Indigenous people ‘excluded from development efforts’

Peru_CESVI _Yofre_Morales_Tapia
Copyright: CESVI/Yofre Morales Tapia

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  • The developed world's ways of delivering policy can jar with traditional processes
  • Indigenous expertise, such as on forestry, is being ignored
  • The UN should learn from and build upon indigenous development successes

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[NEW YORK] Representatives of some of the world's indigenous people have raised concerns that the global development agenda — including the UN's Millennium Development Goals and their planned successors — is being implemented without their full consent and participation.
The 12th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York, which ended last week (31 May), gathered to address the global response to political, economic and cultural problems affecting the world's most vulnerable communities.
Issues of health, education and sustainable development were top of the two-week agenda for the 2,000 delegates from nearly 100 countries who attended, as were efforts by the global community to uphold agreements outlined in the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
But some indigenous representatives highlighted the disconnect between global development policy and how it is implemented in their communities.
"We are concerned that, while the Millennium Development Goals have been established for some time now, we see government agencies instituting and implementing projects, and indigenous people [still] not involved in deciding, planning or monitoring these interventions," says Pablo Mis, a member of the Q'eqchi Maya people from southern Belize and coordinator for the Maya Leaders Alliance.
Informed consent is the key to healing this rift, Mis says. For example, efforts to involve indigenous communities stall because the developed world's ways of delivering policy conflicts with traditional processes.
"We have a governance system in place that has looked after the affairs of our communities for many generations and is built on the wisdom of many elders," says Mis. "The challenge we have right now is contemporary governance being instituted upon our own system, and the frustration and confusion it creates on a community level."
The result can be a perception of marginalisation that breeds distrust of development projects. In many cases, indigenous people view development policies as efforts to exploit land and resources, says Betanio Chiquidama, general chief of the Embera Wounaan people and president of the National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples of Panama (COONAPIP).
"Our concern about these policies is that their creators have their own focus and way of operating and it's not ours necessarily," says Chiquidama.
Earlier this year COONAPIP has pulled out of the UN Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD), an initiative to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing nations through local and global expertise.
In Panama, more than half of mature forest is in in lands occupied by indigenous people, according to research from McGill University, Canada, done with COONAPIP. Chiquidama says this is the result of decades of attention from these remote communities.
"Everyone, from the time they're young, is taught to understand forest management," he says. "We have this knowledge passed down [through the] generations and it is shown to be scientifically valid for caring for the forests."
But when it comes to including this indigenous knowledge in development projects such as UN-REDD, no one asks, says Chiquidama.
Rather than starting new initiatives, he wants resources invested in successful existing indigenous projects.
"The UN should be guaranteeing and building up what we are doing well, so we can do it better and the world can learn from us."
Demands to improve engagement with indigenous communities were echoed by other representatives at the UNPFII, as the agenda looked towards the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014. There, member states and indigenous representatives intend to produce an action plan for realising indigenous people's rights and assisting efforts towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.