Indigenous renewal

Marko Lehto

Leaders of indigenous peoples belonging to the Iniciative Indígena por la Paz (IIP) met in Mexico in mid-May to look at how they can become part of the political decision-making processes in their countries, and how they can transform their political slogans into truly constructive proposals.

The meeting in Mexico was organised on the initiative of the Rigobeta Menchú Foundation (named after the Nobel peace laureate).

Kepa has close links with both IIP and the Foundation, and has made the promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples a key part of its work with Central and South American organisations, principally through the networking done from Kepa's field office in Managua, Nicaragua.

1994 saw the start of the UN decade for indigenous peoples. Menchú was nominated as a UN goodwill ambassador for the special decade, a multinational working group began to draw up a charter of indigenous peoples' rights, and a fund was created to support their work. Six years on, the charter has still to be adopted by governments and the fund is meagre. For the most part it has been a lost decade.

At the Mexico meeting, IIP representatives took a hard look at the situation and drew up a new strategy and 5-year plan.

These take account of criticism of the way projects and international funding fail to address the marginalisation of indigenous peoples from society, and the way they have been treated as consultative target groups for international funding initiatives and projects rather than as protagonists in such efforts.

The meeting also highlighted the need for greater solidarity between indigenous peoples, the transformation of the educational system to create greater self-identity among them, and the right of indigenous communities to choose their own people to represent them at international forums. Another demand of the meeting was for a new Decade for Indigenous Peoples to replace the lost one.