December 10, 1992 Speeches


Transforming the United Nations: The Indigenous Model
A Summary History of the Work of Native Peoples in the International Forum
by Ingrid Washinawatok
Published by the Native American Council of New York City



On December 10, 1992, also International Human Rights day, the United Nations' General Assembly inaugurated 1993 as the International Year of the World's Indigenous People. It was for many Indigenous peoples, a turning point in their relationship with the United Nations, for the first time, the international body recognized Indigenous people, even if the recognition was mostly symbolic.

During the historic morning session, the official opening took place with the General Assembly in full session. Speeches were made by Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; the President to the General Assembly, Stoyan Ganev; Under Secretary General for Human Rights and Coordinator for the International Year, Antoine Blanca; Madame Daes, Chair and Rapporteur of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

In his opening remarks, Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali states, "For centuries Indigenous People have been outcasts in their own lands...Today, a welcome change is taking place on national and international levels...The way Indigenous People are treated by states and the international community will be a major test of the seriousness of our commitment to a genuinely universal human rights regime. If we are serious about development, political participations and human rights, we must address the special situation of Indigenous People."

However, after the lunch break, twenty Indigenous representatives addressed the afternoon session of the General Assembly, which unfortunately, had been "suspended" and was no longer in formal session. While the United Nations called for a "new partnership" between Member States and Indigenous Peoples, hardly anyone official was there to hear the aspirations of the Indigenous Peoples. With that in mind the International Year was opened.

In UN speak, "a new partnership" signifies that the UN encourages increased international cooperation in solving the problems faced by Indigenous Peoples in such areas as human rights, environment, development, education and health; increased public awareness of the issues and the concerns of Indigenous People themselves, particularly in regard to land, resources, and the kind of development and change they want for their futures, their cultures, their ways of life; increased effort to strike a balance between the legitimate aspirations of Indigenous People and the genuine concerns of States. In 1992 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Rigoberta Menchu Tum was designated the UN Ambassador of Goodwill for the International Year. Despite having little resources available to her to carry out this responsibility, she represented Indigenous peoples with great dignity, visiting many Indigenous communities.

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