taking place this month in New York, in an ongoing pattern that threatens their rights, say Indigenous leaders.ndigenous Peoples are being side lined at High Level UN meetings
Absence from decision making will allow Indigenous Peoples to be removed from their territories under the 30×30 project, for example, and for extractive companies to exploit natural resources in territories which are currently recognised as pristine and biodiverse.
Dr Roberto Mukaro Agüeibaná Borrero, honoris causa, and interim executive director at Tribal Link is among those who fear their recommendations will not be incorporated into final decisions by the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. The lack of representation contributes to ongoing land grabs and displacement, he says.
“We’re supposed to have time during these High Level Political Forum sessions to make statements,” he explains. “The States and other members get pushed through and contributions from Indigenous Peoples are left to the end, by which time the conversation is pretty much over.
“There’s no tangible way to see how our input is being recorded by the chairperson, or an understanding of how our views get reflected in the outcome report. These things need to be discussed. It always seems that we are brought in last.
“We are not viewed as partners even though it’s said that we are. The reality is they are not viewing us, in some cases, as trading partners, in government-to-government relationships.
“They keep encroaching on lands, they keep coming up with schemes that violate human rights”
“They often come to us after the conversation or planning has started. They’ll try and fit us in as an afterthought.
“There are some cases where people try to reach out at the beginning. But even then, we wonder where we can include our views, or be an effective part of outcomes.”
Dr Borrero says the approach opens the door to systematic dismantling of Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
“The UN keeps saying that Indigenous Peoples have a special relationship with the earth, ‘We need a special relationship with Indigenous Peoples; they are the ones conserving 80 per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversity etc’,” he says
“Yeah, all that’s wonderful but they keep encroaching on lands, they keep coming up with development schemes that violate human rights. They don’t go into consultations or engage in a process of free, prior and informed consent.
“They’re saying they want to preserve 30 per cent of the earth’s resources for the betterment of mankind, under this new 30×30 pledge.
“In Tanzania they have just dedicated another major park and they’re evicting Maasai people really brutally”
“But if Indigenous Peoples are holding 25 per cent of the world’s lands and territories where 80 per cent of the world’s pristine biodiversity is – who’s 30 per cent are they going to be conserving?
“Are they just going to continue to take over our land and protected areas, like what we see in Tazania at the moment? There they have just dedicated another major park and they’re evicting Maasai people really brutally.
“Moving toward this ‘protected land’ idea when Indigenous Peoples have been living there – already noted for the biodiversity and their stewardship. Yet they’re being kicked out to ‘protect’ the animals and land, when Indigenous Peoples have already been doing that.
“These initiatives like 30×30 have the potential to be another large scale land grab from Indigenous Peoples.
“Without language in UN documents that protects rights and present safeguards in these instances of nominating protected areas, we’re going to continue to see a downward spiral.
“From what we’ve seen, many of these protected areas could still be open for leases to extractive industries. All that means is there aren’t Indigenous Peoples left on the ground to protest any more, and assigning these leases becomes the sole purview of governments.
“All we have left are the lands that we’re on and that’s the only thing holding the rest of the world from environmental crisis”
“Those are the things that are at stake. Lands, territories and resources underpin everything. All we have left are the lands that we’re on.
“And that seems to be the only thing that’s holding the rest of the world together, from going over the edge into environmental crisis, which we’re already spiralling into.”
Under the 30×30 campaign, 100 countries are committed to protecting at least 30% of land and oceans by 2030. It’s set to be included in agreements at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal in December.
In Dr Borrero’s view, improper UN overtures are the reason Indigenous Peoples did not contribute more effectively to the UN Dushanbe Declaration regarding water scarcity and water rights released this week. The high level conference was held in Tajikistan last month.
“Water scarcity is a key topic for Indigenous Peoples. Ahead of this water conference in Tajikistan another Indigenous organisation I work with was contacted to collaborate on a forum for Indigenous Peoples and ‘local communities’,” Dr Borrero explains.
“We pushed the principal that Indigenous Peoples should speak for themselves whenever possible. We feel the same way about local communities. Who are these local communities and why can’t there be a programme that focuses on Indigenous Peoples for half a session and then half the session focuses on local communities? Then they can come up with their own ideas and identify what kind of legal mechanisms they have to justify their rights, or identify gaps in the legal system.
“There’s not a declaration on the rights of local communities. Who are these people?”
“It was met with a lot of resistance on the inside of the UN. And eventually we couldn’t really participate because they wouldn’t budge from the position.
“There’s not a declaration on the rights of local communities. There’s a UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. ‘Local communities’ was not mentioned in that.
“We’re not denigrating those people whoever they are. But they don’t have an established network, we still don’t know who you’re really talking about when you say that. It seems like a very dangerous catch all phrase that’s at odds with our rights and our ability to advocate effectively.
“The UN Permanent Forum issued a statement in May this year calling on States to stop equating local communities with Indigenous Peoples. That’s where it’s got to. It’s really a serious issue, it’s not just a few disgruntled people.
“Our folks are still often suffering from a lot of these well-intentioned ideas that end up causing more harm to them.
“It’s a trend that started in the Convention of Biodiversity – there’s where the UN started to include this term local communities, with Indigenous Peoples.
“It’s a very ambiguous term and it’s detrimental because sometimes local communities are infringing on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. When they move folks from urban areas, for example, or they try to work with small scale farmers – a lot of lands they are going on to for these projects are lands in question, or lands of Indigenous Peoples.
“So where is the Cop26 $1.7 billion? That’s a Where’s Waldo question”
“One of the most recent examples I am aware of took place at a UN meeting where a representative of Brazil was trying to say that small scale miners, artisanal miners, were local communities and they had rights like Indigenous Peoples.
“There’s a whole framework of international laws that focus on Indigenous Peoples which is why we use the term. To try to equate those with ‘local communities’ has the potential of diluting the power of the mechanisms we have to fight back.
“A pressing issue has been this idea of land tenure because many Indigenous Peoples control land or manage land but don’t have the legal rights to them.
“Being brought into the conversation last is an ongoing issue that also impacts the funding pledged at Cop26 for reforestation and preserving biodiversity.
“So where is the $1.7 billion? That’s a Where’s Waldo question. We don’t know, but it’s not for lack of asking.
“A good amount of it was pledged from previous commitments, they were rolling that all together.
“I’m hearing about conversations going on. But it sounds like the same old story. A few very large environmental conservation organisations are at the helm once again, with just a few Indigenous organisations.
“It’s becoming a gate keeping exercise and I’ve seen no entry way for anyone else to get into that conversation. We’re trying to work with some of the larger conservation organisations to get information but not even all of them are involved. It seems to be stuck in a holding pattern between a few before it gets rolled out into a larger discussion.
“There will probably be a few pilot programmes. A lot of money goes to the top end to facilitate those things and at the end of the day, very few people are impacted. There will be some nice reports, that say ‘this is the model’. We hope there’s some land left in the future where this can be implemented.”