International Day of the World's Indigenous People
Theme of the Observance for 2009: "Indigenous Peoples and HIV/AIDS"
From: Kent Lebsock
"Indigenous peoples also tend to suffer from the low standards of health associated with poverty, malnutrition, environmental contamination and inadequate healthcare. With that in mind, this year’s observance of the International Day focuses on the threat of HIV/AIDS. It is essential that indigenous peoples have access to the information and infrastructure necessary for detection, treatment and protection."
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous People was observed this year at United Nations Headquarters in New York on Monday, 10 August 2009.Organized by the Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, in cooperation with the NGO Committee on the International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples and the New York Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the theme of the observance at UN Headquarters was "Indigenous Peoples and HIV/AIDS". The event included messages from the United Nations Secretary-General, the President of the UN General Assembly, the Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, and the Chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. There were also performances by indigenous artists, and a panel discussion on "Indigenous Peoples and HIV/AIDS".
Link to webcast:
Report to Owe Aku from Kent Lebsock,
Participant in the Panel Discussion at the United Nations
Yesterday an event was held at the United Nations in New York in observance of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The program included a panel discussion on Indigenous peoples and HIV/AIDS. I agreed to participate as both a person living with AIDS and on behalf of Owe Aku. The rest of the panel consisted of the Director of Surveillance and Risk Assessment from Canada’s Public Health Agency, Chris Archibald, the Director of the UN’s New York office of UNAIDS, Bertil Lindblad, and the Special Liaison from Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, Olivia Sloan (Navajo/Tohono O’odham). The panel was moderated by the North American representative on the Permanent Forum, Tonya Gonnella Frichner (Onondaga).
The discussion included an examination of the statistics world-wide, some of the best practices that have been identified in working with Indigenous peoples and the need for a holistic approach with respect to health, well-being, and cultural diversity. The ongoing need for surveillance data was also pointed out by the professionals on the panel, a familiar theme with activists around the world regarding Indigenous peoples.
It was very rewarding to see that the 2006 Toronto Charter from the International AIDS Conference that was assembled over many years by a coalition of Indigenous nations, peoples and organizations, and its subsequent presentation and acceptance by the Permanent Forum, is now the standard utilized in guiding and designing programs within the United Nations. Additionally, the panel participants all indicated that the Declaration on the Rights of the World’s Indigenous Peoples provides framework in which non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples can work together.
All of the panelists also commented on the approach to the issues of taboo and stigmatization that occur whenever HIV/AIDS is discussed. The question actually came from a Crimean Tartar woman who was having difficulty discussing treatment, testing and prevention with her people. I gave the example of the American Indian Community House’s program begun back in the early 90s in which the first step was to go directly to the leadership on the territories of the Indian nations in the Community House’s service area. From there, community approaches could be utilized with the blessing of the leaders and elders, somewhat diminishing the people’s concerns about participating in discussions on a sensitive topic. Also, Olivia Sloan said that they used best practices gathered from a variety of sources, but emphasized that they always had to be adjusted for a particular community in finding the right approach.
It was a pleasure to participate and I thank the organizers and my fellow panelists.
Text of Speech:
Here is my written speech although I am not sure how much of this was actually said.
Hau mitaku oyapi, anpetu omniciye waste, wopila
My name is Kent Lebsock and I am a little overwhelmed by the expertise on this panel. My role, I think, is to more or less represent those of us who are the “stigma” we have been discussing. I fall within many categories, none of which, I’m proud to say, make me “normal.” I am Lakota and German, I am gay, two-spirit and I study the Lakota traditions of what is called winkte by the ancestors. I am urban, not rural or from a reservation, growing up in Denver and having lived in NYC for the past 20 years. I have been living with AIDS since 1992 and I also have the Hepatitis C virus and I am currently undergoing treatment for that disease. I fear that Hepatitis C is going to be the next big threat to our communities in that it has all the same risk factors and markers that we have learned about during the HIV epidemic.
I also want to begin by thanking the organizers of the event including Roberto and his committee here at the UN as well as the Secretariat, especially Broddi and the interns who did so much work on this event.
Of course, as is our Lakota tradition, I also want to think the elders and leaders from different nations and places that are here with us today. Looking around I don’t see too many Indigenous elders, except maybe Tonya, but she is far too pretty to be an elder, and of course, I’ll never be one because I am far too mean.
Seriously though, I know that most Indigenous peoples pray for guidance from those ancestors and mentors that have already passed on and I always hope that seen or unseen, whatever I can share comes from a place deeper than I could communicate on my own. Watching the dancers from the Crimea at the beginning of the program, I was struck with just how interesting it was that after hundreds and hundreds of years of this music and dance, it survives here in New York, so strong that it can be performed by a small group of Crimean folks at the UN. My heart is convinced that we all carry with us, in our genetic structure, all the knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors if we only have the patience and humility to listen. .
Also in keeping with our Lakota way, before speaking here today, I checked with the organization I work with at Pine Ridge, Owe Aku, Bring Back the Way. I bring their greetings to you and gratitude for including us in this important event. All of our leaders recognize that health, mental, physical and spiritual, is a critical element to the preservation and restoration of our nation. .
Of course, as a person living with AIDS, an Indigenous person and someone who has been working in the field for many years, I am personally very pleased that the theme of this event is about HIV and AIDS in our communities. I am not any kind of professional but I guess you could call me an activist. One of the great things that I think Indigenous peoples have brought to the UN in general has been the idea that grass roots organizations and disenfranchised peoples can speak directly at the highest levels of international institutions.
The example of HIV and AIDS as an Indigenous issue within the UN is a perfect example. A couple of the other speakers spoke about the Toronto Charter and how it has informed a lot of the practices and programs pursued by UN agencies. The Charter was actually the result of many years of small grass roots Indigenous organizations who came together at the International AIDS Conferences beginning in Durban, South Africa in 2000. The absence of an Indigenous presence was noted and that eventually led to the development of the Toronto Charter. With the adaptation of the Toronto Charter by the Permanent Forum, it became a document distributed and used throughout the UN agencies. This is a great example of grass roots activism.
In my experience, and the experience of the many organizations I have worked with over the years, time and time again it has been shown that community based advocacy from grass roots organizations is the most effective approach regardless of the issue involved. When Indigenous peoples have the opportunity to design and implement programs from within our cultures, the effectiveness and success is naturally more assured. We have seen that this is true for health care, substance abuse, housing or any significant issue affecting the well-being of our peoples’ lives. In addition, there is support for this kind of action in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. With the right of self-determination enshrined in an international instrument, the common-sense notion that we, as Indigenous peoples, control our own destiny has been acknowledged. Also, I would be remiss if I did not mention the treaties that exist between many of our nations and member nations of the UN. The Fort Laramie treaties between the United States and the Lakota Nation provide much of the legal basis for sovereign action by our people on behalf of our own nation. We hope, and see that increasingly, the role of international forums is to support this right to self-determination under the Declaration and international treaty obligations.
We also acknowledge and welcome the many allies that Indigenous peoples have in all of our work. Not only do we welcome your participation in these struggles, we must depend upon them. We are often people with few resources and little “power” in the sense of the modern world. All of the statistics show that. However, to our allies and friends, we hope you are always mindful of the history of colonization and the contemporary need to ensure that it is our leaders and elders, customs and cultures, that must lead in defining programs for our peoples and nations.
There is no question about the universal need for health care access for Indigenous peoples’ world wide. The Secretary General rightly pointed out in his statement regarding this issue yesterday, that poor health, and access to health care makes it impossible for Indigenous peoples to fully pursue our rights and protect our future and environment.
I want to emphasize the serious need in Africa an Asia where Indigenous peoples are often those who are suffering most from the devastation of HIV. This isn’t often talked about, but the folks in central and south Africa who are suffering the most from this disease are from Indigenous nations and communities. In 2000, I was privileged to go to the International AIDS Conference in Durban and I found that often the ‘best practice” in many of their Indigenous communities was providing clean water for people who were suffering from the disease. How unjust and sad to think about. I only recently learned that my survival is a privilege that I enjoy because of where I live at a cost of up to $60,000 a year. Sadly, the vast majority of people with the same disease hope for a glass of clean water.
That doesn’t mean though that Indian communities and reservations in North America are any better off. The average life expectancy on Pine Ridge, the Lakota reservation in South Dakota where Owe Aku is from, is only about 51 years for men. The average annual income is $4,000. The poorest town in America is Wanblee, also on Pine Ridge, where the average income is $1,600 per year. Right now, Owe Aku is very busy, with very limited resources fighting plural, multi-national corporations in an attempt to end and prevent uranium mining which has proven to contaminate the well water. The water at Pine Ridge, like in many South African communities, is dangerous to drink. This is not a place in central Africa or Southeast Asia. All of this is right here in the occupied territories of the United States.
Thank you very much for your attention. I look forward to answering your questions to the best of my ability. Pila maya yelo.
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