Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

They are not just another party to be won over, or merely another individual seated at a table of equals. They are our principal dialogue partners, those from whom we have the most to learn, to whom we need to listen out of a duty of justice, and from whom we must ask permission before presenting our proposals. Their words, their hopes and their fears should be the most authoritative voice at any table of dialogue on the Amazon region.

Querida Amazonia Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, 26 – Pope Francis

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) is a high- level advisory body to the Economic and Social Council. It provides expert advice and recommendations on indigenous issues to the Council, as well as to programmes, funds and agencies of the United Nations. Through ECOSOC, it raises awareness and promotes the integration and coordination of activities related to indigenous issues within the UN system; prepares and disseminates information on indigenous issues; promotes respect for and full application of the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and follow up the effectiveness of this Declaration (Art. 42 UNDRIP). Ever year the FORUM meets at the UN with a specific theme. This year the theme was “Peace, justice and strong institutions: the role of indigenous peoples in implementing Sustainable Development Goal 16”.

The General Assembly has proclaimed in its resolution 74/135 of the period 2022–2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, following the successful celebration in 2019 of the International Year of Indigenous Languages. UNPFII 2021 has welcomed this decision which provides a unique opportunity for creating sustainable changes in complex social dynamics for the preservation, revitalization and promotion of indigenous languages and urged the Member States to design, plan, finance and implement the activities. You can read more here.

A number from our IBVM/CJ network attended the forum, that like most of UN events this year, was held virtually. Although unable to link up with other delegates, we learned about the experience and knowledge of indigenous people from around the world. Pauline Macharia ibvm shares her experience with us.

“Attending the Indigenous Forum was for me an opportunity to ‘enter’ into the worldview of the indigenous people. I am left with nothing but great respect and reverence for a people who have so much to teach us, but shall we listen? In more than one way, their lives are totally intertwined with nature – their culture, medication, leadership institutions, education, religion etc.

Naturally, because nature is everything for them, they are good stewards and this is rewarding. However, the disruption of nature as has been in the last few decades has left them vulnerable to drastic climate change and their way of life is disrupted and they are exposed to harsh weather conditions that threaten the core of their existence.

Today, there are many human rights defenders advocating for their rights and this must be encouraged because indigenous people are human and their rights must be respected. Indigenous people have protected our ancient forests, rivers, and wetlands for centuries. But there are governments and private entities who do not recognise their land rights. It is sad that many of these rights defenders get targeted, killed and some just disappear. They are a big voice for the vulnerable population, they need protection and facilitation. It calls for political good will and a recognition of their lives as sacred.

As Pope Francis we need to consider them as partners, listen and learn from them. Theirs is the most authoritative voice at the table of dialogue in the protection of ancient forests, rivers and wetlands in their country. Let us hear the “cry of the poor” and the “cry of the earth” (Laudato Si).”

Author: Cynthia Mathew cj and Pauline Macharia ibvm