April 22, 2015
On the occasion of world Earth Day, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), with the kind support of the Nando Peretti Foundation, will be convening an international conference on indigenous rights entitled “Indigenous Peoples – Invisible Peoples”. This conference will be hosted by Francisco Assis MEP (S&D) on the 22 April 2015 from 15:00 to 18:00 at the European Parliament in Brussels, and will offer a platform to share perspectives, explore best practices and find possible strategies for improvement, drawing on the experiences of indigenous representatives, activists, academic experts and engaged politicians focusing, in particular, on the largely unknown, underreported and isolated cases of the Haratin in Mauritania, Batwa in Rwanda, Mapuche in Chile, Awá in Brazil and Degar-Montagnards in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Indigenous peoples around the world share an integral association with their natural environments both economically and culturally. As such, any exploitation of natural resources found in their lands poses a threat to their natural environment, culture and livelihoods. In this regard, the Awá tribe located in the rainforests of Brazil is one of the most threatened and last uncontacted tribes in the world. The tribe is increasingly under threat by illegal settlement and logging on their lands, as they depend on the forest for their survival.
Meanwhile, the Batwa, also called the pygmies of Rwanda, find that land confiscation and new economic systems are diluting their environmentally safe, sustainable, traditional livelihoods. In acknowledging that adaption is crucial for survival, new generations are seeking to undertake innovative traditional techniques in agriculture and artisanal craftsmanship.
Language is an important part of one’s identity. Years of misrepresentation, authoritarian rule, migration, and disregard to the Mapuche elder’s hierarchical status has eroded much of the traditional culture and divided communities. The indigenous language, the Mapudungun, is intertwined with acute poverty, land issues, preservation of culture and community cohesion.
Reconstructing community histories is a vital part of protecting group identity, creating community cohesion and learning from the past to create better futures. A large proportion of the ethnic Degar-Montagnard population from Vietnam has resettled and preserving their language and knowledge accrued through painful experiences is challenging within their diaspora community.
Whole communities can be denied their most basic freedoms because of their culture and ethnicity. This is the situation facing the Haratin, who constitute the largest minority group in Mauritania and the most politically and economically marginalized in a society deeply stratified by race and class. After centuries of enslavement, approximately half of the Haratin community languish in conditions of de facto slavery through domestic servitude and bonded or forced labor.
These five groups from Asia, the Americas and Africa confront similar obstacles on a daily basis despite their geographical dispersion. Threats to their indigenous land, resources and traditional cultures have also made an assault on their community cohesion. These commonalities can be addressed through positive action that assists their adaptation, builds community and youth capacity, reconstructs histories, preserves and promotes language and protects natural resources. Inter-cultural dialogue both between different indigenous groups, and with non-indigenous groups, is also paramount to creating greater harmony in societies in which different cultures coexist.
The aim of this conference will be to build on the advances in international thinking and action on indigenous issues by raising awareness about the myriad struggles encountered by invisible indigenous groups, including how to effectively preserve their collective indigenous identities, protect their land and natural environments, promote their linguistic and cultural heritage, and ensure the empowerment of women. The first panel of the conference will focus on the central role of the environment for indigenous rights and the impact of its exploitation on their livelihoods, culture and cosmovision. The speakers of the second panel will discuss the obstacles and opportunities for the preservation of cultural heritage, language and indigenous identity. Renown photojournalist Luca Catalano Gonzaga will deliver an opening speech, sharing his experience working with largely unknown indigenous communities across the world.
Panel I: Exploitation and the Environment
Demarcation & Recognition: What does it mean for Indigenous Peoples in Brazil? - Ms Janete Capiberibe/Member of Brazilian Parliament (PSB)
The EU and Indigenous Rights in South America: Obstacles, Challenges, Competences and Opportunities - Adrianus Koetsenruijter/Head of South America Division EEAS
The Perilous Intersection of Culture, Environment and Profit – The Mapuche Case - David Monticelli/President of Associazione Il Cerchio
Mapuche Self-Empowerment & the Environment: Legitimate Demands to Design our Future - Alina Rodenkirchen/Mapuche Coordinator for Society for Threatened Peoples and German Mapuche Network
Indigenous Peoples in the Artic – The Impact of Climate Change and Human Exploitation -Dorothée Cambou/PhD Candidate, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Panel II: Language, Culture and Identity
Indigenous Peoples and Modern-Day Slavery in Mauritania - Mr Abidine Merzough/President of IRA-Section Europe
The Predicament of 'African Cultures': Representation as a Double-Edged Sword - Prof Koenraad Stroeken/University of Ghent
Preservation of Mapuche Cultural Heritage: Obstacles and Opportunities Ahead - Rafael Railaf/Mapuche Netherlands Network
The Case of the Degar-Montagnards - Dr Susan Kerr/Christian Solidarity Worldwide
For media queries, please contact Johanna Green via telephone at +32 251 314 59 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, please read our:
- Report on the Promotion on Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with Respect to their Cultural Heritage submitted to the Human Rights Council’s Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- Conclusions from UNPO Fact-Finding Mission to Mauritania