WHAT DOES INDIGENOUS MEAN AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Indigenous peoples are the native inhabitants of a particular area, country or region, such as the Barotse, who perpetuate ancient traditions and lifestyles whilst adapting to modernity, all the while maintaining social, cultural, economic and political characteristics distinct from those of the dominant societies they live in.
The Barotse have been fighting for many decades against Zambian assimilation after the latter unilaterally abrogated a pre-independence treaty, The Barotseland Agreement 1964, which guaranteed the Barotse people’s continued self-determination within the sovereign state of Zambia.
There are currently about 5,000 native communities around the world and the foundations of the uniqueness of these 5,000 native communities are there many languages, which not only define their social and cultural identity but allow them to hand down their customs, knowledge and history. For example, they’re sources of precious information on ecosystems: through them, ancient practices on the use of plants and natural elements are preserved.
In fact, indigenous people are on the front-line of safeguarding 80 per cent of the biodiversity left on Earth, therefore protecting their territories and their connection to these is in everyone’s interests.
THE UNITED NATIONS AND THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
There are important United Nations tools and instruments that support Indigenous Peoples battles not only in defence of the environment but also their rights.
Every 9 August the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is held, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994 with the objective of celebrating these communities’ diversity whilst shedding light on the violations and injustices they continue to suffer after centuries of colonization and genocides. In fact, indigenous people make up 5 per cent of the world population but 15 per cent of the global poor: they’re among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.
Another important step was taken in 2007 with the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which enshrines their right to self-determination and freedom from discrimination of any kind, in particular in exercising their customs and expressing their identity. Finally, in 2016 the UN General Assembly decided to proclaim 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages and an action plan was established, with UNESCO responsible for coordinating other actors involved in raising awareness and taking action.
Since Indigenous languages play such a fundamental role in people’s daily lives, defending human rights, peace processes and sustainable development, losing them would mean erasing alternative visions to mainstream cultures’ values, philosophies and lifestyles. Perhaps we don’t realize it, but the languages we speak define who we are, our way of understanding and interacting with the world. And in an increasingly interconnected world, where differences are suppressed to make way for globalization, defending the uniqueness of indigenous peoples and their languages is key to preserving our wealth as human beings.
SOURCES: United Nations, Life Gate