are ''not simply the assimilation of indigenous community into the broader state and social structures that have engulfed them and grown up around them, but solutions that involve indigenous peoples'' continuing as distinct, culturally differentiated communities with their own institutions and with their own decision-making capacities so they can enjoy a real condition of equality.''

The forum's regular agenda is at

A range of topics will be covered at numerous meetings, workshops, special events and parallel events hosted by different groups that will take place while the regular agenda is carried out.

Side events include a symposium on implementation of the declaration, indigenous women and climate change; indigenous people and climate change from Bali to New York; climate change and bio-diversity: a Caribbean First Nation perspective; Water, Spirit, Sustenance, Survival; and climate change and reindeer herding. A full list of side events can be found at