The recent implosion of the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus over its mismanagement of responsibilities associated with hosting the North American Preparatory Meeting for the 2014 UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) should come as no surprise. Since the beginning, the UN has undermined indigenous peoples and nations efforts at achieving self-determination, first by denying their existence, and later by treating their political entities as the equivalent of NGOs.
Even as the UN issues bromides about indigenous sovereignty and human rights, its agencies like the World Bank scheme to plunder their wealth and ruin their health. No longer able to simply exterminate indigenous peoples with impunity, the UN and its member states now rely on instruments of Free Trade and market economics to alienate indigenous peoples property and to terminate indigenous nations.
Having made an issue of celebrating indigenous peoples, though, the UN has had to accommodate indigenous activists and diplomats by providing harmless venues for them to vent their rage. While the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) and Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provide much-needed discussion, keeping indigenous nations away from the table where decisions are made ensures that the UN and its members won’t have to walk their talk.
Reading my 2009 essay Prepared to Lead, written in collaboration with Dr. Rudolph C. Ryser and Renee Davis at the Center for World Indigenous Studies, one can see the pattern of betrayal set by the UN toward indigenous peoples. This pattern, where NGOs are given UN privileges to represent indigenous peoples, while indigenous nations are treated as non-entities, continues to this day.
Even in the lead-up to the World Conference, indigenous nations have to deal with the dysfunctional system the UN has put in place as an obstacle to their self-determination. While some of the NGOs are working cooperatively with indigenous nations, others function as an impediment, sometimes venting their incoherent rage at those they should be supporting.
Given the history of UN hypocrisy toward indigenous peoples, and the devious schemes of philanthropic foundations that fund opportunists, charlatans and troublemakers, it is no surprise that fora like the UNPFII and processes like the WCIP preparatory meetings seem incoherent at best. While these challenges test the resolve of indigenous diplomats and political leaders, in the end, it is the UN system and corporate conduct that must be their focus. Holding the institutions of international law accountable for the unpunished travesties by UN member states remains the target.
In the meantime, confused activists and immature advocates who mistakenly see indigenous nations as their adversaries must be brought along as part of the indigenous peoples movement. That isn’t always pleasant, but apart from a few malicious miscreants, most of them will eventually see the light.
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