Indigenous Peoples Invisible at Trinidad Summit

Trinidad and Tobago (UCTP Taino News) – A delegation of 10 Indigenous leaders traveled to Trinidad to attend the Organization of American States (OAS) 5th Summit of the Americas from April 17 to 19, 2009. The delegation’s intention was to further develop critical partnerships with States while presenting the views of millions of Indigenous Peoples from throughout the Americas. These views were encapsulated in a Declaration and Plan of Action developed at an Indigenous Leaders Summit, which took place in Panama City preceding the OAS Summit. While Trinidad’s Prime Minister Patrick Manning publicly declared his desire for the Summit to achieve prosperity for the peoples of the Americas with commitment and mutual respect, the Indigenous leaders experienced discriminatory exclusion.

Even at the parallel “Civil Society Summit” and other events leading into the 5th Summit, it was not possible for Indigenous Peoples to effectively participate because the government of Trinidad and Tobago would not accommodate the Indigenous Peoples Summit on site. The result of this exclusion was that the Indigenous leaders, representing millions of Indigenous Peoples from across the Americas, were not even considered “delegates” unlike members of civil society, youth, business and private sector delegates. Incredibly, a last minute decision by Trinidad's National Secretariat to increase the number of delegates from civil society from 10 to 40 individuals in the Forum with Ministers was not extended to Indigenous Peoples.

While much of the world was focused on the communications between U.S. President Barack Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the Indigenous Leaders noted that the final 5th States Summit Declaration of Commitment failed to address Indigenous Peoples, despite the theme “Securing our Citizens’ Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability.”

In the development of the Declaration of Commitment by State Governments, there were initially three brief references to Indigenous Peoples in the area of health, education and the draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In the final Declaration of Commitment, only two paragraphs refer to Indigenous Peoples, one which supports “voluntary” corporate social responsibility best practices, involving dialogues between the corporate sector, governments and Indigenous “groups”, and one that commits to the adoption of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Commenting on the process and the State Summit Declaration, Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Edward John voiced his disappointment: “We saw the 5th Summit as an opportunity to work in partnership with States of the Americas for the betterment of our people and securing a future where Indigenous Peoples are treated with respect and equality. But if our experience at the 5th Summit is any indication of the States’ intentions, we have a long way to go. Indeed, the 5th Summit represents a step backwards for recognition of Indigenous Peoples. At the 4th State Summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 2005, Indigenous Leaders were given the respect we deserve and had an opportunity to speak directly to Heads of States.”

Another member of the Indigenous delegation, Héctor Huertas, a Kuna leader from Panama stated "We have a clear vision of the path to follow and we will continue meeting with the OAS and its Member States in order to ensure that they comply with their international obligations in relation to Indigenous rights and their implementation in these American States. We will be vigilant that the 6th Summit be a space to measure the true fulfillment of the States’ commitment against violence and discrimination towards Indigenous peoples.”

The 5th Summit of the Americas was the first time a Summit of the Americas was held in a Caribbean state.

UCTPTN 04.24.2009

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