30 September 2014

Guam, Northern Marianas present indigenous perspectives to U.N.


World Conference on Indigenous People





         Indigenous Peoples are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, with many of them struggling to remain on their lands and retain the right to their natural resources, while others have long since been removed from their lands, denied their languages and traditional ways.

         In order to share perspectives and best practices on the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples, the General Assembly of the United Nations decided to organize a high-level plenary meeting of the General Assembly, to be known as the “World Conference on Indigenous Peoples” (WCIP).

         The first and historic World Conference on Indigenous Peoples was held on 22-23 September 2014 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York and resulted in a concise, action-oriented outcome document prepared on the basis of inclusive and open informal consultations between Member States and indigenous peoples (see attachment). 

            Representation from the Chamorro and Refalawasch communities of the Mariana Islands participated in this historic event.  Ms. Roxanne Diaz from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Dr. LisaLinda Natividad from Guahan (Guam) engaged the conference as part of the Pacific Caucus.  Ms. Roxanne P. Diaz, an indigenous Chamorro woman nominated by the Northern Marianas Descent Corporation, a grassroots non-governmental indigenous organization in the CNMI.

            In a released statement after the U.N meeting, Ms. Diaz said, “I was amazed to find out that it took over 30 years to get this far.  I have so much to learn from the journey walked thus far that got us here and the journey that we still need to walk ahead to actually realize what’s written on the outcome document.” 

Cognizant of the role the United States (U.S.) plays in implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), Ms. Diaz made it a point to meet the U.S. State Representative at the WCIP meeting and was able to do so briefly on Tuesday, September 23rd. According to Ms. Diaz,

“I initially felt so honored and humbled to be meeting the United States’ representative regarding the UNDRIP, only to find out that the U.S. representative didn’t even know that the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is in political union with the United States and moreover, made up of indigenous peoples and other American citizens.”  Though appalled by her discovery, Ms Diaz added, “I should feel very discouraged right now but ironically, finding out at the WCIP that my peoples’ fate was not in the United States’ decision-making agenda all these years, further fuels my heart and commitment for why we are here today.” 

            In 2007, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was adopted by a majority of UN member states; however, the United States was one of four countries that initially opposed it.  The WCIP served as a follow-up to the adoption of the UNDRIP and the WCIP Outcome Document is an implementation guide for the UNDRIP. 

            Dr. Natividad drew a connection with a legal case currently challenging the right to Chamorro Self-Determination on Guam.  She stated:  “The legal case is currently being framed as a domestic civil rights issue.  The UNDRIP- a document to which the United States eventually signed on to- is an instrument wherein the United States has committed to honor its obligations to indigenous peoples.”

             Dr. Natividad further said, “The case needs to be more broadly contextualized as a human and indigenous rights issue, and not one limited to the constrictions of civil rights pertaining to integrated states of the United States.  On this point, it is to be emphasized that U.S. territories which are administered by the U.S. like Guahan are not integrated as states of the U.S. Hence, the U.S. judicial system needs to take into account the U.S. international obligations to indigenous peoples and apply it to the legal case wherein it should uphold Chamorros’ inalienable right to self-determination.”  The international obligations of self-determination and decolonization to the people of these territories, as contained in the United Nations Charter, are also wholly applicable in this case.

            In sharing overall impressions of the conference, Dr. Natividad reflected how participating in United Nations processes is critical to understanding the issues facing Chamorros and other indigenous peoples of the world.  She stated, “The rights of indigenous peoples need to be respected.  This is a global precedence.  Indigenous peoples all over the world are making out victoriously in the protection of their lands, waters, traditions, and ways of life.   International instruments such as the UNDRIP and the WCIP Outcome Document are necessary tools that ensure indigenous rights are honored and protected.”
            Ms. Diaz stated, “We, as indigenous peoples of the Marianas and the world, have much work ahead of us and our very existence today as the first peoples of the land and the endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples exemplifies that we are strong and must continue to fight for what is right and good for all peoples.”