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Prepared by Canada, Responsible Coordinator, Indigenous Populations


At the Santiago Summit greater prominence was assigned to the situation of Indigenous Populations, through the inclusion of a distinct agenda item in the Plan of Action. Leaders agreed to promote the participation of indigenous peoples in society, through adequate access to education, health care, and occupational training, with the aim of improving their standard of living. At the Santiago Summit of the Americas, the Canadian government accepted the role of Responsible Coordinator for Indigenous Populations./1

Since 1998, there has been important progress towards the improvement of the status of Indigenous Populations in the Americas. The purpose of this review is to: 

  1. take stock of our progress to date on implementing the action items concerning Indigenous Populations; and 

  1. provide a basis for discussion at the SIRG to begin to look ahead to how the situation of Indigenous Populations can be advanced further at the Quebec City Summit. 

In its role as the Responsible Coordinator for Indigenous Populations, the Government of Canada sent a survey to all member states of the OAS in December 1999. The survey sought input on the progress which has been made in implementing those portions of the Plan of Action of the Summit which deal with Indigenous Populations. The Government of Canada wishes to express its appreciation for the submissions received from governments, on which this report has been based. 

The 1998 Summit Action Plan adopted in Santiago calls on member states to undertake the following activities: 

  • Support activities in the field of education aimed at improving the participation of indigenous populations and communities in society. Such activities would seek to strengthen the identity of indigenous populations and promote respectful coexistence among different social groups in communities and States.
  • Promote the widening of basic and secondary education services with training orientation, mainly in regions with high percentages of indigenous populations, through greater support from Governments and international cooperation, at the request of interested Governments, so that indigenous and non-indigenous populations have the opportunity to receive technical training and contribute to the development of their countries. To the extent possible, the training areas which are implemented parallel to educational processes should respond to the needs of the region and to productive strategies.
  • In cooperation with regional organizations, development institutions and NGOs, actively support and promote capacity building activities and productive projects, including agriculture, handicrafts, small trade and industry and marketing. To the extent possible, these should be guided and administered by indigenous populations.
  • Facilitate the organization of roundtables at the national and hemispheric level, in partnership with indigenous populations, with a view to promoting greater understanding of and cooperation in the areas of education and health, with a particular emphasis on women and children. Governments will also promote research initiatives on the relationship between indigenous populations, poverty and development.
  • Proceed with inter-governmental examination within the Organization of American States (OAS) framework of the "Proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations" prepared by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, with a view toward the possible adoption of a Declaration.

In addition to these action items located under Indigenous Populations in the "Eradication of Poverty and Discrimination" basket, a separate agenda item on property registration was introduced into the Santiago Action Plan which includes reference to Indigenous Populations. /2  As Responsible Coordinator for property registration, the USA will report on this issue at the 18th SIRG. An additional reference to Indigenous Populations is also found within the "Education" basket of the Action Plan. /3

Education and Training 

Many countries in the Americas are taking steps to recognize the rights and identities of indigenous peoples. In particular, a number of countries have passed constitutional reforms recognizing that their societies are multi-cultural and guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples. Many countries with large indigenous populations now recognize native languages and promote bilingual and inter-cultural education. As a result of this, children are now studying textbooks printed in their native languages.

In Argentina, the National Institute for Indigenous affairs (INAI) has focused on arranging for more scholarships to enable indigenous people to attend secondary and post-secondary institutions, including universities. In Chile, gains have been made in the formulation of a strategy to promote cultural issues and Intercultural Bilingual Education (IBE). By virtue of a formal agreement, Chile’s National Corporation for the Advancement of Indigenous Peoples (CONADI) and the Ministry of Education, have been focusing their efforts to come up with a policy in this regard. Furthermore, a special scholarship facility has been established for indigenous students enrolled in basic education and secondary and university studies, and a program to train indigenous technicians and professionals has been established. 

In Costa Rica, progress has been made on the drafting and consultation process required to produce a bill titled "Law Regarding Self-Managed Development of Indigenous Peoples". In accordance with this law, an Indigenous Education Department is to be established within the national Ministry of Education. The mission of this Department will be to develop and run indigenous education programs designed to preserve and invigorate indigenous culture, educate the non-indigenous population about that culture, and instill respect for indigenous heritage. 

The Brazilian Education Department of the National Foundation for Indians (FUNAI), has a program of support for the training/development of teachers and technicians in indigenous inter-cultural education. This program aims to preserve the educational and cultural identity of indigenous communities. There is also a program which supports the schooling of indigenous students by helping to ensure the continuation of their studies at schools located in urban centers.

In 1998, Canada announced Gathering Strength: Canada’s Aboriginal Action Plan, designed to renew the relationship with the Aboriginal people of Canada. Built on the principles of mutual respect, mutual recognition, mutual responsibility and sharing, it begins with a Statement of Reconciliation that expresses and acknowledges the mistakes and injustices of the past. 

Under Gathering Strength, some 250 education reform projects have been undertaken across Canada involving provincial or territorial governments, the federal government and Aboriginal groups. For example, a Memorandum of Understanding between British Columbia, First Nations, federal government, school trustees and other interested groups will tie payments for education to student performance. The aim is to reduce gaps in education performance. The Manitoba Education Resource Centre is receiving funding. Further funding is being provided to innovative projects for First Nation communities, both for the classroom (first level) and for the school board (second level). Outcomes are seen as improvement of enrolment rates of ages 6 to 16 (currently 90 percent) and reduction of the gap between enrolment rates of First Nations and other Canadians.

In Peru, a number of projects for improving the health and education programs in indigenous communities have been approved by the government. In particular, attention is being focussed on supporting the use of traditional medicines in these communities. Support has also been given to a number of issues affecting indigenous women, including the organization of activities for International Women’s Day. 

In the United States, the Department of Education (DOE) has expanded its outreach efforts in indigenous communities by: 1) fully supporting and participating in the National American Indian Alaska Native Education Summit; 2) actively participating in the annual conferences of the National Indian Education Association, the National Congress of American Indians, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the National Indian School Boards Association; and 3) visiting and providing technical assistance to over 300 Indian education projects throughout the nation. 

In the area of technical training, the Bureau of Reclamation: funded programs at Central Washington and Arizona State Universities, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute and the Hualapai Indian Tribal Council to further natural and cultural resource training for Indian students; provided instructors or funding for technical water resources training programs for Indian students at New Mexico State University, Haskell University and Cispus Learning Center; and provided specialized technical training programs for several Tribes in such areas as water measurement, water flow models, irrigation system operations and maintenance and municipal, rural and industrial water supply systems. 

Capacity Building 

Regional organizations have made progress in their efforts to address the needs of Indigenous Populations. More specifically, these groups have changed specific policies addressed to meet the needs of indigenous peoples, recognizing that many of the projects they were financing had potential negative effects on their communities. Most recently, international organizations have been financing projects specifically designed to foster indigenous development, thus taking a proactive as well as reactive approach. Indigenous Populations have played a key role in the design and implementation of these projects. 

In 1994, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) created the Indigenous Peoples’ Fund to serve as a focal point for IDB policies and lending operations in this field. The Fund has financed projects for bilingual education and health and nutrition projects. A training program for indigenous technical specialists is currently underway; this program arranges working internships in international agencies for indigenous professionals and horizontal technical assistance between indigenous peoples and communities. A project is also being financed in Peru to strengthen the government’s Indigenous Populations Program Unit and provide technical support to the Confederation of Nationalities of the Peruvian Amazon. /4

In Argentina, efforts are being made to strengthen native institutions and to improve the housing, household incomes and health systems found in indigenous communities. In Chile, there is greater systematic support for urban indigenous micro-enterprise programs, as concrete diagnostic studies and proposals take shape. More and more indigenous micro-entrepreneurs are forming partnerships or moving to other forms of association, for which they require specialized advisory assistance. 

In Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs and the Counsellor for International Indigenous Issues have played key roles in promoting indigenous issues at the international level. In December 1998, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) made an historic first address by an Indigenous Leader to the Permanent Council of the OAS, in which he set out the AFN’s vision for the development of constructive relations between the Indigenous Populations of the Americas and between Indigenous Populations and the member states of the OAS. 

In addition to multilateral relations within the OAS system, the AFN is also active bilaterally in the Americas. In 1998, the AFN in partnership with the Government of Canada, opened a dialogue on Indigenous issues with the Government of Mexico and participated in a joint Parliamentary/AFN mission to monitor elections in Chiapas, Mexico. The AFN and members of the Metis National Council have also participated in trade missions to the Americas. In February 1999, the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI). The goal of the MOU is to promote cooperation within the economic, social and commercial spheres between the parties involved. 

In September 1999, the Aboriginal International Business Development Committee drafted a federal inter-departmental Aboriginal International Business Development Action Plan (AIBD Plan) and in December 1999, they launched the Directory of Aboriginal Exporters

In November 1999, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT) and the Chilean Economic Development Agency (CORFO) signed a Memorandum Of Understanding on International Business Development for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises. A key component of this memorandum, is the recognition that women and indigenous entrepreneurs in both Canada and Chile own businesses whose growth and international business development is important for the small and medium-sized business community and the economy as a whole. 


There has been progress made to date on the organization of roundtables, dealing with indigenous issues, both at the national and hemispheric levels. Through dialogue and collective action, these round-tables have expanded the breadth and depth of our hemispheric linkages. 

In Brazil, the education department of FUNAI has organized seminars and meetings between teachers and indigenous leaders. Examples of these meetings include the III Meeting of Oral and Written Languages of Indigenous Societies, and the II Seminar on Indigenous School Education. 

In Chile, a Working Group on indigenous policy has been assembled. The mandate of this advisory body is to promote policies, plans, programs, and initiatives to improve the quality of life of national ethnic groups.

 In February 1999, the Canadian government announced substantial investments in Aboriginal health issues, including funding for a First Nations and Inuit Health Information System to allow for better tracking of health outcomes. Additional funding has been provided for an Aboriginal Health Institute to develop greater expertise on health problems. An Aboriginal Diabetes Strategy is being developed while the Canadian Prenatal Nutrition Program and related activities to deal with fetal alcohol syndrome have been expanded. A national roundtable on sexual and reproductive health was held with indigenous representatives and sponsored by Health Canada. 

In March 2000, the Assembly of First Nations in Canada will co-sponsor with the Canadian Centre for Foreign Policy Development, a roundtable on hemispheric indigenous issues. 

American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations 

Progress is being made in the work by OAS member states on the proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations, which the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights presented to the General Assembly in 1997. Pursuant to a General Assembly resolution, the Inter-American Juridical Committee presented its analysis of the proposed text to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the OAS Permanent Council.

 On February 10-12, 1999, the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs convened a meeting of government experts at OAS headquarters in accordance with pertinent resolutions of the General Assembly. The Chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights presented the proposed Declaration explaining its background and the various articles of the document. A presentation was also given on the process of consultation of governments, indigenous representatives, and other experts in this area. 

For the first time in the Organization’s history, there was dialogue between representatives of the member States and indigenous representatives from all parts of the Hemisphere on the contents of the proposed American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Populations. The government delegations of the OAS member States listened to the presentations of the indigenous organizations and completed the review of the preamble of the proposed Declaration. During the course of this process, an Ad Hoc Indigenous Committee of the Americas was created that was composed of representatives of different indigenous communities. The purpose of the Committee is to participate more effectively in the drafting and negotiation of the Declaration, and to voice the priorities of indigenous communities. During this meeting, the following recommendations were approved: 

  1. To continue to examine the Proposed Declaration based on the results of the Meeting of Government Experts; and
  1. To seek such advisory services as may be necessary from national institutions and entities of the inter-American system, as well as from non governmental organizations of indigenous representatives.

The Working Group to Consider the Proposed Declaration held its first meeting at OAS Headquarters in Washington D.C., November 8-12, 1999. Following five days of intense deliberation, the Group concluded its first meeting in which representatives of the Inter-American bodies, member states, and indigenous communities from all parts of the Hemisphere participated. The meetings were presided by the Chair of the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs. The Working Group concluded a first reading of the Proposed Declaration and registered a number of observations made by the participants. In accordance with procedures previously agreed upon by the member States, representatives of the indigenous communities commented on the various articles of the proposed Declaration. Their interventions were recorded in the report of the Chair of the Working Group. 

The progress achieved on the draft Declaration over the course of 1999 is significant. Praise for the year’s achievements, including real dialogue between states and indigenous peoples, was voiced both by government delegations and indigenous representatives when implementation of indigenous items was considered at the 18 February 2000 open meeting of the OAS Special Committee on Inter-American Summits Management. If anticipation of future steady progress was strongly voiced, so too was the need for a reliable resource base to ensure that discussions on the draft Declaration continue. Both government and indigenous representatives expressed the hope that the 2001 Summit in Québec City would give a strong boost to continued progress on the draft Declaration. 

Next Steps 

It is important to recognize that there has been good progress in addressing the issue of Indigenous Populations since Santiago. To build on this we must work to encourage further multilateral and bilateral dialogue and cooperation among states. Indigenous-to-indigenous contacts have been made stronger, and it is only through encouragement and facilitation that these contacts will increase. Dialogue between indigenous peoples and governments remains crucial to further promoting the rights of indigenous peoples and making progress on practical issues affecting their lives. This dialogue will result in increased understanding and will provide the forum required to forge ahead with real change. Efforts must also be made to further engage International Financial Institutions in projects which focus on helping indigenous peoples to achieve their economic, social and cultural goals.

At this juncture, the XVIII SIRG will provide the opportunity to take stock of our implementation of Santiago mandates. It will also be the moment to look ahead. The hemispheric Summit process is an opportunity to share our experiences, to develop a constructive dialogue, to gain understanding of our common concerns, and to build a confident and forward looking agenda for action.

/1  This report is solely a record of the input received from member states of the OAS and does not imply acceptance of the usage of either the expression "indigenous peoples," "indigenous people" or "indigenous populations." In the report all three terms are used without prejudice to the positions of particular member states, where divergence of approach remains.

/2  Under the Property Registration Item in the Santiago Action Plan:

In accord with national legal frameworks, implement measures, where necessary, to protect rights of indigenous populations, as well as information programs, if needed, to assure greater awareness of indigenous populations of their rights, in this respect.

/3  Under the Education basket in the Santiago Action Plan:

Establish or improve, according to their internal legal framework, educational strategies relevant to multicultural societies, so as to be able to shape, with the participation of indigenous populations and migrants, models for bilingual and inter cultural basic education. Similarly, the content of basic education will have to be enhanced, together with respect and appreciation for the cultural diversity of peoples, as well as to expand the knowledge of the different languages spoken in the countries of the Hemisphere, where resources and possibilities permit.

/4  Inter-American Indian Institute, Report on Actions Taken by Different International Organizations to Promote the Rights of Indigenous Populations, October 1999.

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