Matthew Coon Come was given four minutes to address the official Summit of the Americas in Quebec City on April 20. Some excerpts:
(In Cree, thanks the Huron People on whose traditional territory the city stands.)
We, the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, are the original governments of this continent. We are still here. Yet we have not been invited to be full participants in these deliberations. Instead, I have been invited here to do the impossible. In four minutes, one indigenous leader cannot speak to 500 years of colonial history across a continent, to our injuries, to our concerns, to our aspirations, and to our rights.
Please do not construe my presence here as meaningful involvement or consultation. Indigenous Peoples are not a component of “civil society.” Our contribution to the political, economic, cultural and spiritual landscape of this continent is as governments, as Nations and as Peoples.
As Peoples, we have the fundamental human right of self-determination. This means, as stated in the International Bill of Rights, that we have the right to determine our own political future. It means we have the right to freely dispose of our natural wealth and resources. It means we have the right to never be deprived of our means of subsistence. In short, it means that indigenous peoples, like all peoples, have the right not to be subjected to colonization and dispossession.
These human rights, which are universal and indivisible, have to this day been universally denied to our peoples, throughout the Americas. Even Canada, which holds itself out to be a leading nation in human rights, was recently condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee for policies and practices that deny our right of self-determination, and for violations of our right to freedom from discrimination.
These human rights are fundamental. They are rights which we have. They are rights which we will defend. They are rights for which indigenous peoples have died, and are still dying.
Just a few weeks ago, with the facilitation of the government of Canada, leaders of the indigenous peoples of the Americas assembled in Ottawa at the first Indigenous Peoples’ Summit of the Americas. The result of this Indigenous Summit was a declaration reflecting the universal experience of the Indigenous Peoples across the Americas.
We have certain fundamental concerns about governance and trade in the present day. As the peoples that have been pushed aside and sacrificed in the 500-year rush to colonize and exploit this continent, we are now insisting that our fundamental social, economic, environmental and other human rights be respected and made paramount.
Since our first contact with Europeans, our position and condition in the Americas have failed to improve. For us, the taking and theft of our lands and resources, and the imposition of alien forms of governance and economic activity, have meant mass poverty, ill health, marginalization, loss of language and – often – extinction.
Our historic Declaration of the First Indigenous Summit of the Americas must be read, understood and heeded. In particular:
• The fundamental collective human
rights of Indigenous Peoples as Peoples, including our right of self-determination, must be recognized and respected in accordance with international law.
• Where our rights may be affected, Indigenous Peoples have the right to full, direct and effective participation in all institutions and processes.
• It must be explicitly recognized in any FTAA that the principles of democracy and respect for human rights are inseparable from free trade and that our fundamental human rights, including our right of self-determination, are paramount. Protection of the environment must also be safeguarded, particularly in or affecting indigenous territories and lands. Trade and development must be environmentally, socially and culturally sustainable and equitable from the viewpoint of indigenous peoples.
• The FTAA must include measures for us to participate in resource development to reduce the extreme poverty and marginalization suffered by our peoples.
Ladies and Gentlemen inside these walls, please heed this message: Indigenous Peoples are awakening after a long period of suppression and invisibility. We are determined that we will no longer be ignored. We are united in our determination, as peoples, that we will now survive. We are even more united in our determination, as peoples, that we will now thrive.
Miigwetch. Merci. Gracias. Thank you.