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Women Call for Revisions to U.N. Development Goals

NEW YORK – Indigenous women have called for a revamping of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals to reflect the points of view and values of indigenous peoples.

The Indigenous Women’s Caucus of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues presented a statement called “Millennium Development Goals and Indigenous Peoples: Re-Defining the Goals” at the forum’s fifth session in New York on May 15 – 26.

The eight millennium development goals were established in 2000 and agreed to by all the world’s countries and development institutions. The goals are to eradicate poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development. The target date to accomplish these goals is 2015.

The deadline itself is problematic, said Tia Oros Peters, Zuni, executive director of the Seventh Generation Fund and co-chair of the Indigenous Women’s Caucus.

“One of the struggles with the [millennium development goals], just on the face of them, is they’re supposed to be achieved by 2015, but their articulations don’t harmonize well with indigenous perspective and values. They don’t look at systemic causes,” Oros Peters said.

The Seventh Generation Fund is a California-based nonprofit, nongovernmental organization whose mission is to promote and maintain the uniqueness and sovereignty of Native peoples and distinct Native nations, and provide support to grass-roots American Indian communities. The fund does not accept funding from the U.S. government.

“Poverty doesn’t happen in a vacuum separate from education or the environment or health issues and the other issues – these things are all linked and maybe one of our problems is trying to deal with these issues as separate. So the task we have to achieve is learning how to articulate things from our perspective,” Oros Peters said. The statement, or “intervention,” aims to achieve that articulation.

The regional Indigenous Women’s Caucus met on May 11 and included representatives from the seven regional groups of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean, the Arctic, central and eastern Europe, the Caucasus, the Pacific and North America. The global caucus met the next day and broke into small working groups to build the larger statement.

“Our concerns are looking at the structural injustices, the colonialism that’s still rampant throughout the world, and finding ways to bring forth those continuing issues of oppression and violations of our basic human rights and natural law that hinder anybody’s ability to achieve an MDG,” Oros Peters said.

While the Indigenous Women’s Caucus agreed that the goals themselves are essentially sound, its statement highlighted the need to take a “rights-based” approach in implementing and monitoring strategies for achieving the goals.

For example, in working toward the goals of eradicating poverty and hunger, the statement noted that indigenous peoples have not always been poor and hungry.

“Undisturbed, our traditional cultures supported sustainable economies. Contemporary poverty and hunger have causes that must be named in order to counteract them. In the case of Indigenous Peoples, poverty and hunger result largely from the actions of governments and transnational companies that appropriate indigenous lands, territories, and resources without our free, prior and informed consent,” the statement said.

In order to eliminate poverty and hunger, the caucus asked the United Nations and affiliated agencies such as the World Bank and nation-states to prevent “outside agents” from misappropriating indigenous peoples’ lands and resources, and secure their rights to build their own economies without interference, and based on indigenous values and “cosmovisions.”

In working toward universal primary education, the statement said that indigenous children should be educated in their own languages as well as the languages used in the states in which they live. Both the content and form of the curricula should be intercultural and respectful of indigenous cultures. The concepts of human rights should be introduced in primary schools. Maintaining, promoting and revitalizing indigenous cultures and traditional social, cultural and spiritual ways are of critical importance, the document said.

Each of the MDGs is addressed with recommended actions. They include, among others, the repeal of the 15th-century papal bulls that laid the foundation for conquest and dispossession and stripped indigenous women of “their ability to determine the leadership for their families, homes, and communities”; the revitalization of traditional medical and spiritual customs; affordable health services and medicines in developing countries; and a long inventory of environmental actions, beginning with enforcement of existing accords and indigenous peoples’ inclusion in World Bank and Inter-American Development Fund development decisions based on the principle of equality and free, prior and informed consent.

The recommendations must wend their way through the labyrinth of the United Nations’ hierarchical structure. First, they will be sent to the permanent forum, which will then carry them to the Economic and Social Council – the U.N. body within which the forum resides. The council will bring the recommendations to the General Assembly for debate and a vote.

“That’s why these things move so slowly. Meanwhile, gold miners are appropriating territories, people are being chopped up with machetes; you name it, it’s happening,” Oros Peters said. “Boys are being conscripted at age 9 for guerilla warfare and redress is really a long ways off.”

Regardless of the snail’s pace of progress, the permanent forum provides the opportunity for indigenous peoples from around the world to share issues, strategies, and challenges and to find alliances.

“Whenever we can make a new friend and ally – a companero – with any indigenous people or communities – that’s a success,” Oros Peters said. “It’s more than we had when we got there: and it makes us stronger by breaking isolation, by fueling and empowering the movement and activities that people are engaged in, and I think it starts to create something that can’t really be stopped. We can be hopeful.”