The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today wrapped up its first-ever session, which Secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed as an “historic” initial step towards meeting future challenges.”With the inauguration of this Forum, indigenous issues assume their rightful place – higher on the international agenda than ever before,” Mr. Annan told the assembled participants, including many indigenous persons dressed in colourful traditional attire. “We begin a new chapter in the history of indigenous people at the United Nations.”The Secretary-General said it was “entirely appropriate” that as victims of discrimination who were often poor, indigenous peoples now had a platform for raising their concerns.”In a relatively short time, indigenous peoples have covered considerable ground, but of course there is a great distance still to be travelled,” he said. “As you conclude the Forum’s first session, I would like to congratulate you on the start you have made in charting those difficult waters.”Praising the diversity of indigenous peoples, and the “deep and abiding reverence for the natural world” which many shared, the Secretary-General paid tribute to their collective wisdom. “Among the traditions I find particularly powerful is the respect given to elders as carriers of wisdom, to women as carriers of language and culture, and to children as carriers of the identity that is transmitted to future generations,” he said.Noting that one out of every 20 people is indigenous, the Secretary-General voiced confidence that as members of the UN family, they would make “an immense contribution to the Organization’s mission of peace and progress.”Briefing reporters on the work of the session, the Forum’s Chairman, Ole Henrik Magga of Norway, stressed the need for a permanent secretariat to support the new body’s work, and voiced hope that the Economic and Social Council would establish it this summer. Representatives of 172 indigenous nations, organizations, groups and other entities from around the world gathered for the two-week session, which also attracted governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academia. Established in 2000 by the UN’s Economic and Social Council, the Forum, which is composed of 16 independent experts, is mandated to discuss indigenous issues relating to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights. read more