Ahead of International Day, UN spotlights rights of indigenous peoples

Indigenous people in Totonicapán, Guatemala. Photo: OHCHR/Rolando Alfaro

8 August 2014 – Kicking off its observance of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations today highlighted the importance of advancing the rights those people s and communities to bridge the development gap.

“Together, let us recognize and celebrate the valuable and distinctive identities of indigenous peoples around the world,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon through remarks delivered by Wu Hongbo, his Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, during a speical event at UN Headquarters marking the International Day.

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is commemorated annually on 9 August – falling on a Saturday this year – in recognition of the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, held in Geneva in 1982.

This year’s theme, “Bridging the gap: implementing the rights of Indigenous peoples" also marks the 20th anniversary of the celebration, which dates back to 1994.

“This [Day] comes at a critical moment as the world endeavours to meet the Millennium Development Goals, forge a new vision for sustainable development and prepare the groundwork for the adoption of a new legal climate agreement – all by 2015,” the Secretary-General said.

There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in some 90 countries across the globe, who constitute 15 per cent of the world’s poor and about one third of the world’s 900 million extremely poor rural people. Practicing unique traditions, they retain social, cultural, economic and political characteristics distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live.

Also delivering remarks, President of the General Assembly, John Ashe, noted progress made in securing indigenous peoples’ rights over the past two decades, saying that “there is still a long way to go in the journey towards the concerted and decisive action.”

“The historical marginalization of indigenous peoples is still an unfortunate reality in today’s world and in many places, daunting obstacles are a part of daily life,” Mr. Ashe said through a statement delivered by his Special Advisor, Crispin Gregoire.

With the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People coming to an end and the World Conference in September 2014, this year carries particular importance and significance, he noted.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, recognized their right to self-determination and to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

Also delivering statements this afternoon were Mr. Wu, in his capacity as Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs, Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, and Grand Chief Edward John, Vice Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. An interactive dialogue followed, as well as a screening of a documentary film titled “Guswenta: Renewing the Two Row Wampum.”

The film tells the story of the Two Row Campaign which culminated in 2013 with over 200 indigenous and non-indigenous people arriving in Manhattan after having collectively travelled hundreds of miles on rivers by canoe, and by road on horseback to honour the first treaty – the Two Row Wampum – concluded between Dutch immigrants and the Haudenosaunee (a confederacy of six nations, with its seat in the Onondaga nation in New York State) in 1613.


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