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NewsExperts Call for Action to Preserve, Revitalize Indigenous Languages under Threat of Extinction, at New York Headquarters Meeting, 19-21 January

New York, 22 January 2016 (Department of Economic and Social Affairs) — A three-day meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York brought together experts from around the world to identify best practices and recommend ways to preserve and revitalize indigenous languages.

It is estimated that there are between 6,000 to 7,000 oral languages in the world today, but that one dies every two weeks.  “Maintaining and revitalizing indigenous languages is essential to keep our shared cultural heritage,” emphasized Lenni Montiel, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  The Department organized the three-day meeting, which ran from 19 to 21 January.

“Every Government and every State needs to work with indigenous peoples to keep those languages alive because when they are gone, that whole stream of cultural connections to that part of civilization is gone forever,” said Grand Chief Edward John of Canada’s Tl’azt’en Nation, a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Noting that information and communications technology could be a powerful tool for revitalizing indigenous languages, Craig Cornelius of Google Inc. described how, together with the Cherokee Nation, the firm had created web search and Gmail in the Cherokee language.  Tatiana Degai of the Council of the Itelmens of Kamchatka, Russian Federation, highlighted how WhatsApp messaging and online karaoke songs in Itelmen inspired young people to use that language.  And Amy Kalili of Hawaii’s educational medium Makauila explained its use of television broadcasts and social media to support language immersion programmes for children.

During the meeting, indigenous peoples demonstrated various initiatives for keeping their languages alive and made recommendations.  They called upon Member States to proclaim an international day and a United Nations decade for indigenous languages in order to raise awareness of the urgent need to keep those languages vibrant and alive.  Also recommended was a global fund to support indigenous language initiatives with a focus on community-driven language revitalization projects.  The meeting called upon States to implement the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in particular the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations the languages, histories, philosophies, cultures and oral traditions of indigenous peoples.

As a matter of urgency, the meeting also called upon the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to prioritize the preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages and initiate practical programmes to that end.  To frame those efforts, UNESCO should adopt a global policy on engagement with indigenous peoples and include the revitalization and promotion of indigenous languages as an agenda item at UNESCO’s General Conference.

The meeting highlighted the important role of indigenous women as the primary transmitters of indigenous languages to future generations, and called upon the Commission on the Status of Women to consider “empowerment of indigenous women” as a priority theme.

Member States also shared initiatives for maintaining and revitalizing indigenous languages.  A group comprising Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, El Salvador, Finland, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Norway, New Zealand, Spain and Peru delivered a joint statement recognizing the issue of indigenous languages as an issue of rights.  They also acknowledged the need to take effective measures to ensure that indigenous peoples could understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings.

The final report and recommendations of the expert group meeting will be submitted to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at its session in May.


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NewsIt is beyond time for Britain to apologise to Australia’s Indigenous people

Australian flag

Every year Australia Day gets bigger, more ostentatious and increasingly imbued with a brazen “kiss the flag”, “love us or leave us” territorial ugliness that eclipses a discomforting truth at the heart of our nationhood.

And that is: for the vast majority of Australians, this is someone else’s land. Always was. Always will be.

It’s inarguable.

Federal parliament might be toying with “recognising” Indigenous people in the constitution. But until that is matched by a broad apology for the violence and dispossession that accompanied British invasion and occupation, a genuine conversation about treaties with first Australians, and a formal acknowledgement of sovereignty and the need for reparations, such symbolism will remain just that – symbolic.

As non-Indigenous Australia parties with itself again today, a good place to start in terms of conciliation would be an apology from both Great Britain and Australia to this continent’s first peoples. What for? For at least a century and a half of extreme violence and continued dispossession that followed invasion, and the British-inspired wars and mass murders across the continent from the first east coast contact in 1770 to the Coniston massacre in 1928 and beyond.

There are precedents. Former British prime minister Tony Blair gave what many regarded as an apology for Britain’s role in the 19th century Irish potato famine; he later expressed profound regret (though not an abject apology) for Britain’s involvement in slavery.

Meanwhile in 1995 Queen Elizabeth apologised to New Zealand’s biggest Maori tribe for Britain’s devastation of its lands.

It is beyond time for Britain to apologise to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The journals and letters of the British – from the first explorers and colonial governors to the soldiers and so-called “settlers” – who arrived from 1770 to massacre tens upon tens of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and steal their land, make unambiguously clear what happened.

Generations of Australian public intellectuals have wrestled with this shameful past. We’ve had the so-called “history wars” polarised between the alleged “black armband” of historical truth-telling and the “white blindfold” of adherence to some absurd notion of benign British settlement. There has been nothing resembling a national reckoning.

Former prime minister Paul Keating came closest to kick starting one with his 1992 Redfern speech:

… the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians,” he said.

It begins, I think, with that act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us. With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask – how would I feel if this were done to me? As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us.

Tony Abbott, who promised to be a prime minister for Indigenous affairs, referenced Keating’s speech in parliament, speaking of a “stain” on Australia’s soul. And then he behaved like the paternalistic, top-down mission manager of old, conducted a cynical annual PR roadshow to a remote Indigenous community, gathered about him a self interested and blinkered cabal of Indigenous advisers and made the absurd assertion the “Great Southern Land” was “unsettled or, um, scarcely settled” before the invasion of Arthur Phillip’s First Fleet on 26 January, 1788.

That event, of course, is now marked with our annual festival of barbecues and slabs, and fetishisation of a flag that, with its Union Jack, symbolises violence and oppression to Indigenous people.

Such is the indulgence of colonial privilege.

John Howard was worse than Abbott, refusing to countenance any sort of apology because, amid all the contested past of the history wars, he thought it unnecessary for today’s Australians to feel guilt for colonialism’s back catalogue.

Malcolm Turnbull shows little early promise that Indigenous issues will be a priority.

In 2008 Kevin Rudd delivered what was broadly termed “the apology”. Rhetorically and legally specific, it related to the stolen generation, whose experience of being forcibly removed from parents was but one of the many terrible legacies of British invasion with its extreme violence and self-justifying social Darwinism.

Politics in Australia has largely failed the truth regarding British occupation of Australia. Perhaps mindful of potential compensation implications, consecutive recent prime ministers haven’t leveled on anything resembling the extent of the violence against Indigenous Australia and all of its dehumanising generational, social and economic reverberations.

On 30 July 1768, just before he set sail on the Endeavour in search of the “Great Southern Land”, Lieutenant James Cook received secret orders from the British Admiralty.

Cook’s journal and the instructions (respectively manuscripts numbers 1 and 2 at the National Library of Australia, which serves a primary role in this nation’s memory) told the commander he should scour the shores for the “Products thereof” – the mammals, birds and fish, any potentially valuable minerals and decent, organic foods.

And he was “to observe the Genius, Temper, Disposition and Number of the Natives, if there be any and endeavour by all proper means to cultivate a Friendship and Alliance with them … inviting them to Traffick, and Shewing them every kind of Civility and Regard.”

“You are also with the Consent of the Natives to take Possession of Convenient Situations in the Country in the Name of the King of Great Britain: Or: if you find the Country uninhabited take Possession for his Majesty by setting up Proper Marks and Inscriptions.”

Friendship and alliance? Civility and regard? Consent to take the land?

In Botany Bay in 1770, Cook immediately clashed with the Gweagal tribesmen, shooting at least one. He made his claims on the east coast before Phillip landed on 26 January, 1788.

Did Cook seek consent for Britain to take the land?

Did any blackfella say, “Sure, Lieutenant – Britain can have the lot”?

Think about that this Australia Day.


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NewsUNPFII: Call for nominations for the term 2017-2019


The United Nations calls for nominations of candidates to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues for the term 2017-2019 from indigenous peoples’ organizations.

To send in nominations for consideration, the following documents are required:

  • A formal letter of nomination
  • A recent resume/curriculum vitae of the candidate (maximum 4 pages)
  • Information about the nominating organization.

All correspondence should be sent to the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The deadline for submission of nominations is 1 February 2016.

For further information see the letter that has been sent to representatives of indigenous peoples in EnglishSpanish, French  and Russian.

Source: UNPFII
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NewsThe Paris Agreement: An “Incremental Advance” for International Recognition of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Some members of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus at 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC-COP21). IITC Photo

Some members of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus at 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC-COP21). IITC Photo


Paris, France – The 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC-COP21) officially adopted the Paris Agreement on Saturday, December 12, 2015.  The Agreement, with the legal force of a UN Treaty, was agreed to by all the 195 States (countries) present.  Once ratified by at least 55 States, it will go into legal force in 2020.  It commits all countries, for the first time ever, to cut their carbon emissions while also recognizing the special circumstances of developing countries.  The States also adopted the “Paris Decision” which is not legally binding, but commits States to immediately begin the process of reducing greenhouse emissions that cause climate change.

Some commentators are denouncing the Paris Agreement as a failure while others are hailing it as an historic triumph.  But for Indigenous Peoples, the Paris Agreement can be seen as another step forward for the recognition of their rights in international law.

The International Indigenous Peoples Forum of Climate Change (IIPFCC) and the Indigenous Peoples Caucus representing over 200 indigenous delegates attending this session from around the world, was invited to make a formal statement at the COP21 closing plenary. The IIPFCC closing statement, presented by elder Frank Ettawageshik (Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians), highlighted the three key messages advocated by Indigenous Peoples during the two-week session.  These included a call for the rights of Indigenous Peoples [to] be recognized, protected, and respected within a broad human rights framework in both the preamble and the operative sections of the Agreement; a temperature goal of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius increase over pre-industrial levels; and recognition, respect for and use of Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge, with their free, prior, and informed consent, in measures for adaption to climate change.   The IIPFCC statement, while expressing that Indigenous Peoples were “keenly disappointed” at the shortfalls in meeting these calls, noted that all three Indigenous Peoples messages were “addressed to some degree” in the final Agreement.

In particular, the inclusion of “the rights of Indigenous Peoples” in the preamble paragraph of the Agreement, achieved despite the consistent opposition of some States throughout the process, is a significant and unprecedented step forward.  This is the first time this phrase has appeared unqualified in a legally binding UN Treaty, environmental or otherwise.  The same phrase was included the preamble of the Paris Decision, although both say that States “should consider”, while Indigenous Peoples and human rights advocates called for the use of the stronger word  “shall”.

As noted by hereditary Chief Damon Corrie, Lokono Arawak of Barbados, “strong support by a group of States including Philippines, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile, Tuvalu, Indonesia, Canada and others, standing in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples throughout the negotiations, was required to achieve these inclusions in the final Agreement.

Despite disappointment that the phrase ‘rights of Indigenous Peoples’ and Human Rights in general did not also appear in the Agreement’s operative section, International Chief, attorney and member of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) Wilton Littlechild, Ermineskin Cree Nation, clarified that “the preamble of a Treaty provides the context and framework for interpreting and implementing the entire document.”  The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties supports his assessment. On this basis, Chief Littlechild called the Paris Agreement an “incremental advancement for recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples in international law.”

The Paris Agreement also calls on State parties (countries) to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” The 1.5 temperature goal was a core position not only of Indigenous Peoples, but the Small Island Developing States.

Article 7 of the Agreement addressing Adaptation affirms the need for a participatory, transparent, gender-sensitive approach based on science and “as appropriate, traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems”.  UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli Corpuz noted that Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge, innovations and practices are recognized in both the Agreement and the Decision, and stated that moving forward “the challenge is how to operationalize this decision.”

The inclusion of Indigenous Peoples’ core positions both in the Paris Agreement and Decision was the result of the monumental, coordinated and unified efforts by the Indigenous Peoples Caucus throughout COP21.  Despite the shortfalls, the inclusion of “the rights of Indigenous Peoples” in both preambles provides a basis for future advocacy to ensure that all programs addressing Climate Change are carried out with respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples as affirmed in the UN Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including land and resource rights, free prior and informed consent, traditional knowledge and Treaty rights.


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NewsTashka Yawanawa Opens Equator Prize Award Ceremony

France Climate Countdown
Tribal Link News Brief: At the United Nations Climate Change Conference/COP21 in Paris, the Tribal Link Foundation supported the participation of Amazonian leader Tashka Yawanawa of the indigenous Yananawa People from Brazil who presented the opening blessing at The Equator Prize Award ceremony at Theatre Mogador on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015. The Equator Prize 2015 honors local achievement and mobilized action for people, nature and climate. Tashka Yawanawa is a former recipient of the prize. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
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NewsTaking to the hills: tribal groups face up to climate change

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks with Brazilian indigenous rights activist and chief of the Kayapo Amazonian Indian tribe, Raoni Metuktire, (R) in Paris on November 29, 2015. AFP / Eric Feferberg

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks with Brazilian indigenous rights activist and chief of the Kayapo Amazonian Indian tribe, Raoni Metuktire, (R) in Paris on November 29, 2015. AFP / Eric Feferberg

Tashka Yawanawa’s Amazonian tribe lived on the plains along the Gregorio River for millennia — until a wall of flood water last year forced them to flee their homes for good.

Le Bourget (France) (AFP) –  “We had never seen a flood this big, this fast, this ferocious,” the tribal chief told AFP on the sidelines of UN climate talks in Paris aimed at agreeing a pact to stave off disastrous climate change.

He chalked the flooding disaster up to global warming.

“This was the first time we felt the direct impact of climate change,” the 40-year-old said at Le Bourget airport on the northern outskirts of Paris, standing out in an elaborate headdress of tall, bright feathers among the throngs of negotiators in suits.

“Now we have to change our life and move to the hills.”

Scientists caution against linking a single extreme weather event to an unpredictable and long-term phenomenon such as climate change.

However, there is a growing body of evidence that some environmental changes can already be blamed on planet warming caused by humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Such changes hit indigenous communities first because they live beyond the safety cushion of money and technology — relying as they do on nature for food, shelter and medicine.

Indigenous groups from Africa to the Arctic have gathered at the Paris climate conference — tasked with crafting a climate rescue pact — to call for a robust deal to help protect their way of life.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, the Bambuti Pygmy people are finding it ever harder to source food.

Joseph Itongwa, a hunter-gatherer of forest foods, said warmer temperatures have forced small game like porcupines to higher, cooler climes.

“We can spend the whole day looking for them and not find any. It was a lot easier 10 years ago,” the 43-year-old said.

“Plants are disappearing too. That is not only bad for our food supply, but for our medicines too.”

Pygmies are central African nomads whose very survival depends on what nature can provide.

Like many indigenous peoples they face discrimination and mistreatment from majority communities, while farming, mining and deforestation encroaches upon their traditional way of life.

“We have been forced to directly change our way of living,” Itongwa said. “And that is a problem. We are losing our identity.”

Thousands of kilometres away in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of northern Canada, the mercury is rising at double the global rate.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, a member of the Cree aboriginal group, said warmer temperatures in his north Manitoba region have made winter ice unstable — interfering with life-sustaining fishing.

“When the ice is not as thick, you just don’t (fish),” said Thomas-Muller, 38, as a fisherman could fall through the ice and drown.

Instead, “you go shop at the store,” he said. “And then you get diabetes because… it’s all processed food.”

Obesity is one of many problems Canada’s indigenous communities struggle with, as long relied-upon natural resources are dwindling.

Candido Mezua Salazar is a member of the Embera indigenous community in Panama, and earns a living growing plantains.

But falling river levels in recent years — driven by irregular and insufficient rainfall — have taken a big bite out of his earnings.

Years ago, Salazar could load 10,000 plantains onto his boat and float off to the market.

Today, he cannot carry more than 2,000, or the weight pushes his craft into the mud.

“I cannot say exactly how much the changes have cost me, but I cannot sell my produce, which hurts me and my family,” he said in Paris.

Yawanawa’s community, meanwhile, is still recovering from the November 2014 flood.

His tribe are building new homes some 100 metres (328 feet) up a hillside in an effort to get out of harm’s way.

“The people who are the most exposed to climate change are the people who live in the forest, in peace with the forest and who depend on it to eat and live,” he said.

“And it’s those people who least contributed to these changes,” he said.

© 2015 AFP

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NewsCanada will implement UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Carolyn Bennett says

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett says the new Liberal government will rebuild the relationship with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told his new cabinet ministers: “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told his new cabinet ministers: “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples.”

OTTAWA—Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett says the new Liberal government will rebuild the relationship with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples by including them in every decision that affects them and their land.

“That means starting out right, such that everything has been considered before a decision is taken so that you can find that win-win of ‘you can develop there but not there,’ ” Bennett said in an interview this week, when asked how the Liberals plan to make good on their promise to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave that sentiment a boost when he told his new cabinet ministers in their : “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples.”

The Crown already has a constitutionally protected “duty to consult” with aboriginal peoples on issues that might affect their interests, but the UN declaration goes much further and calls on governments to obtain “free, prior and informed consent,” including when it comes to natural resources development.

The idea that this could turn into a veto was one of the concerns that Canada — under the previous government of Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper — cited as a reason for its opposition to signing UNDRIP in 2007 and then its refusal to adopt an outcome document last year.

How does a federal government implement those principles without risking a loss of control over its agenda? Bennett said achieving mutually beneficial results begins by having a conversation, and having it right away.

“There are many ways of achieving mutual results, but it begins with the conversation and it isn’t writing legislation and then saying, ‘You love it, don’t you?’ We are committed to sitting down early, at the earliest possible moment, on every single thing that will affect indigenous people in Canada,” said Bennett, who believes it is “hugely important” all parliamentarians, government departments, provinces, territories, mayors and municipalities understand this too.

Bennett, who said she was advised by a First Nations friend to consider herself the “minister of reconciliation,” is aware she has set the bar high for herself, but she also has high expectations for her newly renamed department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

“I’m a bit of a hard marker when it comes to what a strategy that is going to do something looks like,” Bennett said.

In a speech to departmental staff Tuesday, according to a video provided to the Star communications staff upon request, Bennett did her best to rally bureaucrats onside by promising a different way of doing things.

“We want you to be empowered to bring forward good ideas, to understand the kinds of solutions that you know exist on the ground and that we can just harvest from the people who have been doing the thinking about these things for a very long time,” said Bennett, who also told them to correct her when she is wrong and that she would have “a no jerks policy” when it comes to hiring staff for her office.

Bennett told the Star the new government will “have to have some wins that will demonstrate reconciliation” in order to keep the goodwill flowing.

“There is a lot of understanding that some things are going to take more time than others, but the indicators of the good will and the steps in the right direction are going to be very important,” said Bennett.

One of those indicators will be the national inquiry into the more than 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.

“We are saddened and shocked and think of those families, but I think we also know that Canadians want this to stop and we have to do everything in our power to understand what leads to this and be able to put in place the action to prevent these,” Bennett said.

Bennett expects to launch pre-inquiry consultations with families, civil society groups and other stakeholders within the next couple of weeks, with the goal of having “something substantial to announce” sometime before Dec. 6.

That is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women that marks the anniversary of the 1989 massacre at École Polytechnique in Montreal.

Bennett said she and her department will jointly lead the consultation process with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Status of Women Minister Patricia Hajdu, with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale also playing an advisory role.

Bennett said she was pleased to see Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose lend her support to the inquiry, and noted that NDP MPs Niki Ashton and Romeo Saganash and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May have always been on board.

 Bennett also stood by the Liberal commitment to remove the 2-per-cent cap on annual increases to federal transfers to First Nations communities, which has not kept pace with population growth and is cited as one of the sources the discrepancy in services — including education — for aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.

It was brought in former Liberal finance minister Paul Martin in 1996, but Bennett disputes that it was intended as an austerity measure.

“That was actually a 2-per-cent escalator and it was a 2-per-cent escalator at a time when all other (departments) were being cut and I had long chats with Paul Martin about it, but I think the Kelowna Accord was intended to lift that cap,” Bennett said.

The Liberal campaign platform also promised to negotiate a new fiscal relationship that would better provide for needs in First Nations communities, and Bennett said they envision emulating the process of the Kelowna Accord, negotiated by Martin as prime minister, to achieve it.

“It was a totally inclusive process that included First Nations, Métis and Inuit leadership together with the provinces and the territories. Everybody came together in order to identify the priorities,” Bennett said.

 Timeline: UN Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Sept. 13, 2007: The UN General Assembly adopts the declaration but Canada, which had for many years been involved in drafting UNDRIP, joined the U.S., Australia and New Zealand in opposing it. One of the concerns was that “free, prior and informed consent” could be used as a veto.

Nov. 12, 2010: Canada endorses UNDRIP, but refers to it as “an aspirational document” and notes it is not legally binding: “We are now confident that Canada can interpret the principles expressed in the declaration in a manner that is consistent with our Constitution and legal framework.”

Sept. 22, 2014: Canada is the only UN member to refuse adopting the “outcome document” affirming commitment to UNDRIP, again citing concerns over “free, prior and informed consent”.


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