Indigenous peoples have been heavily impacted by COVID-19. Nevertheless, their response to the global pandemic has shown their resilience in overcoming challenges. Indigenous peoples continue to use unique solutions to tackle the pandemic – as they have for centuries. They are taking action, drawing on their traditional knowledge and practices, such as voluntary isolation, and sealing off their territories.

For example, the Karen people of Thailand have revived their ancient ritual of “Kroh Yee” (village closure) in efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19. In Honduras, several Lenca and Maya Chortí communities have put in place ‘sanitary cordons’ to enclose their villages and to prevent outsiders from entering their territories.

Indigenous peoples are also implementing preventive and protective measures – providing key messages and launching media campaigns in indigenous languages to ensure greater awareness and outreach. These and many other practices are vital to preserve indigenous peoples’ and their communities and cultures, as they continue to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Indigenous youth in many communities are playing a key role in supporting community decisions, by enforcing restrictions and lockdowns, distributing essentials and health equipment, as well as gathering information on the impact of the pandemic. Elders, who are the guardians of history, traditions, languages and cultures of indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable, and deserve special attention to prevent an immense bio-cultural loss.

Indigenous women, who are responsible for the health, nutrition and care of their families and communities, are bearing a huge toll in this pandemic. Their main source of income from handicrafts, vegetables and other products, is currently curtailed, as they struggle to provide for their families. Indigenous children – especially those located in remote areas who do not have access to essential distance learning tools such as Internet access and are experiencing a digital divide, will most likely be placed even further behind. Special measures are needed to address the challenges faced by indigenous peoples in different parts of the world, in particular indigenous women and children.

COVID-19 is by far not the only threat to the health and survival of indigenous peoples, who face numerous challenges, including poor access to sanitation, lack of clean water, inadequate medical services, widespread stigma and discrimination in healthcare settings, and land grabbing and encroachment on their lands. Nevertheless, indigenous peoples maintain practices that can serve as inspiration in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic globally, and their collective traditions and strong support systems in their communities can serve as an inspiration to all communities.

The commemoration of the 2020 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples will offer a glimpse of the challenges and responses faced by indigenous peoples during this pandemic, as well as good practices that can be shared around the world.