In his message marking the Day, Secretary-General Kofi Annan drew attention to the ongoing preparations at UN Headquarters on the recently established Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which he called “a pioneering initiative that aims at giving indigenous peoples the chance to bring their concerns to the attention of the international community.” The Forum, which will meet for the first time in May 2002, will include 16 independent experts – half of them nominated by indigenous peoples.During a press conference today in New York, the Secretary of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, Julian Burger, said the Forum would be reporting at a high level, directly to the Economic and Social Council. “From our point of view, that’s a very interesting development: that indigenous people will be high up in the hierarchy in our system in the UN,” he said, adding that another unique feature is that the Forum has a very broad mandate beyond human rights issues – covering such areas as development, health, education and culture. At the same press conference, Marciel Arias, a Kuna Indian from Panama, said it had been difficult in the past for indigenous people to participate in UN meetings. “Indigenous associations would like to go even further, but we understand that this [Forum] constitutes the first step as we move to a higher level within the UN,” he said. “We hope that this Forum will play a role – an important one – to make governments more aware, and indigenous organizations more aware as well, so that they will be more interested in participating.” In his message commemorating the Day, the President of the UN General Assembly, Harri Holkeri of Finland, said an important goal of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (1995-2004) was to strengthen global cooperation on the challenges facing indigenous societies. Making consultation an integral part of the planning and implementation of programmes would enhance the outcome of such endeavours and encourage concerned groups to become involved, he said. To mark the Day, special activities are scheduled in New York, with performances by the Mohawk Singers and Dancers and a traditional Sacred Pipe Ceremony carried out by Dr. Arvol Looking Horse – the 19th generation keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe.