By Mary Fifield, SFF Director of Strategic Partnerships
World Indigenous Peoples’ Day (August 9), which commemorates the tenth anniversary of the signing of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, is bittersweet this year. While much progress has been made in the last decade, there is much work to be done to honor Indigenous communities and their world views.
The Declaration “establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for (the) survival, dignity and well-being (of Indigenous Peoples).” This formal recognition, crafted under the direction of Indigenous leaders around the globe, has helped Indigenous communities defend their territory, gain more political power, and shape laws. The 2008 Ecuadorian constitution codified the rights of nature after Indigenous organizations advocated for the concept of “buen vivir” or “sumak kawsay,” which translates as ‘well-being through reciprocity with each other and the natural world.’ And just this month, the Brazilian Supreme Court upheld Indigenous Peoples’ claim to original territories, from which they were brutally removed during years of military dictatorship in the country.
Despite these victories, communities still face life-threatening struggles. Environmental activists around the world, including Indigenous leaders, are being murdered at a rate of about four per week. In the last year, Goldman Prize winners Berta Cáceres, a Lenca leader in Honduras, and Isidro Baldenegro Lopez, a Tarahumara leader in Mexico, were killed. Many other dedicated people have also lost their lives, and thousands of others face violent intimidation.
Quechua leader Tarcila Rivera Zea, a member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, says the Declaration has increased visibility for Indigenous rights and created opportunities for Indigenous communities to participate in the UN, but many important issues still need to be addressed. “It is up to us to continue the effort to make ourselves heard as people, as human beings and actors in our own destiny,” she explains. “Respect for land rights and the natural resources in our territories is inextricably linked to the defense of our lives and our existence.”
As Indigenous communities continue to defend their world views and the ancestral wisdom that shapes them, others are beginning to appreciate how this perspective—that all of life is interconnected–is critical for humanity’s survival. This month we celebrate this growing awareness among communities everywhere, and we renew our commitment to support Indigenous Peoples who fight every day to maintain their connection to the sacred.
Statement of Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.