On August 9th, International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is commemorated, an occasion to raise awareness about the needs of these population groups.
Under the theme “Indigenous Youth as Agents of Change for Self-Determination,” this year’s campaign highlights the role that Indigenous youth should play in decision-making while recognizing their efforts in climate action, pursuit of justice, and the creation of an intergenerational connection that keeps their culture and traditions alive.
“Young Indigenous people, both women and men, lead the global climate action movement. They advocate for justice and equality, celebrate their diverse cultures, promote human rights, and raise awareness about the history of Indigenous peoples worldwide and the issues that concern them,” declared the Secretary-General of the United Nations in a message.
António Guterres added that Indigenous knowledge and traditions are “deeply rooted in sustainable development” and can help solve many of the challenges we face. “That’s why it’s vital that Indigenous youth also participate in decision-making,” he stated.
Guardians of 7,000 languages and 5,000 cultures
It is estimated that there are 476 million Indigenous people living in 90 countries around the world. They constitute less than 5% of the global population but represent 15% of the poorest. They speak a staggering total of 7,000 languages and embody 5,000 different cultures.
Indigenous peoples are heirs and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. They have preserved distinct social, cultural, economic, and political characteristics from those dominant societies in which they live. Despite their cultural differences, Indigenous peoples worldwide share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples.
Indigenous peoples have spent years seeking recognition for their identities, way of life, and their right to traditional lands, territories, and natural resources. However, throughout history, their rights have been violated. Today, Indigenous peoples are possibly among the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in the world. The international community now recognizes that special measures are needed to protect their rights and maintain their distinct cultures and ways of life.
Participation in Politics
In the lead-up to its commemoration, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples* urged states to take measures to ensure their full public and political participation, which heavily relies on their youth, especially the leadership and empowerment of Indigenous women and girls.
Cali Tzay noted that young Indigenous people are affected by threats to their rights, livelihoods, and culture, including intergenerational impacts stemming from the negative legacies of colonialism and disproportionate underrepresentation in decision-making, which further affects young Indigenous women and girls.
“Racism, stereotypes, and the lack of financial resources and support from public institutions and private entities remain persistent challenges to the meaningful participation of young Indigenous people in decisions that affect them,” Tzay declared.
The rapporteur called for the full participation of Indigenous youth in “green transition” projects to protect Indigenous peoples’ rights and livelihoods, combat climate change, and address biodiversity loss.
Did you know…?
Around the world, 47% of Indigenous workers lack formal education, compared to 17% of their non-Indigenous counterparts. This disparity is even greater among women.
Over 86% of Indigenous peoples worldwide work in the informal economy, compared to 66% of their non-Indigenous counterparts.
Indigenous peoples are nearly three times more likely to live in extreme poverty than their non-Indigenous counterparts.