By Sarah L. Rasmusson
WEnews staff writer
Wednesday, June 7, 2000
Indigenous women from Alaska to Australia believe the language of official U.N. documents must be changed to include them specifically. Doing so, they believe, will permit them to enter debates with their tribal leaders and national governments.
NEW YORK, June 2 -- Dozens of elected leaders of indigenous women's tribes and representatives of women's organizations from across the globe--including Aleuts from Alaska and Aborigines from Australia--will urge the United Nations this week to adopt language in its official documents that includes them and recognizes their rights.
Mary Jane Jim, the regional chief representing 630 aboriginal tribes in Canada, criticized the U.N.'s Platform for Action, saying it had "very few references to indigenous women." Wishing to ensure that they are included this time, the indigenous women's groups met in Lima, Peru last November and again this past March in New York to study the protocols of speaking on the U.N. floor and the techniques for effective lobbying of their own governments.
"Beijing Plus Five is a big move for the indigenous women of Africa," said Lucy Mulenkei of the African Network of Indigenous Women. "The most important outcome at the end of the week would be to make a mark as a group," she added, "to be recognized as indigenous women with an identity."
The groups have now produced the Beijing Declaration of Indigenous Women's Non-Governmental Organizations and will present it to the U.N.
The declaration outlines their positions on a range of issues they say touch their lives profoundly, as indigenous peoples and as women, including national land reform policies and environmental conservation efforts. It also calls for initiatives for economic development, improved health care and education within indigenous communities, as well as new efforts to stop violence against indigenous women. "Our identity is closely linked to our ancestors and our land," said Lea Nicholas-MacKenzie, spokesperson for the Assembly of First Nations and member of the Maliseet tribe in Eastern Canada. "When our governments alter the use and control of our resources, it amounts to a genocide attempt."
Tarcila Rivera Zea of Peru, spokesperson from the Permanent Workshop of Indigenous Andean and Amazonian Women, added: "They must let us develop by ourselves, improve as women, improve as a people."
The declaration also insists that U.N. documents refer to them as "indigenous," not "native" or "Indian," and refer to their tribes as "peoples," not as a "population." Such changes would emphasize their distinct heritages, they said.
The women also openly discussed the discrimination they experience at the hands of the male members of their tribes.
"It is difficult to address the racism against indigenous peoples and address the sexism of our men," said Fay Blaney, a member of the Aboriginal Women's Action Network in Canada.
After the special session ends, the women plan to remain active by exerting pressure on corporations, on the dominant non-indigenous population and on the media. They also intend to begin holding their own leadership and their national governments accountable to the Platform For Action once it has incorporated language changes.
"Whatever happens," Blaney said, "we are learning by meeting each other and working together."