20061008

 

A relevant programme framework at the UN level

Although the mandates of many UN agencies encompass indigneous peoples, UNESCO - at the international institutional level - appears to have developed the most mature, relevant and appropriate program frameworks (among the various UN agencies) insofar as community-centered approaches are acknowledged and appear to be the conceptual foundation of UNESCO's interventions. It is therefore unfortunate that, at the country office level, activities do not consistently correspond to what is a generally sound institutional approach. For example, in one country office in the Congo Basin, UNESCO as an agency is exceptionally well-positioned to respond to what is a dire need for multi-stakeholder dialogue and information-sharing mechanisms between community members, local organizations, other UN agencies, donors and governement in order to address the ongoing displacement of indigenous peoples that is driven by pressure from logging companies and large-scale, largely unmonitored conservation initiatives that limit access to traditional lands. In this case, UNESCO mandate and actual experience in supporting concrete activities such as community mapping could effectively bring indigenous peoples to the table, affirm and support community participation and at the same time provide actors with essential information to ensure their activities do not create additional pressures on what is an acutely vulnerable population. Instead, in this context of this country, UNESCO's primary focus has been to document, catelogue and archive material and social culture (focusing on dance and language) towards the aim of building an indigenous peoples museum in an area where the vast majority of indigenous peoples will never visit. While this may serve the interests of preserving "cultural heritage" of mankind, and in a vague way promotes public education and knowledge of indigenous culture, it frankly represents an initiative that is of little practical consequence for indigenous communities.

As one member of indigenous community once said, "our culture is dying, we are pushed of the land and so now you can put us behind glass as one of your cultural artifacts". In this case, it is unfortunate that where relevevant institutional frameworks and experience exist, UNESCO in this case has chosen to direct its resources in a way that suggests that the ultimate loss of indigenous peoples traditional ways of life in the Congo Basin is a forgone conclusion by regarding treating them of objects of academic study rather than as people who could sorely use well-placed supporting partners.

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