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Why Was 1993 Declared The Year For Indigenous People?

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      JANUARY 1993      v22 n01 p02  
A question which tends to annoy many indigenous people is "Why wasn't 1992 declared the international year for indigenous peoples?" After all, 1992 would mark the 500th Anniversary of the Great Navigational Mistake of Christopher Columbus. But the decision, like so many which affect indigenous peoples, was affected by political considerations which favoured Nation-States over indigenous peoples interests.

On December 18, 1990 the fourty-fifth session of the United Nations General assembly declared 1993 the International year for the World's Indigenous Peoples. UN General Assembly Resolution #45/ 164 proclaims the year "with a view to strengthening international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous communities in such areas, inter alia, as human rights, the environment, development, education, health". The theme of the year shall be "Indigenous people - A New Partnership". The resolution was sponsored by thirty-one countries, including Canada.

The reason 1992 was not declared the year for indigenous peoples was due to the opposition posed by Spanish government and several other states. They did not want to have anything detract from their celebration of 500th Anniversary of columbus's "Discovery of the New World".

The debate over the merits of declaring 1992 the year of indigenous peoples turned into a conflict of both ideologies and interpretations of history. Spain and its supporters were annoyed by vocal indigenous opponents who dared challenge the Event of 1492 as a daring and bold adventure into the unknown in which Columbus "Discovered" a whole new world.

Many indigenous spokes people and individuals, however, disputed that interpretation of history. They denounced the celebration of an event which was essentially a Great Mistake, which initiated a series of events resulting in volume of misery, pain and suffering, and symbolized the epitome of European arrogance and ignorance. They felt that it would be extremely significant to have the International Year for 1992 instead.

But in time, many indigenous leaders have come to live with the decision and focus on its advantages. Foremost, it has broadened the time span for focus on indigenous issues form one to two years, and encourages us to look to the next 500 years rather than the past.

The world Council of Indigenous Peoples, in considering the theme of the year "Indigenous Peoples - A New Partnership" to be positive. Their positive is "...the term 'partnership' as an important step to building new relationships: to speak of partnerships is to speak of a relationship based on equality, mutual respect, and dignity".