The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) began in 2002 as a advisory body under UN’s ECOSOC. The Forum aims to provide a space for the world’s indigenous peoples and organizations to gather and discuss current issues we face, in order to search for solutions through sharing of experiences.
Taiwan has had non-governmental delegates attend the Forum since its founding. Although it is not easy for Taiwan to be represented within the doors of the UN due to its particular international status, Taiwan’s indigenous groups have fought hard to be present and have our voices heard.
To be part of the Forum is to let the world know the existence of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, and to understand our traditional cultural wisdoms. At the same time, we are able to interact with the indigenous peoples from elsewhere to learn from their experiences on how to deal with the pressures of colonialism and oppression.
Nine years ago, I first attended the Forum as a representative of Taiwan’s Truku Youth Association, along with the Taiwan Indigenous People Alliance (TIPA). Armed with my broken English, I was only able to share very basic facts and ideas.
I still remember even though the meeting lasted two weeks, outside of the official meeting schedule there was not much time left for discussion with other delegates. To be able to express our thoughts within the limited time, we knew we must be fully prepared. Not only did we have to absorb all of the Forum’s past meeting minutes and materials, but more importantly we need a way to describe our problems in a context that others will understand. This required actual first hand knowledge and a deep understanding of the issues.
With the experience of attending the Forum in the past, time spent working on indigenous issues in Taiwan, plus some last-minute English cramming, I represented again the Truku Youth Association at the United Nations this year.
This year’s 14th Forum in New York focused on four topics: Indigenous Peoples and Post-2015 Development Agenda; Youth, Self-harm and Suicide; The Pacific Region; and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
In particular, representatives from around the globe called on states to focus on the issue of suicides within indigenous youth. During the meetings, many delegates reported that in addition to being socially and economically disadvantaged, historical trauma and discrimination are critical causes for the suicides. Historical trauma, delegates pointed out, are traumatic experiences from colonization that was passed down through parenting or epigenetic modes.
To combat youth suicides and self-harm, the Forum delegates advocated for treating historical trauma. Because historical trauma can come from large scale events such as forced relocations, forced boarding schools and bans on native languages, intervention or prevention should be based on decolonizing and return to an emphasis on native culture.
In the past, indigenous issues revolved around the fight over inherent rights, but more recently the Forum also began to talk about historical and social determinants of health and well-being for indigenous peoples. Delegates talk of indigenous cultural strengths as protective factors to alleviate negative outcomes or promote better lifestyles.
(Feature photo of UN Indigenous Peoples Forum at the General Assembly, by Ciwang Teyra.)