There are an estimated 476 million Indigenous people in the world, living across 90 countries. They make up less than five per cent of the world’s population, but account for 15 per cent of the poorest. They speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7000 languages and represent 5000 different cultures.
Indigenous peoples have sought recognition of their identities, their way of life and their right to traditional lands, territories and natural resources for years, yet throughout history their rights have been violated. Indigenous peoples today are arguably among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people in the world. The international community now recognises that special measures are required to protect their rights and maintain their distinct cultures and way of life.
In order to raise awareness of the needs of these population groups, every August 9 commemorates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, chosen in recognition of the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations held in Geneva in 1982.
This year’s theme is ‘COVID-19 and Indigenous peoples’ resilience’.
Indigenous communities already experience poor access to healthcare, significantly higher rates of diseases, lack of access to essential services, sanitation and other key preventive measures, such as clean water, soap, disinfectant, etc. Likewise, most nearby local medical facilities are often under-equipped and under-staffed.
Indigenous peoples also face food insecurity as a result of the loss of their traditional lands and territories, and confront graver challenges accessing food. With the loss of their traditional livelihoods, which are often land-based, many Indigenous peoples who work in traditional occupations and subsistence economies or in the informal sector will be adversely affected by the pandemic.
Now, not only do they need us, but we need their traditional knowledge, voices and wisdom.