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By Monica Romano

The opening session of the first global meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum concluded with all of the many present holding hands as a sign of brotherhood.

To me it was really the real and most meaningful start, after Mr. Kevin Cleaver - our Vice-President, Programmes - had greeted the audience and welcomed the indigenous participants who are always so colourful in their wonderful traditional clothes. But what touched me deeply were the words of blessing that were said during a traditional ceremony that was held by representatives of the indigenous peoples’ communities from different regions in the room, in front of the long table were the panelists were seated.

During this ritual, ancestors were honoured and invoked, together with “Madre Tierra” and “Corazon del Ciel”. My feelings about the meaning of those kind gestures and words were that, while there is a beautiful richness and diversity in cultures and traditions among human beings, the values of attachment to our planet where all of us live and the “devotion” to what is “above us” - whatever belief and worldview we may have – are  a common important foundation of all the efforts towards an equal and sustainable development, where the rights of all people are protected and respected. After lighting six candles – to me symbolically representing the unique light which enlightens  all the different people living on earth, our President, Dr. Kanayo F. Nwanze, expressed the wish to achieve “harmony” and gratitude to the Mother Earth and the Creator.

Before the ceremony, Mr. Cleaver noted with pride that 80 percent of IFAD-funded interventions support in some form indigenous peoples. Earlier on, when the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum at IFAD was established at a workshop in February 2011, the Vice-President had expressed the desire and commitment for IFAD to better understand and work on how the Fund can best support indigenous peoples and their organizations.

The firm words of our dedicated coordinator for indigenous peoples’ issues, Antonella Cordone, who is also the main conceiver, facilitator and contributor to this big event, also resounded in the room, as a video of that workshop was broadcast. She pointed out that the distinctiveness of indigenous peoples is their richness and the key to their development, including economic development, which we should build on. The same concept was reiterated by our President, highlighting that indigenous people and ethnic minorities have distinct cultures, livelihoods, and traditions as well as unique knowledge. It was also noted that unfortunately, these communities are often victims of marginalization and discrimination, lack to land, territories and resources. Indigenous people and ethnic minority groups account for 5 percent of the total global population and 15 percent of those living in poverty.

Two indigenous women representatives seating in the panel together with President Nwanze, Mr. Cleaver, Antonella, and Mr. Adolfo Brizzi – Director of the IFAD Policy and Technical Advisory Division – briefly intervened for these introductory remarks. Ms. Myrna Cunningham, Member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), referred to “challenging times” the world has been facing and expressed the desire for the indigenous communities to continue to work with IFAD. Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Executive Director, Tebtebba Foundation, invited us to think about indigenous people not only as beneficiaries, but also as partners.

At the invitation of Mr. Cleaver all the indigenous people representatives introduced themselves. As we are heading to the next session after a short break, the participants are now moving to a more substantive discussion. As our Associate Vice-President noted, on 13 February a representative of the indigenous peoples will present the outcome of these 2-day discussions to our Governors. Make sure you follow this event live via webcast.

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