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9th Session of UNPFII

April 19-30, 2010

Agenda Item 3: Indigenous peoples: development with culture and identity: articles 3 and 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Statement Paper Presented By Mr. Ngwang Sonam Sherpa, Executive Chairman, Nepal Indigenous Nationalities Preservation Association - NINPA
Collective statement of Nepal Indigenous Nationalities Preservation Association NINPA, Sherpa Association of Nepal

Mr. Chair Person,
I thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this floor on behalf of Nepal Indigenous Nationalities Preservation Association, and Sherpa Association of Nepal SAN.

Nepal is a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-linguistic country. The national data listed 59 ethnic groups spread across entire Nepal in 2000. Short distances create wide variations within social situations in a country so diverse in its geography as Nepal, so that some areas may have homogenous populations belonging to one or another ethnic group making them a national minority, but a local majority. In other areas, the population may be totally heterogeneous. Although Nepal espouses values of multiculturalism, the indigenous people in Nepal, who have their own unique cultural, social and linguistic identities, which remain vastly distinct from the mainstream or dominant cultures shaped by one or two groups belonging to so called high caste, their economic, social, educational and political achievements remain negligible. Many of their languages and cultures in a decade or two will become extinct. This is a bitter reality, the indigenous groups’ linguistic, cultural, social, educational and political status therefore needs urgent attention.

The indigenous peoples were only finally considered in the ninth Five-Year National Plan between 1997 and 2002 in Nepal. They were marginalized or almost invisible in the previous eight Five-Year National Plans leading to the sad and worrisome underdeveloped socio-economic state of the many indigenous groups today. The ninth plan is the first plan that has a specific section on indigenous people under social security sector. The social ferment brewing in Nepal for last decade which includes indigenous peoples’ issues and concerns is the direct outcome of the suppression of the groups during past several regimes. Traditional patterns of dominance based on caste ascription and the State’s systematic discriminatory policies that favoured the few dominant groups have been challenged by activist groups with ethnic, linguistic and religious alliance.

The future action plans, by the government or by the political parties, therefore need to encompass political (Article 3 of UNDRIP), social, and economic problems of the indigenous people. These plans should not only include the aspects of socio-economic developments of the indigenous people but also recognize their culture, religion, and languages at the same pedestal as the dominant cultures, and have political rights of proportional representation and autonomy in the agenda. The development programs for indigenous people in Nepal should have four objectives: to eradicate social imbalance; to uplift cultural status; to enhance capability of indigenous people, and to involve indigenous people in nation building.

Indigenous peoples have organic and symbiotic relationship with the land they inhabit. Many of their social practices equate natural environment: Land, Forest and water as a sacred space or entity. They have own designated territories since time immemorial with unique social, economical and cultural values. Indigenous people are holder and providers of knowledge and resources. The state has to recognise Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) and Mutually Agreed Term (MAT), and fulfil indigenous people's requirements and respect their community protocols. The Article 32 of UNDRIP states that the indigenous people do not have to compromise their citizenship because of their unique culture and customs; moreover the article gives the people the right to determine state structures and policies based on their own local practices.

Mr. chairperson, As outlined in Articles 3 and 32 of UNDRIP, the objectives and priority programs for indigenous people, and as are the ethos of the indigenous peoples’ movement, are:

To establish social equality and justice;
To promote indigenous culture to enhance identity of Nepal;
To empower indigenous people for utilization and conservation of local resources; and
To mobilize indigenous people through capacity building for national integration.

Remarkably, in recent times Nepal has undergone political and social changes unprecedented in its history. Nepal today is in the process of writing its new constitution. Indigenous people of Nepal have been raising their voices for proportional representation, federalism and autonomy on the basis of their ethnicities, state restructuring, implementation of secular state, multi-lingual and cultural policies, indigenous peoples’ land rights, implementation of the UN instruments like UNDRIP, ILO Convention 169, CBD Process and so on. The indigenous peoples in Nepal therefore have been finally able to establish their identities at the national level, and furthermore, they are seeking rights though the political injunction by restructuring the state and claiming autonomy on the basis of ethnicity.

This could lead to full and effective participation of all the state structures. However, the homework does not just end here with the acknowledgement of the indigenous peoples’ identities at the national level, unless the State or the key players include the recommendations that empowers the indigenous peoples as outlined in articles 3 and 32 by UNDRIP, the indigenous peoples’ culture, lands, language and religion ever remain in the danger of extinction in coming years.

Thank you for your time Mr. Chairperson and everyone present today.