The indigenous peoples of Our America are demanding their right to existence, which still suffer from colonial policies that the so-called discovery of America 500 years ago introduced in the region.
About two thousand members of indigenous communities from around the world gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York, saying that the policies of extinction and domination that characterized the conquest and led to murder and enslavement of millions of native peoples still prevail today.
Discriminated against during these five centuries, native peoples are not recognized as having a history, identity, aspirations, specific objectives and the capacity of self-determination and self-government.
It is a fact that the indigenous inhabitants of our continent have been evicted from their lands and suffered daily violations of their cultural and spiritual expressions.
It is a reality that many Latin American countries still experience, despite the winds of change throughout the continent which have allowed several nations to restore to these peoples their rights as in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia, which has the first-ever indigenous president of that country.
The arrival of Daniel Ortega to Nicaragua’s presidency in 2007 made the difference for native peoples in that Central American country, who have been helped with the literacy campaign. In their own languages, on their own lands and with respect for their ancestral cultures, members of these ethnic groups are finally learning how to read and write.
Last year, the U.N Special Rapporteur on human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, James Anaya, congratulated the Sandinista government for its actions to recognize and protect the rights of these peoples to their ancestral lands.
Prior to 1999, indigenous people in Venezuela did not exist from a legal perspective. However, with the government of President Hugo Chavez, these communities experienced significant progress in social inclusion, according to the president of the National Assembly Commission for Indigenous Peoples, Jose Luis Gonzalez.
But there are still many countries in the region that do not respect the rights of indigenous peoples of Our America. This is the case of Chile, where the Mapuche population registered the highest rates of poverty, infant mortality, unemployment and illiteracy, while laws inherited from the military regime of Augusto Pinochet are used against them.
The attorney for the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, Ana Manuela, said that of 102 indigenous communities of her country, 35 out of them are at risk of physical and cultural extermination.
And in 2007, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted, which recognizes the compensation native peoples deserve as victims of conquest. Despite this Declaration, full political and social rights are still a pending issue for the indigenous peoples of our continent.