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UN Permanent Forum Packed With Issues, Side Events

The 13th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues promises two weeks of event-filled days beginning today, May 12.

From climate change to food sovereignty, sacred sites to reproductive justice, a “divine comedy pageant” called “Don’t Feed the Indians” and much, much more, the 13th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues promises two weeks of event-filled days.

The Permanent Forum will be held at the U.N. in New York May 12-23. The annual event usually draws more than 2,000 representatives of Indigenous Peoples and nations from around the world.

 The special theme this year focuses on the principles of good governance consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration), which was adopted by the General Assembly almost seven years ago on September 13, 2007.

“Good governance is premised on the recognition of indigenous forms of autonomy, self-governance and ancestral authorities, as well as of customary governance systems and land tenure systems over lands, territories and natural resources. It encompasses the right to fully and effectively participate in decision-making that impacts Indigenous Peoples’ rights, lives, communities, lands, territories and resources,” a U.N. media release on the Permanent Forum says.

The Permanent Forum events unfold along two tracks – the official forum itself and dozens of “side events” hosted by organizations.

The 13th session will open on Monday, today, ceremonial indigenous music from New Zealand, a ceremonial welcome by the traditional chief of the Onondaga Nation Todadaho Sid Hill and speeches by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, President of the General Assembly John Ashe and other dignitaries and a discussion of the special theme.

Highlights of the formal session include a half-day discussion on the Indigenous Peoples in the Asian region, who comprise two-thirds of the world’s Indigenous Peoples; a discussion on the preparations for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, a high-level plenary meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to be convened on September 22-23, 2014 at U.N. Headquarters in New York; a discussion on the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the General Assembly on December 22, 2004; a discussion on Indigenous Peoples’ sexual health and reproductive rights; and a follow up on the priority themes of indigenous youth and children. There will also be a discussion and active involvement in preparing post-2015 development agenda, including the designing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to ensure that Indigenous Peoples concerns are reflected and their rights protected.

RELATED: World Conference Controversy Continues at UN Permanent Forum

There will also be discussions on the impacts of the Doctrine of Discovery, on best practices for resolving land disputes and on an optional protocol to the U.N. Declaration. The full “Program of Work” is available here.

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The optional protocol would be a set of procedures or guidelines that would help states in implementing the U.N. Declaration. Two Permanent Forum experts have submitted a report called The Study for an Optional Protocol on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, states would voluntarily use the optional protocol, “but there are real problems with it because declarations typically don’t have protocols – protocols are typically used for treaties when you’re trying to implement something ‘real’ – a legal instrument,” said Debra Harry, co-chair of the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus (NAIPC) – one of seven voluntary global caucuses that represent the world’s Indigenous Peoples at the U.N. “They’re suggesting the optional protocol address the major issues affecting Indigenous Peoples – land, treaties and natural resources. I think it would be very dangerous to submit the most important issues affecting Indigenous Peoples to a limited voluntary framework with the U.N. Declaration solely on the domestic level and only within the purview of the Declaration. And, of course, Indigenous Peoples’ rights are not limited to the U.N. Declaration – they precede that and are also enumerated in other major international instruments so instead of having an international standard it would allow states to develop their own mechanism on how they want to address some of these very key essential issues on Indigenous Peoples.”

Among the dozens of side events will be a two-part event presented by a new advocacy group called the Decolonization Alliance, which aims to actively pursue reform of the United Nation’s decolonization process, according to the group’s website. “Prompted by the United Nation’s renewed interest in decolonization, unrepresented and original peoples and nations from around the world are committing to work together through the Decolonization Alliance, to improve access to the U.N. decolonization process in order to provide all peoples and nations the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination,” the group says on the site. “Repentance is Decolonization” will include two panels: one by the Decolonization Alliance and the other by the “Church Network” (United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, World Council of Churches, etc.). Each panel will discuss their view on the issue of decolonization; then there will be an interactive discussion about the question, “What would constitute honest, tangible and lasting acts of repentance?" and “How canwe together go about achieving it?The second event, “The Decolonization Alliance,” will be a “talk-story” presentation by the Decolonization Alliance about who they are, their goals are and how they plan to accomplish them. Both events are open to the public.

The International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) will host a number of side events including an interactive forum with Francisco Kali Tsay, the president of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a U.N. body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

This event is particularly relevant because the United States comes up for review by the CERD this year. Indigenous nations, organizations and people can file “shadow reports” with the committee to call attention to cases of racial discrimination by the United States government.

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“We’ll have three or four indigenous people there who have had good result working with the CERD, who will present some helpful hints, but it will mainly be the president of CERD regarding how to effectively engage and this will be especially important for Indigenous Peoples from the U.S, Peru and El Salvador because those are the three countries that will be reviewed where we know that there are indigenous struggles,” said IITC Executive Director Andrea Carmen.

The shadow reports, which are due by the end of June, will also provide indigenous nations, organizations and individuals to comment on the implementation of the recommendations CERD made to the U.S. government during the last review in 2008 regarding protection of sacred sites, among other things.

IITC will also co-sponsor side events called “Yes to Reproductive Justice, No to Environmental Violence: Defending Our Rights, Our Bodies and Our Futures” and a roundtable discussion “Affirming Indigenous Peoples’ Cultural Rights in the Post-2015 U.N. Sustainable Development Agenda.”

A full listing of side events is available here.