Each year on 9 august, the world celebrates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, putting the spotlight on the indigenous peoples’ incredible diversity, ancient knowledge and unique place in the world, as well as draw attention to specific issues arising in their communities. This year, the Day will revolve around indigenous peoples’ right to education, a right that is still not fully realized and continues to warrant special attention and targeted action.
Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the UN: Mechanisms and Milestones
The UN has established three indigenous specific mechanisms, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UN Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, under the direction of the Division for Social Policy and Development in DESA, provides the requisite support to the Permanent Forum that takes place for two weeks in New York City every year in April/May. The 15th Session of the Permanent Forum was held earlier this year in May 2016.
Major milestones on indigenous peoples at the UN include the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration) on 13 September 2007, the first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September 2014 which adopted an ambitious outcome document. As a follow up, under the leadership of the Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, Mr. Wu Hongbo, a UN System Wide Action Plan to promote awareness and action to support the implementation of the UN Declaration, particularly at the country level, has been prepared.
This year’s theme for International Day: Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Education
Every year, The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples focuses on a theme, with this year’s being ‘indigenous peoples’ right to education’. This theme was chosen to highlight the wide range of challenges indigenous peoples face in this area, including stigmatization of indigenous identity, discrimination in textbooks and materials, access and language barriers. Instruction is mainly in the national language, with little or no instruction or recognition of indigenous languages.
Indigenous peoples face fundamental issues and challenges when attempting to reconcile their education priorities of culturally transmitted learning with the wider systems of education. The process of reverting education from being an instrument for assimilation and integration to becoming a means of self-determination is a long-term, multi-dimensional and complex process. Indigenous peoples have set out to re-imagine the educational processes, in which indigenous languages, knowledge systems, spiritual beliefs, ethical values, community involvement and connection to lands, territories and resources are central elements. However, it requires concerted efforts, time and resources to achieve systemic change in educational legislation and governance, human resources, curricula, materials, and assessment based on indigenous goals and aspirations.
Although the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted in 2007, there is an implementation gap. This is especially important in relation to the adoption of the 2030 Development Agenda to ensure that indigenous peoples are not left behind. The UN will continue to support the goal of full implementation of the UN Declaration.
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