International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples: Raising awareness, voices

“The interests of the indigenous peoples must be part of the new development agenda in order for it to succeed. … Let us work even harder to empower them and support their aspirations.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

SUNDAY, AUGUST 9: This year, headlines are bursting with news for the United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples: Pope Francis is issuing apologies, Aztec teens are taking hip-hop by storm and recently, IP Day was officially adopted in the Philippines.

Born of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, the UN declared in 1994 that each August 9 would be the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This year, efforts will focus on the theme “Ensuring indigenous people’s health and well-being.” (Learn more here.) Events at UN Headquarters and around the world will draw particular attention to healthcare access for indigenous groups.

Interested in viewing the observance at UN Headquarters? Events will take place Monday, Aug. 10, from 3-6 p.m. View the live webcast here.

In December 1994, the General Assembly of the United Nations first announced the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. In 1995, the first International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People launched, ending in 2004; the next year, the second International Decade began, which lasts through 2015. The Decade and the International Day is observed to advance and defend the rights of the world’s indigenous populations, while also recognizing the contributions and achievements of indigenous individuals.


Pope Francis apologizes: Last month, Pope Francis delivered an hour-long speech to indigenous peoples in Bolivia, asking forgiveness for the Church’s sins against Latin America’s indigenous communities and encouraging the crowd to promote environmental change. (CBS News reported.) Human greed has been primary factor in the planet’s destruction, the Pope said, adding that protecting Mother Earth may be “perhaps the most important task facing us today.” In anticipation of the Pontiff’s visit and speech, the Bolivian government declared the day a national holiday, so that everyone could attend.

Aztec teens, Earth Guardians: A 14-year-old Colorado resident and his younger brother have been catching news headlines with Earth Guardians, an environmental nonprofit, and their hip-hop music that inspires youth to tackle climate change. Having been raised with an Aztec understanding of connection with natural surroundings, the 14-year-old urges all young persons to explore their talents and realize awareness of every action—and its impact on the environment.

Senate approves bill: In the Philippines, a bill was recently approved that declared Aug. 9 as National Indigenous Peoples Day. (Read more here.) UN experts advise the government of the Philippines to follow through with its commitments as internally displaced persons still require “more durable solutions” within the country.

In Bangladesh, more than 200 indigenous people recently lined up to appeal to the government that their constitutional rights be recognized. (UCA News has the story.) Persecution and a lack of protection within the legal system were cited issues, and the people also demanded the government to recognize International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

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.