According to the United Nations, indigenous peoples live on all continents, including the Arctic, the Pacific, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Yet, considering the diversity of indigenous peoples, an official definition of “indigenous” has not been adopted by any UN-system body. In this regard, a ”modern” understanding of this term based on the following has been developed:
- Self- identification as indigenous peoples at the individual level and accepted by the community as their member
- Historical continuity with pre-colonial and/or pre-settler societies
- Strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources
- Distinct social, economic, or political systems
- Distinct language, culture, and beliefs
- Form non-dominant groups of society
- Resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities
Artwork by Anita Bagdi
Over the last five years, there have been significant wins for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, including Indigenous land and women’s rights. Let’s take a look at some of the wins from 2021 together!
- March 2021: Deb Haaland (a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe) was selected as the first Indigenous Cabinet Minister in United States history.
- March 2021: The University of British Columbia (Canada) began to offer Canada’s first bachelor’s degree in Indigenous language fluency. The degree is taught in Nsyilxcn, which members speak of the Syilx Okanagan Nation.
- April 2021: A bill was passed in North Dakota, requiring all schools to teach Native American history, culture, and treaty rights. Ruth Buffalo, a descendant of the Chiricahua Apache and a Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation citizen, wrote the bill. Educators, scholars, students, and elders supported the bill and ensured that future generations learn and build better tomorrows.
- June 2021: The ownership of the Australian town of Jaribu was returned to Indigenous Mirarr Peoples.
- June 2021: The Keystone XL pipeline has been officially cancelled more than a decade after its planning began. The pipeline would have been a threat to the Ogallala Aquifer water source. In addition, it would have damaged Indigenous burial and archaeological sites.
- June 2021: The case, Jalacte Village v. the Attorney General, led to the return of Maya lands taken without consent. The Supreme Court of Belize ruled in favour of Maya land rights, supporting the community’s right to their customary lands. The government of Belize further paid compensation of $3.12 million.
- July 2021: Inuk leader Mary Simon was selected as the first Indigenous person to be named Canada’s governor-general, holding power to summon Parliament, deliver speeches, sign official documents, and meet regularly with the prime minister.
- July 2021: Elisa Loncón, a Mapuche Indigenous Peoples representative, was elected President of Chile’s committee to draft a new constitution. Loncón is known as a strong supporter of returning land to Indigenous Peoples.
Artwork by Diana Green
Indigenous peoples play a vital role in preserving the land, seas and resources by living in harmony with nature in many of the world’s most biodiverse regions. Developing strong economic, cultural and spiritual relationships with their environment, these ancient peoples developed and often maintained traditional management practices and knowledge that contributed to biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources. Every day we face environmental disasters, we once again understand the importance of the indigenous peoples. We have a lot to learn about conserving nature in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way from these people. In this regard, considering the rights of the indigenous peoples, human rights violations against these people must be prevented. The political platform must also be provided for the Indigenous peoples to continue their culture, language and wisdom.