Being indigenous peoples "is not about wearing colourful garments but about being engaged in the political struggle towards an alternative to the current, crisis-laden model of civilization", says María Chávez, an indigenous person from Bolivia who is a consultant for indigenous issues at the World Council of Churches (WCC).
María Chávez belongs to the Aymara people, a native group from the mountain regions of South America. As the person in charge of the WCC Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples project, she will be coordinating the participation of an ecumenical delegation at the eighth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues which will take place in New York City, 18-29 May.
One of the issues on the forum's agenda is a review of the progress made in implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007.
Jointly sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation and the WCC, an ecumenical delegation of 12 members will bring input from their contexts into the discussions. "Indigenous persons who are also members of churches are sometimes looked at with suspicion," says Chávez. "We want to show not only that churches are supportive of the cause of indigenous peoples, but also that there is an indigenous church."
For Chávez, who is a Methodist lay theologian, it is crucial that forums such as the UN bring regional realities and local struggles into discussions at the global level. In order to achieve that, she believes "indigenous peoples have an ally in the ecumenical movement".
"Some brothers and sisters say: 'We just cry for being heard'," says Chávez. "For that to happen, we need to go beyond the romanticization of our image and become real protagonists; we do have an alternative lifestyle to offer to humankind, one that is based on a holistic worldview and spirituality," she adds.
For information on WCC work in Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, see: http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=3247
UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii