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The International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples

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The International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples

On 23rd December 1994, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People shall be observed on 9th August of every year. The theme of the day is different for every year.

The objective of the day is “to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples”. The event also recalls the achievements and contributions that indigenous people make to improve the world issues such as environmental protection.

The Indigenous Peoples: Approximately 370 million peoples are indigenous in the World. They belong to 5000 different groups. They live in every region of the world but about 70% of them live in Asia.

Who are indigenous people?

Indigenous peoples are the original inhabitants of a region. There is no universally accepted definition of ‘indigenous people'. However, ‘the indigenous people’ can be defined as the people native to a place since immemorial with their languages, homes and traditions. Communities that live on the basis of their hereditary ancestral origins in a specific customary territory, that possess sovereignty over their land and natural riches, whose socio-cultural life is ordered by customary law, and whose customary institutions manage continuity of their social life (AMAN, 1999. (AMAN: Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara means ‘Alliance of Archipelagic Indigenous Peoples’ (Indonesian National Indigenous Peoples’ Organization). 

An ancient relationship with a defined territory and ethnic distinctiveness are two distinguishing features of Indigenous peoples (Mason, 2003). Small population relative to dominant culture, own language, distinct cultural traditions, own territory, self identity are also some of the characteristic features of indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples are composed of the existing descendants of the peoples who inhabited the present territory of a country wholly or partially at the time when persons from a different culture or ethnic origin arrived there from other parts of the world. (Rudiger Wolfrum, 1999)

They are the primary stewards of the planet’s biological resources. They are cosmogonic of this universe, are cosmovisionaries who protect the natural environment on which they depend. According to World Wildlife Fund about 95 percent of highest and most threatened biodiversity is found in the territory of these indigenous peoples. The indigenous peoples and environments are under the assault of mining, oil, dam building, logging and agro-industrial projects. These assaults are resisted by the indigenous peoples who are too often ignored by the governments and corporate sectors.

Understanding the diversity of indigenous peoples, an official definition of ‘indigenous’ has not been adopted by any United Nation system body. Instead the system has developed a modern understanding of this term based on the following: 

Ø  Self- identification as indigenous peoples at the individual level and accepted by the community as their member.

Ø  Historical continuity with pre-colonial and/or pre-settler societies

Ø  Strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources

Ø  Distinct social, economic or political systems

Ø  Distinct language, culture and beliefs

Ø  Form non-dominant groups of society

Ø  Resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities.

Livelihood of Indigenous Peoples

Several issues and interests of indigenous peoples have witnessed significant breakthroughs both locally and internationally in recent decades. Various means of struggle both within and without the formal legal system have been employed. Defending ancestral lands and their resources remains the major issue. Implicit in this battle to protect land and resources is the struggle to preserve indigenous culture and traditions that are so often inextricably linked to the land itself (Molintas J. M., 2005).

Now-a-days days, most indigenous peoples have mixed livelihoods involving subsistence and cash-earning activities, though levels of integration and dependence on the market varies within and between communities and regions (Griffiths and Anselmo, 2010).

The health of Indigenous Peoples

The 1999 Declaration on the Health and Survival of Indigenous Peoples by the World Health Organization proposed a definition of indigenous health: “Indigenous peoples’ concept of health and survival is both a collective and an individual inter­generational continuum encompassing a holistic perspective incorporating four distinct shared dimensions of life viz. the spiritual, the intellectual, physical, and emotional. Linking these four fundamental dimensions, health and survival manifests itself on multiple levels where the past, present, and future co­exist simultaneously (WHO declaration, 1999). The indigenous peoples are more prone to by infectious diseases including measles, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, and influenza (Durie M., 1998). For the First Nations, epidemics of smallpox produced even greater suffering (Waldram JD et al.1995). The communicable diseases affect large indigenous populations, vulnerability to injury, alcohol and drug misuse, cancer, ischaemic heart disease, kidney disease, obesity, suicide, and diabetes have become the modern indigenous health hazards (Cunningham and Condon, 1996). Indigenous populations generally have a lower life expectancy than non­indigenous populations, a higher incidence of most diseases (for example, diabetes, mental disorders, cancers), and experience of third world diseases (tuberculosis, rheumatic fever) in developed countries (Kunitz S.J., 1994).

The main causes of diseases and injuries among the indigenous peoples are poor housing, low educational achievement, unemployment, inadequate incomes (National Health Committee, 1998). Alienation from natural resources along with environmental degradation has also been identified as a cause of poor health while cultural alienation has been recognised as an important consideration for effective health care (Duran and Duran, 1995).

Seasonality is an important factor when defining nutritional surveillance protocols and discussing the nutritional status of indigenous peoples. As per the anthropometric data, nutritional conditions are generally worse during the rainy season, when under-nutrition increases in children, and both male and female adults lose weight. Overweight and obesity were not common in the population, regardless of age. (Leite MS et al., 2007)

Language and Education

The indigenous peoples speak their own indigenous languages. But from a socio-linguistic perspective, the indigenous peoples have been multilingual to various degrees through traditional language contact among neighbouring communities (Anne E. Thomas, 2002). The indigenous peoples also know the national language when they migrate to other citizens or through immigration of other national peoples. It is the national language which can unite these peoples with the other citizens. From an educational point of view, specialised services need to be designed specific to the needs of the indigenous communities (Escott 2000). In 1990, the World Declaration on Education for All adopted at the Jomtien Conference (Thailand, 5-9 March 1990) reaffirmed the right to learn and the commitment to meet the basic learning needs of all people by expanding learning opportunities and working for a fully literate society. Similarly, in India Right to Education Act has been framed to seek the need of the hour. Still the “Education for All” could not be achieved and the gap has been decreased between the mainstream populations and pockets of marginalized communities which had difficulty accessing educational services, even when services were expanded and accelerated nationwide. Oceanic knowledge, worldviews, and philosophies of teaching and learning, for several reasons: to contribute to and expand the general knowledge base of higher education; to make university study more meaningful for many students; to validate and legitimize academic work, particularly in the eyes of indigenous peoples; and to enhance collaboration between indigenous and nonindigenous peoples. (Thaman K.H., 2003).

Environmental Education for Cultural Survival

Indigenous Peoples are facing a number of serious and complex environmental issues within their territories. Environmental education programs in many countries require meeting the needs of Indigenous students and their communities. (Leanne Simpson, 2002).

Indigenous Peoples and Child Welfare: The Path to Reconciliation

To connect the indigenous people it will be good to prompt the child welfare so that they come with mainstream of the nation in the forthcoming years. It is only the education which can reconcile the welfare of indigenous people and their children.

Economical Status of Indigenous Peoples

Throughout the continent Indigenous peoples suffer high level of poverty and are more likely to be poor than non-indigenous people. Money income stems from private family and community enterprises, employment as well as jobs and economic activities directly or indirectly funded by government agencies. India is considered a success story in terms of growth and poverty reduction. In just over two decades, national poverty rates have fallen by more than 20 percentage points, from 45.6 percent in 1983 to 27.5 percent in 2004–05 (Das M.B. et. al., 2011).

Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The need for a human rights dimension to the development process is recognized by a growing number of states and international organizations. The tendency so far has been to focus on rights in a general sense, although there is some recognition of the need to consider the rights of indigenous peoples in a development context. The integration of these rights into development programs can encounter difficulties partly because of the uncertainty surrounding the scope of some of the more important rights claimed by indigenous peoples (Helen Quane, 2005). UN human rights committees have provided a series of judgments and recommendations recognising the collective rights of indigenous peoples: to be considered subjects of international law as ‘peoples’; to self-determination; to exercise their customary law; to recognition of their own representative institutions; to their lands and territories; to control activities proposed for their lands.



Quotes on Indigenous people

Ø  “All definitions of wilderness that exclude people seem to me to be false. African 'wilderness' areas are racist because indigenous people are being cleared out of them so white people can go on holiday there”. - Jay Griffiths

Ø  “I don't care how hard it is. You build Aboriginality or you get nothing. There's no choice about it. If our Aboriginal people cannot change how it is among themselves, then the Aboriginal people will never climb back out of hell”. – An Old Man.

Ø  “I had liked to talk about free markets. Information in the computer age is the last genuine free market left on earth except those free markets where indigenous people are still surviving. And that's basically becoming limited”.  - Russell Means

Ø  “Individual and socio-cultural traits that are found in every known human society” – Don Brown

Ø  “I support the indigenous people anywhere in the planet”. - Edward James Olmos

Ø  “I think the relationship of indigenous people to their environment that those were ethical omnivores”. - James Cromwell

Ø  “Indigenous people have discovered that Christianity is not inherently Western but universal - 'translatable' into any cultural idiom”. - Nancy Pearcey

Ø  Indigenous peoples’ interests, knowledge and experiences must be at the centre of research methodologies and construction of knowledge about indigenous peoples. - Lester-Irabinna Rigney

Ø  “Most governments in Latin America have failed to recognize the rights of indigenous people and their right to their own traditional territories”. - Bianca Jagger

Ø  “Solutions will not be found while Indigenous people are treated as victims for whom someone else must find solutions”. - Malcolm Fraser

Ø  “The most important thing is the indigenous people are not vindictive by nature. We are not here to oppress anybody - but to join together and build Bolivia, with justice and equality”. - Evo Morales

Ø  “The truth is nobody can own anything. That was an unheard-of concept among indigenous people. We invented that”. - Tom Shadyac

Ø  “There are certain regions in the country where the indigenous people eat dogs”. - Jessica Hagedorn

Ø  “This is a coca leaf. This is not cocaine. This represents the culture of indigenous people of the Andean region”. - Evo Morales

Ø  “Through consciousness, our minds have the power to change our planet and ourselves. It is time we heed the wisdom of the ancient indigenous people and channel our consciousness and spirit to tend the garden and not destroy it”. - Bruce Lipton

Ø  “We are lagging far behind comparable countries in overcoming the disadvantages Indigenous people face”. - Malcolm Fraser

Ø  “We are seeing healing among the stolen generations, and initiatives which are enabling Indigenous people to make their distinctive contribution to our national life.” - Malcolm Fraser

Ø  “Yet there are thousands of Indigenous people searching for family members”. - Malcolm Fraser

Ø  “India possesses a great indigenous civilization dating back to 7000 BC, such as recent archaeological discoveries at Mehrgarh clearly reveal. It had the most extensive urban culture in the world in the third millennium BCE with the many cities of the Indus and Sarasvati rivers”. - Dr David Frawley

 Ø  We are now facing a difficult situation in Peru, where there are attempts to cut back the territorial rights of the indigenous peoples, including moves to divide, fragment and privatise our communal organisations. Now more than ever, it is a matter of urgency for us to consolidate our own indigenous alternatives for development. – Rigoberta Menchu Tum

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