The Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities (AIPG) commemorates August 9 as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This global observance was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994 through the adoption of Resolution 49/214. The commemorative date marks the first meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, which took place in 1982. The observance also functions to continue the spirit and working agenda of the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, which began on 10 December 1994.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted on September 13, 2007, is regarded by the United Nations as the “most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples.” The Declaration enumerates, inter alia, the rights of indigenous peoples to all human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as the ability to maintain and strengthen their distinct institutions while fully participating in the political, economic, social, and cultural life of the State. The text, which is available here, builds on established international human rights standards and other fundamental freedoms within the context of indigenous issues.
This year’s observance focuses on the theme “Leaving no one behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract.” Over 476 million indigenous peoples in more than 90 countries face high levels of poverty and acute socio-economic disadvantages. As one of the world’s most vulnerable populations, indigenous communities have been highly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic due to a lack of access to vaccination campaigns. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (ECOSOC) explains:
For indigenous peoples, poverty and gross inequities tend to generate intense social tensions and conflicts. Eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions and reducing inequality are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The whole of society — not only governments but also social activists, indigenous peoples, women, academia, scientists — all have a role to play in building and redesigning a new social contract that serves the interest of “We, the peoples”, as per the preamble of the United Nations Charter. Indigenous peoples’ right to participate in decision-making is a key component in achieving reconciliation between indigenous peoples and States.
The most recently published edition of The State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is dedicated to the Rights to Lands, Territories and Resources. This resource addresses the rights of indigenous peoples and the connection that they have to their lands, territories, and resources. This includes the spiritual and cultural relationship that they maintain with the land, as part of their identity. José Martínez Cobo, in his capacity as Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, remarked:
It is essential to know and understand the deeply spiritual special relationship between indigenous peoples and their land as basic to their existence as such and to all their beliefs, customs, traditions, and culture. For such peoples, the land is not merely a possession and a means of production. The entire relationship between the spiritual life of indigenous peoples and Mother Earth, and their land, has a great many deep-seated implications. Their land is not a commodity which can be acquired, but a material element to be enjoyed freely.
On the occasion of the 2021 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the Auschwitz Institute stands with indigenous populations around the world and reiterates the urgency of providing critical protections for these communities and their lands. This year, AIPG has also partnered with the Lenape Center to develop its Living Land Acknowledgement: Lenapehoking. This Acknowledgment is the result of the Lenape Center’s generous consultation and advice on how to better recognize the original people of the land upon which the New York office sits and AIPG’s desire to put this recognition into action.
Lenapehoking — the homeland of the Lenape people — reaches from modern-day Delaware to Connecticut. As such, members of AIPG’s New York Office staff acknowledge their status as guests on Manahahtaan — as it is called in the Munsee dialect of Lenape. AIPG honors the rich cultural practices of the Lenape and their deep connection to Lenapehoking, which existed long before the arrival of Europeans to Turtle Island. As AIPG’s Living Land Acknowledgement for Lenapehoking states:
We believe it is essential to recognize the settler-colonial genocide, which continues to be perpetrated against the Lenape and which attempts to erase them from history. We denounce the broken promises and violated agreements that the United States’ federal, state, and local governments have made to the Lenape and other indigenous communities. We recognize the resilience of the Lenape who have resisted this genocide and whose lives and culture stand today in defiance of it.