June 21, 2024


Two months ago, Makanalani Gomes, a Native Hawaiian activist, spoke about the importance of youth self-determination at the largest global gathering of indigenous peoples at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. After flying back to Hawaii, she had one big takeaway from the event, known as the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Affairs:

“The need for sovereignty for all indigenous peoples is critical, is paramount, to literally survive,” Gomes said while reflecting on the forum Wednesday.

Gomes’ conclusion is not just her opinion. This is an underlying message a new report released this week by the United Nations summarizing the official recommendations of this year’s meeting. The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Affairs is a United Nations advisory body dedicated to representing the perspectives of indigenous peoples who would otherwise not have a voice in the UN General Assembly.

The final report is a 30-page list containing a broad list of recommendations aimed at specific countries, international agencies and UN member states.

Although this year’s forum was not officially focused on climate, the participants repeatedly spoke about how climate disasters, environmental degradation and other contemporary challenges are rooted in the exploitation of indigenous land and how the green energy transition compounds that exploitation.

The final report calls on UN agencies to do more to ensure that carbon credit programs are effective and not harmful. Carbon credit programs are meant to reduce carbon emissions, but indigenous advocates say in practice they divide and exploit indigenous peoples.

“The Forum calls on the secretariats of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to demand high-integrity projects that have clear accountability for carbon emissions and biodiversity, as well as measured benefits for indigenous peoples,” the report states.

All four United Nations bodies are invited to report on their work at next year’s Permanent Forum meeting in New York City, the report said.

UN agencies must stop using indigenous peoples with the more amorphous term “local communities,” which could dilute indigenous rights, the report advised.

The Permanent Forum has also repeatedly called for the need for more climate funding for indigenous peoples and the importance of involving indigenous peoples in efforts to establish more protected areas. “Conservation efforts worldwide must recognize and respect the collective rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories and resources,” says the report.

The final report also calls on specific countries to respect indigenous peoples. In particular, the Permanent Forum said it regretted the outcome of Australia’s failed referendum last year that would have given indigenous people an official voice in government.

The report’s recommendations repeatedly refer to the need to support indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination.

“The forum further recommends that states engage in processes focused on decolonization and reconciliation policies that facilitate the path of indigenous peoples to self-determination, with the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples,” says the report.

That message is on Gomes’ mind this week as she participates in another major gathering of indigenous peoples, this time a festival celebrating indigenous Pacific peoples in Hawaiʻi. Canoes were officially welcomed to Hawaii on Wednesday after sailing thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean without compasses and navigating through native knowledge of the stars and waves.

Gomes reflected on how the teams from independent Pacific nations sailed to the Hawaiian archipelago, which is dominated by the American flag.

“We are not free until we are all free,” she said.






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