The International Day of the World's Indigenous People was celebrated worldwide on the 9th of August 2017, to commemorate the varied endemic cultures and peoples around the world.
Indigenous peoples are defined as a community which has historical ties to a particular geographical territory, and are significantly culturally different from other populations around them which are often politically dominant. In International legislation, they have been granted specific rights based on this tie to the past.
Today there are almost 370 million indigenous people in the world, belonging to 5,000 different groups spread across 90 countries worldwide. Indigenous people live in every region of the world, but about 70% of the total belong to Asia. Examples of indigenous cultures would include the Inuits of the Arctic, the Maasai of East Africa, the Native Americans of America, and the Adivasis of India, among several others.
In almost all cases, indigenous people have intricate cultural heritage, which is often intricately tied up with, and in complete harmony with the natural world. Although they cover only about a quarter of the world's occupied surface area, they safeguard more than 80% of the world's biodiversity, responsible for keeping safe several of the most important lands and waters. Their symbiotic relationship with nature comes from maintaining ancestral knowledge and wisdom on survival and home-building. This generally also includes know-how of reducing risks during natural disasters, and even averting climate change.
However, in only a handful of cases do states recognize the rights of the indigenous people to the land that has been possessed by them on a customary basis since several years. The communities also stand at a disadvantage without appropriate education, or a fitting representative to defend their rights.
Legislators and lawmakers need to take into account the critical role that indigenous people play in sustainable development and environmental protection, and help provide them access to tenure. Working with them to ensure appropriate resource governance, among other interventions, will help improve their situation, and their associations with the government, which are strained in most cases. It will also ensure sustainable economic growth, culturally and environmentally conscious conservation, and aid their development as well.
Recognition of collective and personal indigenous rights and according them opportunities to development have been slowly coming about, thanks to the adoption of International mechanisms. The United States Declaration of Rights of the Indigenous People in 2007, while too late in coming, secured them with a platform for international attention; and following acts have helped bring into discussion with world leaders spokespersons from various indigenous communities, making their voices heard. However, as multiple stakeholders - capitalists, traffickers, the government- claim an interest in their rights and lands, and the people themselves begin to shed their identities in exchange for fictitious 'development', maintaining a coherent dialogue becomes tougher, and decisions take time. We still have a long way to go.