Intervention to the Seventh Session of the
United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues 2008
Submitted by the Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development
Agenda Item 3: Special theme: Climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of Indigenous peoples and new challenges
Protection of Water
Thank you, Madame Chair, for the opportunity of addressing the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The Seventh Generation Fund for Indian Development, an Indigenous Peoples’ non-governmental organization directly engaged with Indigenous communities and Nations to design and implement ecologically and culturally harmonious strategies for sovereignty, human rights, environmental and social justice, sacred sites protection, and the revitalization of traditional economies, submits this intervention on Agenda Item 3, under the Special theme of Climate Change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of Indigenous peoples and new challenges, with the following signatories: American Indian Law Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network, Andes Chinchasuyo, Native Youth Coalition, Centre for Organization Research and Education, Advocates for the Protection of Sacred Sites, Laguna Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment, Western Shoshone Defense Project, Tonatierra, Mainyoito Pastoralists Integrated Development Organization, Idiwanan An Chawe (Zuni), and the UNPFII Youth Caucus.
For the last three years our organization and co-signatories have addressed the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on the Protection of Water as a human right, and we are honored to do so again under this year’s special theme. In this regard, we call for the recognition of Water as essential to Life, crucial for bio-cultural diversity and for sustaining all aspects of Indigenous Peoples’ survival and well-being, including assuring our physical health, nurturing our spiritual development, and central for the continued vitality of our cultures and traditional livelihoods. We recognize that Water is the most vulnerable element of all forms of Life in light of Climate Change and its impacts. Time is of the essence. We must take action now as some places are flooded and others stricken with drought. With this in mind, we urgently reiterate the critical significance of protecting Water sources and Indigenous Peoples’ full, unencumbered access to clean Water on our territories and advance these recommendations.
1. We appeal to the Permanent Forum to strongly advocate for the establishment of a United Nations International Year for Water which can among other mandates, conduct focused research and emphasize critical concerns of Water in relation to Indigenous Peoples and Nations of the world against the backdrop of tremendous impacts on the accessibility, potability, and holistic integrity of Water, due to Climate Change.
2. We further implore that the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues call for a study on Water and then, the immediate appointment of a United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Protection of Water and Water Catchment Areas in order to gather testimony directly from Indigenous Nations of the world targeted for or impacted by Water privatization, diversion, toxic contamination, dams, pollution, commodification, non-sustainable energy development, and other environmental injustices that damage natural, potable, and accessible Water supplies on which Indigenous Peoples rely for spiritual and nutritional sustenance. We recall that this recommendation was carried forth by the Permanent Forum to the Economic and Social Development Council when we first requested this in 2005, and we ask that this appeal is recognized and advanced by this body to ECOSOC again this year.
3. We strongly urge that the Permanent Forum recommend to ECOSOC to call for the coordination of an official UN Experts Meeting on Water that initiates a close review and assessment of Water allocation, regulation and access policies that affect the rights of Indigenous Nations, the health of our Peoples and that of future generations. This high level Experts Meeting on Water can explore and establish indicators of Water Well-being for Indigenous Nations, and the world community, particularly in light of increasing negative Water impacts due to Climate Change. This meeting can share the information about traditional use of Water in order to recover the ceremonies, appropriate esoteric language terms, and protocols in relation to Water.
4. We ask that the Permanent Forum take immediate steps for its participation in the 2009 Policy Session of the Third Implementation Cycle of the 17th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-17) that will focus on the following thematic issues, as they relate to water issues and Indigenous Peoples’ rights: agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification, and Africa. And, that the Permanent Forum will coordinate with the CSD’s Indigenous partnership organizations.
5. That the Permanent Forum take steps through ECOSOC to facilitate a meeting with UN Water, that coordinates the UN Decade on Water 2005-2015, the UN World Water Day, March 20th, and the International Decade for Action – “Water for Life,” 2005-2015 with a goal to identify protective, preventive and restorative mechanisms for our Waters and to assure that Water is accessible to Indigenous Peoples, as well as to repair our diverse ecosystems that rely on the health of natural Water flows where they have been damaged or exploited.
6. We also condemn the use of national militaries and corporate private armies employed to prevent Indigenous communities’ access to their traditional Water sources for drinking, agriculture, fishing, transport and ceremonies. We call on the Permanent Forum to take leadership in working with ECOSOC to denounce repressive actions and call for a halt to such abuse of security forces and legislation that inappropriately justifies this.
7. We affirm President Evo Morales call for a UN Convention on Water, and further, that Indigenous Peoples participate in the development of that convention.
8. That the Permanent Forum call for a World Conference on Water and Peace in collaboration with Indigenous Nations.
9. Any initiatives on Water must observe and recognize all articles of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
We call it kyawe, pa’a, and mni; Water. The significance of Water is expressed in a rainbow of songs, stories, and ceremonies, holding a potent place in our cultures, linking us together in a continuous, Life affirming cycle. And yet, increasingly, our territories are either parched or flooded – being destroyed by the unquenchable greed of industrialization, a feature of colonization. Springs that our ancestors emerged from within the womb of Mother Earth, the precious watersheds that feed our lakes and fields and sustain our bodies, and rivers that carry our prayers to the forever after, are being contaminated, dammed, diverted, and siphoned. Ancient glaciers are fast melting into the sea, displacing our peoples, threatening our coastal zones with submersion and endangering the continuity of all Life. These are the ever increasing impacts of Climate Change.
Human rights violations, including the ongoing invasions onto Indigenous territories, and the attendant wrongful taking of our natural resources, particularly the nearly unhindered exploitation, diversion and commodification of Water, obstruct critically needed access to our Waterways and threaten the survival of Indigenous Peoples and of our distinct cultures. These assaults have direct and tremendously destructive impacts and further impoverish our already vulnerable, besieged Peoples, and threaten our cultural continuity.
Air poisons us and the rain burns. The land, our Mother Earth, bleeds toxins. Water is undrinkable, or further unreachable. Our ancestors and leaders have prophecies that foretell of these changes now occurring across the globe. And, we must be proactive in finding ways to survive because the Natural Law – the spiritual justice that is unfolding in response to assaults against the Earth - will have no mercy. The incredible, negative effects of Climate Change on Indigenous Peoples’ potable Water systems and accessibility are a new challenge with which our Nations are faced. It is exacerbated by the continuing privatization and exploitation of Water and other resources on our territories by ever-thirsty multi-national corporations, shortsighted governmental development policies, and encroachment activities by non-indigenous settlements. This forces us into poverty and pushes us further to the edge of existence, where many are already barely holding on by their fingertips for survival.
As different strategies are created to respond to Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples’ retain our right to free, prior, and informed consent before any development takes place on our territories, by any outside entities, including the World Bank and States, whose actions may impact or abrogate our aboriginal and/or treaty rights including the human right of access to clean Water for all aspects of our life. In fact we maintain that Indigenous Peoples have a right to say “no” to halt any development on our territories because we know that what some may consider sustainable solutions to Climate Change such as agro-fuels production, mega-hydroelectric dams or hydro-geothermal development does in fact, displace our Peoples, exploit our territories, subvert our cultures, and further oppress the accessibility and health of our water systems and homelands.
Esteemed members of this Forum, Indigenous women throughout the world who often have the primary responsibility of locating and carrying Water for the survival of their families, and may risk their lives to do so, now find only dust instead of Water. In too many places, a polluted stream is our only source of Water. And in too many places, our peoples are struck down by waterborne and vector borne disease, due to the lack of accessible, clean water on our territories caused by Climate Change. We hunger and can no longer plant our gardens, not because we have forgotten how to nurture life from a seed, but because without access to Water, our crops cannot flourish, and we cannot thrive without them.
Brothers and sisters of the world, what were once rich landscapes awake with forests and gardens, rivers and cornfields, alive with animals and birds, and a harmonious biodiversity of Indigenous cultures, are quickly becoming parched lands which only our tears can soften. Soon, even our most lush lands will be barren. Soon, even our tears will dry up and we will only have blood in our eyes as the wars for oil transform into Water Wars that shroud the globe in a clash which humanity cannot survive. Too many of us are already dying of thirst. Our children, and the generations to come, will inherit this conflict and it is for them that we call upon the Permanent Forum and offer this intervention, for the Water - the essence of Life, for world peace.
Elahkwa – thank you.
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Censored News is published by censored journalist Brenda Norrell. A journalist for 27 years, Brenda lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, writing for Navajo Times, AP, USA Today, Lakota Times and other American Indian publications. After being censored and then terminated by Indian Country Today in 2006, she began the Censored Blog to document the most censored issues. She currently serves as human rights editor for the U.N. OBSERVER & International Report at the Hague and contributor to Sri Lanka Guardian, Narco News and CounterPunch. She was cohost of the 5-month Longest Walk Talk Radio across America, with Earthcycles Producer Govinda Dalton in 2008: www.earthcycles.net/
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