AMERICAN tribal chiefs say they are being shut out of UN racism conference

Thursday, August 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ On a special U.N. day honoring indigenous peoples, tribal chiefs from across the Americas bemoaned what they called a lack of attention from the world body and said they were being shut out of an upcoming conference on racism.

``It's a constant uphill battle just to get into the room where so-called consultations are taking place,'' said Ted Moses, a Cree chief from Quebec.

More than 700 people from across the globe, many wearing brightly colored ponchos and beaded necklaces, gathered Thursday at the United Nations to celebrate their cultures. Arvol Looking Horse of the Lakota tribe in South Dakota opened two days of festivities with a sacred pipe ceremony.

The indigenous leaders were also meeting to discuss ways to protect themselves from land exploitation and human rights abuses.

``As indigenous peoples, we have had to fight, struggle and survive against marginalization and colonialism,'' said Buddy Gwin of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe of Connecticut. ``Until we are able to shed that yoke of colonialism, indigenous people around the world will continue to experience what we have experienced for over 500 years.''

In a report released Thursday, the 7th annual International Day of the World's Indigenous People, the human rights group Amnesty International wrote that ``native peoples continue to be the victims of human rights violations.'' It specifically named Honduras, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela as problem countries.

``Violence and threats against indigenous populations often take place in the context of disputes relating to the lands they live on and to the exploitation, by national and multinational companies, of natural resources on indigenous territories,'' Amnesty said.

There are more than 150 million tribal people worldwide, the advocacy group Survival International said.

Among them, the hunter-gatherer Jarawa tribe of India, the Bushmen of Botswana's Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the Awa of Brazil's Amazon rainforest are the most vulnerable, it said.

Last year, after a study of their participation within the U.N. system, the United Nations established a permanent forum on indigenous issues. It also named a special monitor of human rights and freedoms for indigenous groups.

The forum will hold its first international conference in May 2002.

Marcial Arias of Panama's Kuna Indians said he hoped the forum would ``open the door'' to the United Nations.

``We are not even mentioned in the Kyoto treaty'' on global warming, an issue of great concern among indigenous groups, he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a written address that ``indigenous affairs will be high on the agenda of the world conference on racism'' that begins Aug. 31 in Durban, South Africa, and will be ``an important voice amongst those combating the scourge of racism and discrimination.''

But Moses said indigenous groups have been all but shut out of the decision-making process and many will ``not even get their foot in the door'' when the conference begins.

He accused the United Nations of failing ``to ensure that there is adequate protection for indigenous peoples in international (treaties). Therefore, there is racism and racial discrimination within the U.N. itself.''