Leaders of native populations from around the world gathered at United Nations headquarters Thursday to observe the International Day of the World's Indigenous People and to discuss next year's first meeting of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The forum was established by the U.N. Economic and Social Council in an effort to give native people a platform within the United Nations system. Indigenous leaders say the concerns of their people are often lost in the discussions among national governments at the United Nations.

In fact, Chief Ted Moses of the Cree People in Canada told reporters he discovered that native people were sometimes invisible in the world organization. "There is a notion in many parts of the world that indigenous people were eliminated," he said. "I was quite surprised a few yeas ago, before the permanent forum was created, when a well-informed and educated diplomat told me, 'You are indigenous? I thought all indigenous people had been eliminated.'"

The native leaders say that type of ignorance is one of the main reasons why the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was created. The forum will hold its first two-week meeting next May (6-17).

Native leaders say they will attempt to enlighten U.N. delegates on the issues of concern to indigenous people. They say that, although human rights remains a very important issue, there is also a great deal of interest in educational opportunities, health care, economic development and preservation of cultural traditions and institutions.