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Indigenous People Voice Concerns at UN Gathering - 2002-08-09

The eighth annual International Day of the World's Indigenous People was observed Friday at the United Nations.

In 1994, the U.N. General Assembly established the years 1995 to 2004 as the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People. The aim is to strengthen international cooperation in solving problems related to human rights, the environment, development, education and health faced by indigenous people. In May, more than 700 indigenous people participated in the first-ever Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at U.N. headquarters in New York.

Roberto Mucaro Borrero, who heads the non-governmental organization Committee on the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, said that progress is being made on behalf indigenous people, but there is still much work to be done.

"There are still concerns about [the fate of] our languages, our sacred sites that are being destroyed with urbanization," he explained. "As more and more people encroach on our original homelands and territories, we're being affected more and more. Some are affected more than others - whoever is closer to mainstream society."

Mr. Borrero presided over the event, which featured indigenous art and photographs from Papua New Guinea, and performances from an Aboriginal musician playing the didgeridoo, a native Hawaiian dance group and the Native American Silver Cloud Singers.

As recently as the 1970s, indigenous people had nowhere within the United Nations to directly voice their grievances and needs. Through a spokesperson, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said "indigenous people now have a home at the United Nations."