09.08.2018

UN: Indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. 

August 9 is the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. According  to the UN, there are an estimated 370 million indigenous people 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 have a profound spiritual connection to their lands and resources.

This year the UN focuses on theme “Indigenous Peoples Migration and Movement”, 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. Despite the widespread assumption that indigenous peoples live overwhelmingly in rural territories, the current reality is that sprawling urban areas are now home to a

significant proportion of indigenous populations. Today the indigenous people migrate between countries for a wide range of the societal reasons which include the motivation to escape conflict, persecution and climate change impacts. The protection of indigenous peoples’ rights and identity, in or outside their traditional territories, especially in urban settings has proven a challenge. 

Trans-border indigenous communities are similarly confronted with restrictions to their traditional livelihoods, cultural practices, and benefits from resources within their territories but in a foreign country.   Indigenous women and girls experience disproportionately high rates of trafficking and other forms of violence and indigenous youth are faced with complex questions regarding their identity and values. In the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration to be adopted in December, there is a call for continued protection of the rights and identities of indigenous peoples.

The observance of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples took place in the ECOSOC Chamber at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The panel examined the challenges and ways forward to revitalize indigenous peoples’ identities and encourage the protection of their rights in or outside their traditional territories. 

A commemorative event was held at the United Nations Headquarters by the Indigenous Peoples and Development Branch – Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which brings together indigenous peoples’ organizations, UN agencies, Member States, civil society, academia and the general public. The participants of the Permanent Forum gave a number of the recommendations in respect to addressing the indigenous peoples migration and movement, called upon to develop policies/agreements/binational plans concerning indigenous peoples in and around international borders and in urban areas with the emphasis  on assistance to communities to develop their own solutions. States, in cooperation with indigenous peoples, should establish indigenous peoples’ centers in urban areas to address their needs and assistance, including support mechanisms that allow involuntarily displaced indigenous peoples to return to their original communities.

Migrating and moving Indigenous Peoples face challenges that are particularly acute in preserving and protecting their traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions. In his message, dedicated to the Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, Director General of WIPO, Francis Gurry noted that "the 2018 theme “Indigenous Peoples Migration and Movement” - is of relevance for WIPO.  Migrating and moving Indigenous Peoples face challenges that are particularly acute in preserving and protecting their traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.  WIPO’s engagement in empowering Indigenous Peoples to use intellectual property tools in line with their social and cultural needs may contribute to the well-being and revitalization of those Indigenous Peoples, who may be in critical need for protection, by helping them adjust to changing circumstances."

By Katsiaryna Serada

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