ext week on August 9, the United Nations marks the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People -- disclosing the little known fact that there are an estimated 370 million indigenous people living across 90 countries. They make up less than 5% of the world’s population, but account for 15% of the poorest. They speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultural. According to the UN, indigenous people are inheritors and practitioners of rare cultures ways of relating to people and the environment. Despite their cultural differences, indigenous people from around the world share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct people.
The UN says, indigenous people have sought recognition of their identities, way of life and their right to traditional lands, territories and natural resources for years, yet throughout history their rights have often been violated. Indigenous people today, are arguably among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people in the world. The international community now recognizes that special measures are required to protect their rights and maintain their distinct cultures and way of life.The 2018 Theme is ‘Indigenous people’s migration and movement’. As a result of loss of their lands, territories and resources due to development and other pressures, many indigenous people migrate to urban areas in search of better prospects of life, education and employment. Additionally, indigenous migrants face a myriad of challenges, including lack of access to public services and additional layers of discrimination, the UN says.
The 2018 theme will focus on the current situation of indigenous territories, the root causes of migration, trans-border movement and displacement, with a specific focus on indigenous people living in urban areas and across international borders.
In response to these threats, the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution on ‘Rights of Indigenous People’, proclaiming 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
While United States President Donald Trump is boasting about making ‘America great’ again and imposing strict curbs on immigrants, including the building of a wall on the southern border with Mexico, he seldom talks about the fact that Native Americans, also known as Amerindians, American Indians, Indians, Indigenous Americans and other terms, are the Indigenous people of the US. There are more than 500 federally recognized tribes within the US, about half of which are associated with Indian reservations. The ancestors of modern Native Americans arrived in what is now the US at least 15,000 years ago, possibly much earlier, from Asia via Beringia. Native Americans were greatly affected by the European colonization, which began in 1492, and the native population declined precipitously due to introduced diseases, warfare and slavery. After the founding of the US, many Native American people were subjected to warfare, removals and one-sided treaties, and they continued to suffer from discriminatory government policies into the 20th century.
The natives are actually not Indians or Red Indians, though Christopher Columbus when he discovered the continent thought it was a part of India. The natives were later described as savages with the massacre, their way of life and culture being destroyed, though the horror was colour-washed through Hollywood films and comic books which described the colonization as an act of civilization. All the gold and other rich resources belong to them but the colonizers robbed these resources and marginalized the native people. In the aftermath of this, the US has little or no right to talk of a just, peaceful and all inclusive society.
In Sri Lanka, we often refer to the indigenous people as Veddas but many believe we should refer to them as natives. According to a website, as the future chief of these people, Gunabandiya Uruwarige, 43, will face the challenge of preserving the indigenous community’s traditions while embracing inevitable modernization. Uruwarige has received training since childhood to be the future leader, he says. He did not attend primary school with his younger siblings. Rather, he had to follow their traditions of learning through nature. Although he is illiterate, he says it will not affect his leadership. The things that I learned from my grandfather and father are [more] useful and practical than things which others learn from the school, he says. Indeed we have much to learn from them and need to bring them into an all inclusive society.