By Joshua Cooper, University of Hawai'i
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a path to protect the remaining natural resources for future generations and forge a future for those furthest behind. The 2030 Agenda is unequivocally grounded in globally recognized human rights. This includes the rights of indigenous peoples. There are six direct references to indigenous peoples in the 2030 Agenda.
Indigenous peoples spiritual and cultural practices since time immemorial offer valuable insight to humanity if it is to achieve the 2030 Agenda. Indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge and ancestral wisdom is what the world is seeking with sustainability.
However, the review process to monitor the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) of the UN is absolutely insufficient. The presentations of the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) by Member States have forgotten indigenous peoples or intentionally forced them into exclusion. Some governments have even returned to earlier positions, prior to the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ignore the right of self-identification.
One vital addition of the SDGs to the Millennium Development Goals is that every Member State will measure how they achieve the 2030 Development Agenda. No longer are Indigenous Peoples in developed countries excluded from a global initiative.
During the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues that took place in April 2018, only three months ahead of the HLPF, indigenous peoples explored engagement around the VNRs at every step in four countries – Australia, Canada, Laos and Vietnam.
While the political systems in those countries are different, the end result is quite similar – in all of them, Indigenous Peoples are invisible and haven't been included so far in the reports. Indeed, there was little if no communication directly with indigenous peoples to seek their input in their countries' VNRs.
For the more developed countries, there was promotional materials printed and decorating buildings in capital. However, indigenous peoples never heard from national agencies responsible for drafting the SDG VNRs or were they contacted to participate at the HLPF, let alone to engage in consultations in country.
At the Permanent Forum interactive dialogues, indigenous peoples asked pointedly about SDGs. One of the responses regarding VNRs was: "This is still a relatively new review process. It is the starting point to establish benchmark and priorities." But we only have a bit over a decade to achieve the SDGs.
During every opportunity to organize, there were no signs from States that showed indigenous peoples were being recognized as partners. In fact, indigenous peoples wondered if they had missed the development bus and not even been told where the bus stop is.
During the HLPF in 2019, we must indigenize the SDG process for a genuine measurement of the global sustainable development movement. Reforms must mainstream indigenous peoples and other vulnerable voices so as to provide a valuable vision through transformative initiatives.
Joshua Cooper is Lecturer at the University of Hawai'i in Political Science, Director of the Hawai'i Institute for Human Rights, and Dean of the International Human and Peoples Rights Law Program in Vienna, Austria.