Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Commemorative "Indigenous Days" without Indigenous Rights

In another take on the "you got recognition" theme, whereby indigenous groups are recognized as existing, perhaps celebrated in national festivals, and otherwise commemorated but denied rights as indigenous peoples, the President of the Organization of Indigenous People in Suriname (OIS) addressed the following letter to Dr. R.R. Venetiaan, President of the Republic of Suriname:

Paramaribo, 10 August 2007

To: the President of the Republic of Suriname
Dr. R.R. Venetiaan
Paramaribo - Suriname

Esteemed President,
By means of this letter, the Organization of Indigenous People in Suriname (OIS)requests your attention for the following:

The day of August 9 is declared by the government to be “National Day of Indigenous People” and is at the same time declared a national holiday.

Assigning this day to the original inhabitants of Suriname – known to you all as Indigenous, called Indians before – was applauded very much by us, as an organization that attends to the interests of this group.

We have experienced this gesture towards the Indigenous community as a very positive one and have seen this in the light of recognition of our people within the Surinamese population.

But, to our big surprise we have learned only a few days after the proclamation of this day, both in the national media and also from our international contacts, that the state of Suriname has voted against acceptance of the “Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” during the consultation round at the United Nations.

Because of this act of the state of Suriname, which works against the rights of the Indigenous Peoples all over the world but especially against the rights of the Indigenous People in Suriname, we as representatives of the Indigenous People in Suriname must conclude that we, Indigenous People, still will have a very long way to go in order to go get recognition of the rights and titles to our lands, etc.

The OIS sees this act of the state of Suriname as a failure to appreciate the position of the Indigenous People, because the state of Suriname being also the only country in the western hemisphere that still has not ratified ILO Convention 169.

On behalf of the Indigenous People of Suriname and also on behalf of our Indigenous brothers and sisters everywhere else in the world, we want to call on you as President to take case that Suriname will vote in favor of the “Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” during the vote on September 3 in the United Nations.
Since you have expressed in your speech in Palm Garden on the 9th of August 2007, that you really recognize the Indigenous People, we as Indigenous People would really appreciate if you would convert your words in this respect into deeds.

The Organization of Indigenous People in Suriname,
Leon Ericson Wijngaarde

Editor's Note:
Convention No. 169 of the International Labour Organization has in fact been ratified by very few states, only 18, since it came into being in 1989. Among the signatories that are notably absent are: Canada, the United States, Belize, Guyana, and Trinidad, all of which also claim to recognize their indigenous populations.

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