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Permanent Forum Speakers say Violation of Language Rights ‘Cultural Genocide’, Call for Concrete Public Policy to Protect Indigenous Languages

by NationTalk on April 25, 2008926 Views

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Seventh Session
6th & 7th Meetings (AM & PM)

Language rights should be implemented as a collective and individual right since they were integral to self-determination, a member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues said today during a half-day debate devoted to indigenous languages.Implementation of language rights must be viewed from a holistic perspective, Lars Anders Baer, the Forum member from Sweden, continued, saying it could not be enjoyed in the absence of other human rights. Some States were promoting the use of indigenous languages, but programmes were under-funded. He called for the drafting of a convention to protect indigenous languages, identities and cultural rights and for the creation of an authoritative body on the matter. A special rapporteur on language rights and a commissioner on “language discrimination” should be named. He added that violation of language rights was a form of cultural genocide and the Forum should consider appropriate action.

Other speakers also made the connection between loss of language and loss of culture. A second panellist, Richard Grounds, Director of the Euchee Language Project said the boarding school system forced on Native Americans had caused a kind of physical and cultural “genocide”.

Similarly, the President of the Saami Parliament of Finland, Klemetti Näkkäläjärvi, said research indicated that language influenced the way people thought and was a tool for thinking. It was not only a means of communication, but a specialized part of culture and a window into the people’s relationship with nature. Death of a language meant unique knowledge stored in that language disappeared, along with the capacity to function and adapt to global, social and environmental changes.

Mexico’s representative called for a world conference on linguistic diversity. As a member of Mexico’s National Commission on Indigenous people, Mexico’s delegate said her country had reformed its legislation to strengthen the legal basis for the linguistic rights of its indigenous peoples and bilingual speakers provided services to people. A catalogue of the official indigenous languages had been published and an advisory council established to facilitate the introduction of indigenous languages into official processes. Work was proceeding on revamping the educational machinery to develop the best models on how to teach indigenous languages.

Another panellist, Rochelle Roca-Hachem, Programme Specialist for Culture, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said languages had been gaining in importance in the past few years. Concern for linguistic diversity and multilingualism was growing. There was evidence of a growing awareness of how important language was at the international level. Under the pressure of accelerating globalization, languages and their complex implications had strategic importance in terms of identity and social integration at both global and local levels.

A member of the Youth Caucus said the importance of traditional knowledge was dismissed if the erosion of languages was allowed. He called for elders to work with youth on programmes to keep languages alive and revitalize multilingualism. He said States should affirm the validity of multi-languages among their people and should implement measures to promote the use of multiple languages in their societies.

Also today, at its morning session, the Forum held a debate on implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and continued debate on global climate change. Delegates described how indigenous communities lagged behind in virtually all aspects of development. They also called for stronger measures and more vigorous monitoring if indigenous peoples were to even be a part of the Millennium Development Goals.

Speaking on the subject of climate change were Member State representatives of Nicaragua, Japan, Russian Federation, Mexico and Colombia. The President of the Saami Parliament also spoke on the issue, as did a delegate of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

The Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on the right to education, Vernon Munoz, introduced the topic of implementing development goals. He said poverty was a great impediment to education, since many children had to work six or more hours every day.

Also speaking on that issue were the Executive Secretary, Ministry of Indigenous Issues, Ecuador; Deputy Secretary, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Australia; Director General, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Health Canada; a member of the National Planning Commission of Nepal; and a senator from Bolivia.

A representative of Colombia also spoke on the issue, as did representatives of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation; IPACC; Amazon Basin; Native Women’s Association of Canada; Indigenous Network on Economics and Trade; Mohawk of Kanawake; and BC First Nation Leadership.

Further addressing the topic were the Chief Technical Adviser, Programme to promote ILO Convention 169, International Labour Organization (ILO); the Executive Secretary, Global Stop Tuberculosis Partnership, World Health Organization; and Human Rights Adviser for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The panel on linguistic rights was comprised of Lars Anders Baer, member of the Permanent Forum from Sweden; Lourdes Tiban, Secretaria Ejecutiva Nacional (Executive Secretary), Consejo de Desarrollo de las Nacionalidades y Peublos del Ecuador; Rochelle Roca-Hachem, Programme Specialist for Culture, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Anna Lucia D’Emilio, Senior Adviser, Education and Excluded Population, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Office; and Richard Grounds, Director, Euchee Language Project.

Also speaking on linguistic rights were the Assistant Deputy Minister, Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, of the Government of Nunavut in Canada; the Director General, Aboriginal Affairs Branch, Heritage Canada; an official from the Ministry of Māori Development, New Zealand; an official from the Ministry of Culture and Sport of Guatemala; an official from the National Commission on Indigenous People, Mexico; and a Danish Member of Parliament.

A representative of the Russian Federation spoke on linguistic rights, as did the Grand Chief of the North American Regional Caucus and a Parliamentarian of the Parlamento Indigena de America.

Others speaking on that matter were the representatives of the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus; Asia Indigenous Caucus; Arctic Caucus; Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People; Indigenous Parliament of Bolivia; and Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Innu Nation, Institut Culturel Educatif Montagnais.

The Permanent Forum will meet again at 10 a.m. Monday, 28 April.

VISIT HERE to view full press release.

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