Indigenous Leaders Summit Of The Americas

March 29, 2001
Selection of Opening Remarks By Matthew Coon Come, 
National Chief Of The Assembly Of First Nations

It is my honour as national chief to welcome all indigenous brothers who have come here from a long distance. We are gathered here together in the traditional territory of the Algonquin people, and I wish to express my thanks to the Algonquin leaders and people.

Many of you have traveled a long distance to come to this summit. Those of us who came from nearby are very grateful that you have made that effort. It's interesting, I would not dare to list or I would probably forget, the indigenous peoples that are represented here, but I think it is safe to say that no matter what we call ourselves, whether it be Cree, Mohawk, or Machupess(?) or Kiapoh(?), but the names of our nations and of our tribes mean that we are a people. It literally means humans, it means people.

We always knew we were not inferior societies, that we are a nation, that we are a people, that we have the right to self determination. There are wonderful stories, success stories and important achievements among all of our indigenous peoples and nations. And we need to celebrate our survival. Let us wonder at the continuing and rich diversity of our cultures and at the infantile value of our philosophies, of our languages, of our music, our tradition knowledge, and our beliefs. Let us showcase our triumphs in business, the arts, technology and other fields.

There is only one solution for the situation facing indigenous peoples in the north, south, west and east in the Americas. It is a full recognition and full respect of our peoples' status and rights as peoples and, most important of all, our fundamental human right to self determination.

Our rights are fundamental. We have the right to self determination. We have the right never to be deprived of our own means of subsistence. We have the right to retain and freely dispose of our own natural wealth and resources. These rights are essential to our survival as a people and as a nation.

I believe that our children could be the agents of change. We can use technology. With access to new Internet infrastructure that can be a applied with the best networking capacities that are there, we can connect our communities, our hospitals, our schools. We missed the Industrial Revolution; we will not miss the information technology.

In the end, all economies, whether new or old, are built on foundations of access to land, natural wealth and resources. All peoples need food, clothing, housing, transportation, community infrastructure, clean water and sanitation, health and social services, education, roads, communications, and a physical place to play and work. Indigenous communities need their lands, resources, jurisdiction, ownership, status, recognition, human rights and dignity restored to them, whether they be here in Canada, or the States, or in Brazil, or in Guatemala, or in Peru or Mexico.

This indigenous summit is historic. Because we are still here. Because we are no longer willing to move aside in the name of development that excludes us without our fair share of the natural resources. And we will not accept being dispossessed, we will not accept being marginalized, we will not accept being told to move aside. Because our human rights are peoples' birthrights. Because we have come together to discuss and assert our human rights and to insist that our fundamental human rights remain paramount when government and corporate trade agendas are being explored.

We must strive to be heard and to be heeded. This is not an Assembly of First Nations meeting, it is not a Métis meeting, it is not an Inuit meeting, it is not a women's conference, it is not a youth conference. This is about our people, of their right to be heard. And we are here to work together. I thank you very much.

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