NOTE: This post was written by Roxane Heidrich. Roxane is a graduate student at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University. She is specializing in Global Negotiations & Conflict Management and International Security, with a research focus on international mediation, cross-cultural dialogue facilitation, and security issues.

On Wednesday, April 18th2018, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York hosted a seminar on Indigenous Peoples and the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of El Salvador to the United Nations, the Center for the Study of Social Difference (Columbia University), the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, and several other partners. This key cultural, social, and political initiative brought together a panel of experts from different research and policymaking areas involved in the sustainable development of indigenous communities that ranged from human rights advocates to environmental scientists.

In his keynote speech, Dr. tibusungu’ vayayana (Ming-Huey Wang), Deputy Minister of the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Taiwan, remarked that recognition and respect are essential steps towards the improvement of the relationships between indigenous tribes and the official government of Taiwan. In the words of Ming-Huey Wang, these relationships have often been strained by ongoing abuses against indigenous people, such as arbitrary land seizure, social and political marginalization, and human rights violations. This is why the 2016 apology from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen on behalf of the country’s government to Taiwan’s aboriginal community was seen as the first fundamental step towards the normalization of the relationships. Additional actions included the recovery of indigenous rights to lands and the legal recognition of the status of indigenous people as well as the adoption of a legal process for its concession .

The panel discussion featured members from international organizations as well as research and educational institutes . H.E. Ambassador Rubén Armando Escalante Hasbún from the Permanent Mission of El Salvador commented on the mechanisms internal to the United Nations that make it possible to bring together indigenous and tribal wisdom and the international agenda on sustainable development. One such mechanism is the yearly Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) (this year held between Apr. 16th-27th), in which sixteen individuals from aboriginal communities from around the world – eight selected by the United Nations and eight appointed by the indigenous peoples themselves – join for plenary meetings, informal talks, and interactive hearings around indigenous issues at the UN Headquarters in New York. According to Ambassador Escalante Hasbún, however, the UNPFIIshould not be the only place where indigenous people can raise their voice.Also, indigenous peoples should not be seen as an “issue” on the agenda, but as active contributors to it. “There are seventeen SDGs and indigenous peoples should be able to contribute to all”, Ambassador Escalante Hasbún commented.

Another interesting point was raised by Professor Paige West from the Center for the Study of Difference at Columbia University, New York. Papua New Guinea, where she worked for many years with indigenous people, has an astonishing 861 ethnic groups scattered throughout its islands. These communities own 90% of the land. When it comes to conservation projects in Papua New Guinea, indigenous people become partners to  the international geological institutes that work on the territory because of their ownership of the land surface and their wisdom and knowledge about the species living on them.

This particular fact made Prof. West and her coworkers particularly aware of how indigenous communities are an essential link in the chain of sustainable life on Earth  and sustainable development. Prof. West is the co-founder of two community-based NGOs in Papua New Guinea that promote the conservation of biodiversity and grant scholarships to young promising Papua New Guineans to study abroad and then return to their land and actively contribute to its conservation.

It is clear that the diversity of speakers as well as the topics that have been brought to the table reflect the variety of issues that the protection and fostering of indigenous groups imply. It also sheds light on the role of those communities in both how the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development should be put into practice as well as the capacity and contributions of indigenous populations in its implementation. Indigenous peoples are both one of the interests of the 2030 Agenda and one of the key actors in its implementation.

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