International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

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Every August 9, the family of nations celebrates its latest recognized member’s existence on earth. August 9 is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. On every continent, indigenous peoples gather around the globe to guarantee human rights of indigenous peoples is promoted and protected.

The theme and interactive dialogue at the 18th annual commemoration was Indigenous Media, Empowering Indigenous Voices. Indigenous leaders met in the Economic and Social Council chamber to celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. It was first proclaimed by the General Assembly in December 1994 to commemorate the first International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 1995 – 2004.

August 9 is in recognition of the first meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) held in Geneva in 1982. The UN WGIP became a congress for the world’s indigenous peoples and also the space to shape the creation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous peoples position in world affairs is receiving recognition and there is a renewed sense of necessity for realization of rights. Social media and culture are crucial components to create a world that respects indigenous perspectives that balance ecology, economy and equality.

“From community radio and television to feature films and documentaries, from video art and newspapers to the internet and social media, indigenous peoples are using these powerful tools to challenge mainstream narratives, bring human rights violations to international attention and forge global solidarity,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the day. “They are also developing their own media to reflect indigenous values and fight against myths and misconceptions.”

“Indigenous voices are recounting compelling stories of how they are combating centuries of injustice and discrimination, and advocating for the resources and rights that will preserve their cultures, languages, spirituality and traditions. They offer an alternative perspective on development models that exclude the indigenous experience. They promote the mutual respect and intercultural understanding that is a precondition for a society without poverty and prejudice,” the Secretary- General said.

The theme of Indigenous Media is quite pertinent to developments in the United States of America as well. Next year, NGOs and community groups will have a historic opportunity to apply for thousands of new non-commercial FM radio licenses. The Low Power FM (LPFM) multimedia stations can be a hub for human rights advocacy campaigns.

On the annual day, it is important to see what the UN specialized agencies are doing to realize the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Since 2000, the UNESCO International Programme for the Development of Communication has funded nearly 30 media projects and recognizes the contribution of indigenous peoples perspective about our planet. One such example is a grassroots global online forum, Climate Frontlines where 50,000 people are reached sharing the stories from the community facing climate change today. As UNESCO Director-General Irrina Bokova said, “The media are a key to unlock the visions of indigenous peoples of sustainable development. We must harness this power of sustainable development, for all.”
It is not only what happens at the global civil society level but at the grassroots community level. This year I am fortunate enough to find myself in Toronto, Ontario to commemorate the cultural holiday.

There are 80,000 aboriginal people in Toronto and 300,000 aboriginal people in Ontario. Indigenous peoples have always inhabited these lands with the oldest archeological evidence of aboriginal inhabitants dating12,000 years. In fact Canada is named after the Iroquoian word for village. Today, aboriginal people are 3.8% of the citizens in Canada although 1960 was the date most aboriginal people were given the right to vote in federal elections.

Planet IndigenUS is a positive illustration of a city organizing an event that fits into the global International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples, even the annual theme. The festival brought together indigenous peoples of Canada such as the Metis, Inuit and First Nations. It also united indigenous peoples from across the planet.

The festival brings together visual arts, crafts, film, dance, theatre and storytelling answering the question, “How do we claim our place in this time and beyond?”

The indigenous peoples of Canada rooted the Planet IndigenUS in the philosophy, “The beauty of being indigenous is to have an identity beyond country, territories and borders.” The event promotes dialogue, exchange and partnership that indigenous peoples “know our worldviews and sense of rootedness can be the way forward in a global community looking forward in a global community looking for new constructs of citizenship and belonging.”

While the philosophy behind Planet IndigenUS is powerful. It is important to note its necessity to overcome the historical prejudices and harmful practices. In 1860, residential schools were created to civilize aboriginal children numbering eventually at 1300 across Canada. What is almost the most alarming statistic is the last residential school was actually closed in 1996.

The International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples and Planet IndigenUS are positive symbolic yet substantive commemorations of the contribution of indigenous peoples to shape the 21st century.

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