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At UN on Indigenous, Congo Claims and Sakha Music, Chiapas & a Cash Bar

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, May 11 -- When the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues comes to the UN has it has this week, it's often a study in contrasts. In the UN's North Lawn building, tribes people and Native Americans multi-colored hats and walking sticks pass in a parallel universe the here-indigenous diplomats in their native dress, dark suits.

  The two worlds intersected Friday afternoon when a custom-suited minister from Republic of Congo held a three course lunch in the re-opened Delegates Dining Room facing the East River, with a room only half filled, mostly by other African diplomats. Many places were empty: Somalia, Zimbabwe, even neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

  The Permanent Representatives of Cameroon, Chad and Angola were there, the last as this month's African Group chairman. (He did not mention the coup in Guinea Bissau, on which his country seems to disagree with some other African countries like Nigeria and Togo.)

  The Minister in from Brazzaville, Bienvenu Okiemy, promoted his country's Law No. 5-2011 of February 25, 2011 on the Promotion and Protection of Indigenous Populations' Rights. Given that some African countries argued at the UN not long ago that either all Africans are indigenous, or none are, the law is noteworthy.

  The Law starts that "the term Indigenous Populations mean populations who differ from the national population by virtual of their cultural identity, way of life and extreme vulnerability." It also provides that "the use of the term pygmy is prohibited."

  It did not seem that the delegation from Brazzaville brought any indigenous person with them, those the two African members of the Permanent Forum's 16 members, and some other members including from Finland, Estonia, Canada and New Zealand were in attendance.

  When Q&A time came, the Permanent Forum member from Kenya congratulated Congo for taking the lead, noted that Nairobi "might lose the UNEP headquarters," and asked that the PFII preparatory session to be held in Congo in 2013 include a pan-African meeting of indigenous people.

  These include, according to UNFPA's David Lawson's speech, the Masai of Kenya, the Baaka of Congo, the Mbororos of Cameroon, the Batwa of Uganda and the Twa of the DRC and Rwanda, to say nothing of the Bushmen and others.

  Inner City Press asked the Minister what progress has been made on the recommendation of Rapporteur James Anaya that the Congo - Brazzaville "Government will need to develop and fully implement a new procedure for demarcating and registering lands in accordance with indigenous peoples’ customary rights and tenure." The Minister said this IS being done, then closed the session.

  Earlier in the week music filled the General Assembly visitors' lobby: two songs by Sak Tzevul of Chiapas, Mexico; much from Kahurangi theater of New Zealand, Andes Manta of Ecuador and the Chakma people of Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracts; Nepalese dance and a group from the Republic of Sakha in Russia.

  In a session listed as closed, the "first Finno-Ugric Event at the UN" ever was held, and hockey player Alexander Ovechkin was claimed as Finno-Ugric. Across First Avenue the "Doctrine of Discovery" was rebutted by a display, complete with cash bar, of the Six Nations of the Grand River in Canada. They presented a litany of broken treaties. And so it goes at the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

Click here for Sept 26, 2011 New Yorker on Inner City Press at UN

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