Celilo Falls, the U.N., World Heritage Sites and Indigenous Peoples

By Sean Cruz

Portland, Oregon—

The Tenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) is meeting in New York, May 16-27, and anyone interested in seeing Celilo Falls resurrected from its gravesite behind the obsolete and misplaced 1950’s-era dam at The Dalles ought to think about this….

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “is the official Advisory Body to the World Heritage Committee on natural and mixed World Heritage sites and as such evaluates new site nominations and monitors the state of conservation of inscribed sites.”

The point that I’m going to get to in a minute is that there is a process to nominate new World Heritage sites, and that the time is right to begin the process to place Celilo Falls on the list of World Heritage “inscribed’ sites.

Gonzalo Oviedo, IUCN Senior Advisor for Social Policy, presented a statement to the UNPFII that included these remarks:

“World Heritage sites are established under the World Heritage Convention; they are key places for the conservation of cultural and natural values of the world.

“As many of these sites overlap with traditional lands, the involvement of indigenous peoples and local communities in the establishment and management of World Heritage sites is paramount. Issues such as land rights, free prior and informed consent, access to resources and benefit sharing mechanisms are of crucial importance.

“We would like to convey to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues the importance we attach to these issues.

“We recognize the long-established indigenous peoples’ stewardship of areas contained in natural World Heritage sites and the associated tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

“We also value the commitment, ecological knowledge and customary practices of indigenous peoples living in and around World Heritage sites. Indigenous peoples therefore represent key actors and logical allies for us in the protection of these outstanding places.

“We believe that to assure realization of human rights gives the local populations long-term security and promotes lasting stewardship of their common heritage.”

The mission of IUCN is stated: “IUCN helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environmental and development challenges by supporting scientific research; managing field projects all over the world; and by bringing governments, NGOs, the United Nations, international conventions and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice. IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network. IUCN is a democratic union with more than 1000 government and NGO member organizations, and some 10,000 volunteer scientists in more than 150 countries and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world.”

Continuing his remarks, Mr. Oviedo stated:

“We consider that the Convention has much to offer in strengthening the appreciation of the heritage of indigenous peoples, but there is also much scope to enhance policy and practice to recognize local and indigenous peoples as key actors in the protection of their sites in full respect of their rights and responsibilities.

“We are keen to identify, with UNESCO and other partners, how best to meet the aim to focus more on indigenous peoples and local communities and promote and apply more inclusive conservation approaches.

“We are also keen to facilitate exchange with other stakeholders in preparation of the 40th Anniversary of the Convention in 2012, themed ‘World Heritage and Sustainable Development: The Role of Local Communities in the Management of World Heritage….”

The dam at The Dalles was the result of thinking and decision making as stupid and shortsighted and as willfully destructive as anything the Soviets did in the same era, yet there it sits….

It is time to form the Friends of Celilo Falls, to gather the Friends together, and to begin the process that will see Celilo Falls recovered and preserved, no less important than any other site the world treasures…hear the roar…the earth trembles…the flash of salmon and there the net….



About 1000nations

Sean Aaron Cruz is Executive Director of 1000 Nations and a co-founder of The Friends of Celilo Falls. He is the organizer of the Jim Pepper Native Arts Festival. He is co-author of Winona LaDuke's new book, "The Militarization of Indian Country." He is the father of four children who disappeared into Utah in a Mormon abduction in 1996, and the author of Oregon's landmark anti-kidnapping statute "Aaron's Law" (Senate Bill 1041), named for his late son Aaron Cruz. He writes online as Blogolitical Sean.
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