Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Kenneth Deer and Lucy Mulenkei


The United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development and Indigenous Peoples' Right of Self-Determination
Natalie Drache, Producer, DBN Digital Broadcast Network

Author: Natalie Drache
DBN Digital Broadcast Network
Dialogue Between Nations
Submitted: September 15, 2002

Indigenous Peoples gained unprecedented recognition of their right of self-determination at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), as member states adopted a Political Statement and Plan of Implementation, and in the final moments of the Summit, agreed to the inclusion of an addendum as follows:

"We reaffirm the vital role of Indigenous Peoples in sustainable development."

Throughout the numerous preparatory meetings leading up to the UN Summit in Johannesburg, Indigenous Peoples have lobbied the member states of the United Nations, and secured strong allies in support of their demands for recognition and inclusion in the UN decision making processes on issues affecting their nations and their communities.

The S IssueThe "S" issue, which acknowledges the collective rights of Indigenous PeopleS, has been an item of contention since Indigenous Peoples first knocked on the doors of the UN in 1977, demanding a place at the table.

ExclusionTheir history of exclusion as marginalised people, populations and minorities by nation states has been a fundamental factor in denying them the rights which apply to all peoples, which are protected by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and specified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which state that "All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."

Kenneth Deer, Mohawk Journalist and Publisher of The Eastern DoorKenneth Deer, Mohawk journalist and publisher of The Eastern Door, covering the WSSD from the the International Media Centre at the Summit, (and, who has played a key role for more than twenty years at the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations which meets annually in Geneva) seeking clarification of the process which led to an affirmative position on the recognition of "peoples," asked the President of the Summit, Thabo Mbeki (also the President of South Africa), the following question during the final press conference upon the closure of the Summit.

"The Indigenous Peoples were very happy that our Declaration was passed. To us, this is very historic. For the first time in a UN held document, the term "Indigenous PeopleS" is being used without qualifications. In Durban last year there was a big battle for Indigenous PeopleS, they wanted brackets and asterisks, they wanted to call us Indigenous populations, Indigenous issues, anything but PeopleS. They finally agreed to call us PeopleS as long as the term does not imply any rights under international law, which is discriminatory against Indigenous Peoples. For the first time in over thirty years, now the United Nations has a document that uses the term "Indigenous Peoples" without any qualifications. What happened between Durban and today? What was the difference to make this historical change in the way the UN is describing our peoples? "

The South African leader responded,

President, Thabo MbekiI would hope that part of what happened in the formal processes of consultation with civil society, but particularly with representatives of the Indigenous Peoples, was that this matter needed to be dealt with properly in the way that you say. So we agreed to that. And then came this proposal to get at the detail and the problem arose, but fortunately it got corrected. So I think surely that people must be hearing better to what you are saying. I must say also that some other delegations did submit, did give me drafts on the same question, on the same proposal, so there was a base within the Summit to produce the kind of results that were produced. In any case, I don't think that anybody would stand up and say they were against. It wouldn't make sense."

Taking a brief look at the initial involvement of Indigenous Peoples in the formal Signing the Kari-Oca Declarationsustainable development discussion, in 1992, 650 Indigenous representatives from all continents took part in the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil, presenting the UN World Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) with their Kari-Oca Declaration and an Indigenous Peoples' 109 point Earth Charter. In the official UN document, Agenda 21, adopted in Rio, Indigenous People were identified as one of the major groups to play a role in decision making and to be beneficiaries of the long range vision on sustainable development, adopted by the member states of the United Nations. Chapter 26 lays out the guidelines for Recognising and Strengthening the role of Indigenous People and their Communities in environmental and development issues.

Many of the key complaints heard in Johannesburg were that Agenda 21 failed to acknowledge and produce a strong plan of action which, in the past ten years, might have led to an effective implementation of the Rio vision. Since that time, environmental degradation, misappropriation of lands and resources, and violations of Indigenous Peoples' human rights, including their intellectual and cultural property rights, has increased.

At the same time, however, Indigenous leaders have acquired an increasingly high level of sophistication in understanding the legal implications of these violations within international law, and have built an extremely strong global network within their own organisations, as well as with civil society, multilateral agencies and governments. Also to be noted, is that many former grassroots Indigenous activists have taken up consultant roles with governments, and in a number of cases, Indigenous scientists and lawyers are key experts on government delegations. Several countries also now have Indigenous politicians within their governments who are able to develop and monitor implementation policies directly relevant to the needs of their communities.

The impact of the growth and maturity of the international indigenous movement is that it is now capable of taking on the strategic economic alliances being developed around the world. It is to be noted that Indigenous Peoples consider themselves to be rightsholders, and not merely stakeholders in all decision-making affecting "their lives, territories and well-being." The powerful blocs of multinational corporations and ensuing partnerships between business and the United Nations agencies, need to take into account the fact that they will no longer be able to obtain access to resources within Indigenous Peoples' territories, with the same ease that historically destroyed Indigenous communities and life-styles, as the dialogue in the international arena is becoming more and more transparent. The key obstacle however, for Indigenous Peoples is a time-factor; land claims and restitution processes can go on, undecided, at the negotiation tables or in the courts over lengthy periods, while the resources are being extracted from their territories. Never to be underestimated are the overt or subtle practices of genocide and environmental racism which still permeate the regions where Indigenous Peoples reside.

But while the world's so-called post-colonial powers attempt to allocate the earth, air, water and mineral resources in development projects which are meant to alleviate poverty, and the inequalities arising from unbalanced economic practices, the representatives of the many millions of Indigenous Peoples around the world, sometimes referred to as the Fourth World, are demanding the right of free, prior and informed consent on all developments affecting their territories, lands, resources and communities.

When reviewing the 109 point Indigenous Peoples' Earth Charter from Kari-Oca, Brazil, and comparing it ten years later with the current document which the international Indigenous caucus developed and presented in Johannesburg, one can see that the earlier demands are taking on more realistic and practical dimensions vis a vis the contributions which Indigenous experts are making today in the very complex global plan of action for sustainability. Both the Kimberley Political Declaration and the Indigenous Peoples' Implementation Plan, coming out of the Johannesburg experience, not only reflect the holistic view of Indigenous Peoples' traditional knowledge systems, cosmovision and spirituality of the earlier Declaration, but now make carefully considered specific recommendations on broader mainstream issues such as food security, biopiracy and patenting of life forms, forests and protected areas, mining, energy, tourism, fisheries, marine and coastal resources, water, climate change, ratification and implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, health and toxics, and desertification,

When looking at the process from Kari-Oca to Kimberley (this latter diamond mining city in South Africa being the site of the Indigenous People's pre-Summit from August 20 to 23, 2002) it is evident that many of the traditional Elders who attempted to get a hearing in the corridors of the UN from the '30's onward, and who shared their wisdom to the few who were prepared to listen in the many venues of Rio, have passed on. In their place, is another generation, walking to the future in the footsteps of their ancestors. Some of them continue the tradition of travelling internationally on passports issued by their sovereign nations, such as the Haudenosaunee, comprised of six Indigenous nations whose territories cross the US-Canada border in the eastern region of North America.

Albeit, there is no international recognition of Indigenous nations as nations. But the fact remains that they do indeed have governments. This important distinction between them and other members of civil society, made up primarily of non-governmental organisations, with whom Indigenous delegates interact in their own Global or People's Forums parallel to UN mega-conferences, cannot be ignored. In many instances, Indigenous leaders have signed treaties with the domestic governments who occupy their territories. The relationships established by the treaty processes, rarely respected by the countries in which they live, establish nation-to-nation protocols with responsibilities and above all, demand accountability.

For the most part, if we were to reverse our general understanding of how geopolitics defines the world, it can be clearly stated that Indigenous Peoples are living in occupied territories. This helps us to understand the position they are advocating as rightsholders, within the broader spectrum of UN orchestrated dialogues and multi-sector roundtables, where their access to participation is based on representation as one of the major groups, as mentioned previously in Agenda 21.

The rightsholders and geopolitical aspect of the participation of Indigenous Peoples' presence in the international arena has even greater implications given the following excerpt from the Indigenous Peoples' Caucus Statements for the Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Governance, Partnerships and Capacity Building, presented by Joji Carino, Tebtebba Foundation, Prepcom IV, WSSD, Bali, Indonesia, 27 May, 2002:

Joji Carino, Tebtebba Foundation"Governance, partnerships and capacity-building are about addressing social and power relationships, and about how these relationships impact on our relations with the Earth. The contemporary world is characterised by deep imbalances in our social relations, of gross inequalities between nations and within societies, manifested by huge disparities in consumption of natural resources. International governance gives disproportionate power to the same economic elite and their institutions of choice - the World Trade Organisation and the international and financial institutions - to decide the futures of our children. The WSSD process is itself harmonising into this unequal and unbalanced architecture. Governance structures for Sustainable Development must strive for greater democratisation, transparency, equity and accountability in order to achieve better outcomes."

Further to this, this same paper states that "Respect for Indigenous Peoples' territories and self-determination is a precondition for strengthening processes of partnership and governance for sustainable development on an equal footing."

One can only assume that the different entities which participated in the adoption of the official UN Johannesburg Political Declaration and its controversial addendum fully understand the implications of the "S" issue, which, until now, has only made it into UN and other multilateral documents with qualifications, such as in Durban in 2001 at the UN World Conference Against Racism, previously mentioned by Kenneth Deer.

World Conference Against RacismIndigenous representatives will now have an opportunity to take this new development related to the recognition of the right of self-determination further in the next meeting on the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, where the biggest obstacle Antonio Jacanamijoy, Independent Expertto the adoption of this Declaration is Article 3 which states: Indigenous Peoples have the right of self-determination." They will also bring it up in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, a unique body recently established by the Economic and Social Council. Two of the sixteen independent experts who comprise this new body, Mililani Trask, (Hawaii) and Antonio Jacamanijoy (Colombia), were present at the WSSD.

What remains to be seen, if the issue of self-determination as addressed in the final documents of the WSSD is truly seen as a realistic gain, then the issue of governance practices from an Indigenous perspective, in light of the outcomes of the Johannesburg Summit, could potentially take on greater meaning within the international arena. With the independent experts of the Permanent Forum in a position to make significant Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rightsrecommendations to the Economic and Social Council, will the role of Indigenous PeopleS with the "S" within the UN system be taken seriously by the member states at other levels? Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated during the inauguration of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, that the present circumstances are not about what the United Nations can do for Indigenous Peoples, but what Indigenous Peoples can do for the United Nations.

Member states will not be able to back away from this new development very easily, given the clarification on record by President Mbeki in his press conference. What member states fear most is that along with the recognition of Indigenous self-determination comes Indigenous sovereignty. And furthermore, if Indigenous communities or nations are able to control a land and resource base, that out of the projected economic wealth generated by the rightsholders, comes the possibility of secession. Unfortunately, national governments rarely view the contributions of Indigenous Peoples as potentially strengthening and enhancing the structure and well-being of the nation state itself.

Chair, Ms. Anne Nuorgam, Saami CouncilWhat is important as a follow up to Johannesburg, is an evaluation of the successes Indigenous communities have had in effective resource management and how these models can support and contribute positively to both domestic and international relationships as well as to the sustainablity agenda. One important example in the Indigenous Peoples' Plan of Implementation on Sustainable Development adopted by their caucus in Johannesburg cites the sustainable development models presented by the Arctic Council, which "incorporate principles of genuine partnership between States and Indigenous Peoples, ecosystem approaches, collaboration between traditional and scientific knowledge and local, national and regional implementation plans."

The concluding paragraph in this same document, comprised of 101 points, indicates support for the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues as a global focal point for promoting co-operation among States and Indigenous Peoples in the implementation of international policies, commitments and action plans on Indigenous Peoples and sustainable development. "We will utilise the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to monitor the fulfillment of this (Indigenous Peoples') Plan of Implementation." No doubt the Permanent Forum will also be in a position to make recommendations on the compliance of member states to their own agreements in Johannesburg as well.


DBN Digital Broadcast Network/Dialogue Between Nations
"From Kari-Oca to Kimberley" and "UN Permanent Forum"

Tebtebba Foundation

Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples Secretariat


United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development

Political Declaration

Plan of Implementation

UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights
UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights -- Office of the High Commissioner

UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations -- Office of the High Commissioner
UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations -- International Indian Treaty Council

UN World Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)
UN World Conference on Environment and Development (UNEP)

Kari-Oca Declaration

Indigenous Peoples' 109 point Earth Charter
Ingenous Peoples Earth Charter

Agenda 21 -- UN
Agenda 21 -- UNEP

Agenda 21, Chapter 26: Recognising and Strengthening the role of Indigenous People and their Communities
Agenda 21 - Information Habitat

PrepCom I: Statement by Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous Peoples as a Major Group of Agenda 21 and the
United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development
Rio +10/World Summit on Sustainable Development PrepCom I
Multi-stakeholder Presentation
United Nations, New York, NY, April 30, 2001
Presented by the International Indian Treaty Council (ECOSOC NGO)
on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples' Caucus
Read by Ms. Carol Kalafatic

Fourth World Documentation Program

Background on the Term "Fourth World"

Fourth World/Indigenous Peoples

Kimberley Political Declaration Indigenous Peoples' Implementation Plan

Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The Kyoto Protocol
Impacts of the Kyoto Protocol on U.S. Energy Marketsand Economic Activity

United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development, Prepcom IV

Indigenous Peoples' Caucus Statements for the Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Governance, Partnerships and Capacity Building, presented by Joji Carino, Tebtebba Foundation, Prepcom IV, WSSD, Bali, Indonesia, 27 May, 2002

Indigenous Peoples Political Declaration, PrepCom IV, Indonesia, Bali, June 6, 2002 (Tebtebba Foundation): Reaffirming Kari-Oca

World Trade Organisation

UN World Conference Against Racism
World Conference Against Racism -- WCAR

United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples -- University of Minnesota
The Rights of Indigenous Peoples -- Office of the High Commissioner

UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues


Natalie Drache
DBN Digital Broadcast Network/dbn.tv
Dialogue Between Nations



International Relations | Kari-Oca to Kimberley | Kari-Oca Declaration | Earth Charter I Earth Charter - Interactive Version I Kari-Oca at UNCED I Kari-Oca Revisited

Relaciones Internacionales | De Kari-Oca a Kimberley | La Declaración de Kari-Oca I La Carta de la Tierra I La Carta de la Tierra - Version Interactiva I Kari-Oca en UNCED

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