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Sunday, 1 April, 2001, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
Free trade concerns Native Americans
Ecuadorian men
Fears over the effect of free trade
By Mike Fox in Montreal

Native American people from across North and South America have said they fear that a free trade agreement covering both continents could have devastating effects on native peoples.

The statement was issued at the end of the first ever meeting of the indigenous peoples' summit of the Americas held in the Canadian capital, Ottawa.

It was organised in order to make recommendations to the Summit of the Americas, which takes place in Quebec City later in April to discuss the creation of a free trade area of the Americas.

Amazon indian
For years indigenous people were overlooked

The issue of the rights of indigenous peoples across North and South America has received more and more attention in recent years.

And victories in a series of major land-rights claims in Canada and elsewhere have given renewed impetus to their drive for more recognition.

Summit invitation

So the delegates in Ottawa were delighted to hear that the chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Canada, Matthew Coon Come, had been invited to attend the Summit of the Americas, although as yet he has not been given time to address the heads of state.

The invitation came in an open letter from the Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, who vowed to make sure that the views of native peoples would have an influence on the outcomes of agreements made at the Quebec City summit.

The closing statement from the indigenous peoples' summit stresses that any future trade agreements must recognise the fundamental human rights of aboriginal peoples, their claims to the land, and the right to self-governance.

It has also called for indigenous people to be allowed to take part in the negotiations leading to a free trade agreement of the Americas.

Common position

Matthew Coon Come said that the indigenous peoples' summit showed that first nations can develop a common position to help them protect their languages, cultures and political identities.

And he reminded the countries of the Organisation of American States that their lands and the resources that they extract from them were once all native lands, and that the native peoples would no longer accept being excluded from the riches produced on their territories.

With first nations across the Americas becoming increasingly confrontational when their individual territories are threatened, it seems they're now preparing to speak with a single voice in international negotiations as well.

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See also:

01 Dec 99 | Americas
Does free trade benefit the poor?
20 Apr 98 | Americas
Americas launch free trade - slowly
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