Magazine article UN Chronicle

Indigenous Groups: Make Inroads into the Global Community

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Indigenous Groups: Make Inroads into the Global Community

Article excerpt

INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES, which make up only 5 per cent of the global population but represent a staggering 15 per cent of the world's poor, are still reeling from the results of centuries of decimation and political brutality: violence, unemployment and seemingly inescapable cycles of poverty. New challenges, however, face these communities and with them come innovative opportunities to reverse these insidious cycles.

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In today's well-networked, globalized world, no rugged mountain steppe or forest nook seems quite as remote as it once did. Pervasive media and technology have reached the far corners of the earth, offering indigenous people a direct and undiluted connection to the dominant majority. No longer will the world's image of native groups be fixed only in the pages of anthropological texts, confined by the perception of outside eyes.

With new connections far and wide to places and people, indigenous groups have a chance at real representation within the global community, and they are ready to be seen as the complex, dynamic communities that they are. It's a big change and a big responsibility. The United Nations joined forces with indigenous communities as it hosted the fifth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, held from 15 to 26 May 2006. Over 1,200 representatives travelled to UN Headquarters in New York to assert their commitment to progress in the international arena.

"There are these four walls that any issues facing indigenous peoples always hit up against. I think that indicates that we're at a time when change is absolutely essential", said Merata Mita, a filmmaker and a Maori native from New Zealand, who attended the Forum with the National Geographic's All Roads film project and photography programme, of which she is an advisory board member. This change, she said, involved new ways of looking at the world. "A critical aspect to the future of indigenous peoples is that we must think more laterally and try to impress upon those walls."

Projects like All Roads, which gives grants to indigenous photographers and filmmakers to pursue their creative skills and imagination and have their arts viewed in international venues like the UN Permanent Forum, are major sources of support for indigenous artists worldwide. All Roads has had some mainstream success. Its 2004 animated series, "Raven Tales", which is based on North American aboriginal mythology, has recently joined Porchlight Entertainment and will be broadcast on PBS affiliates across the United States. Indigenous arts groups hope that more contact with the realities of native life will have lasting effects on the global consciousness, dispelling misconceptions and replacing them with human faces.

"Art and life are not static", said Ms. Mita's colleague, Chris Rainier, who heads the photography project. Some of the main themes in All Roads projects, he said, were modern changes in indigenous communities and the identity struggles that often follow. "We have to be aware that putting a fence around indigenous cultures and saying that 'we don't want you to change' is simply not fair and not appropriate", he added, addressing the preservationist attitudes of anthropologists and historians past.

This sentiment reverberated throughout the Forum's two-week session and at many more events. …

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