Controversial Report on the 3rd Indigenous Leaders Summit of the Americas held in Panama Central America April 14-15th 2009

The 1st Indigenous Leaders Summit of the Americas was held in 2001 in Ottawa, Canada, North America, the second was in 2005 in Buenos Aires, Argentina; South America, and the 3rd was just concluded on April 15th 2009 in Panama City, Panama; Central America.

Controversy tends to follow anything that seeks to advance the long denied rights of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas – a Hemisphere that with the sole exception of Bolivia (which FINALLY has an Indigenous President and government) – STILL suffers to varying degrees under Colonialism & Neo-colonialism – 517 years AFTER the arrival of Columbus and the ensuing Genocide, Ethnocide and Ecocide he (and subsequent Eurocentric plunderers) unleashed in the ‘New World‘.

At the opening ceremony held in a conference room at the Hotel Riande Continental in Panama City on April 14th 2009 the pre-session prayer was said by a respected elder of the local Kuna Tribal Nation.

The influential leader Mrs. Beverly Jacobs of the Native Womens’ Association of Canada, was the first speaker to address the 100+ Indigenous Leaders from North, South, Central America and the Caribbean gathered.

This was followed by a video address by his Excellency Jose Miguel Insulza – Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), and this was presented on his behalf by her Excellency Abigail Castro de Perez – Ambassador and representative of the OAS in Panama.

The Third speaker was her Excellency Patricia Lagan-Torrel – Ambassador of Canada to the the Republic of Panama; the governments of Canada, the USA, and Spain provided funds to make the 3rd ILSA possible and the OAS provided logistical support in no small part by tireless workers such as Mr. Luis Toro and Ms. Jessica Grebeldinger – both great friends to the cause of Indigenous rights.

Fourth to speak was the well known indigenous Lawyer Hector Huertas of the Kuna Tribal Nation of Panama, and one of the key points he raised was the fact that “Everyone must realize that the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a ‘minimum standard‘ – not a be-all and end-all for the inherent and undeniable rights of Indigenous Peoples of the world; so the American declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples (still being created) CANNOT fall below the rights enshrined in the UN declaration – which is global in scope.

* Readers should note that the UN declaration being referred to was passed by a vote of support of every UN member state EXCEPT the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia – but soon thereafter the Australian government changed and the new administration quickly adopted the Declaration leaving 3 isolated ‘Democratic hypocrisies’ still in opposition.

Fifth and last to speak was the veteran respected Grand Chief Edward John – political executive of the First Nations Assembly (of Canada) Task Group, and he provided a wealth of information to the appreciative audience gathered, but his most memorable statement – and one that reverberated around the room to enthusiastic support was when he thundered: This ‘Human Prosperity theme of the OAS Heads of State Summit to follow us immediately in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago CANNOT be implemented for the benefit of the non-indigenous citizens of the OAS states at the expense of OUR Indigenous peoples – because for far too long that is EXACTLY what has been happening!“.

The Grand chief went on to state “We have taken 40 cases against the government of Canada to the Supreme Court of Canada and we have won ALL of them, yet the government of Canada still refuses to comply with the rulings of their own Supreme Court!

As I sat in the audience, as a Barbadian by birth of Guyanese Lokono-Arawak descent, and cognizant of the fact that I was part of the planning committee for this 3rd indigenous Leaders Summit of the Americas and head of the communications sub-committee (my tenure expired as of 6.30pm on April 15th 2009 when the Summit officially ended), I was saddened to hear that the Governments of Colombia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil – were still frustrating the efforts of the Indigenous Caucus in the draft American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’s process, when I had attended the last OAS session in Washington DC a few months ago the USA and Canada had dropped out of the process entirely – which is an act guaranteed to sabotage any progress we hope to make on that front due to the ‘Consensus’ requirement within the OAS.

The undemocratic ‘Consensus‘ is the de-facto modus operandi among OAS states, this ‘consensus‘ system requires that every state must be in complete agreement with EVERYTHING being proposed to be adopted by the OAS – otherwise it is ultimately rejected.

This might sound almost noble in theory to those who do not have to face ‘semantic skulduggery‘ – for time and time again we see certain states using the most petty and ridiculous arguments such as the placement of a comma or hyphen etc. to say “We do not agree with the placement of the comma in that sentence so we cannot support the text being proposed.” Thereby ensuring that our efforts are frustrated by ever more delays and ‘consensus’ cannot be reached so the indigenous rights we are fighting so hard for are denied once again.

To further expose the ‘consensus’ deception – it would be akin to not allowing any American presidential candidate to win office unless 100% of all votes cast were for a particular candidate….I ask you – is that what you call democracy? Is is truly absurd for the countries who traverse the globe meddling in other countries internal affairs in the name of ‘Championing democracy’ to be the SAME countries who do their utmost to ensure that a majority vote democratic process is NOT allowed to exist within the OAS system.

In truth and in fact the ‘Consensus‘ system being forced by the powerful in the OAS – was devised specifically to ensure that the Neo-Colonial States of the Americas (not their willing or unwilling citizenry) are ALWAYS in a position to dictate their self-serving agendas to those they consider to be their ‘subjects‘.

With the exception of Guyana, the Caribbean States disrespectful lack of interest and attendance at the vast majority of OAS sessions concerning Indigenous Peoples of our Hemisphere is another disturbing factor in our quest to eventually see the American Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples officially and legally come into existence, for we foresee a worrying scenario whereby the Caribbean States (who in large part are dependent in one way or another on the USA and Canada) being strong-armed into voting AGAINST our declaration by using the argument that “They are not sufficiently informed to make a decision in support of the Declaration“….if the Caribbean states would wake up and show some interest and make the same effort as ALL the Latin American States have been for many years – they would know enough to make an informed decision – of course this would require Caribbean governments to ACTUALLY care about Indigenous Peoples, a falsehood they are fond of publicly stating – but in my opinion – based on their actions is not yet the case in reality.

Take a critical look at the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago as but one example, they are holding the 5th Summit of the Americas – yet the government of Trinidad and Tobago STILL refuses to officially grant their Indigenous Carib People even 1 square foot of land titled to them – and this is land that in reality – and according to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which the Government of Trinidad and Tobago voted to approve – has belonged to the Carib people BEFORE any of the ethnic groups who all came subsequently and usurped the traditional territories of the Carib People (same can be said of the Red Caribs of Sandy Bay in St. Vincent).

Take a glance at Suriname – who’s constitution does NOT even recognize the existence of the 20,000+ Indigenous Amerindians in that country! Do you think any Caribbean head of State has ever raised this glaring injustice being perpetrated by the government of Suriname on it’s native peoples in violation of International Laws and Human Rights Conventions? Not a word from any of them, their CARICOM heads of state cocktail party get-together’s is of far more importance obviously.

Verily, we take hypocrisy to unprecedented levels in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

In the 90+ paragraphs of the OAS 5th Heads of State Summit Declaration only TWO have passing references (not even entire paragraphs) to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, one about Education, and the other about Health…what does this tell you about the ‘equitable treatment‘ these two-faced politicians claim to want for their ‘indigenous brothers and sisters‘?.

The Indigenous Caucus of the Americas is only being permitted one brief address to the OAS Heads of State – then like dutiful servants we must leave the room, not even being permitted to sit as official observers as we were granted in previous OAS Summits.

Our ONLY hope now is that full blooded Amerindian President Evo Morales of Bolivia or President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela – who is of mixed Amerindian descent, will use their time at the podium to remind the world that we Indigenous STILL exist, that the conquest of the Americas has NOT yet ended, and neither has our resistance to it!

There is a glimmer of hope for the future – because in the legal apparatus of the OAS a simple majority democratic vote CAN be held to pass a document such as the Draft American Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples – IF ‘weaker‘ countries are willing to stand-up to the high and mighty in our Hemisphere and make that Clarion call for such a vote.

It was not always this way, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda gave up its seat to the Indigenous Caucus many years ago and very early in the process – an act which allowed us to have a seat at the table and raise our issues, and the Government of Dominica’s UN Ambassador Gregoire tirelessly made the rounds in the UN general assembly to champion Indigenous Rights and garner support for the UN Declaration which was eventually passed!

We shall see which of our leaders today actually has some courage and sense of justice.

Damon Gerard Corrie Former Head of the Communications Sub-Committee for the just concluded 3rd Indigenous Leaders Summit of the Americas, Panama City, Panama; Central America 14-15 April 2009.

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