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World’s Indigenous Day Underscores Need to Uphold Treaties

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 9 2013 (IPS) - A canoe trip brought together 200 indigenous and non-indigenous paddlers on the Hudson River for a hundred mile trip on Aug 9, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The commemoration honoured the first treaty between the Dutch immigrants and the Haudenosaunee people 400 years ago, the Two Row Wampum.

Manhattan was the final destination of paddlers and horse riders, where part of the celebration was hosted at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

Members of the U.N. and representatives of various Indigenous tribes gathered together to discuss this year’s anniversary theme: the capacity of Indigenous Peoples to build alliances through the honouring of treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.

Estimated at 370 million, Indigenous Peoples make up five percent of world’s population. The protection of their rights was officialised in 2007, with the U.N. declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The first World Conference on the World’s indigenous Peoples is yet to come, taking place in September 2014.

In a statement released here, Coordinator of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples Shamshad Akhtar noted that there are still many challenges related to “widespread historical wrongs, including broken treaties and acts of oppression.”

The U.N. must go forward, monitor the implementation of treaties, and find mechanism to remedy treaty violations, agreed the majority of panellists present on Aug 9.

More involvement was even concretely required by Chief of the Ermineskin Cree Nation in Canada Craig Mackinaw. The leader condemned the attitude of Canadian government and called on the U.N. to play a role in overseeing negotiations between them.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the assembly to “ensure the participation of Indigenous Peoples – women and men – in decision-making at all levels,” pointing specifically at Member-States.

Ban reiterated the importance of including rights and perspectives of Indigenous Peoples in the post-2015 agenda, as development needs to “take in account their identity.”

The question of environmental protection later became the main focus of attention as Native American Onondaga Leader Oren Lyons and other Indigenous speakers took the floor.

Sporadically interrupted by bursts of applause, Lyons recalled the audience that the Two Row Wampum’s treaty was symbolically concluded between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous vessels on the Hudson River. On the river, they were in “nature’s hands,” just as we still are.

The native American voiced concern over the protection of the common good, and more specifically, about the commodification of water. Questions about the environmental impact of fracking, dwelling and the use of pipelines were also raised.

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