The Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) observes August 9, 2016 as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The annual observance was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994 through Resolution 49/214. The International Day serves to commemorate the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, which took place in 1982. The theme of this year’s observance is “Indigenous Peoples and Education,” with a special emphasis being placed on challenges related to indigenous communities’ access to education.
The 2015 observance of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples focused on issues related to the health and wellbeing of indigenous populations across the globe, as provided for by the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. In his message for the occasion, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon challenged the international community to confront these challenges, emphasizing that “most [of these issues] are eminently preventable.” He said:
This year the United Nations is celebrating its seventieth anniversary and the decades of work carried out by the international community for the benefit of people around the world. One important milestone was the adoption by the General Assembly in 2007 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration has helped improve the lives and prospects of indigenous peoples, but we must do more in this watershed year for human development…
No-one must be left behind – especially indigenous peoples. They count among the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized people. Yet their history, traditions, languages and knowledge are part of the very bedrock of human heritage.
In January of 2016, experts from across the globe convened at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York to hold a three-day meeting during which they worked to identify best practices and produce recommendations for preserving and revitalizing indigenous languages, of which there are between 6,000 and 7,000 in existence today. The meeting touched upon the special role played by women and by new communications technologies in the effort to preserve indigenous languages. Grand Chief Edward John of Canada’s Tl’azt’en Nation, member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, remarked:
Every Government and every State needs to work with indigenous peoples to keep those languages alive because when they are gone, that whole stream of cultural connections to that part of civilization is gone forever.
Education, the focus of the 2016 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, is an integral part of the work done by the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. Whether as a regular part of its curriculum for the Latin American Network or through collaborative works such as teaching workshops with the National Museum of the American Indian, AIPR stands committed to the protection and empowerment of indigenous peoples around the world. In the words of Dr. James Waller, AIPR’s Director of Academic Programs:
Much of modern history is built on theft — the colonial theft of culture, language, history, and land from indigenous peoples. That theft has left a generational impact of devastation on indigenous peoples, many of whom still struggle to achieve basic human rights, security, and political voice.
On this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the Auschwitz Institute stands alongside the United Nations and its other international partners in solidarity with indigenous communities across the globe. AIPR readily supports the broadening of collaborative initiatives that work towards remedying the issues faced by indigenous communities and those dedicated to strengthening the rights and protections as provided for in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.