Raising awareness for protecting the indigenous peoples' rights
Indigenous women celebrate the recognition of the "Pawkar Raymi" or Flowering Festival by the government in Peguche, Ecuador, February 20, 2022. /CFP

Indigenous women celebrate the recognition of the "Pawkar Raymi" or Flowering Festival by the government in Peguche, Ecuador, February 20, 2022. /CFP

Globally, there are an estimated 476 million indigenous peoples, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). They have created distinct cultures, identities and livelihoods on the lands where they live. They also hold vital ancestral knowledge on how to adapt to climatic changes and reduce disaster risks.

The International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples was first pronounced in 1994. Since then, the United Nations has been observing the occasion annually on August 9, the day when the first Working Group on Indigenous Populations was formed in 1982.

The focus this year is the role of indigenous women in the preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge.

"Indigenous women are knowledge keepers of traditional food systems and medicines. They are champions of indigenous languages and cultures. They defend the environment and indigenous peoples' human rights," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a video message for this year's celebration.

"To build an equitable and sustainable future that leaves no one behind, we must amplify the voices of indigenous women," he said.

Guterres also called on "Member States to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to promote indigenous traditional knowledge for the benefit of all."

Data from the ILO shows that 47 percent of all indigenous peoples in employment worldwide have no educational background, compared to 17 percent of their non-indigenous counterparts. The gap is even wider for women.

The ILO also notes that indigenous peoples are nearly three times as likely to be living in extreme poverty compared to their non-indigenous counterparts. They make up about 6 percent of the world's population, but account for about 19 percent of the poorest.

More than 86 percent of indigenous peoples work in the informal sector of the economy and their disadvantaged position has been the legacy of inequality, forced assimilation and exclusion in history.

Since the beginning of 2021, constant discoveries of unmarked graves of indigenous children in Canada has shocked the world.

From 1880s to 1990s, more than 150,000 indigenous children in Canada were brought to residential schools to isolate them from their own native culture and religion. A number of them were allegedly mistreated and sexually abused, and the number of school-related deaths remains unknown.

"To take away children and change their culture, change their thinking, change their traditions and change a race, let's say, an entire culture … It's true, it was genocide," Pope Francis said in a news conference on July 29, after his trip to Canada.

Under the notorious "White Australia Policy," tens of thousands of Aboriginal people were subjected to regulations which prohibited them from voting at federal and state elections in the first half of the 20th century.

Moreover, from 1900s to 1970s, at least 100,000 children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent were forcibly removed from their families for the purpose of eradicating Aboriginal culture. Among the "Stolen Generations," there are high incidences of anxiety, depression and suicide.

The populations of Native Americans plummeted from 5 million at the end of the 15th century to 237,000 at the beginning of the 20th century and many tribes went extinct. 

Besides the shrinking population, the U.S. has systematically deprived Native Americans of their basic rights to culturally eradicate the entire community by means of displacements and forced assimilation.

These countries have been lecturing other countries on human rights and even fabricating accusations, but they hardly reflect on their own wrongdoings against indigenous peoples.

Sadly, violations of indigenous peoples' rights by them continue to this day through chronic and systemic racism.

"Today, indigenous peoples are marginalized and left at the bottom of society politically, economically and culturally. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated their disadvantaged situation," said Jiang Duan, minister of the Chinese mission to the UN in Geneva, at a side event during the 49th session of the Human Rights Council in March.

The virus has taken a heavy toll on Indigenous Americans who have experienced 1.1 percent of all deaths. However, they only represent 0.7 percent of the population. As of July 13, 2022, for every 100,000 Indigenous Americans, about 459 had died from the coronavirus, over 37 percent higher than the rate of white Americans, according to an analysis by American Public Media Research Lab.

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