Willie Littlechild, UN Declaration on Human Rights

Click the link below to view Regional Chief, Willie Littlechild address the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. He was one of four civil individuals selected to speak at the 60th commemorative ceremonies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
UN Photo/Stephenie Hollyman
Video – 8 minutes 20 seconds
"Chief Wilton Littlechild, IPC - Cree Nation, UN, 12 December 2008"
[Unofficial transcription of text]

Thank you Mr. President. Respectful greetings from the […] Cree and the Assembly of First Nations in Canada to the Secretary General, her Excellency the High Commissioner, Madame Pillay, to all your Excellencies and distinguished ladies and gentlemen. It’s certainly a great honor to address this special session.

In the words of a Cree elder, who said “you must know where you came from yesterday, know where you are today, if you’re to know where you’re going tomorrow.”

Sixty years ago the United Nations General Assembly adopted the world’s most important human rights document in international law to recognize the inherent rights of all peoples. For the Cree Nation we say [words in Cree language], rights that were recognized for all peoples as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

But in 1948 Indigenous peoples were not included in the Universal Declaration. We were not considered to have equal rights as everyone else. Indeed, we were not considered as human. Nor as peoples.

Consequently there were at times gross violations of our human rights. Indigenous peoples simply did not benefit from the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration.

Your Excellencies, in my community, the leaders and elders gathered [..?..] very concerned about this. We have an international treaty with Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. It’s not being respected according to its original spirit and intent, they said, as an international agreement, nor was it being honored. So after much deliberation and spiritual ceremonies, they decided to seek recognition and justice from the international community.

We were here in 1977 when we could not gain access to inform the UN family of United Nations about our issues and concerns. We’ve been coming here ever since then. Yes, we have called attention to ongoing treaty and treaty rights violations, but we have always also recommended solutions for positive change, recognition, and inclusion.

Today, our delegation wants to take this opportunity to acknowledge the tremendous advancements we have made together over the past three decades in efforts to better the quality of life for Indigenous peoples worldwide. The United Nations has, for example, taken many steps within its system, through its various bodies to address indigenous issues. There have been several UN expert seminars and studies on a number of major areas.

If one was to highlight major achievements, they include the establishment of the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, the establishment of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Inter-Agency Support Group, established by all major UN agencies to contribute to their mandated areas, the proclamation of two international decades and the establishment of a Special Rapporteur, the ongoing work on Indigenous children, traditional knowledge and more. The collective work of all these entities would not be possible without the co-ordination by the Indigenous Unit of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and also the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum.

Today we see with the successive efforts of High Commissioners, Special Rapporteurs, and supportive preceding Secretary Generals, two pinnacles of success. First, the pronouncement by former Secretary General that the indigenous issues were now one of the top ten priorities for the UN. And secondly, his welcoming us into the UN family of nations.

While this has been tremendous work to date, many have died along this tough struggle together – and yes, we have a long way to go. As we look back one of the most satisfying was to see all these contributions leading to better understanding, better relations and respect that accumulated in a historic decision last year. With good will on all sides, the foundation was set for the General Assembly to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And the Human Rights Council to establish an Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Excellencies, one could argue that the UN now has, with the important contribution of Indigenous leaders and representatives, succeeded in ensuring that Indigenous peoples are now part of humankind with equal rights and freedoms. Indeed, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clarifies how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies for our survival, dignity, and well being. As an elder wanted me to tell you, “I am not an object. I am not a subject. I am a human being.”

Tomorrow, many challenges remain. Why is it that there is still abject poverty among our families, especially among our children? Why is it in a country of ours, the education of indigenous students is in a crisis? Why is it that we continue to be excluded from the economic mainstream, especially during this economic global crisis? Why is it that our treaties continue to be violated? Why is it that four States continue to actively oppose the recognition of our rights, in particular the UN Declaration, as recently as two days ago on the eve of this important commemoration?

For tomorrow, we must put all these good words of the past three decades, and I would dare say the past three hours, into more concrete action. What we need is implementation of the UN Declaration.

On this important occasion, let me thank the States that support us. Through you, your Excellencies, I would not do justice to those I represent, if I were not to call on the others to say “yes” to a new framework for partnership. Say “yes” to better relations among our peoples and nations. Say “yes” to honoring treaties and agreements with mutual respect. Say “yes” to our full inclusion and continued contribution to humankind.

We respectfully urge you to call on the CANZUS states [Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States] to now support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its full implementation as a solution. That will give real meaning to this celebration. And finally, when Indigenous peoples win, the whole world wins [closing words in Cree]. Thank you.


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