New Zealand does the right thing
International efforts to protect the rights of the world’s aboriginal communities seem to be gaining strength. In April, as hundreds of indigenous leaders gathered for the ninth annual session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the government of New Zealand/Aotearoa declared it was ready to sign on to the international agreement that recognizes indigenous peoples’ rights. ‘Today, New Zealand changes its position,’ said Dr Pita Sharples, Minister of Maori Affairs, announcing that his country was ready to embrace the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples.
In September 2007, when the majority of the UN General Assembly voted in favour of the historic Declaration, New Zealand sided with the US, Canada and Australia – the only three nations that vehemently opposed it – because it calls for states to acknowledge indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and demands that private interests obtain ‘free, prior and informed consent’ for use of indigenous land for commercial and development purposes.
Recently, Australia not only signed the Declaration, but its government also apologized to its aboriginal communities for the unfair policies that previous governments had adopted.
In announcing its support for the Declaration, the New Zealand minister acknowledged that indigenous people must have full freedom to use their lands and resources as they wish. ‘This is a wonderful occasion,’ said Tonya Frichner, a member of the Permanent Forum. She believes that both the US and Canada might now also change their stance on the Declaration.