Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Sixth Session, United Nations, Geneva, 8-12 July 2013
Notes provided by Foundation for GAIA and taken by Jordi Mallarach Parés
Culture and Spirituality
Culture and traditional religious practices were mentioned in various instances during the meeting. The Chair pointed out that there is at least one reference to the right of culture in more than 10 articles of the UNDRIP. J.Lorenzo, also American Indian Law Alliance, pointed out the impossibility in separating different human rights, as they are all related, especially article 8, 11 and 12 concerning the practice and teaching of spiritual traditions, article 15, concerning the teaching of these traditions to future generations, and article 15, concerning the preservation of language a manifestation of identity.
The Ogiek People Development Program explained that they had been able to maintain their culture, traditions and nomadic way of life only through a history of resistance. The Indigenous Peoples of Caledonia explained how their culture is based on oral traditions and clan systems, which cannot fit in the French national worldview. This, they say, make it hard for them to relate to their colonizers. They also stress that their religion is their life. Similarly, the National Indian Youth Council emphasized the importance of water for their people. They said that water is more than resource for them, it is sacred, and many of their traditional ceremonies are related to water. Shells are also used for traditional ceremonies, and the increasing pollution is making it harder to carry out these practices. The The Leuphana University of Lüneburg pointed out that if Indigenous Peoples do not have a right to culture, they lose their identity. They explained how Indigenous Peoples traditions are passed down through generations, and how support should be given for them to practice their spirituality and traditional ways.
As for specific requests, the Indigenous Peoples and Nations Coalition pointed out there is much debate on treaties related to traditional knowledge and property of genetic material, but that the dialogue is not on equal terms with Indigenous People. The Parakuiyo Pastoralists Indigenous Community Development Organization asked the HRC to encourage Cameroon to establish an ‘Indigenous Affairs’ office in order to collaborate with Indigenous Peoples in the protection of their culture. The Khmer Indigenous People of the Mekong Delta urged that the Mekong people in Myanmar should be allowed to form independent religious organizations without suffering repression. They explained how Theravada Buddhism is their unique cultural identity, and they demand to be recognized in order to practice their culture freely. The Native Youth Sexual Health Network pointed out that Canadian prison systems are cutting funding for the practice of native traditions by incarcerated Indigenous Peoples.
As for interventions by countries on this issue, Venezuela said Indigenous Peoples in their country have the right to have their own mechanisms for the practice of their tradition. Ecuador explained their state guarantees multicultural and bilingual education to ensure unity in diversity within the state, with utmost respect for Indigenous Peoples and their traditions. Similarly, Japan explained they also provide teaching of Ainu language and give support to the Ainu people of Hokkaido for the practice of their traditional ceremonies. They have also created national entre dedicated to Ainu culture and identity in order to raise awareness of Ainu Indigenous Peoples.