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Meaning of UN Decade of Indigenous Peoples

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES: Will U.N. Honour Be Mere Lip Service?

By Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Jan 26, 1995 - The United Nations International

Decade of Indigenous Peoples will depend more on the ongoing struggle of native organisations than governments' participation, according to Nobel Peace Prizewinner Rigoberta Menchu.

The Guatemalan indigenous leader said, ''we will demonstrate that we are flourishing cultures, and are changing the 'cultural pollution' we are submitted to and the image of backwardness and poverty that has been thrust upon us.''

The United Nations proclaimed the ''International Decade of the Indigenous Peoples of the World'' on Dec. 10, calling on governments to address the problems of native populations.

"It was not increased government awareness that led to the declaration of the decade, but rather action and campaigns by the indigenous peoples themselves. Governments are not interested, and this must be acknowledged," Menchu said.

She explained that the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, a campaign against an agrarian law in Ecuador and native protests in Bolivia were responsible for raising the profile of indigenous issues.

Last year, Menchu and 19 other Latin American indigenous leaders created the ''Indigenous Initiative for Peace,'' a list of goals for the decade with a demand that the United Nations and the Organisation of American States (OAS) issue declarations on indigenous rights.

They also stressed the importance of strengthening links between the indigenous cultures of North and South America, calling for research and other promotional projects.

The United Nations' Indigenous Rights document has remained in draft form since the 1980s.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee will review the final version in February, but Menchu said, ''we are not very optimistic of its chances of approval....Several countries, like Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia and the United States are completely intransigent on the issue.''

"'They do not want to recognise indigenous peoples' rights and value, or our (right to) legal, educational and territorial self determination," she said, adding that governments have created the myth that such a declaration would lead indigneous people to rise up against whites and other races.

An estimated 75 million native people were killed during the first 200 years of colonisation, while 80 percent of the 41.7 million indigenous people in the Americas today live in poverty.

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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.