UN Statements / Interventions

United Nations
Human Rights Council
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Ninth session

Geneva, 11-15 July 2016

Name of Speaker: Arnold GROH
Organisation: Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Agenda Item 6

Human rights of indigenous peoples in relation to tourism

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, thank you, Mme. Chairperson,

Tourism is the world’s largest industry of the private sector. For many tour operators, indigenous cultures are a commodity within the business of selling exoticism to the tourists. Such enterprises are specialised in bringing non-indigenous tourists to indigenous peoples. Usually, these tourists are not sensitised as how to behave in a culturally sustainable way in indigenous contexts. Sensitisation programmes would be disadvantageous to the maximisation of profits, as they would involve some additional costs. Presenting indigenous peoples as an attraction degrades them to objects equivalent to zoo animals, or even to circus animals, if they have to dance for the tourists. In such situations, the roles of the dominant and the dominated are clearly defined. Due to the tourists’ socio-cultural invasiveness, psychological mechanisms are triggered that lead to the destabilisation of the indigenous identities. Especially the young indigenous persons want to escape their role of being subordinate. Eventually, the whole indigenous culture affected disintegrates. Unfortunately, this is a very typical course of events. Moreover, indigenous peoples become all too often involved themselves in such practices, which finally result in the destruction of their culture. As social scientists, we have to point out that in the light of cultural dominance mechanisms, culturally non-sustainable tourism compromises the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights that have been acknowledged in the UN Declaration. For example, according to Article 8, 2 (a), any action that has “the aim or effect” of depriving indigenous peoples of their integrity or identity are an infringement of the Declaration. Even if indigenous peoples have already been heavily influenced, they have the right to revitalise their cultures, according to Article 11. But that right is undermined and practically made impossible, if they are always pushed in one direction towards globalisation by the external influences. Tourism in indigenous contexts can only be acceptable, if it takes place in a minimally-invasive, integrative and immersive way, which enhances the indigenous self-confidence instead of humiliating it. Our Tourinfo project, which has been listed by the German UNESCO Commission as a measure to maintain cultural diversity, aims at such cultural sustainability. It offers an alternative for indigenous peoples to the business of reckless and inconsiderate tourism enterprises.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Mme. Chairperson.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

United Nations
Human Rights Council
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Eighth session

Geneva, 20-24 July 2015

Name of Speaker: Dr. Arnold GROH
Organisation: Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Agenda Item 7

Indigenous Peoples’ Rights with Respect to their Cultural Heritage

Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

For giving me the opportunity to contribute some research aspects that are relevant to the Study on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with Respect to their Cultural Heritage. Indigenous Peoples’ cultural heritage is especially addressed in Article 31 of the Declaration, but with regard to practice, Article 11 is of particular impor­tance, as it grants Indigenous Peoples the right to practise and also revitalise their cultural traditions and customs. However, the exercise of this right is very much impeded by the reality of globalisation, which puts enormous pressure on Indigenous Peoples. In every­day life, they are exposed to the cultural dominance of the globalised context, so that indigenous persons of all ages are often ashamed of their cultural background and some­times even deny it. This is not a good situation for practising the rights that are granted in Article 11 and also in Article 8. As a prerequi­site for enabling the practising of rights regarding material and immaterial cultural heritage, it is necessary to counterbalance the pressure of the dominant culture. Some helpful steps to begin with would be to secure that Articles 14 to 16 be translated into action. Culturally specific education in the sense of Article 14 could strengthen the practising and revitalising of cultural heritage, rather than depriving the young generation of their culture, as it generally happens with imposed cul­tural influence. Likewise, if Articles 15 and 16 would be implemented seriously, then the appropriate reflection of indigenous culture in education and media would have positive repercussions both on the non-indigenous context and on Indigenous Peoples them­selves. Non-indigenous people, if properly informed about indigenous culture would see its value and understand that the deletion of indigenous culture through globalisation is an immeasurable loss for all humankind. And Indigenous peoples themselves would have more self-esteem and confidence in their own culture. This would help them to have free­dom of choice to manage the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures without submitting to the dominant culture. Tourism is an area to which cultural heritage is especially sensitive. May I mention that our organisation’s Tourinfo project, aiming at culturally sustainable tourism, has been listed by UNESCO as a measure to maintain cultural diversity? Anyway, we are available for EMRIP in culture-related matters.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

United Nations
Human Rights Council
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Seventh session

Geneva, 7-11 July 2014

Name of Speaker: Dr. Arnold GROHOrganisation: Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Agenda Item 6

Indigenous Peoples and Natural Disasters

Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

For giving me the opportunity of contributing some findings of our research that are relevant to the Study on the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples in natural disaster risk reduction and prevention and preparedness initiatives. After the 2004 Tsunami that ravaged parts of South East Asia, we carried out a survey on behavioural factors that contributed to the survival of indigenous peoples, whose territo­ries were struck by the disaster. We found two different types of these factors – one based on oral traditions urging people to flee immeditately when there is untimely low tide, and the other resulted from the observation of animal behaviour. These findings make it clear that indigenous people contribute essential knowledge, and that prepared­ness initiatives should take culturally specific perspectives into account. Another impor­tant aspect that I would like to point out is the endangerment of indigenous cultures after they have been struck by a disaster. Even when they have survived physically, the sojourn in tent camps, which often extends for years, eradicates indigenous peoples’ cultures. Humanitarian aid is given in culturally nonsensitive ways by bureaucratic machineries, only focussing on physical provisioning for the people concerned. The transgenerational transfer of knowledge is interrupted by the dominant global culture. Indigenous life can no longer be lived in the traditional way, and children grow up without learning about their cultural background. This next generation cannot find their particular identity, and industrial culture gains another victory. By focussing on physical provi­sioning only, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is violated in various ways, e.g. Articles 8 and 11 on the protection of indigenous culture, or Article 14 on the right to culturally specific educational systems. It would be helpful if the study would point out ways as how to prevent the damaging or even eradication of indige­nous culture during the aftermaths of disasters, and, in case of heavy impair­ment by a disaster, how to quickly and effectively revitalise cultural traditions and customs, as granted by Article 11 of the Declaration.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

United Nations
Human Rights Council
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Sixth session

Geneva, 8-12 July 2013

Name of Speaker: Dr. Arnold GROH
Organisation: Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Agenda Item 3

EMRIP and the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples

Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

Firstly, I would like to congratulate you on your election. The upcoming World Con¬ference on Indigenous Peoples provides the opportunity for the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to give some valuable input, based on the work that has so far been done. Studies have been presented, and throughout the sessions, there has been a critical discourse on the indigenous rights situation, which could lead to improvement. From an academic perspective, some aspects can be highlighted, which are particularly relevant to further promote the indigenous cause.

With regard to cooperation between indigenous peoples and states, translating the often-demanded inclusive and participatory processes into action is very difficult due to the fact that power is unequally distributed. Bearing this imbalance in mind, the terms “inclusive” and “participatory”, used e.g. in the Permanent Forum’s report E/2012/43, raise the question, who includes whom, and who is participating in what. As that report also states that the implementation of the minimum standards of the Indigenous Rights Declaration need to be ensured, it becomes evident that these minimum standards have by far not been reached. Dominance effects generally play a determining role in transcultural interactions between the indigenous and the non-indigenous side. It should therefore be noted that reflections from a meta-level about these constellations are important for mutually satisfactory outcomes. This is especially true for the upcoming World Conference, as it gives a special chance for states to define regulations preven¬ting violations of indigenous rights, particularly in the light of the General Assembly’s resolution 66/296 on the World Conference’s organisation. EMRIP has a responsible role, as it can take the initiative of moderating a dialogue at the World Conference, targeted at non-biased and unrestricted implementation of the Indigenous Rights.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

United Nations
Human Rights Council
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Fifth session

Geneva, 9-13 July 2012

Speaker: Dr. Arnold Groh, Technical University of Berlin, Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Statement on Item 5

The role of languages and culture in the promotion and protection of the rights and identity of indigenous peoples

Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

Firstly, I would like to congratulate the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on the present study. As it profoundly covers the issue, I would like to only briefly comment and highlight some points from a research perspective. It is especially the visual culture, which is the most relevant manifestation of identity, next to language. If we look at the relation of indigenous peoples and their non-indigenous contexts, then the mutual knowledge, both of the others’ language and of their visual culture is not problematic, but rather, the dominance of the external culture is a problem. Especially the younger indigenous generations try to escape this dominance pressure by adopting external language, lifestyle and self-presentation. But this loss of the traditional cultural elements results in a loss of indigenous identity, which then leads up to the deterioration of the indigenous culture, as language and visual culture are not passed on, the younger don’t use them anymore, and when the elders die, the knowledge is lost. With regard to the maintenance of indigenous language, culture, and identity, we can recommend, from a scientific point of view, that the indigenous language be defined as the official language for inhabitants of indigenous territories, and that the use of the traditional visual culture be made compulsory, without com¬promise, for both the inhabitants and visitors. This territorial assignment of language and visual culture safeguards the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, especially Art. 8 and Art. 31, as well as Human Rights in general, as equal rights are applied to all inside the indigenous territory. This recommended protection policy prevents the destabilising influx of external, dominant cultural elements, and it ensures that the indigenous culture is respected, which is the prerequisite for cultural self-confidence, and thus identity, of indigenous peoples.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

United Nations Human Rights Council
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Fourth session

Geneva, 11-15 July 2011

Speaker: Dr. Arnold Groh, Technical University of Berlin, Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Statement on Item 5

Translating the Indigenous Rights Declaration into action

Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

During this fourth session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it has already been pointed out that the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has to be ensured by monitoring it, for example the functioning of indigenous peoples’ participation in decision-making, of their own educational systems, especially in their own indigenous language. States are obligated in many articles of the Declaration to take effective measure to ensure its translation into action. But how should this, in practice, be done? Should the state regularly send officers to indigenous villages? This would mean constant interference of the dominant culture with the indigenous peoples, as these officials, by their presence, would each time constitute a destabilising impact on the social system, which would thereby be controlled by the state. As it is unlikely that those carrying out the control visits are well enough trained to avoid any destabilisation, the regular monitoring to secure the implementations should, in observance of Art. 4 of the Declaration, be in the hands of the respective indigenous peoples. Besides these practical considerations, it has also to be asked to which extent the non-indigenous, dominant side is determined to respect indigenous peoples and translate the Declaration into action at all. E.g., the deportation of Batwa people from national parks in eastern Uganda was supported by the European Union. It resulted in terrible immiseration of the Batwa, as our institution could verify during a minimally-invasive research visit last December. Due to the expulsion from the forest, especially Batwa women are exposed to constant rape by Bantu men. If the European Union would serionsly be committed to implement the Indigenous Rights Declaration, it would invest some efforts to reverse the expulsion and support the return of the Batwa people into their forest. This is only one example of the lack of efforts among the dominant non-indigenous culture to seriously implement the Indigenous Rights Declaration.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

United Nations Human Rights Council
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Fourth session

Geneva, 11-15 July 2011

Speaker: Dr. Arnold Groh, Technical University of Berlin, Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Statement on Item 4

Identifying obstacles to indigenous peoples’ participation in decision-making

Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

Firstly, I would like to take the opportunity to compliment you on your election, and I also congratulate the Expert Mechanism on the Final study on indigenous peoples and the right to participate in decision-making (A/HRC/EMRIP/2011/2). It is very helpful that in this study, as well as in last year’s Progress report (A/HRC/EMRIP/2011/2), a number of obstacles have been identified that impede indigenous peoples’ participation in decision making. In doing so, however, EMRIP focuses on political, legal and administrative aspects, whereas social and psychological mechanisms are only touched briefly and very generally. Yet, the entire issue of the report and the study pertains to human intergroup behaviour, which means that there are social and psychological mechanisms at the core of the problems. As, e.g., you identify “the influence of contemporary structures” (Progress report, para. 48), as factors that destabilise indigenous systems, you are addressing an issue that is crucial not only to indigenous peoples’ participation in decision making, but even to the further existence of indigenous peoples. Confining the considerations to political, legal and administrative aspects is not only alien to indigenous perspectives; it also involves the risk to forfeit the chance of identifying, analysing, understanding and counteracting these social and psychological mechanisms of human intergroup behaviour. As indigenous peoples are exposed to intercultural dominance, not only the threat of, but the reality of their disintegration is progressing. Facing these adverse factors is a necessary precondition for taking effective measures to ensure indigenous peoples’ participation in decision making on a truly equitable level.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

United Nations Human Rights Council
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Third session

Geneva, 12-16 July 2010

Speaker: Dr. Arnold Groh, Technical University of Berlin, Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Statement on Item 3

Dominance effects on indigenous peoples’ participation in decision-making

Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

Firstly, I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate you to your election, and then briefly comment, from a research perspective, on the indigenous peoples’ right to participate in decision-making. This right, which has been defined in several international conventions, as synoptically described in the EMRIP Progess Report of 17 May 2010 (A/HRC/EMRIP/2010/2), is especially required in situations, where indigenous peoples are exposed to external destabilising factors; whereas in situations, where the indigenous peoples’ autonomy, both with regard to their social systems and to their territories, is respected, there would be no need to call for the observance of this right. Unfortunately, the majority of indigenous peoples are now subject to destabilising external factors, as they are exposed to the dominance of the ongoing globalisation. The basic idea of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with regard to the right to participate in decision-making is to obviate any threats, and to ensure that indigenous peoples retain control on their own fate. There has been much research on group and inter-group mechanisms, which is highly relevant to this issue. If we zoom closer to the sociological and psychological processes of indigenous peoples’ participation in decision-making, we can detect some potential perils. Persons with some indigenous background, who have been socialised in the external, non-indigenous and dominant context, are more likely to take the role of an indigenous participator in decision-making than indigenous persons without such a socialisation. This can bring about the problem that positions could be favoured, which are in line with the dominant context, whereas genuinely indigenous positions take a back seat or are not represented at all. Therefore, special attention has to be paid to these dynamics, in order to ensure that it is actually the indigenous people’s interests that are represented within such a participation in decision-making.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Second session

Geneva, 10-14 August 2009

Speaker: Dr. Arnold Groh, Technical University of Berlin, Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Statement on Item 3

Translating the right of indigenous peoples to education into action

Thank you, Mme. Chairperson,

Firstly, I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate the Expert Mechanism on the presentation of the study.

One central aspect of this study EMRIP (A/HRC/EMRIP/2009/2), which is especially focussed upon in section III B, is the integration of indigenous perspectives into the mainstream education. However, shouldn’t we try to avoid a position according to which indigenous perspectives would only play a subordinate role with regard to the education of indigenous children and youth? If indigenous peoples are to be adjudicated autonomy of raising and educating their younger generations, then the question should be: How to integrate mainstream education into the culturally specific indigenous education.

In the light of the problems that indigenous peoples are facing, every measure taken should be scrutinised as to the impact on the respective indigenous people regarding the questions, will it support their existence as a community, as a culture, as a people, as a social system, or does it contain factors that lead to destabilisation, or even disintegration. Does the particular form of education strengthen the indigenous identity of the children and youth, or will this identity be stunted, as there is only room for some folklore, but not for a culture to be fully lived? It is outmost important that the education takes place in the traditional outward appearance, because this is the basis for the constitution of the identity. Any compromise in this respect would inevitably compromise the development of an indigenous identity. Hence, it should also be avoided to “integrate” indigenous pupils into external boarding schools, because this is a tool to almost certainly eradicate their indigenous self-confidence, due to psychological mechanisms of cultural dominance.

It also has to be mentioned that the curriculum should not only be defined by state authorities, to which even the fields of indigenous knowledge, like the use of specific plants, are unknown. Therefore, it is necessary that indigenous authorities participate in the planning of education, as addressed in the EMRIP study (A/HRC/EMRIP/2009/2).

Thank you, Mme. Chairperson.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
First session

Geneva, 1-3 October 2008

Speaker: Dr. Arnold Groh, Technical University of Berlin, Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Statement on Item 4

Methodologies for Research

Thank you, Chair

According to resolution 6/36 of the Human Rights Council, indigenous rights have to be dealt with by focusing mainly on studies and research. Therefore, I would like to briefly point out some aspects that are central for methodological considerations.

Firstly, the validity of studies on indigenous issues is the greater, the more they take the reality of indigenous life into consideration.

Secondly, indigenous contexts have been destabilised to different extents by the dominant global culture.

Thirdly, depending on the fragility of the indigenous social system, research itself can contribute to destabilisation, if the invasiveness of its methods is not minimised.

Therefore, the more intact an indigenous social system is, the more it is necessary to carry out the investigations in an integrative, non-destabilising way. The need for carefully designed research methodologies is also given by Articles 8 and 31 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which grants the right of the protection of indigenous culture.

As we have demonstrated in several field studies of our own, the invasivenes of researchers can not only be minimised, but an integrative methodology can even contribute to the re-stabilisation of indigenous cultures. I would like to point out that such a re-stabilisation also conforms to Article 11 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Thank you, Chair

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
First session

Geneva, 1-3 October 2008

Speaker: Dr. Arnold Groh, Technical University of Berlin, Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Statement on Item 3

Future EMRIP Sessions: Time and Place

Thank you, Chair

Firstly, I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate you to your election.

Since this First Session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has the purpose of planning the structure of the future sessions, we can ascertain that the form, in which the sessions of the former Working Group on Indigenous Peoples took place have proven to be very effective. Therefore, before going into details of the content, we can take this form as orientation. This includes that the sessions should take place in summer, which would be convenient for the majority of indigenous representatives. Also, it makes sense to continue the sessions in Geneva, in order to have a certain counterbalance to the Permanent Forum that takes place in the US.

As for the former WGIP sessions, both the place and the time of the year were very well chosen. Continuing that tradition promises a framework to the future Sessions of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as well: A form that then could effectively be filled with content.

Thank you, Chair

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

OHCHR Informal Meeting on the Future of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations

Geneva, Dec. 6-7, 2007

Speaker: Dr. Arnold Groh, Technical University of Berlin, Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Intervention

Scientists and Indigenous Issues

Thank you, Mr. Chairman,

And since I have not taken the floor yesterday, I would like to congratulate you to your election.

Mr. Chairman, throughout the years, universities have been able to participate at the WGIP sessions. However, if we look at the regulation of participation as proposed in CRP 12, this would no longer be possible, because Universities match with none of the entities listed. They are no human rights institutions, nor are they NGOs, and they don’t have ECOSOC status. But we all know that scientific studies have contributed substantially to the progress that has been made with regard to the acknowledgement and support of indigenous issues. Therefore, it will certainly be essential for any credible argumentation to further include scientists in this discourse, instead of excluding them. It is necessary to let neutral academics participate, who are not biased by any interests or lobbies.

Mr. Chairman, I would also like to briefly remark that Switzerland as a neutral country has always been a good venue for the WGIP sessions, and that the time of the year when the sessions took place were most convenient for the majority of the indigenous representatives. It would certainly make sense to continue in that tradition as well.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The 24th Session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations
Geneva, July 31 – Aug. 4, 2006

Speaker: Dr. Arnold Groh, Technical University of Berlin, Research Centre for Semiotics / Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Statement on item 5

The Protection of Indigenous Cultural Heritage

Thank you, Mr. Chairman:

The Draft Guidelines on the Protection of the Cultural Heritage of Indigenous Peoples, as presented in the Working paper submitted by Mr. Yokota and the Saami Council is a very valuable step forward towards a situation of mutual respect between cultural groups, and away from intercultural relations as they are common today, which usually lead to the destabilisation and disintegration of indigenous societies. However, it has to be pointed out that the problems indigenous peoples are confronted with cannot be overcome by simple political decisions. At the very core of those mechanisms of cultural destabilisation, there are very complex human perceptions, cognitions, and behaviour. In order to ensure cultural diversity in the long run, it seems necessary to implement the mediation of culturally sustainable behaviour in the educational systems of the First World, since this is where the destruction of many indigenous societies has its origin. As long as people from the industrial culture don’t see the need and don’t know how to behave in a culturally sustainable way – be it officials or private persons -, the processes of cultural loss are going to continue despite legal regulations. Both sides, indigenous and industrial culture, need to be aware of the mechanisms of globalisation and dominance, in order to reflect and to make choices with free, prior and informed consent. The diversity of cultural heritage is a prerequisite for global stability. Its deletion would also mean the loss of environmentally-friendly ways of living, of managing habitats. Therefore, instead of displacing indigenous peoples, as it has been done recently by banning them from some African national parks, it should be acknowledged that indigenous traditions are usually very much compatible with nature, so that defining nature reserves should make the use of indigenous ways binding to anyone who enters them. Culture cannot be preserved in museums, it can only persist by being lived. So, the protection of cultural heritage necessarily needs to ensure that the factors that could be detrimental to the respective culture, are minimised.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The 23rd Session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations

Geneva, July 18-22, 2005

Speaker: Dr. Arnold Groh, Technical University of Berlin, Research Centre for Semiotics / Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Indigenous Peoples and the International and Domestic Protection of Traditional Knowledge

Thank you, Mr. Chairman:

It is very honourable that the Working Group has chosen the protection of traditional knowledge as this year’s main theme. Commonly, indigenous knowledge is being deleted in the course of globalisation, due to the adoption of the cognitive system of the industrial culture. What can we say, from the perspective of research, about possibilities of and preconditions for the protection of traditional knowledge? Firstly, the self-confidence, self-assertion, and self-reliance of the respective cultural group must be maintained, in order to prevent the dismissal of their own cultural system in favour of the externally induced system of the dominant culture. Therefore, it is necessary that anyone, who meets with an indigenous culture, communicates the respect for that culture during all encounters and on all levels of communication. Secondly, knowledge systems can exist and survive as long as they are in use. That means, that the things, the behaviour, the strategies to which the knowledge refers have to be used and practiced. Cultural information is stored in this continuation. Thirdly, mechanisms have to be established or re-established that ensure the passing-on of this knowledge from generation to generation. Indigenous, traditional knowledge, or cultural information, is embedded in complex social systems. Language, crafts, the use of plants, and the traditional appearance of the members of the culture all play a role, and especially the traditional elements that define and represent cultural identity are of major importance.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The 22nd Session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations
Geneva, July 19-23, 2004

Speaker: Dr. Arnold Groh, Technical University of Berlin, Research Centre for Semiotics / Structural Analysis of Cultural Systems

Indigenous Peoples and Conflict Resolution

Thank you, Mr. Chairman:

With regard to this year’s theme – “Indigenous Peoples and Conflict Resolution” – I would like to briefly mention some relevant aspects resulting from culture-related research. Conflicts that affect indigenous peoples are generally brought about by external parties with more effective resources in terms of weapons or political power. It is therefore quite certain that by being involved, the indigenous people are going to be victims of the conflict, anyway. But the effects of being exposed to dominance continue even under conditions of intervention aiming at conflict resolution and humanitarian aid. The ways these interventions are carried out are usually not very sensitive towards the indigenous cultures concerned. While focussing merely on the physical existence, industrial cultural elements are being transferred that replace and delete indigenous cultural elements. Thereby, the identity of those individuals struck by flight and distress is being further destabilised. Even when indigenous people can be saved from such a situation physically, they will be subject to sociocide; their culture will suffer irreversibly. Interventions concerning indigenous peoples, even when done with the best intentions, can accelerate the cultural loss, which comprises not only the loss of specific life-styles, but also the loss of valuable knowledge. Therefore, in order to counteract this loss that humankind is suffering, it is apparently necessary to acknowledge culture as a value per se. In practice, this means that culturally specific and sensitive implementation of intervention and aid are just as important as the prevention of conflicts.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The 21st Session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations
Geneva, July 21-25, 2003
Speaker: Arnold Groh

Indigenous Peoples and Globalisation

Thank you, M Chair

The topic chosen for this year’s session of the Working Group is certainly of major importance. Will indigenous peoples, within the progress of globalisation, either continue to exist in an emancipated way, respected and accepted by the global society, or will they – cease to exist? Globalisation exerts a unifying force upon people living in the periphery of the industrial culture. Under the social pressure of cultural dominance, the freedom of choice is very much reduced. Therefore, in order to grant equality and mutual acceptance, it is up to those who are already globalised, to concede cultural autonomy to indigenous peoples and, when being on indigenous territory, to encounter them with the same respect as indigenous people do towards the industrial culture. Within globalisation, there is the danger of cultural eradication. Many concepts of living have already been lost irreversibly. As a result, those concerned often end up in social misery. Deteriorated family structures, prostitution, and child labour, are no rare exceptions, but rather common in those areas where globalisation is gaining ground. These are the fruits of inconsiderate and exuberant growth. In order to shape the process of globalisation in a humane and dignified way, it will take lots of efforts to raise a sense of responsibility among those who actually are responsible for the present situation where indigenous peoples are being confronted by a very dominant global culture. But this raising of awareness should be considered a task of priority, if humanity shall be prevented from sustaining further loss. There are societies at stake. There are indigenous peoples at stake.

Thank you, M Chair

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The 20th Anniversary Session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations
Geneva, July 22-26, 2002
Speaker: Arnold Groh

The concept of development and chances to participate

Thank you, M Chair

First of all, let me congratulate the Working Group at this 20th anniversary. With regard to the continuation of last year’s theme, I would like to comment briefly on two central terms. First, the concept of development has been coined by the industrial culture. It implies that changes should occur towards a certain direction. By defining itself as “developed”, the First World disqualifies all other societies as “less developed”. However, this concept is very questionalbe and there is no justification even to describe societies as “not yet industrialised”, because there is no necessity to assume that they have to move towards that direction, and to become like the First World at all. Besides, if we consider the global destabilisations caused by the industrial culture, these changes become very questionable. Secondly, with regard to participation, the mere granting of equal rights is not sufficient. In reality, when confronted with the industrial culture, indigenous people are exposed to a bias of dominance. In such a constellation, chances are not distributed equally, since thinking and acting of those concerned are determined by the position of superiority on the one side and the impact of dominance on the other side. Therefore, it has to be ensured that indigenous people can make decisions free from the social pressure of globalisiation and that they have the chance to maintain cultural identity. Unless there is mutual respect on the full scale of interaction, we hardly have a chance to escape the effects of dominance. Therefore, becoming aware of those positions and having an honest discourse about the situation are the first steps towards a solution.

Thank you, M Chair

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The 19th Session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations
Geneva, July 23-27, 2001
Speaker: Dr. Arnold Groh

The concept of development and chances to participate

Thank you, M Chair

for giving me the opportunity to comment on the two central terms of this year´s session of the Working Group. First, the concept of development has been coined by the industrialised culture. It implies that changes should occur towards a certain direction. By defining itself as “developed”, the First World disqualifies all other societies as “less developed”. However, there is no justification even to describe societies as “not yet industrialised”, because there is no necessity to assume that they have to move towards that direction, and to become like the First World at all. Besides, if we consider the global destabilisations caused by the industrial culture, these changes become very questionable. Secondly, with regard to participation, the mere granting of equal rights is not sufficient. In reality, when confronted with the industrial culture, indigenous people are exposed to a bias of dominance. In such a constellation, chances are not distributed equally, since thinking and acting of those concerned are determined by the position of superiority on the one side and the impact of dominance on the other side. Unless there is mutual respect on the full scale of interaction, we hardly have a chance to escape this dilemma. Therefore, becoming aware of those positions and having an honest discourse about the situation are the first steps towards a solution.

Thank you, M Chair

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The 17th Session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations
Geneva, July 26-30, 1999
Speaker: Dr Arnold Groh

Statement on Agenda 4

Indigenous People, Land Rights, and the Maintenance of Culture

– Thank you, Mme Chairperson –

As a representative of the Semiotics Department of the Technical University of Berlin, I would like to point out the importance of cultural identity within the relation of indigenous people to their land. Processes of acculturalization are not only triggering processes threatening the survival of indigenous societies. With every traditional group that vanishes, valuable knowledge is being lost. But the few indigenous cultures left on this globe are far too precious to be exposed to further disintegration.

Globally, cultural variety is decreasing, and the number of cultures is shrinking. This is also reflected in the death of dialects and languages. Instability becomes problematic as the discarding of cultural knowledge is just as irreversible as the loss of species and their genetic information. In a changing world, strategies for coping with future situations are being erased – a serious loss for mankind.

Though cultural loss, due to globalization, is now occuring world-wide, it is especially present in the sociocide of indigenous societies. Human rights violations, frequently going along with cultural destruction, stress the urgency of planning interventive strategies, and, while doing so, not to ignore the underlying cultural, sociological, and psychological mechanisms..

Societies confronted with a dominant system are attached to it as subsystems before being disintegrated. The dominated, being under social pressure, try to bridge the gap between themselves and the culture of dominance trough radical changes of identity, yet deleting traditional elements of their own. It is also to be mentioned that women and the loss of female attributes play a catalyst role in the process of cultural change.

The mere acknowledgement of land rights would not change anything of the situation´s fatality. Only responsibilities would be shifted, but the processed would continue: deletion of cultural knowledge, loss of languages, destruction of the eco-system, decay of families and entire societies, humiliation of men, women, and children. In order to stabilize culture, to preserve tradition, to maintain identity, to prevent the social system from destruction, the borders of autonomous land must also be cultural boundaries, within which respecting the local culture is compulsary, also for visitors; the people concerned must have the right to control and prevent the influx of destructive elements. This, by the way, refers especially to clothing because every individual makes a cultural definition through the design of the body. These mechanisms of acculturalization are in the focus of cultural semiotics‘ research. Focussing on sign processes – this is, so to speark the “outer“ culture – also stresses that the freedom of information – the fundamental freedom of the “inner“ culture – has to be ensured for every individual. And I would also like to mention that presently, our Semiotics Department is supporting a project concerning tourism and cultural sustainability.

Without intervention, the processes of cultural loss would go on more or less automatically. As environmentally sustainible strategies are linked with indigenous identity, the destruction of culture has fatal ecological an even climatic effects. Thus, cultural aspects are of major importance for the planning of any regulations concerning the relation of indigenous societies to their land.

– Thank you, Mme Chairperson. –

~~~