“The United Nations stands ready to support all initiatives aimed at realizing the rights and aspirations of indigenous peoples.”
— UN Secretary-General António Guterres
There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world, living across 90 countries. They make up less than 5 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 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures.
Indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. They have retained social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Despite their cultural differences, indigenous peoples from around the world share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples.
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 always been violated. Indigenous peoples today, are arguably among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people in the world. The international community now recognizes 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 9 August 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.
2019 Theme: Indigenous Languages
The large majority of the languages in danger are spoken by indigenous peoples. It is estimated that, every 2 weeks, an indigenous language disappears, placing at risk the respective indigenous cultures and knowledge systems. That is why, on this International Day, the goal is to draw attention to the critical loss of indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve, revitalize and promote them at both national and international levels.
International Year of Indigenous Languages
Languages play a crucially important role in the daily lives of all peoples, are pivotal in the areas of human rights protection, peace building and sustainable development, through ensuring cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue. However, despite their immense value, languages around the world continue to disappear at an alarming rate due to a variety of factors. Many of them are indigenous languages.
Indigenous languages in particular are a significant factor in a wide range of other indigenous issues, notably education, scientific and technological development, biosphere and the environment, freedom of expression, employment and social inclusion.
In response to these threats, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a Resolution (A/RES/71/178) on ‘Rights of Indigenous Peoples’, proclaiming 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
Why Do We Mark International Days?
International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. More information available here.