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27 June 2000

For a Genuine Peopleís Social Agenda
Esther Camac Ramirez
Member of the Ecumenical Team


We are deeply grateful to the organisers of this event for this opportunity to share some thoughts with you around "a genuine peopleís social agenda". I speak as a committed Indigenous woman involved in the struggle for the rights and for the development of Indigenous Peoples.

I first want to affirm that "Indigenous Peoplesí rights are human rights". These rights are embodied in our collective yearning in defence of our identity, our lands and our territories, our resources, our spirituality, our scientific and other knowledge inherited from our ancestors, our cosmic vision of a balanced and close relationship with our Mother Earth, for we understand that we are intimately linked to her and our very life depends on her.

Perhaps are you wondering what human rights have to do with a social agenda for the peoples? Life in its fullness, justice, social well being, genuine peace, health, education, access to land and territory, and identity are intimately linked to the full enjoyment of human rights, and to life itself.

As Indigenous Peoples, we have now gained access to the international sphere these past years. We are being recognised, our problems are being acknowledged, together with our contributions to humanity. But we are not listened to and our message is not being implemented. We only interest those who want to take advantage of our resources and knowledge.

We live in a world where money, the market and endless consumption are given much importance, where needs that do not really exist are created. Living styles are considered more important than quality of life and actual living conditions of people.

We have explained, in various international fora, through many voices, through well known and unknown faces that development can only be meaningful for Indigenous Peoples if it recognises our rights as human rights, including the right to land and territories and the right to exert control over them.

As mentioned earlier, the prevailing development concepts are associated with a lifestyle, well being and easy life that can be bought with money. We did think at some point that money could really solve our problems. We articulated production programmes, in the hope that these would help us come out of economic poverty, but we did not realise that those programmes were based on models imposed by the present market.

We have witnessed cultural, social and economic changes amongst Indigenous Peoples over the past years. These have had a specific impact on Indigenous women, youth and children. Such changes have resulted in changes in value and identity concepts, loss of real space and opportunities for Indigenous women and have created obstacles to progress and development of Indigenous women and peoples, especially in terms of an increase in domestic violence and increased domination of women.

Cultural changes have also resulted in the adoption of new models of family behaviour whereby men have become the owners and administrators of family assets and resources, which in turn brings about women dependency in development and self-determination issues.

We believe that social problems are the consequence of a loss of identity, cosmic vision, land and territories, and of the imposition of development models which threaten our identity and access to resources.

We, Indigenous women, aware of the multiple realities we have to face and conscious of the need to reclaim our role as bearers of identity and culture with all its consequences, have decided to re-appropriate our role, as stewards, responsible for our own development jointly with our Indigenous brothers and for protecting our ancestral knowledge. We have expressed in various fora that Indigenous Peoples want a type of development that respects their cultural identity.

Our reencounter with Mother Earth is central to our identity, it helps us formulate the concepts of autonomy and self-sufficiency in relation to nature and the cosmos.

We find our self-affirmation in the Indigenous cosmic vision, which is a vision of the balance between nature and human beings, and we affirm that this balance starts at home, at the level of the political organisation of our struggles as peoples, and in our belief that our Mother Earth is a woman who gave birth to us, and from whom we receive the gift of life.

For us, sustainable development means that our relationship to Mother Earth is one of caring and protection, since she is the provider of life and subsistence to us, to our children and the children of our children. Within the framework of these inherited values, we will encourage solidarity, reciprocity, mutual support, as well as creativity and the re-encounter with Mother Earth in order to achieve autonomy.

For us, it is impossible to separate the world from the human being. Rather, we have to consider them in an integrated manner, including the various components and all that exists in nature, and all that originates in nature. For us, the world is a place where gods, sacred places, big rocks, great rivers, mountains, plants and animals are to be found. This is where the sun raises, with the solar rays fertilising the Earth so that she can give life. Indigenous Peoples are also to be found on the Earth, being part of nature. And nature belongs to the gods; and we are but its keepers and stewards; and the Earth is our mother so that it is impossible for us to exploit it or negotiate with it. On the contrary, we are very grateful and respectful of it and we strive to maintain a relationship whereby we do not violate its integrity but rather ensure that this subtle balance has to be maintained among all.

For us, poverty constitutes the worst form of violence against humanity, including children, youth, women, men, older man an women, animals and nature as a whole. Our Mother Earth is suffering. Poverty is causing it to suffer, just as her children are suffering. Perhaps the day will come when we will cure her pains. We will then realise that we are all brothers and sisters, children of our Mother Earth, and that we are all responsible for caring for each other, in order to put an end to sorrow and pain.

Finally, I wish to present a psalm which we, Indigenous Peoples always remember wherever we go and which we have expressed in a variety of ways. During a recent meeting of the Working Group on Article 8(j) And Related Provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Indigenous people present shared with governments a heartfelt message and we want to share part of it with you today:

'As Indigenous Peoples, we are under the obligation to nurture the sacred element of life and to maintain the integrity of the Earth. For us, the Earth is our Mother - thus our motherís aim is to be a source of life, which feeds, protects and promotes life. The raison díêtre and values that Mother Earth has been infusing in us mean that we are responsible for ensuring life. These teachings embody our very essence and represent the very heart of our lives, the sprit of our peoples, which are not negotiable or cannot be compromised. To exploit our traditional knowledge is to cut the umbilical cord between our mother and our peoples. To cut this cord is to threaten the survival and well being of future generations and put an end to life.

We believe that our work here is a healing song for the pains of the suffering Earth and its children. For do not ignore that the EARTH IS BURNING:

We believe in you and we are holding out our hand to all peoples.

Those who will take our hand will be those who dare dream of the Earth that could be.

Through healing we will find a response to our problems and we will become one, one with the dream of the Earth.

What a precious and valuable inheritance for our children!

Will you take our hand? Will you share our dream?'

Address delivered on Sunday 25 June, 2000
At the International NGO Public Gathering, Uni-Mail, Geneva
(Translated from Spanish)


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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.