(WGIP 98 Report)

B. Indigenous peoples - Education and language

The Chairperson-Rapporteur, Ms. Erica-Irene A. Daes, declared open the fourth meeting of the 16th session of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations and introduced agenda Item 5 entitled "Principal theme: Indigenous peoples - education and language". She highlighted that indigenous education and language are matters of primary importance for indigenous peoples and referred to the difficulties of access to it that they often experience and the vulnerability of certain indigenous languages. She therefore encouraged the exchange of views and experiences between indigenous peoples and expressed her deep appreciation to educational experts and teachers and to UNESCO in particular for cooperation in this matter. The Chairperson-Rapporteur gave the floor to Mr. Hernan
Crespo Toral, Assistant Director- General for Culture of UNESCO.

Mr. Crespo recognized the brilliant task accomplished by the WGIP during the past fifteen years; reiterated UNESCO's commitment to the promotion and protection of the rights and cultures of indigenous peoples and particularly stressed the importance of appreciating cultural diversity. He referred to the Intergovernmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development, held in Stockholm in April 1998 and, in particular, to the Forum on Cultural Rights, organized by the Government of Bolivia, and the seminar on Cultural Rights of lndigenous Peoples, organized by the Saami Council, which adopted a declaration calling upon UNESCO, in coordination with OHCHR, to organize an international conference on indigenous cultural rights in 1999, with a view to promoting
cultural diversity in all countries. The final plan of action, approved by the Conference, further strengthened this trend already emerged during UNESCO Intergovernmental Conference on Policies on the Use of National Languages in Africa, held in Harare, Zimbabwe, in March 1997. Mr. Crespo also described all the initiatives undertaken by UNESCO in the above-mentioned field and announced that UNESCO was ready to invite the next session of the WGIP to UNESCO's headquarters in Paris, with theme of Culture and Education.

The Chairperson-Rapporteur thanked Mr. Crespo for his comprehensive and inspired statement, and welcomed Ms. Cassan, UNESCO liaison officer in Geneva. Finally, she urged that the UNESCO manual on Indigenous Peoples be completed and used at
university level.

Overall, many indigenous representatives stressed the link between language, culture and land within the framework of the principle of self-determination. Reference was made to Articles 3, 12, 13, 14 and 15 of the Draft United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It was often repeated that policies of linguistic and cultural assimilation represent clear threats to these principles. UNESCO and OHCHR were therefore urged to work in consultation with indigenous representatives on the Draft Universal Declaration on Linguistic Rights. Reference was also made to the opportunities offered by both the Convention on Biological Diversity (particularly Art. 8j) and the initiatives of WIPO, which were also urged to work in cooperation with the WGIP, UNESCO and
other relevant agencies on an integrated protection of Indigenous Peoples' linguistic, cultural, land and resource rights.

Some indigenous representatives from the Philippines focused their interventions on the right to education for adults and women in particular. They denounced that the lack of finances is often used as a convenient excuse not to allocate budgets for education for
indigenous peoples and lamented that Governments are increasingly supporting the privatization of education. In countries which are heavily indebted to the World Bank and private banks, this move results in education being influenced by these entities. Hence, the
undermining of social sciences due to the emphasis put on technical education to serve the purposes of transnational corporations. The view was expressed that privatization policies should be further studied with regard to their impact on indigenous peoples' rights; that the World Bank review its policies so as not to interfere with educational processes; and that Governments fully commit to the implementation of indigenous peoples' rights in the field of education.

Some indigenous representatives from India reiterated the link existing between education and the self-image of a people and lamented that the extinction of local languages leads to the cultural genocide of the indigenous communities; assimilation processes deny the specificity of local traditional educational systems and alienate indigenous children from their own society; hence the increasing rate of failures and drop-outs among tribal and indigenous children.

Indigenous representatives from Japan and Myanmar referred to the assimilation policy of the respective Governments, which broke the transmission of traditional culture from older to younger generations, thus engendering a dis-identification process which results in an identity crises of the local communities.

Indigenous representatives from the Russian Federation informed that the lack of financial support from the Government, coupled with the scarcity of technical resources, hampers the implementation of an integrated educational policy and make it difficult to preserve national identity. Moreover, the "Concepts for reforming the pre-school system" represented a further step towards cultural unification to the detriment of local cultures. Disappointment at this reforming process resulted in an increase in juvenile delinquency and number of suicides.

Amongst the indigenous representatives from the United States of America, the native Hawaiian people lamented the worst statistics in their homeland as far as education is concerned. Despite the launching and successful outcomes of the Hawaiian Language Immersion Education program, curriculum development and adequate instructional facilities are still needed as is State support. In addition, the representatives of the indigenous peoples of Alaska informed that, in spite of the United Nations resolutions on non-self-governing territories, aiming at the educational advancement, promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, participation and development have not been fully implemented yet.

Other indigenous representatives from the same area denounced that the collusion between the Government and Christian missions has produced adverse effects on Indian communities in terms of lack of identity which, in turn, has engendered alcoholism, an increase in the rate of suicides and other serious social problems. It was recommended that action be taken to avoid the fast disappearance of indigenous cultures around the world. In this respect, the prompt adoption of the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was considered a priority.

The observer for the United States of America conveyed his Government' s commnitment on Government-to-Government relationships with federally recognized tribes, with a view to strengthening existing partnership and to building new ones to enhance the promotion and protection of indigenous rights. As for concrete steps taken, reference was made to the education and language policies for American Indian and Alaska natives which are based on the principle of active consultation. The 1990 Native American Languages Act recognizes the languages of native Americans as an integral part of their identities and contains several provisions to promote and protect them. This trend was further enhanced by the 1992 Indian Native Language Act. At a regional level, the
United States has worked, in cooperation with other Arctic States, on the establishment of an Arctic Council; at an international level, it supports the creation of the Permanent Forum for indigenous populations as well as the existing WGIP, whose mandate should be broadened so as to include issues such as the environment, health, education and economic development. Finally, while reiterating its commitment to work towards the adoption of the Draft Declaration, the United States insisted that further refinement is needed before it can be adopted.

Some indigenous representatives from Canada stated that the theme of education was another important step done by the Working Group to ensure the survival of indigenous languages on a global scale. While lamenting assimilation and ethnocentrism of the mainstream culture, resulting in the high illiteracy and drop-out rates among indigenous peoples and its implications on cultural identity, they recalled and paid tribute to the many initiatives undertaken, especially by women, in this field and further stressed the importance of educational programmes specifically designed for and by indigenous peoples. In this respect, a pregnant example is the creation of the Kahnawake Survival School, by the Mohawk community, which is based on the control of finances, construction
and curriculum and on the placement of native teachers in each classroom. The concept of "positive, constructive partnership" and the need to have adequate funding from the Government was repeatedly stated.

An indigenous representative from Canada surveyed existing international and domestic agreements and identified all the articles relevant to Indigenous Peoples in the field of education and language. On behalf of his organization, he then recommended that the WGIP urge the Governments - Canada in particular - to ratify ILO Convention 169; approve and adopt the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and, for those of the Americas, the OAS Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The observer for Canada referred to recent measures taken to promote and protect the rights of indigenous cornmunities in the field of education, namely: Gathering Strength, the Government' s Aboriginal Action Plan which recognizes the important role of education in shaping a positive future for Aboriginal groups, with special focus on youth; the Mi'kmaq Education Act, which became law on 18 June 1998, which transfers federal government legislative and administrative jurisdiction for education to some indigenous peoples, thus enabling them to develop education systems and institutions; some funding measures were also referred to. As for the protection of health, the following initiatives were undertaken, in consultation with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada: the Aboriginal
Head Start Prograrn; the Indian and Inuit Health Careers Programme. Aboriginal youths benefit from several specific programs under the Youth Employment Strategy (YES).

Some indigenous representatives from New Zealand reported on developments achieved in Maori education, including management of schools. Participants were further briefed on the many initiatives undertaken, such as the development of Te Kohanga Reo, or the language nest for the elders to teach children local languages. However, funding for these programs is restricted by government administrative procedures; governmental commissions have invariably failed in their attempts to alleviate the real disparity existing between Maori and non-Maori; and, as a consequence, the gap in terms of employment, education, health and econornie status has worsened.

The observer for New Zealand described the developments of policy in the area of Maori education and language. Since the 1970s a series of initiatives has been launched in the New Zealand education system to encourage and revitalize Maori language. Programmes whereby Maori children are educated through the medium of Maori language have been the focal point of these developments. Specific reference was made to Te Kohanga Reo, early childhood language nests, which have provided a strong foundation to the revitalization efforts undertaken by the Government. Language developments also apply to adult education; in this respect, a community-based organization called Te Atarangi was established in 1980 to teaeh speaking and listening skills in the Maori language to Maori adults of all ages. Recently, in recognition of its commitment under the Treaty of Waitangi to take all reasonable steps to actively enable the survival of Maori as a living language, the Government of NewZealand adopted a number of key policy objectives to achieve this and is also developing an intersectoral Maori language plan.

Some indigenous representatives from Australia denounced the racist policy of the "One Nation" Party, with particular reference to the field of education. The distinction was made between education for Aborigines and Aboriginal education, with a view to  highlighting the role that Aborigines should have in both designing and implementing educational policies. The WGIP was requested to send a strong condemning message to the Government of Australia on its policy against indigenous peoples.

Other indigenous representatives from Australia focused their concern at the earlier levels of education, denouncing that secondary school, the missing link in the educational process needs special attention. The relation between levels of education, income and health of people in rural as well as urban areas was also referred to. It was suggested that regional scbools be established to service remoter areas.

The observer for Australia recognized that Australia's indigenous peoples are the most educationally disadvantaged category in the whole community and appreciated the concerns expressed by indigenous representatives. He announced the endorsement of a National Policy for the education of Indigenous Australian known as the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy (AEP), which aims at the highest level of education accountability and addresses all sectors of education and training, from early schooling to higher education sectors. A number of specific programs were presented to the WGIP.

Many indigenous representatives from Latin Arnerica reiterated that education is inextricably entwined with self-determination and identity; that it involves learning and development in general, including socialization. They lamented that an alien culture which they do not understand and whose values they do not share is imposed on indigenous children, and insisted on the need for a truly indigenous education, not only for children, rising from indigenous peoples themselves, capable of expressing their own cosmogony. The need for participation was further reiterated, not only at a consultative but also at a decisional level. The importance of the prompt adoption of the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was further emphasized.

An indigenous representative from Brazil lamented both the reduction in the number of indigenous peoples and their loss of identity due to integration and evangelization projects carried out in the past, for which no compensation was ever envisaged; further reiterated the need for an indigenous management of educational policies and expressed his gratitude at the United Nations Fellowship Programme from which he himself had benefitted.

The Chairperson-Rapporteur congratulated the speaker on his participation to the fellowship prograrn and seized this opportunity to remind all participants that said program was also possible thanks to contributions provided by Governments.

The observer for Chile conveyed the commitment of the Government of Chile in support of an integrated educational system which promotes and protects indigenous culture and languages, thus improving their living conditions; agreed on the importance of working in close cooperation with indigenous representatives; briefed the participants on some initiatives undertaken in this field.

The observer for Costa Rica listed all the international instruments relating to the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples' rights that Costa Rica has ratified and informed that, at a national level, further measures have been taken, in cooperation with
local communities, to ensure the implementation of these rights in the field of education; specific reference was made to bilingual education, an integrated curriculum, a fellowship system and the National Program on Indigenous Education, which has been established at a governmental level.

Some indigenous representatives from Africa denounced the fragmentation of their nations and the subsequent marginalization of their cultures and languages and agreed on the link between education and development. In particular, they focused on the importance of implementing indigenous peoples' rights through the enhancement and promotion of traditional and cultural integration, with a view to improving the quality of their lives. Special reference was made to children. An appeal was launched by the Pygmies
concerning the support needed for the establishment of schools in Central Africa. Indigenous representatives from Northern Africa reported that the recognition of cultural diversity requires an adequate reform of the educational system: in particular, some local
languages (Tamazigh, Tifinagh) should be recognized at a national level. A specific Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA) was created to address the needs of indigenous populations in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa,
Zambia and Zimbabwe, where governmental action combined with evangelization policies of the past have put at risk the survival of local cultures.

An indigenous representative from Africa stated that indigenous peoples are the most vulnerable peoples in the United Nations structure. He said that indigenous peoples were marginalized and that indigenous peoples from Africa faced difficulties in gaining a decent voice in international forums.

Sorne indigenous representatives from the Nordic countries reported that the imposition of a mainstream education system has alienated indigenous peoples from their own culture and language. This has resulted in problems with identity which, in turn, have engendered other social matters of concern. Despite developments achieved in the field of education, possibilities in national universities are still highly limited and often based on alien needs and values. The lack of funding, coupled with the inadequacy of the measures implemented, do not seem to secure the future of local communities. The International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples should be seen as an opportunity to raise awareness in the field of education and ensure self-determination and self-competency at a local level, with a particular emphasis on the role of women. The proposal by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, based on document E/CN.4/1998/107, to organize a workshop for research and higher education institutions focusing on indigenous issues on education was particularly welcomed as were the United Nations Fellowship Programme and the International Training Center of Indigenous Peoples.

The observer for Finland stressed the importance for everyone of learning his or her own language and of providing education in that language and briefed the participants on the main developments achieved in his country by the Saami communities. In particular, it was reported that "today, the majority of the Finnish Saami master their own language"; that the Finnish Constitution contains provisions which protect and promote the right to use the Saami language before authorities and guarantee the cultural autonomy of the Saami as an indigenous people; and that the Saami Parliament has a Saami Language Office which provides translations and interpreters between the Saami and the Finnish authorities. Finally, the wish was expressed that all efforts be undertaken to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Finland strongly supports, and advocated the right to use one's own language before the authorities to be included in the declaration.

The observer for Norway announced that, for the first time in history, a separate integrated Saami curriculum has been designed, with a view to concretely safeguarding the Saami culture. Furthermore, to ensure that Saami perspectives were adequately considered, the Council for Saami Education - the advisory body for the Ministry of Education, which will become a part of the Saami Parliament within a short period of time - was requested to play a central role in the administration and making of said curriculum.

Representatives of UNESCO-ETXEA (País Vasco) presented a project on languages deriving from UNESCO's decision, in 1996, to draft a periodic report on the languages of the world. Said project, which was approved at UNESCO General Conference in 1997 and which is funded by the Government of País Vasco, falls within the framework of UNESCO's program LINGUAPAX. The report, which will be launched in 2001, has been designed to specifically address the needs of indigenous peoples in the field of languages. UNESCO ETXEA requested that the WGIP support and cooperate in this initiative.

[Go to 2c]


attras.GIF (1261 Byte)