As an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council, the United Nations Permanent Forum (UNPFII) is mandated to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health, and human rights. Though initial discussions first began in the 1980s, the creation of a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was discussed intensely at the 1993 World Conference in Vienna, Austria. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action recommended that such a forum should be established within the first United Nations International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples from 1995 to 2004.
Topic A: Cultural Preservation Through Land Rights
Many indigenous communities are currently grappling with how to preserve their cultural practices in the face of a rapidly changing society. Land use is one key factor in these discussions. The role of ancestral land in cultural practices cannot be overstated. However, very few states have legally recognized indigenous people’s ownership of their ancestral land, which, in its most basic form, means allowing indigenous occupation through customary ownership. This is a tenuous system at best, as it makes communities vulnerable to outside individuals and corporations buying up vast tracts of land. The lack of guaranteed ownership—insecure land tenure—drives conflict and cultural insecurity. Because cultural education and practices are essential to the survival of indigenous ways of life, the UNPFII must remember the importance of educational inclusion. The focus of this committee will be to assess methods of ensuring successful cultural preservation through the application of increased land security.
Topic B: Ensuring Equal Opportunities for Indigenous Children in Global Society
Indigenous people, especially children, have experienced systemic discrimination and injustice for hundreds of years. Among these injustices, particularly for indigenous youth, is a lack of educational opportunities, which deprives them of a fair shot at a prosperous future. This issue must be addressed in a way that not only empowers indigenous children, but also actively preserves their culture and heritage. In many countries, schools were established for the express purpose of educating indigenous children. However, these schools were often tools of oppression that sought to sever the students’ connection with their indigenous heritage, causing long-lasting rifts within families, societies, and cultures. Today, children in indigenous communities are still too often caught in generational cycles of poverty, as the lack of educational opportunities traps indigenous peoples in a lifetime of poverty. Delegates in this committee will consider the troubled past and present of indigenous youth treatment and will have to develop a framework for creating a new future of equal opportunity to ensure that indigenous communities can flourish in the modern world.