Across the world, diverse Indigenous Peoples share the common feature of being the peoples, communities and nations that have existed in specific territories since time immemorial. They self-identify as part of a distinct collectivity, with culturally different languages, customs, religions, spiritual values and institutions.
Under International law, Indigenous Peoples have the right to be free from discrimination and free to participate fully in public life. Under the Declaration of the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, they have the right to pursue their own visions of economic and social development. Yet, despite the proclamation of these rights, many of the world’s Indigenous Peoples face continual injustice, political and economic marginalization and discrimination. Some startling facts, as stated by the UN, are laid out below:
- Indigenous Peoples continue to be over-represented among the poor, the illiterate and the unemployed. Although they constitute approximately 5% of the world’s population, they make up 15% of the world’s poor.
- Many Indigenous Peoples face major obstacles accessing and completing their education. Obstacles include a lack of relevant educational material and malnourishment. Indigenous girls, in particular, may face gender discrimination, school-based violence and sexual abuse, all of which contribute to higher dropout rates.
- Poor health and lack of adequate housing are major concerns. For example, the gap in life expectancy between indigenous and non-indigenous people ranges from 6 to 20 years. In Canada, a developed country that believes in universal health care, the gap is 17 years.
- Indigenous women in North America are 5 times more likely to experience violent deaths than non-indigenous women.
August 9th, 2012, marks the 18th commemoration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The United Nations has chosen this year’s theme to be “Indigenous Media.” Through the media, the Indigenous Peoples’ voices can be heard, and their experiences and achievements shared.
In line with Nellie’s social justice beliefs and values, Nellie’s will join the rest of the world on this day and remember. We will remember the dismal conditions many Indigenous Peoples live in, the oppression they experience and the many challenges they will continue to face. But Nellie’s will also remember the Indigenous Peoples’ persistence in fighting for their individual and collective rights and rejoice in the contributions they have made to Indigenous and non-Indigenous societies. We will hold on to the Indigenous People’s hope and promote their right to pass on their ancestral knowledge; to live lives based not only on their own traditions, values and way of life, but on common principles of justice and mutual respect.