On Jan. 23-25, the University of Colorado’s American Indian Law Program and Center for Native American and Indigenous Studies hosted an Expert Group Meeting of the United Nations (UN) Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The meeting considered opportunities and challenges arising at this critical time of transition from extractive to renewable energy sources, including ramifications for Indigenous Peoples’ rights to self-determination, economic development, land, resources, culture, religion, and other issues.
The meeting brought together international leaders, including United Nations experts, all three heads of Indigenous Peoples Mechanisms (Permanent Forum, EMRIP, and Special Rapporteur), and U.S. tribal government leaders, to tackle the challenges of “Indigenous Peoples in a Greening Economy.” The meeting enjoyed support of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and First Peoples Worldwide.
“The Law School community was invited to attend sessions usually reserved for official UN observers,” said Kristen Carpenter, Council Tree Professor of Law and Director of the American Indian Law Program. “By participating in the dialogue, our students had the chance to see how UN recommendations are put together, through dialogue and consensus building, across many differences faced by Indigenous Peoples around the world.”
While many assume that new forms of renewable energy are “greener” and will benefit society, speakers at the meeting revealed the transition to alternative energy poses both challenges and opportunities, often including threats to Indigenous Peoples. A recurring example around the world involves lithium mining in Indigenous Peoples’ territories, a highly extractive activity that supplies batteries for electric cars but destroys lands, waters, and plants in the process.
Further, some speakers challenged the term “green economy,” associating it with capitalistic structures and values that often replicate colonial practices. Panel discussions addressed the effects of green entrepreneurship and green enterprise, Indigenous Peoples’ participation in the green economy, and human rights and corporate responsibility.
The Expert Group Meeting coincides with efforts undertaken by The Implementation Project (TIP), an initiative led by the University of Colorado and NARF that supports tribal governments in UN diplomacy, especially regarding the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Several of TIP’s organizational partners, including the National Congress of American Indians and Coalition of Large Tribes, attended. U.S. Tribal Leaders, including Chairman Manuel Heart from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, President Whitney Gravelle of the Bay Mills Indian Community, and Councilmember Marvin Weatherwax from the Blackfeet Nation, gave remarks. They had opportunities to work with counterparts from the Massai people of Kenya, the Sami of Norway, Zenu of Colombia and dozens of others
Ultimately, the meeting was focused on identifying solutions around the emerging green economy. Many participants called on States to support Indigenous Peoples' self-determination with respect to participation in the greening economy, using the safeguard of “free, prior, and informed consent” to protect against infringements on their rights. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs will release a report in April 2024 with specific recommendations for Indigenous people to use in advocacy with States, industry and others. Read more about the topics discussed at the Expert Group Meeting on TIP’s website: https://un-declaration.narf.org/un-expert-group-meeting-2024/