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the following was published in Akwesasne Notes New Series,
Fall -- October/November/December -- 1995, Volume 1 #3 & 4, pp. 66-69.
and is reproduced here with permission.

Summit of the Elders
Haudenosaunee Environmental Restoration Strategy

Tuesday, July 18, 1995, New York City. The Haudenosaunee Nations along with Cambridge University each received an award from the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) in recognition of their work and efforts on the development of the document Haudenosaunee Environmental Restoration, as an Indigenous Strategy for Human Sustainability.

Haudenosaunee Restoration Strategy
Overview and Perspectives

The Earth Summit held at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 may yet turn out to be one of the United Nation's most significant achievements in its 50th Year Anniversary. It succeeded in assembling the largest number of heads of state ever to consider the problems facing the Earth as a whole, and to adopt measures where the parts would operate in the service of the whole -- the way nature does -- and promote a future that is prosperous, equitable and sustainable. And in a consensus unique in the annals of international relations, the leaders were able to agree on a new plan of action, Agenda 21, a global blueprint designed to move humanity through a macro-transition towards the 21st century.

Agenda 21 is perhaps the most comprehensive statement on the range of human needs to be addressed in all sectors of society and in all corners of the world. It is truly intended to energize global action, setting in motion a series of processes aimed at a number of critical issues that require specific attention, including human numbers, the social issues of poverty and equity, the dilemmas of small island developing states, the threats to ocean vitality due to overexploitation of marine resources, land-based sources of pollution, and problems of consumption patterns and lifestyles. Agenda 21 also forcefully addresses the problems facing indigenous peoples and outlines a series of features designed to align their concerns with those of the international community, and give a fuller sense of urgency to their fundamental needs at the national level, as well as their participation in issues which directly affect them. In this connection, Chapter 26 of Agenda 21 could contribute meaningfully to the cause of indigenous peoples, and give impetus to the United Nations to address problems in a more energetic and committed manner. Moreover, the recent declaration of the International Decade for Indigenous Peoples provides a useful timeframe for defining targets and measuring performance and achievements.

Even before the summit, however, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) had been assisting efforts and initiatives of indigenous peoples, providing additional channels of access to the organization and its various programmes of action, and supporting efforts to participate in UN activities such as the Charter for Nature and the World Conservation Strategies. From the beginning, UNEP has recognized indigenous peoples as natural allies, and that most indigenous cultures are based on a profound respect for nature and that their consumption patterns and lifestyles are premised on the principle of sustainability which is perhaps best summed up in the adage, "Take no more than you need."

Throughout the years, UNEP has found common cause with indigenous peoples from the Arctic to the Amazon, from Australia to Argentina. During the Summit itself, UNEP supported a number of indigenous gatherings and even funded the participation of several to the Rio Conference. In the post Rio phase, moreover, UNEP began exploring the most effective ways it might give meaning to Chapter 26 of Agenda 21, and assist in the work of indigenous peoples.

It did this in two ways. First, UNEP created a new extension programme in cooperation with the University of Cambridge called Indigenous Development International (INDI) which allowed a global overview to be developed on the relationships of indigenous peoples to existing nation-states -- specifically the political, economic and environmental dimensions. Second, it responded to a specific appeal made by the Haudenosaunee Six Nations Confederacy to assist in the exploration of environmental hazards in their territories with the intent of formulating a strategy for the restoration of native lands. In the process, UNEP encouraged indigenous peoples to identify for themselves critical issues, evaluate these on the basis of available science and research, and formulate a plan of action which UNEP will consider and assist in its implementation. The result was a proposed Summit of the Elders whereby the plan would be considered and the case of the Haudenosaunee would be given the best possible hearing.

Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force Members:

  • Chief Harvey Longboat - Six Nations
  • Norman Jacobs - Six Nations
  • F. Henry Lickers - Mohawk Nation
  • David Arquette - Mohawk Nation
  • Chief Brian Skidders - Mohawk Nation
  • Chief Oren Lyons - Onondaga Nation
  • Chief Irving Powless - Onondaga Nation
  • Clint Shenandoah - Onondaga Nation
  • Sonny Shenandoah - Onondaga Nation
  • Chas Wheelock - Oneida Nation
  • Chief Bernie Parker - Seneca Nation
  • Linley Logan - Seneca Nation
  • Peter Jemison - Seneca Nation
  • Grant Jonathan - Tuscarora Nation
  • Vince Schiffert - Tuscarora Nation
  • Ray Henry - Tuscarora Nation
  • Neil Patterson - Tuscarora Nation

    UNEP Working Committee Members:

  • Noel J. Brown - United Nations Environmental Programme - RONA
  • Uradyn E. Bulag - Indigenous Development International
  • Ambassador Keith Johnson - O.J., C.D. Jamaica
  • Chief Oren Lyons - Haudenosaunee Confederacy
  • Pierre Quiblier - United Nations Environment Programme - RONA
  • Christopher D. Stephens - Indigenous Development International
  • Janice Whitney Annunziata - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The proposed Summit is a combination of several months of intense work, both by UNEP and the task force established by the Confederacy to review the range of environmental hazards to which their communities have been exposed and to document as precisely as possible, the sources and nature of these hazards, as well as to design a plan of action for their remediation and the environmental restoration of the territories in question.

The leaders of the Haudenosaunee were encouraged to undertake this initiative as a result of the Earth Summit, which they felt fully acknowledged the contributions they could make to the concept of sustainability based on their harmonious relationship with the natural order and their "holistic traditional, scientific knowledge of the land and natural resources which they have developed over many generations."

At the same time they welcomed the assertion by Summit leaders that in many instances, they were not able to participate fully in decisions that affected them and its call for full partnership with governments and international organizations in the establishment of procedures that would empower indigenous peoples and their communities in order to protect them from activities that are environmentally unsound or socially and culturally inappropriate.

In the light of these considerations, the Haudenosaunee Six Nations Confederacy, approached UNEP requesting its assistance to develop case studies of critical environmental hazards to which their communities have been exposed and for which the cooperation of national governments and international organizations would be solicited.

For its part, UNEP, which has long been associated with indigenous communities, particularly in connection with the implementation of the World Conservation Strategy launched in 1980, and its new partnership with the creation of an indigenous programme at Cambridge University, encouraged the Haudenosaunee to examine the hazards in question and if appropriate, would provide scientific and technical advice to enable them to do so. At the conclusion of the exercise, UNEP and INDI would host a major conference at the UN whereby indigenous people will be in a position to present their findings, as well as recommendations for the necessary corrective actions. What is significant here is that with the encouragement of the UN, the indigenous people will conduct their own investigations and on the basis of their conclusions are prepared to develop a strategy for action.

They were also encouraged to present this strategy at a formal meeting of the United Nations i.e. the Summit of the Elders. In offering this encouragement and extending this invitation, UNEP and INDI based itself on Chapter 26.5 of Agenda 21, which recommends international development and financial institutions and governments to:

  1. Appoint a special focal point within each international organization, and organize annual interorganizational coordination meetings in consultation with Governments and indigenous organizations, as appropriate, and develop a procedure within and between operation agencies for assisting Governments in ensuring the coherent and coordinated incorporation of the view of indigenous people in the design and implementation of policies and programmes. Under this procedure, indigenous people and their communities should be informed and consulted and allowed to participate in national decision-making, in particular regarding regional and international cooperative efforts. In addition, these policies and programmes should take fully into account strategies based on local indigenous initiatives;

  2. Provide technical and financial assistance for capacity-building programmes to support the sustainable self-development of indigenous people and their communities;

  3. Strengthen research and education programmes aimed at:

    1. Achieving a better understanding of indigenous people's knowledge and management experience related to the environment and applying this to contemporary development challenges;

    2. Increasing the efficiency of indigenous people's resource management systems, for example, by promoting the adaptation and dissemination of suitable technological innovations.

It is hoped that the Summit will serve to convince the confederacy of the depth of UNEP's and INDI's concerns and its willingness as appropriate to be supportive of actions that might facilitate the restoration and rehabilitation of indigenous territories in keeping with the spirit of Agenda 21 and building their confidence in the United Nations and its systems of agencies.

Think not of yourselves, O Chiefs, nor of your own generation.
Think of continuing generations of our families,
think of our grandchildren and of those yet unborn,
whose faces are coming from beneath the ground."

The Peacemakers of the Haudenosaunee

We, the Haudenosaunee, are one of the indigenous peoples of North America. For decades our territories have been impacted with transboundary pollution from surrounding industries and non-native settlements. Our subsistence economy and entire ecosystem has been transformed, requiring considerable economic, social and political adjustment.

We, the Haudenosaunee, bring our case to the United Nations to draw international attention to the environmental issues affecting the indigenous communities in North America.

Having made a major contribution to the Rio Earth Summit in bringing about Chapter 26 of Agenda 21, we maintain that our traditional strategy for sustainable development practices and coexistence is a model for the future survival of humanity on earth. We are committed to continuing our sustainable economic practices.

Under the initiative of the Chiefs of the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, especially Chief Oren Lyons, the Haudenosaunee have proposed to launch the first comprehensive sustainable development strategy to initiate the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People. In March 1994 we submitted our request to the Secretary General of the United Nations, and asked Dr. Noel Brown, Director of the United Nations Environmental Programme - RONA, and H.E. Ambassador Keith Johnson for assistance. A subsequent partnership was formed between the Haudenosaunee and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

This partnership will ensure that this project receives the necessary moral and financial support from the Governments of Canada and the United States. US President William Clinton's Executive Order on Environmental Justice in Minority and Low-Income Populations and the US Environmental Protection Agency's Indian Policy are the foundation for the jurisdictional and financial commitment.

UNEP's working committee, in addition to Oren Lyons, Noel Brown and Keith Johnson, also includes Janice Whitney Annuziata who, under the direction of the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force undertook to compile, with some initial assistance from Grant Jonathan and Kevin Madonna, a comprehensive document on Haudenosaunee environmental deterioration. At the invitation of UNEP, this document was reviewed by their partnership programme at the University of Cambridge, Indigenous Development International, comprising Uradyn Bulag and Christopher Stephens with subsequent advice from Marina Tsirbas and Rachel Massey.

This working document consists of two parts. Part I is a comprehensive package of the Haudenosaunee environmental concerns and proposed strategies. It includes a section on principles for environmental restoration and sustainable development. Part II contains summaries of most of the documents in the original compilation. The data in Part II have been arranged to match the corresponding sections in Part I as much as possible. These serve as supplementary materials and/or reference data upon which the statements and facts in Part I are based. This document has been published in partnership by Indigenous Development International, a United Nations/University of Cambridge partnership Programme.

The environmental strategy of the Haudenosaunee constitutes one of the first comprehensive indigenous responses to Chapter 26 of Agenda 21 formulated at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

The Haudenosaunee Summit of the Elders was hosted by the United Nations on July 18th 1995 in New York City. It was attended by Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee and delegates from other First Nations in North America. Members and permanent representatives of the UN missions took an active role in receiving the Haudenosaunee Delegation. Invitations to the one-day UN Summit were extended to members of state, provincial and national governments, as well as members of non-U.S. Parliaments. The Summit heard submissions from Haudenosaunee communities and testimonies from scientists and attorneys. The Summit agenda included a strategy review and identify funding needs. An implementation task force was appointed at this summit.

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