By Rick Kearns -- Today correspondent
LA PAZ, Bolivia - On Nov. 7, in the Government Palace of Bolivia and surrounded by cheering Native leaders and other representatives, President Evo Morales announced the passage of National Law 3760 or the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, legislation that is an exact copy of the United Nation's recently passed Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The original declaration contains 46 articles and allows Native peoples the right to preserve their respective political, social, economic, juridical and cultural institutions. It also assures their rights to full participation in the political, cultural, economic and social spheres of their countries, and recognizes their rights to self-determination.
Bolivia is the first country in the world to adopt the declaration as national law.
Morales noted, in his speech at the event, that only 40 years ago Quechua, Aymara and other Native people from the eastern part of the country were not allowed to enter the Government Palace, nor were they allowed to walk on the sidewalks in certain important cities.
''We have advanced, we are in the palace, and now we are in the important cities although still in some cities they do not allow us to visit the business fairs,'' Morales asserted, adding that some groups still ''treat us like animals.''
''That is the past for indigenous people in Bolivia and also for Latin America,'' he said. ''I feel we have progressed. I feel that this exploited, humiliated and offended indigenous movement has organized to move forward, and we are not only working for the indigenous movement, but for all Bolivian men and Bolivian women.''
Hundreds of Native Bolivians, including representatives of all 36 different indigenous ethnicities and Afro-Bolivian leaders, were on hand to celebrate the announcement and provide vocal support to Morales. Along with the Bolivians were other Native dignitaries such as Gloria Batzin, a Mayan Guatemalan who offered a ''cordial and fraternal greeting'' to the president on behalf of indigenous peoples from 16 Latin American countries including Aymara, Quechua, Nahuatl, Mapuche, Kuna Yala, Miskito, Arahuaco, Garifuna, Yanacona, Maya Sakapulteka (Batzin's ethnicity) and Maya Kakchikel, among others.
''I want to ask all of you to unite our forces to promote and circulate these laws so that other countries may know the legal basis that is fundamental to our existence, and that we may know the rights that help us as indigenous peoples,'' Batzin stated.
Morales also addressed the themes of rights and responsibilities.
''From the passage of this declaration,'' Morales continued, ''I feel that the indigenous movement has gone from one of resistance to one of power, but not sectarian, personal, individual or regional power, but to create a power that, at it's core, is a way of living in a community ... it is the power of resolving problems equally for all, not only in Bolivia but in the entire world.
''I feel that the United Nations is giving us a mandate, our mandate,'' he asserted, ''... to defend life and work for all; we have that responsibility. The indigenous movement is not vengeful, it's not going to take vengeance on anything; we only want our rights to be respected.''
Along with the support demonstrated by various members of the audience, Morales announced that the United Nations had sent the Bolivian Congress a letter of congratulations for passing the declaration into national law and that ''this declaration is without a doubt an advance for humanity.''
Rick Kearns is a freelance writer, poet and teacher of Boricua heritage who focuses on indigenous issues in Latin America.