Message from Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, 9 August 2021

Message from Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, 9 August 2021

[ภาษาไทย] [Sgaw Karen Language]

In the Lakota language of North America, the word “Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ” means “all is related” or  “all  my  relatives”  –  both  human  and  non-human. In  Hawaiian,  the  phrase  “ike  loa” means “to see much” and describes a philosophy of lifelong learning to better understand our relationship with the world. And in the nearly extinct Nǀuu language of South Africa, the word “lgqe” refers to the life-force shared by all living things.

In the face of global challenges, from climate change to COVID-19, concepts like these offer  incredibly  useful  insights.  As  stewards  of  the  land,  with  a  vast  range  of  cultures,  traditions and languages, indigenous peoples have impressive wisdom to draw on – but only if they are listened to.

Marked every year on 9 August, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is an opportunity to celebrate these communities and their knowledge. This year’s theme focuses on building a new social contract with indigenous peoples – one that is anchored in human rights and respect for cultural diversity, and leaves no one behind.

Because while indigenous peoples may be uniquely placed to guide us towards greater sustainability, they are also particularly vulnerable to the challenges of our changing world. For  instance,  minority  groups  have  been  more  vulnerable  to  the  impacts  of  COVID-19, notably due to unequal access to healthcare and public information.

Indeed, although indigenous peoples represent 6.2 per cent of the global population and speak an estimated 4,000 languages, many of these cultures and languages are now at risk of disappearing. This is why UNESCO is stepping up its work to amplify the voices of these communities in all of the fields covered by our mandate.

One way we are doing this is by supporting the transmission of indigenous languages –for example, as the lead agency for the United Nations International Decade of Indigenous Languages, from 2022 to 2032.  

Another  way  we  are  doing  this  is  by  highlighting  the  value  of  indigenous  knowledge  in  addressing  environmental  issues  –  through  creative  exchanges  as  part  of  the  United  Nations  Decade  on  Ecosystem  Restoration,  and  through  the  effective  participation  of  indigenous peoples in forums such as the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services and the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

Lastly,  we  are  doing  this  by  fostering  inclusion  –  for  instance,  by  partnering  with  indigenous youth to implement projects in response to COVID-19 in South-East Asia.

Amid global challenges, indigenous peoples offer us unique solutions to move forward. However,  if  the  world  is  to  learn  from  their  wisdom,  their  voices  must  be  heard.  In  this  spirit,  UNESCO  fully  embraces  this  International  Day  and  the  will  to  enrich  our  relationships, to build resilience, and to learn to live well together.


Main photo credit: ©Shutterstock/Tavarius