United Nations celebrates International Day of the World’s Indigenous People

SATURDAY, AUGUST 9: Americans may confuse this late-summer United Nations observance, called the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, with the similarly named Indigenous People’s Day on October 13, each year in some parts of the U.S. The later holiday also stems from a United Nations proposal, which surfaced back in the 1970s. Americans marking the mid-October observance are trying to refocus attention away from Columbus Day.

This newer worldwide August 9 holiday is two decades old this year, first proposed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994. Initially, the holiday was supposed to occur annually during the first International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (1995-2005). Then, the observance was renewed for a second decade, supposedly ending this year but leaving open the possibility of future observances.

This year, the UN is promoting the theme, “Bridging the gap: implementing the rights of indigenous peoples.” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the participation of indigenous peoples in decision making at all levels, and especially in defining the post-2015 development agenda and Millennium Development Goals.

Did you know? There are approximately 370 million indigenous peoples in the world today.


A key committee of the World Bank’s governing board sparked serious opposition when presenting a draft policy statement that, according to almost 100 civil-society groups, will reverse decades of reforms designed to protect indigenous populations and sensitive ecosystems. (Read more from the Huffington Post or the Times of India.) A two-year review of the Bank’s social and environmental policies will take place before any policies are put into place, but voices worldwide are already speaking out against the draft’s contents.

In a commentary headlined, “Why the fashion headdress must be stopped,” the UK-based Guardian says that fake Native American headdresses also are drawing grave concern in Canada, at the moment. Dorian Lynskey writes, in part: “The Native American headdress is a common sight at festivals. It has also been appropriated by fashion brands and stars such as Pharrell Williams. But many are now fighting back against what they see as a crude act of racial stereotyping.” Lynskey reports that the movement to prevent wide-spread use of fake “war bonnets” may be gathering steam. “Last month, Pharrell Williams swiftly apologized for agreeing to wear a war bonnet on the cover of Elle magazine,” the report says.

Indigenous people argue that not only does the “fashion headdress” fail to recognize distinctions between different tribes, but it abuses the respect earned by those tribal members—only male chiefs—who are permitted to wear the headdress. Celebrities and companies have been making public apologies for their offenses, and festivals around the world are banning the use of the fake headdresses.

A World Conference on Indigenous Peoples will be held September 22-23, 2014.