Who are indigenous peoples?
Indigenous peoples are tribes, native and exclusive to a particular region. They remained cut off from the mainstream world for such a long period that they developed a unique culture, language, and social values. Scheduled Tribes of India, Maori of New Zealand, Aboriginals of Australia, and Red Indians of the Americas are prime examples of indigenous peoples.
They are poor and marginalized for their rights and resources have been violated for centuries by the mainstream and dominant others.
Why celebrate the day?
- Recognizing a problem is the first step toward solving it. And a global problem requires a solution on a global scale, by an international body (UN).
- The day is celebrated to raise awareness about, and find solutions to, the problems faced by such marginalized groups.
- The UN demands all countries take legally binding actions to ensure the rights of, and benefits for, such marginalized groups.
Why Indigenous peoples Day is celebrated on 9 August?
This was the very date the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations held its first meeting. The year was 1982 (Geneva).
How many Indigenous Peoples do we have in the world?
- As per the UN, we have close to 476 million (48 crores) indigenous peoples in the world, spread across 90 countries and 5,000 unique cultures.
- They constitute less than 5 per cent of the world’s population, but over 15 per cent of the world’s poorest.
- The world speaks about 7,000 languages. The majority of these are spoken by Indigenous peoples.
- 28% of all the land on earth is inhabited by Indigenous People, as per UNESCO.
What are the problems faced by Indigenous Peoples?
Not being part of the mainstream put them at a huge disadvantage. They are seldom included in the decision-making process, even when the decision is going to be about them only.
Destruction of their land, resources, culture and language:
- Loss of language and culture through assimilation with a larger and dominant mainstream group
- Forced migration due to environmental and developmental reasons: losing land, resources and food security in the process
High levels of poverty, low levels of education and illiteracy:
- Destined to either live as a forest dweller or come to urban centres in search of low-paying jobs – thanks to lack of education and training. Either way, they remain poor, very poor!
- Limitations in access to health, hygiene, and basic sanitation
- Difficult to get credit and employment:
- Rampant domestic and sexual violence faced by indigenous women
- Social discrimination and human rights abuse based on identity, and socioeconomic status
- Lack of proper access to education, healthcare, information and governmental assistance
- 47% of all indigenous peoples in employment have no education, in contrast to 17% of their mainstream counterparts. The gap is even wider for women.
- Over 86% of indigenous peoples work in the informal economy worldwide. It is just 66% for other groups.
- Indigenous peoples are 3 times more likely to be very poor as compared to non-indigenous people.
Indigenous People in India
We call them Scheduled Tribes (ST) in India. They are said to be the earliest inhabitants of the land we call the Indian subcontinent. Like all indigenous people in the world, they are socially and economically the most backward group.
Examples of India’s indigenous peoples:
Gonds, with a population of 40 lakhs, are the most dominant tribes in the country. They live primarily in the central Indian states of MP, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh.
Other dominant tribes of India
- Bhills (Western India)
- Santhals (Eastern India)
- and the Andamanese (Andaman & Nicobar Islands)
Progress has indeed been made. Its been small but significant. Just recently, we in India elected an indigenous woman as our President. There are pockets in the world where indigenous women are taking up leadership roles in decision-making processes; be it for the government or against it (protest to save the environment and livelihood).
History of Indigenous peoples Day
- 1982: First UN meeting held on the topic of Indigenous People. The UN formed a group on indigenous populations of the sub-commission on the promotion and protection of human rights.
- 1995: International Day of the World’s Indigenous People was declared and celebrated for the first time.
UN is going to celebrate this decade (2022 – 2032) by promoting ‘Indigenous Languages. Almost 2000 indigenous languages have already become extinct as per a 2016 report by the UN.
Themes of Indigenous peoples Day over the years:
- 2022: “The role of indigenous women in the preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge”
- 2021: “Leaving no one behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract”
- 2020: “COVID-19 and indigenous peoples’ resilience”
- 2019: “Indigenous Languages”
- 2018: “Indigenous Peoples’ Migration and Movement”