The indigenous peoples of North Africa are the Imazighn, known as Berbers to the West and including the nomadic and oasis dwelling Tuareg people in the south.They claim their indigenous identity in the face of pressures for cultural, linguistic and political assimilation into an Arab and Arabic language identity by the States of North Africa. This Ã¢â‚¬ËœArabismÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ dates from the 1950s liberation movement and is a source of conflict in the region.The Amazigh dialects and languages, which include Tamashek, Tamazight and Tashlheut share the same origin as well as the ancient Tifinagh alphabet. The Imazighn of the Canary Islands are active members of the indigenous peoples movement, celebrating their cultural roots. The diverse Amazigh cultural movement is united under the umbrella organization, the World Amazigh Congress.
The situation in Algeria remains sensitive. In Kabylie, in Northern Algeria, protests and actions by the Amazigh movement have led to the recognition of the regions Amazigh identity and the free use of the language in public and schools. Despite this, Amazigh identity is still being challenged in other parts of the country, notably the south where the Government appears to be implementing a deliberate campaign of resettlement and arabisation of Tuareg territories, particularly the important city of Tamanrasset.
In 2005, Tunis hosted the follow up meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). There was major indigenous participation, in part sponsored by Canada. Indigenous peoples from the region attended the event.
Tuareg delegates from Djanet and Tamanrasset participated in the 2006 Congress of Indigenous Peoples of the Sahara and Sahel, held in Agadez, Niger. The activists expressed their concerns over serious environmental problems in the area, and their frustration that opportunities for income generation arising from European tourism and National Parks are not addressing the needs of indigenous peoples or providing much revenue to these poor territories. Tourism is mostly controlled by European companies without effective partnerships with local communities. Indigenous people are rich in knowledge about the territories and biodiversity but are generally not employed as guides, trackers, hosts or in anti-poaching.
Morocco has seen impressive changes in favour of democratisation since the ascension to the throne of His Majestry Mohammed VI. Even though the Amazigh people are more than half the population of Morocco, their language and identity was suffocated during years of arabisation policies of the preceding regime.
The young king has lifted the interdiction on the use of Berber language (Tamazigh) in schools. A Royal Commission on Amazigh Culture and Language has been established with leading cultural activists assisting to define policies, standards and curriculum. 2005 saw the second year of Tamazight curriculum in the primary school system.
Tamaynut, the national Amazigh cultural network in Morocco has more than 30 affiliated members in urban and rural areas. This indigenous civil society network is the largest in Africa. Tamaynut has struggled to promote the use of Tamazight and the recognition of Amazigh culture. Its members are also involved in the promotion of literacy, craft and cottage industries notably for women in rural areas.
Tamaynut in cooperation with the International Labour Office (ILO) engaged in a study on customary law of indigenous peoples. The Moroccan activists have shifted their attention from language and cultural issues to concerns about land rights, development of the rural economy and the role of National Parks.
The outgoing chairman of IPACC, Advocate Hassan id Belkassm continued his important role on the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) as representative of the indigenous peoples civil society in Africa.
In November 2006, Association Tamunt n Iffus will host an international colloquium on Indigenous Peoples in the Francophone world. The event is supported by the Francophone Co-ordination of Indigenous Peoples (CAF) with funding from IWGIA France and the European Union. Indigenous peoples are due to attend from Africa, the Pacific, Canada and French Guyana. The conference will deal with issues of legal heritage in the French speaking world, media, tourism, and equitable access to the United Nations system.
Handaine Mohammed, Amazigh, Morocco, Regional Representative
Abdellah Hitous, Amazigh, Morocco, Deputy Representative
Nait Sid KAMIRA, Amazigh, Algeria, Women s Representative