Statement By the Indigenous Delegations at the Adoption of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Video in English


Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, June 15, 2016

President of the 46th Session of the OAS General Assembly
Distinguished State Representatives
Secretary General
Civil society and private enterprise representatives
Indigenous sisters and brothers of the Americas
People of the Dominican Republic

I thank Baba, Nana and our Pachamama for allowing me to address you on behalf of the governments and traditional institutions of the indigenous peoples and nations of Abya Yala (the Americas).

The adoption of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly is a historic event and the settlement of the moral debt that the OAS has with indigenous peoples. This adoption concludes the almost 30-year long process of negotiations on the rights of our peoples, which are more than 50 million indigenous people, in all of Abya Yala.

This Declaration is also historic confirmation that the Americas can no longer ignore the vital presence and the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in the development of the hemisphere.

We acknowledge the OAS’ commitment to obtain a Declaration text created and agreed upon with the participation of indigenous representatives during the negotiation process. Unfortunately, our participation in the final stage of this process was limited due to the lack of political will on the part of Member States with respect to funding for this process.

The negotiation process for the adoption of the Declaration has not been easy, due to the fact that some States have insisted on subjecting indigenous peoples to State’s domestic laws and constitutions, which is contrary to the progressive stance taken in human rights law. In this regard, we, the indigenous representatives, would like to make it clear that our rights are non-negotiable, and that they must be recognized, protected and guaranteed in the Inter-American System. Furthermore, nothing in this Declaration can contradict or undermine the rights recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

We would like to acknowledge the participation, confidence, and support of the more than 500 representatives of indigenous peoples and organizations across the Americas, whose perspectives and concerns were the cornerstone and inspiration guiding us in the negotiation of the Declaration. We would also like to thank State delegations for the important role they played in this process, in particular those that led the Working Group, and to all of those who made these negotiations possible, both in the OAS’ headquarters and in their home-countries.

Additionally, we would like to thank both the non-governmental organizations from Civil Society and the international organizations that supported the participation of indigenous representatives in the negotiation meetings, as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the OAS Committee on Political and Juridical Affairs for their invaluable work.

During this adoption process, it is important to keep in mind that indigenous peoples are currently victims to murders and criminalization of our indigenous leaders because of our fight to defend our rights to self determination, lands, territories, natural resources and cultural preservation, as was the case of Berta Caceres. The imposition of projects, such as mining, agro-industry and hydroelectric projects, which in addition to being unsustainable, provoke the forced displacement of hundreds of indigenous communities, the degradation of the environment, the loss of our food-sovereignty, and are responsible for climate change, which affects all of us in this region.

We would like to state that indigenous peoples are defenders of our Mother Earth and that we have practiced sustainable development from ancestral times. Therefore, it is no coincidence that natural resources in our continent are located within indigenous territory, and because of this, we find it unacceptable that still today we are discriminated against and marginalized during national and regional discussions on this matter.

It is of great importance, therefore, that the Declaration reaffirms our inalienable rights to self-determination; to our lands, territories and resources; to free, prior and informed consent and consultation; and to protect the integrity of our cultures, among others, and makes their fulfillment a common objective in the Americas.

The Declaration must be the basis upon which a new relationship between the State and indigenous peoples is constructed, based on acknowledgement of and respect for our fundamental rights, and as a necessary condition for the creation of just and democratic societies.

In this regard, the Declaration  demands action, implementation, and an urgent need for the creation of inclusive, relevant, and specific public policies that will allow for the strengthening of our institutions and governance of our lands, territories and natural resources to allow for our sustainable development.

On this note, we call upon States, civil society and private enterprise to work together towards the implementation of this Declaration, which will become the OAS’ next challenge.

Finally, we appeal for the creation of an effective mechanism through which the OAS is allowed to monitor State compliance with the Declaration, with the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples. Furthermore, we demand a space for appropriate participation within the OAS that will allow us to express our specific concerns, as indigenous governments and traditional institutions.

With the adoption of this Declaration, the American States settle a debt with indigenous peoples. That is why we strongly hope that, just as a story of dispossession and colonization of our lands took place more than 500 years ago, a new dawn will come for the indigenous peoples of the Americas, so that we will finally have peace, justice, and dignity.