Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues: 18th Session

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22-Apr-2019 01:17:19
Indigenous people’s traditional knowledge must be preserved and valued globally, speakers stress as permanent forum opens annual session.

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Traditional knowledge is at the core of indigenous identity, culture, languages, heritage and livelihoods, and its transmission from one generation to the next must be protected, preserved and encouraged, speakers in the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues stressed today, as they opened its eighteenth session.

The special theme of this year’s forum “Indigenous Peoples’ Traditional Knowledge: Generation, transmission and protection” is an opportunity to share innovations and practices developed in indigenous communities over centuries and millennia, Permanent Forum Chair Anne Nuorgam said.

“We need to ensure that our educational practices, languages, environmental conservation and management is acknowledged and respected globally, not only by Governments, but by all peoples,” she emphasized.

Traditional knowledge is transmitted between generations through stories, songs, dances, carvings, paintings and performances. However, global histories of colonialism, exploitation and dispossession continue to undermine and undervalue these aspects. In many countries, indigenous children and youth are not taught in their native languages. Calling for financial and technical support from Member States and the United Nations, she encouraged “all of us make sure our children and our youth are connected to their indigenous community and their culture, which is inextricably linked to their lands, territories and natural resources.”

María Fernanda Espinosa (Ecuador), General Assembly President, stressed that traditional knowledge occupies a pivotal place in the range of actions needed to mitigate climate change. Transferring this information across generations is vital, as is harnessing the potential of youth and women. Highlighting the importance of preserving languages, she pointed out that knowledge accumulated over thousands of years on medicine, meteorology, agriculture and other areas is at risk of forever disappearing. In preparing for the great challenges ahead, she said efforts must include fostering a better understanding of traditional knowledge and finding ways to strengthen indigenous peoples’ voices within the United Nations.

Valentin Rybakov (Belarus), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Forum’s 2019 theme is timely considering the vast role of indigenous knowledge in sustainable development. However, misconceptions often categorize traditional activities as uninformed and damaging to the environment when, in fact, indigenous peoples’ knowledge of their lands includes a vast array of successful practices. He called on Member States to continue to collaborate with indigenous peoples in implementing the Goals and in reporting for voluntary national reviews.

In the afternoon, the Forum held a discussion on preserving indigenous languages, with speakers noting the importance of the General Assembly’s decision to proclaim 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Member States shared their work towards that end while representatives of indigenous groups pointed to challenges they face in trying to access education in their mother tongues.

Royal Johan Kxao UI/O/OO, Deputy Minister for Marginalized Communities of Namibia, said that although his country’s Constitution ensures multiple languages could be used in an official capacity, three groups are left on the margins. The challenge remains in providing education to these groups in their indigenous language at the foundational levels, he said, adding: “For this reason, you find many children not able to speak their language.” Igor Barinov, Head of the Federal Agency on Interethnic relations of the Russian Federation, said that the education system in his country teaches in 25 languages. State efforts have helped preserve myriad languages which were forecasted for extinction 100 years ago. Joanna Hautakorpi, Minister Adviser in the Ministry for Justice of Finland, said that with the majority of Sami children today living outside their homeland area, the Government in Helsinki started a class last year in which children receive lessons in Sami.

A representative of the Sami Parliament in Norway, noting the “real fear” that indigenous people will not be able to keep up with the digital revolution, stressed the importance of having access to digital tools in indigenous languages. The Head of the Indigenous Youth Division at the Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean called indigenous languages “a link to our heritage” and sacred. A representative of the Nomadic Ancestral Community of Indigenous Peoples of the North (Yukagirs) “Keigur” said the rights to language and land are interlinked, stressing that children must be able to study in their communities and still access education in their native language.

Also delivering opening remarks today was Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Statistics Division, on behalf of the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and Cristiana Paşca Palmer, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Forum also heard a ceremonial welcome by the Chief of the Onondaga Nation, Chief Tadodaho Sid Hill.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Permanent Forum elected by acclamation Anne Nuorgam (Finland) as Chair of its eighteenth session. Phoolman Chaudhary (Nepal), Lourdes Tiban Guala (Ecuador), Dmitri Kharakka-Zaitsev (Russian Federation) and Elifuraha Laltaika (United Republic of Tanzania) were elected as Vice-Chairs while Brian Keane (United States) was elected Rapporteur.

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 23 April, to continue its eighteenth session.

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