August 9 is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, and Cultural Survival. It marks the day of the first meeting, in 1982, of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub-commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.
The message of the UN Secretary Genral Antonio Guterres is the following:
“On this annual observance, let us commit to honor fully the UN Declaration of the Rights of indigenous Peoples, including their right to self-determination and to traditional lands, territories and resources.”
We need to recognise and honour the strength, resilience, dignity, and pride of Indigenous Peoples around the world. Their histories of struggle, their stories, songs, rituals and ceremonies form a rich, colorful, textured, and beautiful tapestry.
As inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures, ways of relating to people and the environment they have greatly contributed to the richness of world culture. They cherish social, cultural, economic and political characteristics which are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Despite their rich contribution to the world civilization, they still remain marginalised communities and societies.
Over the years they have been seeking recognition of their identities, way of life and their right to traditional lands, territories, and natural resources for years. Their history, their rights, their precincts, sanctuaries, and their resources have always been violated, looted or appropriated by socially and politically powerful agents. They are arguably among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people in the world. It is important to note that the international community is now recognizing that special measures are required to protect their rights and maintain their distinct cultures and way of life.
There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world. They live across 90 countries. They make up less than 5 per cent of the world’s population, but account for 15 per cent of the poorest. They speak about 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures.
“The UN Declaration highlights the rights of indigenous peoples, the global consensus on the rights of indigenous peoples and establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for their survival, dignity and well-being. It elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms, as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples.”
Despite the achievements in implementation of the UN declaration, , there continues to be a gap between the formal recognition of indigenous peoples and the implementation of policies on the ground. As a result, indigenous peoples continue to face exclusion, marginalization and major challenges in enjoying their basic rights.
The theme of 2018 is: Indigenous peoples’ migration and movement
As a result of loss of their lands, territories and resources due to development and other pressures, many indigenous peoples migrate to urban areas in search of better prospects of life, education and employment.
“They also migrate between countries to escape conflict, persecution and climate change impacts. In most cases, indigenous peoples who migrate find better employment opportunities and improve their economic situation but alienate themselves from their traditional lands and customs. Additionally, indigenous migrants face a myriad of challenges, including lack of access to public services and additional layers of discrimination.
The 2018 theme will focus on the current situation of indigenous territories, the root causes of migration, trans-border movement and displacement, with a specific focus on indigenous peoples living in urban areas and across international borders. The observance will explore the challenges and ways forward to revitalize indigenous peoples’ identities and encourage the protection of their rights in or outside their traditional territories.”