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8/11/2020 12:26:55 AM

Dr. Parveen Kumar, Dr. D. Namgyal

Representing a greater part of the world’s cultural diversity, indigenous peoples live in all regions of the world and own, occupy or use some 22% of global land area. Having a population between 370-500 million indigenous peoples has created and they speak the major share of the world’s almost 7000 languages. Although they make up over 6 percent of the global population, they account for about 15 percent of the extreme poor. 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. More than 86 per cent of the indigenous peoples work in the informal economy compared to 66 percent of their non indigenous counterparts.
Indigenous peoples are nearly three times as likely to be living in extreme poverty compared to their non-indigenous counterparts. Globally, 47% of all indigenous peoples in employment have no education, compared to 17% of their non-indigenous counterparts. This gap is even wider for women. Many indigenous peoples continue to be confronted with marginalization, extreme poverty and other human rights violations. Indigenous communities face a host of challenges and the unfortunate present reality is that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are worsening these challenges further still. Indigenous communities experience poor access to healthcare, significantly higher rates of diseases, lack of access to essential services, sanitation, and other key preventive measures, such as clean water, soap, disinfectant, etc. Likewise, as they live in largely isolated places with little accessibility, most nearby local medical facilities are often under equipped and under-staffed. Even when indigenous peoples can access healthcare services, they can face stigma and discrimination. Furthermore, indigenous peoples already face food insecurity as a result of the loss of their traditional lands and territories or even climate change effects. They also confront many challenges while accessing food. With the loss of their traditional livelihoods, which are often land-based, many indigenous peoples, who work in traditional occupations and subsistence economies or in the informal sector, are being adversely affected by the pandemic. The situation of indigenous women, who are often the main providers of food and nutrition to their families, is even graver. 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 diseases make them even more vulnerable in times of COVID-19.
Indigenous peoples are arguably today the most disadvantaged and vulnerable group of peoples in the world. The international community now recognizes that special measures are required to uplift these communities socially, economically and politically. In order to ensure all this and to raise awareness of the needs of indigenous peoples, every 9 August commemorates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This day came into existence as a result of the United Nations General Assembly resolution 49/214 on 23 December 1994 that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People 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. Since then, the day has been celebrated every year with different themes. This year’s theme for the World Indigenous peoples’ Day is 'COVID-19 and indigenous peoples’ resilience. This year it will be a virtual event that 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. On this day, people from around the world are encouraged to spread the UN’s message on the protection and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples. At least 40% of the 7,000 languages used worldwide are at some level of endangerment. But indigenous languages are particularly vulnerable because many of them are not taught at school or used in the public sphere. The door to fight for these languages was opened in 2019 with the celebration of the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Another important milestone for indigenous cultures will be the start of the ‘Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022 – 2032’
The United Nations Educational Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also works with these indigenous communities through partnerships to support them in addressing the multiple challenges they face, while acknowledging their significant role in sustaining the diversity of the world’s cultural and biological landscape. UNESCO has broad mandates in the fields of education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, and communication and information. Its policies, programmes and projects provide opportunities and have significant impacts for indigenous peoples worldwide. The 2030 Agenda commitment to ‘Leave no one behind’ brings new impetus to ensure that indigenous peoples’ priorities are heard. Following the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the UN General Assembly in September 2007, and the UN Development Group (UNDG) Guidelines on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues issued in 2008, it became increasingly important that UN agencies, including UNESCO, consider how to provide guidance on engaging with indigenous peoples. In this light, the UNESCO policy on Engaging with Indigenous Peoples seeks to outline a house-wide approach that will guide all of UNESCO’s programme sectors in their interactions with indigenous peoples and their organizations.
Indigenous peoples need us especially now, they need us and we need the traditional knowledge, voices and wisdom of indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples have shown their capability to adapt to the COVID-19 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. On this very important day, all of us should work to raise awareness and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population. At the same time the event should also recognize the achievements and contributions that indigenous people make to improve world issues such as environmental protection. Indigenous communities and their knowledge and wisdom need to be protected and preserved.
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