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Dr Margaret Mutu: Update from the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meeting in New York – Saturday 12 May 2012
It has certainly been a very busy week here in New York with many meetings taking place at a range of levels.
In the Permanent Forum itself the session on WIPO (the World Intellectual Property (/Piracy) Organisation) on Thursday saw sparks flying as almost all Indigenous representatives attacked the Organisation. Although WIPO is made up of representatives of States, it is driven by multi-national corporates determined to take control and make money out of commodifying the cultures and knowledge of Indigenous peoples and perpetuating the heinous Doctrine of Discovery.
The Wai 262 claim, led for us in Te Hiku o Te Ika by Saana Murray and Dell Wihongi, was about protecting Maori culture and knowledge, including our language, and so Moana Jackson prepared a very strongly worded statement attacking WIPO and supporting the walkout staged by Indigenous representatives at the last WIPO meeting in February. The statement also attacked the New Zealand government’s on-going refusal to either adhere to Te Tiriti o Waitangi or to protect Maori intellectual property rights. It made recommendations about WIPO engaging with Indigenous peoples in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and resiling from the racist ideology that ‘everything is commodifiable and ownable as property’; asking the Permanent Forum to encourage the New Zealand government to engage more honestly with Wai 262 claimants and to acknowledge their authority to protect their traditional knowledge and contemporary knowledge. The statement drew strong support from Indigenous representatives from round the world.
Many other Indigenous representatives made equally strong or even stronger statements. Many called for WIPO to be disestablished. The North American Indian representatives had 100 t-shirts made condemning WIPO as the World Intellectual Piracy Organisation and distributed them amongst the delegations to wear during the session. It made a very impressive sight as the proceedings were being televised to an over-flow room although there were, of course, nowhere near enough to go round and many missed out on them (the Maori delegation all wore them). The discomfort of WIPO and the States became clear as they tried to prevent some delegations speaking. Unfortunately it appeared that the States had been able to get to at least some of the Permanent Forum members. As a result, rather than them all supporting and representing us as they are supposed to, some of them were more concerned with WIPO being able to get on with its work.
Concern at infiltration by states and non-Indigenous people that has been simmering for several months now finally surfaced in the Pacific caucus yesterday. A Pakeha who has backing from some Hawaiians had been causing havoc in the Pacific caucus and so after long discussions with our Hawaiian whanaunga that I have known for many years, we decided to raise it yesterday. We were very pleased that the Rapanui representative has now arrived and although the Pakeha had his Hawaiian backers attack us for questioning the Pakeha’s involvement, in the end it was the Rapanui representative who made it very clear that the Pakeha’s behaviour was totally unacceptable and made him apologise. However the debate also revealed infiltration from states and this is undermining the credibility of those participating in the Permanent Forum.
In the Pacific Caucus, there is some very disturbing evidence emerging of the struggles and difficulties being experienced in Rapanui, West Papua, Kanaky (New Caledonia) and Tahiti. Each are calling for decolonisation – removal of Pakeha control and returning these countries to the control of their indigenous peoples. Aotearoa and Australia, where Indigenous peoples are grossly outnumbered by colonisers, are a long way from being able to take back control of our countries.
Another issue that is causing consternation is a proposed UN organised World Conference on Indigenous Peoples scheduled to take place in 2014. It has become clear that this will be a conference for states to discuss Indigenous peoples, rather than Indigenous peoples discussing their issues, and that the states intend to keep the Indigenous presence to less than a hundred people whom they will approve. Resistance to such a clear violation of the UNDRIP, which all states have now signed up to, has been building. Yesterday we met with part of the North Amercian Indian caucus and resolved to call a series of World Conferences of Indigenous Peoples to be convened and controlled by Indigenous peoples and to be independent of the United Nations structures, including the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. I have noticed a marked shift in the level of confidence in the UN and the Permanent Forum since my attendance here in 2009. It is a pity but not unexpected given the intransigence of states like New Zealand to ever properly address the issues that Indigenous peoples have been raising in the UN for over 30 years now. Nevertheless I am still hopeful that the report that the Permanent Forum draws up from this meeting will support us, especially on the abhorrent and heinous Doctrine of Discovery that so many Pakeha states, including New Zealand have relied on to take over Indigenous lands, resources and lives. We have continued to work with Valmaine Toki (the Pacific representative member of the Forum) and I will be speaking with her before I leave for home tomorrow to ascertain whether the states have effectively hobbled the Forum members.
While the meetings and work here have been demanding, our whanaunga from Hawaii and North American have looked after us wonderfully. The North Americans treated us to a sumptuous feast of their traditional foods, including buffalo meat, to honour us as their guests. They also took us downtown to visit various places, including the National American Indian museum and an amazing bookshop. We are hugely grateful to them. After a couple of days of hard work we went out to dinner with our Hawaiian whanaunga. We had a marvellous time catching up, laughing and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. It has been great for those of us who have worked with these people over several decades to catch up with old friends, and good to be able to introduce our Te Rarawa whanaunga to some of today’s great Indigenous leaders and thinkers who have fought long and hard on the world stage for Indigenous rights.
Nga mihi aroha