PRESENTATION BY THE ASSEMBLY OF FIRST NATIONS
Head Office: Territory of Akwesasne, RR#3, Cornwall Island, Ontario K6H 5R7
Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Commission, on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), I am grateful for the opportunity today to make this statement to the Special Commission on Inter-American Summit Management. 1 wish to address agenda item no. 4: Indigenous Populations.
The Assembly of First Nations is a representative and democratic national political organization comprising 633 Indigenous communities throughout Canada.
The Assembly of First Nations has established itself as a consistent and credible representative of Indigenous Peoples of Canada within the OAS and the Inter-American system, and intends to maintain this presence. As you are aware Mr. Chairman, through the assistance of your office, the National Chief of the AFN, Mr. Phil Fontaine made an historic address to the Permanent Council of the OAS in December 1998. At that time, National Chief Fontaine laid out a vision for constructive relations between the Indigenous Peoples and the nation states of the Americas. The AFN has continued, through various initiatives, to build bilateral and multilateral relationships with indigenous counterparts, with governments and with institutions of the Inter-American system.
In Canada, effective protection of the human rights, and improvement of the social and economic circumstances, of Indigenous Peoples remain considerable challenges. Nevertheless, the Indigenous Peoples and the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Governments of Canada have found ways of engaging in constructive dialogue and negotiations to achieve slow but steady progress on these difficult issues, within the national legal and constitutional framework. Consultations on domestic and international issues affecting Indigenous Peoples take place on a regular basis between the Government of Canada and Indigenous governments, organizations and communities.
Some countries have not had the opportunity, or will, to develop consultative mechanisms with Indigenous Peoples. As past and current events in the Americas demonstrate, the absence of dialogue leading to amelioration of the conditions of Indigenous Peoples, and the continued exclusion of Indigenous Peoples from participation in the affairs of states, can have tragic and profound consequences.
We have valuable experience in dialogue and engagement and stand willing to share this experience with others to consider, adapt and apply, where and when it may be deemed appropriate.
As the Organization of American States approaches its 30th General Assembly and the 3rd Summit of the Americas, both to be held in and hosted by Canada, we are mindful of the opportunities and responsibilities which this honour brings to our country and, for the Indigenous Peoples in Canada, to our ancient homeland. In partnership with the Government of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations intends to play a leadership role in coordinating a constructive and unique contribution to the Hemispheric Summit process by the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas.
In this respect, 1 would make reference to the comments made by the Honourable Lloyd. Axworthy, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada, when he addressed the Permanent Council of the OAS on February 11. Minister Axworthy noted the progress being made on consideration of the proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations.
The Assembly of First Nations participated in the meeting of government experts on the Declaration that was convened at OAS headquarters by the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs in February 1999, and in the first meeting of the Working Group on the Proposed American Declaration held in November 1999. We look forward to continuing this important work.
However, this process must be seen in its context. In 1989, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was charged with the task of consulting with member states and Indigenous Peoples and developing a draft document. Eight years later, in 1997 the Commission presented its report to the General Assembly. Two years later, in 1999, the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs convened a government experts' meeting, which led to a General Assembly resolution establishing a working group to continue consideration of the Proposed Declaration.
Although it took 10 years to reach this point, we regard the establishment of the working group, the convening of its first session and its generally successful outcome - all within a space of 5 months - as positive developments. In particular, we note the flexibility shown by the OAS in providing for unprecedented direct participation in the process by Indigenous Peoples. It is a good example of what can be done if the will exists. For this, we acknowledge and express our appreciation to the OAS and particularly to Secretary-General Gaviria and to Ambassador Heller of Mexico, Chairperson of the CAJP and of the working group.
The Assembly of First Nations, as with all Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, wishes to have the process on the Proposed Declaration continue to proceed with this momentum, and with the positive and constructive tone shown by most parties over the last year. We are, however, very concerned about the uncertainty of commitment to an ongoing process. We urge that decisions be made without delay on the time and location of the next working group meeting and on the consideration of inter-sessional work that may assist the working group. Of course, there will always be differing views on key concepts of the Declaration but this is no reason not to proceed with its consideration. It would be a travesty not to seize upon the present opportunity to advance the dialogue and understanding concerning the contents of the proposed instrument.
As this process so clearly demonstrates, there is a pressing need, and an opportunity, to continue to build trust and dialogue between governments and between governments and Indigenous Peoples, both at national and hemispheric levels.
In his address to the Permanent Council last week, Foreign Minister Axworthy also observed that, at the request of Secretary-General Gaviria and in partnership with Mexico, the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations are prepared to consult with both states and Indigenous Peoples about revitalizing the Inter-American Indian Institute (IAII). We believe that such efforts at renewal of institutions of the Inter-American system will be of positive benefit to both member states and to the needs of all sectors of our societies. The Institute itself has acknowledged the need for a new institutional relationship between Indigenous populations and States, and has undertaken steps to begin this process, including requesting the assistance of the Assembly of First Nations. We look forward to contributing to the efforts of the IAII and others in this worthy endeavour. We trust that this unique initiative will receive the support and participation of the OAS and its members, and of the Indigenous Peoples of the hemisphere.
The creation a more inclusive and effective Inter-American Indian Institute, along with the adoption of an acceptable Declaration, could be an outstanding and enduring legacy of the 3rd Summit of the Americas.
The Assembly of First Nations and the Government of Canada are developing other initiatives to facilitate meaningful and constructive indigenous participation in the Summit process.
We believe that the interests and needs of Indigenous Peoples of the Americas are woven throughout the issues likely to considered for the Plan of Action of the Quebec City Summit in 2001 and that this should be reflected in an appropriate manner in that document.
It is our hope that through a process of consultation with other Indigenous Peoples the Assembly of First Nations, with the support of Canada, other member states and the institutions of the OAS, may facilitate the development of a coherent, comprehensive, constructive and consensual statement on the perspectives and priorities of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, a statement that may be useful to the preparation of the next Plan of Action and to future implementation initiatives.
As our National Chief, Phil Fontaine said to the OAS Permanent Council in 1998: "We invite your Governments to actively support the participation of the Indigenous Peoples of your countries to join with us and the Government of Canada to make these hemispheric events the foundation of a new millennium for all Indigenous Peoples and nations of the Americas".
Assembly of First Nations