International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2021: Theme, significance
- The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was marked for the first time by UN General Assembly in December 1994
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is celebrated every year on August 9. The United Nations (UN) estimates that there are more than 476 million indigenous people in the world, spread across 90 countries and representing 5,000 different cultures, who make 6.2 per cent of the global population and live in all geographic regions.
Like all International days and weeks, which are marked to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilise political will and resources to address global problems, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is also celebrated to recognise the contribution and achievements of indigenous communities and to highlight the plight they face in their existence.
Significance of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was marked for the first time by UN General Assembly in December 1994, to commemorate the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.
The UN celebrates this day every year to “demand indigenous peoples’ inclusion, participation and approval in the constitution of a system with social and economic benefits for all”. Indigenous communities have also been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, whose life expectancy was already 20 years lower than that of their non-Indigenous counterparts before the pandemic hit.
The UN has been working towards ushering in constitutional reforms at the international level to address the ill-treatment of indigenous communities and the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) by the General Assembly in September 2007, by a majority of 144 states in favour, was another step in the direction. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States were the four nations who initially opposed the adoption but later reversed their decision to support the declaration.
In 2022, the UN will start another milestone with the Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032). It aims to conserve Indigenous languages, which helps preserve their cultures, world views and visions, as well as expressions of self-determination. The agency estimates that one indigenous language dies every two weeks.
Theme this year
UN has decided on the theme of ‘Leaving no one behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract’ for this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Defining social contract as an “unwritten agreement that societies make to cooperate for social and economic benefits”, the UN seeks to encourage societies to treat indigenous communities as stakeholders since they were not included in the initial social contract, which was formulated by dominant communities.
It credits indigenous communities for fighting climate change and helping biodiversity flourish and asks nations to formulate a “new social contract” which “must be based on genuine participation and partnership that fosters equal opportunities and respects the rights, dignity and freedoms of all. Indigenous peoples’ right to participate in decision-making is a key component in achieving reconciliation between indigenous peoples and States”.