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After the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues had to postpone its 19th session due to the pandemic, the 20th session’s opening ceremony focused on the previous theme, “Peace, justice and strong institutions: the role Indigenous peoples in implementing Sustainable Development Goal 16.”

Finland’s Anne Nuorgam, who was nominated to continue as chair of the Permanent Forum, said “I will make every effort to live up to their expectations and to ensure the smooth conduct of the session being held under the particularly challenging circumstances arising from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

The meetings will be conducted until April 30 at the United Nations headquarters in New York with limited in-person meetings for the opening and closing meetings. Indigenous peoples’ organizations and other attendees are required to be online.

The UN 20th Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues began April 19, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs)

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was first established July 28, 2000. Its mandate is to address Indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.

Nuorgam said the forum’s 20th session Development Goal 16 is “to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres, President of the 75th session of the General Assembly Volkan Bozkir, and Vice President of the Economic and Social Council Ambassador Juan Sandoval Mendiolea spoke about various Indigenous issues like violence against Indigenous women and girls, the effects of the pandemic on Indigenous communities and vaccine distribution.

Other speakers included Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin, Vice President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia David Choquehuanca Cespedes and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland Pekka Haavisto.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland was the last of the speakers.

“I strongly affirm the United States support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and our commitment to advance Indigenous peoples rights at home and abroad,” she said.

She added, “Our first White House Council on Native American Affairs meeting, of this administration, will be held this Friday and I hope to address Indigenous issues through this council.”

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland attends a Cabinet meeting with President Joe Biden in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

At the end of the session the findings of the “Study on Indigenous Peoples’ autonomies: experiences and perspectives” by Jens Dahl, who was appointed to conduct and present the study for the forum’s 19th session, was explained. Forum members were able to comment and ask questions.

A virtual informal meeting will be Tuesday at 9 a.m. EST. A panel discussion will take place on this year’s theme with an interactive discussion. As well as the study “Climate change and Indigenous peoples” by Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim will be discussed.

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