United Nations (UN)
The Bogotá Ministry of Health have sent a Muisca nurse to Suba, in the north of Bogotá, Colombia, to check on the local Muisca indigenous population. Worldwide, over 50% of indigenous adults over age 35 have type 2 diabetes. At the same time, tuberculosis continues to disproportionately affect indigenous peoples due to poverty. These and other deseases make them even more vulnerable in times of COVID-19. Photo: PAHO/Karen González Abril.
COVID-19 and indigenous peoples’ resilience
While the exact origins of COVID-19 have not yet been confirmed, the link between environmental damage and pandemics is well known to leading research organizations. But there is yet another group of experts, who have been worrying about the threat of a pandemic even before COVID-19: indigenous peoples. Thanks to their traditional knowledge and their relationship with the natural world, they have long known that the degradation of the environment has the potential to unleash disease.
As we fight against the spread of the pandemic, it is more important than ever to safeguard indigenous peoples and their knowledge. Their territories are home to 80% of the world’s biodiversity and they can teach us much about how to rebalance our relationship with nature and reduce the risk of future pandemics.
Indigenous peoples are seeking their own solutions to this pandemic. They are taking action and using traditional knowledge and practices such as voluntary isolation, and sealing off their territories, as well as preventive measures.
Once again they have shown their capability to adapt. This year’s theme is COVID-19 and indigenous peoples’ resilience and a virtual event will feature a panel discussion on the innovative ways indigenous peoples continue demonstrating resilience and strength in the face of the pandemic, while confronting grave threats to their survival. Find more information about the 2020 Commemoration and how to participate here.
The Indigenous Peoples and Development Branch – Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues/DISD/DESA, will organize an interactive webinar bringing together indigenous peoples’ organizations, UN agencies, Member States, civil society and relevant stakeholders. Panelists will share good practices with the audience and the aim is to highlight how the preservation and promotion of indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge and practices can be leveraged more fully during this pandemic and build back stronger.
We need indigenous communities for a better world
There are an estimated 476 million indigenous peoples in the world living 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 an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures.
Indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. They have retained social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Despite their cultural differences, indigenous peoples from around the world share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples.
Indigenous peoples have sought recognition of their identities, their way of life and their right to traditional lands, territories and natural resources for years. Yet, throughout history, their rights have been violated. Indigenous peoples today, are arguably among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people in the world. The international community now recognizes that special measures are required to protect their rights and maintain their distinct cultures and way of life.
In order to raise awareness of the needs of these population groups, every 9 August commemorates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, chosen in recognition of the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations held in Geneva in 1982.
UN and the defence of indigenous rights
By resolution 49/214 of 23 December 1994, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples shall be observed on 9 August every year. The date 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.
As requested in the outcome document of the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, a UN System-Wide Action Plan on the rights of indigenous peoples was developed by the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues in 2015, in consultations with indigenous peoples, UN Members States, UN agencies and other stakeholders. It aims to ensure a coherent approach to achieving the ends of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including through improved support to Member States and indigenous peoples.
In terms of special events related to indigenous peoples, in 1990, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 1993 the International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (A/RES/45/164 A/RES/47/75). Later, the General Assembly established two International Decades of the World’s Indigenous Peoples: the first 1995 – 2004 (resolution 48/163), and the second 2005 – 2014 (resolution 59/174), with the goal of strengthening international cooperation for solving problems faced by indigenous peoples in areas such as human rights, the environment, development, education, health, economic and social development. Next year will be the beginning of a new decade for the indigenous community: the celebration of the Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022 – 2032, a door that was opened previously in 2019 with the celebration of the International Year of Indigenous Languages.