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NATIVE CURRENTS; Indigenous peoples build their own strategy at the fourth Summit of the Americas

Preparations for the fourth Summit of the Americas, where the heads of all
states in the Americas except Cuba will meet, are underway. It will take
place Nov. 4 - 5 in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

In the fold of globalization, the heads of state in the Americas, including
President Bush, will gather to discuss and sign new economic and political
agreements. Led by the United States and Canada, the propagators and
driving forces of these summits, it takes place every four years. The first
summit was held in Miami in 1994.

Also being organized - with economic and political support from the
Canadian government, the Assembly of First Nations of Canada and the
Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Argentina - is the second Summit of
the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, to take place in Buenos Aires one
week before the presidents' summit.

The first summit of indigenous peoples, also sponsored by the Canadian
government under the theme "Indigenous Peoples Connecting to the New
Economy," took place in Ottawa in March 2001 three weeks before the third
Summit of the Americas, held that year in Quebec City.

Many indigenous organizations from across the continent are in disagreement
with the planned official indigenous summit in Buenos Aires, which they see
as being manipulated by the Canadian government. These groups have decided
to organize a more independent indigenous summit in Mar del Plata (420
kilometers to the south on the Atlantic coast) on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, three
days prior to the presidents' summit.

In Argentina, The Mapuche Confederation of Neuquen, the Indigenous
Commission of the Argentinean Lawyers Association of Argentina (CJIRA), in
consultation with important indigenous peoples' organizations such as the
Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the National
Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), the Kuna Congress of Panama and
about 20 more organizations of the Americas, including American Indians
from the United States and Canada, are involved in the organization of the
independent summit and have made a call to other indigenous organizations
of the continent to come to Mar del Plata.

Some history: In March 2001, under the invitation of the Assembly of the
First Nations and entirely financed by the Canadian government, about 170
delegates from Latin America traveled to Ottawa to attend the Indigenous
Summit of the Americas. The indigenous delegates from Latin America
attended in good faith; but after studying the draft document in the agenda
submitted by the AFN, they expressed the suspicion that the intention of
the Canadian government appeared to be to make indigenous delegates endorse
globalization agreements such as Free Trade Area of the Americas.

The document assumed a positive presentation of economic policies that are
very controversial and often opposed by many southern indigenous
organizations. The assumed theme of the conference was found in the title:
"Indigenous Peoples Connecting to the New Economy." The indigenous
delegates reported that the draft would undermine their rights and rewrote
large portions of the document; later, they were displeased to find that
their final document, which they wanted to hear discussed, was severely
softened before presentation to the heads of state.

Also, indigenous delegates from Latin America were disappointed at and
frustrated with the arbitrary and strategically intrusive decision from the
far North to hold the Indigenous Summit of the Americas three weeks before
the president's summit. To facilitate the expense for Indian delegates, the
southern groups had agreed to an indigenous meeting within days of the
nation states' summit. The northern decision confused their own strategies,
which was to lobby the presidents; it also impeded them from joining the
thousands of people who gathered in Quebec to protest current economic
globalization policies.

When asked why the change of dates, an official from the Canadian
government who wanted to remain anonymous said bluntly: "The Canadian
government will pay for the meeting but does not want indigenous peoples
joining anti-globalization protests."

The official indigenous summit in Buenos Aires, with a more than
half-million-dollar budget funded by the Canadian government, will display
hundreds of cultural indigenous performers, youth, women, elders and
business people, plus high-tech demonstrations. Then the delegates will
return to their countries, because there is no arrangement made for them to
travel to Mar del Plata to join the civil society forums.

An official of the Indigenous Affairs Ministry of the Canadian government,
now working for the AFN, was appointed executive secretary of the
Indigenous Summit. Last year in an informal talk in New York, he stated
that, "We, Aboriginals, are not to get involved with anti-globalization
protesters." He also mentioned that a document will be elaborated in Buenos
Aires and that a delegation of indigenous representatives chosen at the
Indigenous Summit in Buenos Aires will travel to Mar del Plata to deliver
the document to the presidents' summit.

Last March, when the conflict between indigenous organizations in Argentina
stalled progress because of the issue with the Canadian government, a
delegation from the Canadian Ministry of External Affairs of the Canadian
government traveled to Buenos Aires to try to convince them to reconcile
their differences and work together for the success of the summit.

Community-connected representatives of indigenous peoples from the Americas
have strong and very pressing issues. We are concerned about the economic
globalization strategies conducted by transnational corporations who are
exploiting and taking away indigenous peoples' land and territories, most
often with the complicity of nation-state governments. Many of those
projects are still financed by multilateral institutions such as the World
Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, private commercial banks and
other international financial institutions.

At the same time, indigenous leaders who are defending their rights are
repressed and even assassinated by military and paramilitary groups. The
war against terrorism driven by President Bush after 9/11 has been adopted
by governments to criminalize the peaceful demands of indigenous peoples,
accusing them of terrorist activities against democracy. Amnesty
International, in its 2005 reports, states: "The war on terror is a new
source of abuses of human rights; it is threatening to expand to Latin
America, targeting indigenous peoples that are demanding autonomy and
protesting market policies and neo-liberal globalization."

In our estimation, the Canadian government went a bit far this time in
trying to divide the indigenous movements and separate them from many
potential allies among genuine and representative civil society
organizations who are demanding justice and want to build a more democratic
and inclusive society. We agree with the Ecuadorian Indian leader, Luis
Macas, who said recently: "It's a hypocrisy that the Canadian government is
sponsoring that event [the official indigenous summit] while they are
opposing and denying the indigenous rights in all the international
conferences, and their oil, mining [uranium], logging, water and other
corporations are taking advantage of the globalization, plundering natural
resources and contaminating the environment."

In the indigenous summit's agenda in Buenos Aires, the AFN features an
indigenous business summit. There will be hundreds of cultural performers
and they will offer "The Powwow of the Americas." This too is typical of
Northern Indians/Southern Indians relationships. The pow wow is a folkloric
activity and cultural element of the Native peoples of parts of Canada and
United States but it is not engaged at all by indigenous peoples in Latin
America. We indigenous peoples have to build unity between North and South,
but paternalism and political manipulation gets in the way of our
understanding, even among Indians.

Arthur Manuel, a Shushwap from British Columbia and former chief, said:
"The United Nations, in the last session of Human Rights in Geneva,
recommended to the Canadian government to make efforts to improve the lives
of Native peoples who are the poorest of the poor. Yet, the Canadian
government has been successful in co-opting the indigenous leadership by
creating a well-paid Canadian Aboriginals bureaucracy and is now trying to
export a model to Latin America."

(For more information, visit www.cumbrecontinentalindigena@iste.org or
e-mail cumbrecontinentalindigena@yahoo.com.ar.)

Nilo Cayuqueo, Mapuche from Argentina, is the co-director of Abya Yal Nexus
for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples based in Oakland, Calif. He can be
reached at nilocayu@earthlink.net.