Matthew Coon Come raised more than a few eyebrows at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. Not only did the National Chief stick to his plan of alerting the world to the levels of racism experienced by Native people in Canada, but he went one further by denouncing what he referred to as “official U.N. discrimination.”
Coon Come spoke to a packed press conference on September 4th to draw attention to the issue of official text involving indigenous rights. According to Coon Come, “the draft WCAR Declaration gives with one hand but takes more with the other. It appears that a number of governments are now determined, by means of two discriminatory paragraphs in the Final Declaration of this World Conference Against Racism, to impose inferior international human rights status on all indigenous peoples of the world.”
The head of the AFN went on to say that “the legitimacy of the entire World Conference process will be undermined” if the U.N. member states refuse to remove the offensive paragraphs from the WCAR declaration. “In that case, we Indigenous peoples are now forced to call for the removal of any and all mention of Indigenous Peoples from the WCAR text.”
Canadian government officials have been quite upset over remarks made public by Coon Come at the conference over what he referred to as “Canada’s hidden shame” in its systematically racist treatment of Native people. Coon Come was one of the most visible of the Indigenous leaders present in Durban, where he sought to gain official recognition for the human rights of Aboriginal people everywhere.
An unofficial but sizeable “Indigenous Caucus” formed at the conference. This group included Coon Come, a delegation of half a dozen AFN and Quebec Grand Council of the Crees representatives and Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchu. A daily newspaper published by the World Conference applauded the efforts of the group when it wrote that “undeterred by the mayhem, one of the most vocal, organized and effective groups has been the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus.”
Having headed to South Africa seeking a world stage on which to put forward the concerns of native people in Canada and around the world, national chief Coon Come gave numerous interviews to the international media that assembled for the conference including the BBC World Service, South African, Italian, and Canadian TV news teams.