The Naga story in the Indigenous Peoples movements

Naga People's Movement For Human Rights *

Naga People's Movement For Human Rights
The 17th NPMHR's Morung Dialogue series
1st September 2020

The 17th Morung Dialogue on. The Naga story in the Indigenous Peoples movements was chaired by Dr.P. Ngully, who began by narrating how his elders in the village used to say, that if we as a people don't defend and protect out dignity and humanity, then a time will come when we would be transformed into "miniauture tiny creatures" climbing on the chilli and brinjal plants thinking they were trees. "I wonder which stage of that 'prophecy' we as a people have reached", he added.

The first panelist was Ghazali Ohorella, a Maluku with 18 years of experience advocating for the rights of Indigenous Peoples at the United Nations, and someone who has worked with many indigenous movements, organisations, governments, NGOs and State representatives around the world.

Ghazali co-chaired a UN General Assembly session during the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in 2014, and addressed the UN General Assembly in 2017 celebrating the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Ghazali is also a trainer in a number of programs on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and served as the representative for Indigenous Peoples in the negotiations on the UNFCCC's Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform on traditional knowledge. He is also a board member of Drumbeat Media, an NGO that produces videos and documentaries for and of Indigenous Peoples around the globe.

Ghazali attempted to unpack the right to self-determination which is so important to the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) through his story as a Maluku, a group of 999 islands located between Australia and the Philippines, with 2 million IPs living which was colonized by the Dutch for over 300 years. Like the Naga story, after the Dutch left, Indonesia invaded the islands, creating the Republic of Indonesia.

The Malaku declared Independence on April 25, 1950, but to this day they remain an occupied nation, and still fighting to regain independence. He said proclaiming our Independence itself is an act of Self-determination, it is the choice of the people, and it is a virtue of all peoples.

He quoted the UN Charter and pointed out that it is scripted as We the Peoples, not we the Nations” and it includes that all peoples have the right to self-determination” as provided in article 3 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

He mentioned the other conventions such as the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ICESCR) as well as the International Convention on Civic and Political rights (ICCPR) which have the same article i.e., the Article on the Right to Self-determination and drove the point that self-determination is the pinnacle of the rights that a peoples can have and it is the opposite of colonization.

He reminded that the UN was created after WW2, which is when the decolonization movement started emerging in Asia, Africa and all over the world. 'The opposite of colonization he said 'is self-determination which is a right of all peoples.' According to him this makes it important that the IPs keep claiming it, including the Nagas.

Nagas have their own culture, land, common heritage and history which describe Nagas as a people. It is not upto a country to decide whether the Nagas are a peoples or not, which is a part of the right to self-determination and that right he said 'has been a very important part in the work of IP all over the world trying to claim right to self-determination, to address all the historical grievances that have occurred, and making sure that we can survive and thrive as a peoples for the next 7 generations.'

He continued we are not just looking at making things better tomorrow but building for the next 7 generations, so that our grandchildren's grandchildren can say, I am a Naga and I am proud to be a Naga.' That, he said, is the essence of continuously claiming our right to self-determination. So that right is a very strong foundation in the various movements around the world.

IPs looking at the sustainable development goals (SDGs), ensure that IPs are included and that their rights are respected, be it traditional knowledge, biodiversity, climate change. A whole host of issues that IPs are facing depend on the right to self-determination as a basis.

One of the challenges from the IPs perspective, he said, is that one section of IPs are continuously trying to make sure that our right to self-determination is respected, and on the other hand there's a trend that NGOs, conservation organizations and states bring up free, informed, prior (FPIC) consent, which is also a part of the declaration of the rights of IPs.

But it is important that we keep emphasizing the right to self-determination because the free part of FPIC is a product of self-determination. But we see that many are focusing on FPIC instead and we have seen that it goes away from the right to self-determination. So, it is very important that IPs either bring back FPIC to its very core which is the right to self-determination, or we bring up the discussion on the right to self-determination.

The Naga people are not alone in the world, there are many IPs that want to be self-governing and autonomous, or independent, or have a form of sovereignty. So, it is important that IPs all over the world make sure that the right to self-determination is being discussed on the table, e.g. the Nagas wanting to claim their right to self-determination and how the country, which is the oppressor or the colonist can respect the right to self-determination and respect the will of the Naga people.

These are rights we should have had all along. The 46 articles of the UNDRIP 46 are not new rights. It is important to understand that the rights of the IPs are derived from existing Human rights, the only difference is that IPs rights are collective rights.

As a final note on the right of self-determination, he mentioned that it is in constant development, as IPs all over are trying to bring it back to discussion tables and have dialogues around it' and pointed out the webinar as a perfect example and noted it as one of the positive’ things of covid-19 that virtual forums allow having dialogues not just in the Naga context, or Asia context, but on a global context of IPs, on our rights and the right to self-determination, so that that we can all unpack it together, and make sure that self-determination is on the agenda all over the world, and that 'once the COVID pandemic is over, we can all meet, and that we can all go to the UN, having gone over a common discussion and shared understanding on these ideas.'

So, self-determination he concluded, 'is the basis of everything, it is connected to self-identification, the right to represent yourself in meetings, the right to eating your own food, the right to follow your own religion, to have education in your own language in schools, to learn your own history.' That, it is 'not just about nationalist aspirations, but also the right to transmit your own heritage for generations to come, and you can only do that if we claim the right to self-determination.'

To a question from one of the participants, in helping understand the tension between self-identification and recognition by others, Ghazali responded with an example of the negotiations for climate change, where he was the lead negotiator for the local communities and IPs platform on Traditional knowledge where the IPs were on one side of the table and the States were on the other side and at first it was the misunderstanding that the states had about IPs, populations, communities and groups. Communities and groups are not reflected on the UN charter because the UNDRIP talks about Indigenous peoples and it says peoples have rights, because that's what the right to self-determination is referring to in Article 3 of UNDRIP.

'The longest meeting we had was the working group on Indigenous populations in Geneva he said. It was from approximately 1986 to 2006 and the word Indigenous populations was used then, as the UN did not yet recognize us as peoples, so populations was used, much like we say animal populations. It took decades of fighting to change it from populations to peoples, because once we were peoples we had rights and can also be accounted under the UN Charter.'

That, he said, is one of the challenges faced, having to continuously educate people, state representatives and other parties that IPs are rights holders, not just stake-holders, that we hold rights to our own lands etc.'

He reminded that the IPs already existed before the political nations. So, the right to self-determination, we didn't call it rights, it was just ethics to us, something natural to us and goes without saying. The only thing is now we have to codify it and move it under the right to self-determination. That is what we had to fight for.'

The tension between self-identification and recognition is that self-identification is built on self-determination. Self-determination is something that many states right now would not like to entertain, be it in dialogues or decision making, and self-identification is something that gives the right back to the IPs to decide who they are.

He added, I would advise the Nagas, respectfully, to have tremendous patience to achieve your national aspiration, but on a daily basis work as hard as possible to keep claiming your right to self-determination, keep speaking your own language and working towards that big goal. Then recognition will be more sustainable."

He concured with the other panelist Gam, on the need for a peoples to sustain themselves, "you have to act sovereign now, you have to self-determine now, you have to self-identify as a Naga now." That you can't wait till the point you find yourself independent. You have to shape your own nation now, building on your own heritage.'

In his concluding remarks he stressed on the need to have more frequent and in-depth meetings and in the global context as well that will benefit the Nagas and also strengthen global solidarity and the global fight for right to self-determination and ended with a call to action "What do we do next?"

He encouraged that we keep thinking about it. What does self-determination mean to me and how does it fit into the Naga context, and how can I best exercise my right to self-determination and making sure that I contribute to the national aspirations and vision of the Naga people. We don't have to go back to revitalize and revive everything of the past. Instead we must recognize it and build upon it and look at what binds you as a people. So you can build towards where you want to go, and make it a reality.

The Morung Dialogue is a talk series organized by NPHMR, Delhi since 2014 with the objective of strengthening the power of conversation and sharpening our understanding through sharing ideas and views on issues that affect our life and contribute to democracy, Justpeace and social justice.

* Naga People's Movement For Human Rights sent this article to
The writer can be contacted at npmhrlink(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 04 2020.

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