By Victoria Tauli-Corpuz
Indigenous people have always had to struggle to be heard at the United Nations. It is never a given that we will have a voice in international institutions, and indeed we have often had to protest on the margins before being granted our rightful seat at the table.
The groundbreaking 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was the product of decades of advocacy from indigenous peoples from around the world. It took years until the UN finally started to draft the declaration in 1982, and formal discussions only began in 1995. At that time, we were told that we were not allowed to speak in the negotiations. We could only observe. But we refused to legitimise yet another decision made about us without our participation or consent, so we walked out, and won the right to participate formally.
The declaration that resulted is still at the heart of indigenous peoples’ global advocacy. It recognises our unique rights as peoples who have suffered generations of violence, discrimination, land grabbing and the denial of our right to our customary lands. Since its adoption, it has been the basis for numerous victories in the form of new laws recognising our land ownership, titles granted for indigenous territories, court decisions that uphold our rights and increased participation in international platforms.
Our standing at the UN has come a long way since we walked out of the declaration negotiations. Indigenous voices are heard far more often in New York, Geneva and other international platforms. Indigenous leaders from around the world now participate in every major climate conference. We are part of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, and there is growing recognition of our contributions to sustainable development and climate change. I am proud to be the first indigenous woman to be appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.
Challenges remain, of course. It can be difficult to meet governments and international actors when the reality on the ground so often still involves violence, legal harassment and the failure to recognise our rights – but we have a lot of cause for hope. Much more than in the past, indigenous peoples have a voice in discussions about their rights. I only hope the world will listen.
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Published in RACE IN GLOBAL AFFAIRS, 1-2018, UNA-UK.
This post is also available in: Spanish