Speaking on Indigenous Issues at UN

Executive Director Speaks Out on Indigenous Issues at United Nations International Day Fall 2001

International Day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994 to be observed each year throughout the International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples. Activities for International Day opened with a traditional Sacred Pipe Ceremony. Both the International Day and Decade are products of the Working Group on Indigenous Issues, founded in 1982 by the Economic and Social Council of the UN, to draw attention to the plights of Indigenous Peoples across the planet.

NAWHERC Executive Director Charon Asetoyer with Chief Oren Lions at the UN Headquarters in New York City

In 2001, Charon Asetoyer, Executive Director of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center was selected to facilitate the consultation on health and human rights for Indigenous Peoples held by the UN as a part of the activities. Recommendations resulting from this consultation will be submitted to the first annual Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which will convene in May 2002.

In order to prepare for this monumental occasion, Ms. Asetoyer researched and wrote an extensive background paper on Indigenous Peoples' health and human rights issues worldwide. In addition to the background research, Ms. Asetoyer prepared a discussion paper, "Key Health Issues Facing Indigenous Peoples Globally," that was presented at the consultation containing the recommendations that will move forward to the Permanent Forum. The topics discussed at the consultation include:

* Access to clean water. Through the development of clean water projects, many life-threatening illnesses affecting Indigenous Peoples can be reduced.
* Accessible and affordable treatment for Indigenous Peoples with HIV/AIDS. International agencies need to include Indigenous Peoples in drug trials and provide health care at cost as well as allocate funds for education and prevention materials.
* Eliminate violence against women and children by establishing shelters, safe houses, and education programs in conjunction with preventing armed conflicts.
* Blindness prevention. Nutrition programs providing infants and nursing mothers with needed vitamins need to be established.
* Stop targeting Indigenous Peoples for population control. Programs that support traditional midwives, breastfeeding, and family planning programs need to be created along with comprehensive health care at the community level.
* Accessible transportation systems for school-age children. Children must be able to get to and from school safely. In addition, there needs to be increased nutritional programs for school-age children.

Yet, these are only some of the numerous health issues facing Indigenous Peoples around the globe. Ms. Asetoyer's research reports that tuberculosis is increasing rapidly within Indigenous nations, as are diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer. The age-adjusted cervical cancer death rates for women in the U.S. are 2.5, for Indigenous women in the U.S. it averages 4.1, and for the Indigenous women of the "Great Sioux Nation" in the Northern Plains it is 11.3. With the assistance of international agencies like United Nations, World Health Organization, and UNICEF, many of these life-threatening issues affecting Indigenous Peoples can be addressed.

The official consultation document will be available from the United Nations in late fall. It can be obtained through the Office of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations in New York, NY 10017, or by calling: 212-963-1186.