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The Forum of First Nations will replace the General Assembly of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples and is designed to strengthen the international political alliance between the governing bodies of Indigenous Peoples and to identify and create the political, cultural, social, educational and economic institutions essential for our advancement.
Agreement was reached accepting the World Assembly of First Nations as a legal entity to organize special events providing an international forum for representatives of First Nations to discuss common cultural, educational, economic and social concerns. WAFN will take place every four years, at which time the World Council of Indigenous Peoples will co-ordinate and control round table discussions on politics and law.
The World Council of Indigenous Peoples was formed in 1975 as a result of the initiatives of George Manuel, then president of the National Indian Brotherhood. George Manuel saw the common problems and direction taken by the First Nations all over the world and pushed for the formation of an international political alliance. The World Council was incorporated under Canadian law and the WCIP Secretariat found a home at the University of Lethbridge in Southern Alberta. Marie Marule, former executive director of the NIB and a professor of Indian Studies at U of L., headed the WCIP Secretariat, in addition to her duties with the North American Indian studies program at U. of L.
The World Council of Indigenous Peoples has always been hampered by lack of funds but in recent years, its work has slowed. It has been suggested by some that lack of organization and dwindling initiative on the part of WCIP secretariat have contributed to the slowdown.
Constitutional events in Canada led Chief Sol Sanderson to the conclusion that something dramatic had to be done to focus world attention on the right of Indigenous Peoples not only to exist, but to be self-determining. The World Assembly of First Nations was organized by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians because international recognition of Indigenous peoples is crucial to our future survival.
While the World Assembly was being organized, months of backroom wrangling were taking place between WCIP and WAFN. During the week of the World Assembly, heavy-duty meetings were taking place constantly with the leaders of Indigenous Peoples and their technicians. What happened in the backrooms will probably not become part of the public record for some time; however, some high level diplomacy enabled both groups to feel that they came out on top of the negotiations.
Essentially, the agreement reached was that WAFN will handle events of a social, cultural, economic and educational nature. WCIP will continue as the political arm of Indigenous Peoples in the international arena. The WCIP will follow up on the resolutions that came out of the World Assembly.
The way that the work will be done is as follows: the institutions created, the programs and service delivered will be by the collective initiatives of Indigenous organizations who will co-ordinate their resources firstly toward assisting Central and South American Indians. For example, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, through its Federated College (SIFC) has offered to assist by developing courses and scholarships for Central and South American Indians. They will study here and return home to teach and assist their own people.
The forum of First Nations will strengthen WCIP and pave the way for a transformation of WCIP from an organization to a more formal international body recognized as having the powers to govern, as opposed to merely organizing.