On the 2016 International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, UN leaders called for improving indigenous children's access to education, emphasizing the need for textbooks and instruction to be available in minority languages, and for cultural identity to be respected.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) enshrines the right of indigenous peoples to education: Article 14 states that indigenous peoples have “the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions…in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning."
9 August 2016: On the 2016 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, UN leaders called for improving indigenous children’s access to education, emphasizing the need for textbooks and instruction to be available in minority languages, and for cultural identity to be respected. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) enshrines the right of indigenous peoples to education: Article 14 states that indigenous peoples have “the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions…in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.”
Marking the occasion, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) secretariat, in cooperation with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and Department of Public Information (DPI), organized an interactive dialogue on the topic of ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Education,’ at UN Headquarters in New York, US. The meeting began with a ceremonial call to order, followed by comments from a panel of speakers. A statement from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded governments to draw on the guidance provided in UNDRIP to improve access to education and reflect indigenous experiences and culture in places of learning.
Thomas Gass, DESA, highlighted several Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets of particular relevance to indigenous peoples, including on sustainable agriculture and education. He noted the potential role of indigenous peoples in leading the way on target 4.7 on global citizenship, cultural diversity and culture’s contribution to sustainable development, saying they are “the essential piece of the puzzle” to help achieve the SDGs.
UNPFII Chair Alvaro Pop called on UN Member States to ensure a more democratic society with greater shared responsibilities and better collective benefits. He said rates of graduation and completion of studies are much lower for indigenous than non-indigenous peoples, and highlighted gender disparities. He also called for ensuring that indigenous peoples have “an equal voice” in global conferences and summits and for establishing a roadmap for inclusion of indigenous peoples as observers.
In other messages issued on the Day, UN leaders highlighted the roles of their organizations in support of education for indigenous peoples, emphasizing the value of such education in protecting human rights and supporting good management and conservation of the environment. Irina Bokova, Director-General, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said indigenous knowledge systems “hold many answers” to mitigating the consequences of climate change, and expressed UNESCO’s commitment to supporting education for sustainable development, and scientific cooperation on biodiversity.
Francis Gurry, Director-General, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), highlighted WIPO’s role in protecting traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions from being misused by third parties. Braulio Dias, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), pointed out the role of the CBD in the area of traditional knowledge and customary use of biodiversity, noting that its secretariat delivers training to indigenous peoples’ organizations on how they can participate in implementing the CBD.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women, noted that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development contains a commitment to support the education of indigenous women and girls. The UNPFII, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples jointly called on Member States to ensure that indigenous people can establish and control their education systems and institutions, and take into account their languages, cultures and histories.
In an 8 August blog post on the UN Development Programme (UNDP) website, Alejandra Pero, Coordinator of the World Network of Indigenous Peoples and Local Community Land and Sea Managers (WIN), highlights ways in which indigenous peoples around the world are reviving traditional knowledge and practices. Among the examples are the revival of ancient grains to provide livelihoods and reverse the trend of outward migration among the Kuna people of Panama, and the planting of traditional taro in Hawaii as a way of attracting young people back to the land. WIN is part of the Equator Initiative, which seeks to recognize the success of local and indigenous initiatives, share good practice, foster an enabling environment for community action, and develop the capacity of local and indigenous initiatives to scale up their impact.
The UN General Assembly established International Day of the World’s Indigenous People in December 1994, and it is observed annually on 9 August. [UN Press Release] [Webcast of UN Interactive Dialogue] [International Day Webpage] [UNDP Blog Post] [Equator Initiative Website]