Indigenous People’s Traditional Knowledge Must Be Preserved, Valued Globally, Speakers Stress as Permanent Forum Opens Annual Session
Traditional knowledge is at the core of indigenous identity, culture, languages, heritage and livelihoods, and its transmission from one generation to the next must be protected, preserved and encouraged, speakers in the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues stressed today, as they opened its eighteenth session.
The special theme of this year’s forum “Indigenous Peoples’ Traditional Knowledge: Generation, transmission and protection” is an opportunity to share innovations and practices developed in indigenous communities over centuries and millennia, Permanent Forum Chair Anne Nuorgam said.
“We need to ensure that our educational practices, languages, environmental conservation and management is acknowledged and respected globally, not only by Governments, but by all peoples,” she emphasized.
Traditional knowledge is transmitted between generations through stories, songs, dances, carvings, paintings and performances. However, global histories of colonialism, exploitation and dispossession continue to undermine and undervalue these aspects. In many countries, indigenous children and youth are not taught in their native languages. Calling for financial and technical support from Member States and the United Nations, she encouraged “all of us make sure our children and our youth are connected to their indigenous community and their culture, which is inextricably linked to their lands, territories and natural resources.”
María Fernanda Espinosa (Ecuador), General Assembly President, stressed that traditional knowledge occupies a pivotal place in the range of actions needed to mitigate climate change. Transferring this information across generations is vital, as is harnessing the potential of youth and women. Highlighting the importance of preserving languages, she pointed out that knowledge accumulated over thousands of years on medicine, meteorology, agriculture and other areas is at risk of forever disappearing. In preparing for the great challenges ahead, she said efforts must include fostering a better understanding of traditional knowledge and finding ways to strengthen indigenous peoples’ voices within the United Nations.
Valentin Rybakov (Belarus), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Forum’s 2019 theme is timely considering the vast role of indigenous knowledge in sustainable development. However, misconceptions often categorize traditional activities as uninformed and damaging to the environment when, in fact, indigenous peoples’ knowledge of their lands includes a vast array of successful practices. He called on Member States to continue to collaborate with indigenous peoples in implementing the Goals and in reporting for voluntary national reviews.
In the afternoon, the Forum held a discussion on preserving indigenous languages, with speakers noting the importance of the General Assembly’s decision to proclaim 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Member States shared their work towards that end while representatives of indigenous groups pointed to challenges they face in trying to access education in their mother tongues.
Royal Johan Kxao UI/O/OO, Deputy Minister for Marginalized Communities of Namibia, said that although his country’s Constitution ensures multiple languages could be used in an official capacity, three groups are left on the margins. The challenge remains in providing education to these groups in their indigenous language at the foundational levels, he said, adding: “For this reason, you find many children not able to speak their language.” Igor Barinov, Head of the Federal Agency on Interethnic relations of the Russian Federation, said that the education system in his country teaches in 25 languages. State efforts have helped preserve myriad languages which were forecasted for extinction 100 years ago. Joanna Hautakorpi, Minister Adviser in the Ministry for Justice of Finland, said that with the majority of Sami children today living outside their homeland area, the Government in Helsinki started a class last year in which children receive lessons in Sami.
A representative of the Sami Parliament in Norway, noting the “real fear” that indigenous people will not be able to keep up with the digital revolution, stressed the importance of having access to digital tools in indigenous languages. The Head of the Indigenous Youth Division at the Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean called indigenous languages “a link to our heritage” and sacred. A representative of the Nomadic Ancestral Community of Indigenous Peoples of the North (Yukagirs) “Keigur” said the rights to language and land are interlinked, stressing that children must be able to study in their communities and still access education in their native language.
Also delivering opening remarks today was Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Statistics Division, on behalf of the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and Cristiana Paşca Palmer, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Forum also heard a ceremonial welcome by the Chief of the Onondaga Nation, Chief Tadodaho Sid Hill.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Permanent Forum elected by acclamation Anne Nuorgam (Finland) as Chair of its eighteenth session. Phoolman Chaudhary (Nepal), Lourdes Tiban Guala (Ecuador), Dmitri Kharakka-Zaitsev (Russian Federation) and Elifuraha Laltaika (United Republic of Tanzania) were elected as Vice-Chairs while Brian Keane (United States) was elected Rapporteur.
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 23 April, to continue its eighteenth session.
MARÍA FERNANDA ESPINOSA (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, said the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples said much remains to be done to ensure that indigenous rights are enjoyed around the world. Urgent action must, among other things, close implementation gaps and address the repayment of an enormous debt to indigenous peoples, with close attention focusing on health, education and other critical areas. In addition, indigenous women face more discrimination than others, even as they are crucial agents of change in their communities, she said, emphasizing the importance of strategies and programmes targeting their empowerment.
Traditional knowledge occupies a pivotal place in the range of actions needed to mitigate climate change, she continued, and transferring this information across generations is vital, as is harnessing the potential of youth. Highlighting the importance of preserving languages, she pointed out that knowledge accumulated over thousands of years on medicine, meteorology, agriculture and other areas is at risk of forever disappearing. In preparing for the great challenges ahead, she said efforts must include fostering a better understanding of traditional knowledge and finding ways to strengthen indigenous peoples’ voices within the United Nations.
VALENTIN RYBAKOV (Belarus), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that as an advisory body, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues plays a key role in informing the Council’s deliberations and decisions. Highlighting forthcoming meetings on the Sustainable Development Goals — from inclusive education to combating climate change — he said the issues are of central importance to indigenous peoples and the attainment of their human rights. The 2019 theme — “Traditional knowledge: Generation, transmission and protection” — is timely in light of the issues to be discussed during the Council’s High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and the September review summit of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to be held under the Assembly’s auspices. As the vast and important role of indigenous knowledge in sustainable development is becoming more widely understood and recognized, he underlined a need to acknowledge its source, ownership and protection, as enshrined in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
However, he said, misconceptions often categorize traditional activities as uninformed and damaging to the environment when in fact indigenous peoples’ knowledge of their lands includes a vast array of successful practices. Partnerships among Governments, indigenous peoples and other actors demonstrate the benefits of recognizing traditional land and environmental conservation knowledge — all of which address the Sustainable Development Goal of combating climate change. Also becoming ever more apparent are the linkages among traditional knowledge, conservation, climate change and land rights and uses — and their role in promoting inclusive societies and the peace and security agenda. Calling upon Member States to collaborate with indigenous peoples in implementing the Goals and in reporting for voluntary national reviews, he said more must be done to ensure their rights and priorities are given due attention ahead of the High-Level Political Forum.
With 2019 celebrated as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, he expressed hope that the Permanent Forum’s discussions and recommendations will highlight the importance of native-language learning in advancing Goal 4 (improving access to inclusive and equitable quality education). Pleased with the increased cooperation between the Permanent Forum and other Council bodies, he said “it is through this sharing of expertise that we can further advance our collective thinking and take concrete action.”
ANNE NUORGAM (Finland), Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said that this year’s theme is an opportunity to share innovations and practices developed in indigenous communities over centuries and millennia. “Through our stories, songs, dances, carvings, paintings and performances we transit knowledge between generations,” she declared. Traditional knowledge is at the core of indigenous identity, culture, languages, heritage and livelihoods, and must be protected. However, global histories of colonialism, exploitation and dispossession continue to undermine and undervalue these aspects of life. “We need to ensure that our educational practices, languages, environmental conservation and management is acknowledged and respected globally, not only by Governments, but by all peoples,” she stressed.
Indigenous peoples have the right to autonomy or self-government and will continue to strive to determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development, she emphasized. The Declaration reaffirms the collective right of indigenous peoples to a life of freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples. It is increasingly recognized, for instance, that land is at the heart of many, if not most, challenges to peace and security. There are growing tensions and rising violence surrounding traditional indigenous lands, territories and resources. This can be attributed to the negative effects of climate change and the movement of peoples, environmental mismanagement, drug trafficking and extractive industry activities. “This has often resulted in increased attacks against indigenous rights defenders,” she said.
The violence against indigenous women is a continuing concern, with “my indigenous sisters and daughters targeted for their identity and their role as transmitters of their culture and traditional knowledge”, she continued. Indigenous persons with disabilities require greater protection as well. In many countries, indigenous children and youth are not taught in their native languages. Calling for financial and technical support from Member States and the United Nations, she encouraged “all of us to make sure our children and our youth are connected to their indigenous community and their culture, which is inextricably linked to their lands, territories and natural resources.” This enables people to protect their traditional knowledge. Indeed, the strong and growing engagement of indigenous peoples in the intergovernmental arena is a step forward in ensuring their rights are considered in policies and processes.
STEFAN SCHWEINFEST, Director, Statistics Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, spoke on behalf of the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Senior Official of the United Nations System to Coordinate Follow-up to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. Noting that the Assembly proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, he said the loss of such languages signifies the loss of traditional knowledge and cultural diversity. Teaching children in their languages and traditional ways maintains community culture, reduces school drop-out rates and leads to economic growth. It also strengthens linguistic diversity and contributes to achieving both the Declaration and the 2030 Agenda, which includes explicit references to indigenous peoples. Thanking those Member States that contributed to the Trust Fund on Indigenous Peoples last year, he said indigenous peoples suffer disproportionately from poverty, discrimination, poor health care and lack of access to culturally appropriate education. However, “with concerted efforts, we can make a difference,” he said.
CRISTIANA PAŞCA PALMER, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said the transmission of traditional knowledge and culture requires access to traditional territories, rights to customary sustainable use of nature resources and living indigenous languages. Noting that the Sami have more than 200 words for snow, the Hawaiians have more than 200 words for rain and the Bedouin more than 160 words for camels, she said nature-based solutions for sustainable development and climate change cannot be promoted without healthy indigenous languages, many of which are at risk of disappearing. With parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity currently considering elements for a post-2020 global biodiversity framework, the door is wide open for proposals from indigenous peoples and the Permanent Forum. She went on to suggest the establishment of an international alliance for nature and culture that would underscore the link between biological and cultural diversity.
In the afternoon, the Permanent Forum took up its agenda item “Discussion on the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages”, hearing from ministers, high-level officials and representatives of indigenous communities.
AISA MUKABENOVA, Permanent Forum member from the Russian Federation, opening the discussion, said the declaration of 2019 as the International Year aims to recognize rights and raise awareness at the policy-making level. Based on the Permanent Forum’s recommendations for preserving and revitalizing indigenous languages, it is also meant to close the gap between law and practice. Today, it is possible to monitor progress on the International Year, including by developing a language atlas. In accordance with the related General Assembly resolution and Permanent Forum recommendations, countries have taken steps toward that end, she said, citing Canada’s project to draft a list of indigenous languages. But, more remains to be done, she stressed, suggesting the passage of a declaration of an international decade of indigenous languages to ensure, among other things, that States adopt legislation to recognize indigenous languages and to show the required political will to preserve and revitalize them.
IRMGARDA KASINSKAITE-BUDDEBERG, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), highlighting activities surrounding the International Year, said indigenous languages matter as they are repositories of knowledge and the main conveyors to transmit practices that can benefit the world today. A steering committee facilitated an action plan for the International Year, she said, thanking partners for their engagement. Activities to date include sporting and cultural events, regional meetings, a hack-a-thon and a high-level dialogue, partnering with civil society, United Nations agencies and the private sector. A world report on languages is also being developed, and a call for research papers has already resulted in 280 submissions from 63 countries focused on seven themes.
NANAIA MAHUTA, Minister for Māori Development and Minister for Local Government of New Zealand, said the International Year provides an opportunity for countries to recognize indigenous languages. Legal protection can actively revitalize languages, she said, noting that this is an important step forward. Sharing measures taken to implement these goals, she said her delegation remains an active member of the Permanent Forum.
DORTHE WACKER, European Union, said linguistic diversity is a core value for the bloc, which prohibits discrimination on a number of grounds, including language. In 2018, the European Parliament invited all States to contribute to the International Year, with the best investment being to promote bilingualism and multilingualism. Abandoning indigenous languages need not happen, she said, pointing to a strategy to ensure students can learn more than one language. The European Union also supports mother-tongue learning and language revitalization in countries around the world.
AILI KESKITALO, the Sami Parliament in Norway, said there is a real fear that indigenous people will not be able to participate or keep up with the digital revolution. Hence, there must be digital tools available in indigenous languages so these populations can keep up with digitization. “We must cooperate to help us preserve the indigenous languages of the world,” she added.
CAROLYN BENNETT, Minister for Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs of Canada, said having the ability to know one’s language is a critical component of personal cultural identity. Reclaiming and revitalizing indigenous languages is an essential part of Canada’s shared journey of reconciliation. Canada is committed to preserving and promoting indigenous language and is currently working on passing a bill on the matter. She ceded the remainder of her time to Kelly Fraser, an Inuk Singer, who said her way of revitalizing her culture is through teaching traditional drum dancing and song writing in her language.
DALÍ ANGEL, Head of the Indigenous Youth Division, Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, said “our languages are a link to our heritage, they are sacred, bring us closer to our brothers and our foundation to our lives.” Citing discrimination and prejudices that exist against indigenous languages, she urged Governments to adopt measures to protect indigenous cultures and heritage. Progress can be seen in Bolivia and the wider Latin region, where steps have been taken to demonstrate respect for indigenous languages by establishing alliances with the media, civil society and the private sector. There must be inclusive participation and a safe regional space for the discussion of indigenous languages.
THINGREIPHI LUNGHARWO, Asia Indigenous Peoples Caucus and Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, said Asia’s 411 million indigenous peoples speak many languages, some of them on the verge of extinction or critically endangered. While efforts are being made to promote indigenous languages, these are not commensurate with the level of threat they face. Much more must be done at the country and local levels, building on partnerships with indigenous peoples. She urged the Forum to call on States to undertake censuses and surveys to understand the situation of indigenous languages and ways to promote and preserve them; to carry out legal and administrative reforms to ensure equality and promote the public use of indigenous languages; to support and expand community initiatives to preserve indigenous languages; and to urgently resolve the challenges of displacement and forced migration of indigenous communities from their ancestral territories through guaranteeing their land and resource rights.
KOPENG OBED BAPELA, Deputy Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs of South Africa, said indigenous languages are not only used for communication but also express culture and heritage. South Africa has made progress on a national bill which ensures that one of South Africa’s indigenous communities is officially recognized. South Africa’s rich cultural and ethnic diversity is recognized by its Constitution. The Government has placed the revitalization and preservation of indigenous language at the heart of its development plans, underscoring the importance of indigenous peoples’ rights, and has also taken steps to include indigenous languages in school curriculums.
PAOLO DAVID, Chief of Indigenous peoples and Minorities Section, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said language is pivotal in terms of rights protection and good governance. For decades, assimilation policies have adversely affected indigenous language. Noting the wealth of guidance available to States from United Nations special offices, he urged indigenous peoples to strengthen their cooperation with such bodies so that their issues can be raised directly with Member States. The Office will continue to provide technical assistance and guidance to stakeholders to ensure that indigenous groups are involved in decisions that affect them.
ILIA MATILDE REYES AYMANI, Desarrollo Intercultural Chile, said bilingual intercultural education must be provided to all indigenous and non-indigenous children throughout the educational system, underscoring the need for direct contact with indigenous peoples on educational matters. Indigenous peoples must have the same status as non-indigenous peoples, with the cultural status of each school tailored to the cultural sensitivities of indigenous peoples.
ROYAL JOHAN KXAO /UI/O/OO, Deputy Minister for Marginalized Communities of Namibia, said that although English remains the main official language, the Constitution provides for other languages to be used in an official capacity, “meaning you can be assisted in any office in the language you speak”. The ability to communicate clearly is a key function for all people, and ability to use indigenous language is critical for indigenous communities, particularly in settings outside the home. It is also important to make a distinction for countries like Namibia, where “all of us are indigenous, and therefore speak indigenous languages,” he said. However, three groups are left on the margins and classified as “marginalized communities” — the Ovatue, Ovatjimba and San peoples — and the challenge is in providing education in the indigenous language at the foundational levels. “For this reason, you find many children not able to speak their language,” he added.
ALEXEY TSYKAREV (Russian Federation), Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, citing engagement activities with Member States, said measures to protect languages must be sustainable, urgently implemented and guarantee the free and informed consent of indigenous peoples through a human-rights-based approach. Making several recommendations, he said States’ recognition of past injustices is necessary to move forward in related activities. He also recommended that United Nations agencies and programmes ensure that indigenous languages are included in field work and projects and expressed support for a declaration of an international decade for indigenous languages.
RON LAMEMAN, International Indian Treaty Council, declared: “Collectively, we owe it to our future generations to ensure that we can continue to use our beautiful languages.” Despite their central importance in daily ways of life and knowledge, indigenous languages around the globe are under threat due to processes of colonization — including in the United States and Canada — as well as the legacy of forced assimilation at residential and boarding schools. The protection, revitalization and transmission of indigenous languages is a central underpinning of nearly every area of indigenous peoples’ work, both at home and at the United Nations, he said, urging the Permanent Forum to recommend to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that it develop a new platform on indigenous languages with the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples.
ANNE KARIN OLLI, State Secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Modernization of Norway, described several actions the Government has taken, including establishing a Sami language committee that works with the Sami Parliament. But, challenges remain, she said, emphasizing that the participation of indigenous peoples is vital in any measures regarding the protection of their languages.
ANNE DENNIS, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, recommended that States implement long-term national strategies to promote and protect indigenous languages; acknowledge, value as well as respect them in national constitutions and expand public and governmental usage; and recognize and resource community organizations to implement indigenous-led programmes to revitalize, protect and promote their languages.
HELENE ÖBERG, State Secretary for Culture and Democracy of Sweden, called on States to listen to indigenous communities, engage and learn from past mistakes. For Sweden, the protection of the indigenous Sami people is an essential priority for which the Government works closely with democratically elected members of the Sami Parliament, civil society and others. Noting that representatives of the Sami Parliament are part of this year’s Swedish delegation to the Permanent Forum, she expressed support for the development of procedures that give indigenous peoples the chance to properly participate in and influence decision-making over issues that concern them. She cited “very troubling numbers” of disappearing languages and called on all people to work together to protect the world’s linguistic and cultural diversity. Sweden, for its part, launched a national inquiry to map out the need for measures to safeguard and revitalize its five national minority languages.
ELIDA ATLASOVA, Nomadic Ancestral Community of Indigenous Peoples of the North (Yukagirs) “Keigur”, said the rights to language and land are interlinked. “We do not want our languages to exist only on maps,” she said, also noting the cultural barriers to education. In Australia, for instance, there is no financing for education for schools in some hard-to-reach places. Children must be able to study in their communities and still access education in their native language. The local initiatives of civil society organizations must be supported by Governments, which must ensure greater financial assistance.
IGOR BARINOV, Head of the Federal Agency on Interethnic relations of the Russian Federation, said that the education system in his country teaches in 25 languages and also 81 languages are studied in Russian schools. National laws give indigenous peoples special legal protection. Noting the growth in ethnic self-awareness throughout the Russian Federation, he added that State efforts have helped preserve myriad languages which were forecasted for extinction 100 years ago. The Government is also monitoring the status and development of indigenous language. He expressed support for proclaiming an international decade of indigenous language.
ALUKI KOTIERK, Inuit Circumpolar Conference, speaking also for the Arctic Caucus, said measures must be taken among the region’s Governments to ensure mother-tongue instruction in schools. At the current rate, only 4 per cent of the Inuit community will be using Inuktitut at home, she said, citing a recent United Nations report that points to the dangers of disappearing indigenous languages. Legally protecting and revitalizing languages is essential, she said, emphasizing that language and education support cultural integrity, including teaching traditional practices. Instead of continuing on the path of cultural genocide, the United Nations must emphasize the need to protect the rights of indigenous peoples so they can live in dignity throughout their homelands.
CRAIG RITCHIE (Australia) said that in his country, more than half of the some 250 original aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are no longer spoken. However, throughout Australia, indigenous languages are being revived through education, with eight languages being taught in universities and more in primary and secondary schools. This year, Australia is focusing on the value and diversity of its indigenous languages, including through the introduction of a coin that bears the word for money in 14 languages and a blank space for languages that have been lost. The Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council has developed a mindfulness app that incorporates aboriginal languages and cultural concepts of mental health, while a repository of language and cultural content called IndigiTube features music videos, documentaries and even comedy routines.
EMILY HANG, delivering a joint statement for Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation and Khmer Kampuchea Krom Temple, said indigenous youth face challenges in accessing quality education in line with Sustainable Development Goal 4. In the Khmer Krom communities, young people are struggling to hold onto their indigenous roots and language while learning the official State language, Vietnamese, causing many to fall behind. Meanwhile, Khmer is still prohibited from being taught in public schools. Viet Nam affirmed its commitment to the 2030 Agenda, but the Government has stated that it lacks adequate statistics on progress towards achieving equal access for vulnerable groups, including ethnic minorities and children in vulnerable situations. In that vein, she urged Viet Nam to consider how to better enact programmes that promote learning the Khmer Krom language without fear or discrimination and to engage in an open dialogue to ensure that no indigenous peoples are left behind.
DEVONEY MCDAVIS (Nicaragua) said that despite gains, efforts must continue. For its part, Nicaragua has taken a number of steps in the domains of education, justice and public administration, in addition to linguistic revitalization projects. Moreover, Nicaragua has declared some indigenous languages as part of its cultural fabric and the nation’s history.
GUADALUPE ACOSTA, Cubraiti, Inc., pointed out that the First Nations culture is in danger and its land is being desecrated. To rectify this, he called on the Permanent Forum to submit a letter to the Pope to begin the process of repatriation of artefacts to the First Nations in Mexico.
SAUL VICENTE VAZQUEZ (Mexico) said the Government has outlined measures authorities can take to protect and promote the use of indigenous languages. Among them are efforts to foster dialogue and strengthen indigenous education with a view to ensuring languages are maintained and preserved, he said, expressing support for an international decade to continue along the same path.
DARIA EGEREVA, Union of Indigenous Peoples of Tomsk Region, said there is not a single school teaching the indigenous language of her region and, in fact, there are only three people who speak it fluently. While efforts exist to promote the language, there is scant funding to produce materials and cover teachers’ salaries. Applications for linguistic support to publish textbooks and provide education have yet to be successful, she said, calling for budgetary support.
PASCUAL SOL SOLIS (Guatemala) said fighting to maintain indigenous languages, such as Mayan languages, means protecting culture. Guatemala has, since 1987, worked to protect the Mayan languages, having established an institution to promote their dissemination and use, and adopted a national law that “officialized” indigenous languages, he said, adding that “a language that is not used, dies.”
POLINA SHULBAEVA, Centre for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North, said 41 indigenous languages exist in the region in the Russian Federation, but their numbers vary, with as a little as three people speaking fluently. The Russian language policy does not evenly reach all communities, she said, noting a dearth in salaries for professors to teach indigenous languages. She requested the Permanent Forum to reflect in its outcome document the inclusion of, among other things, a call for State programmes and financing for relevant language instruction in local schools.
JENS DAHL, Permanent Forum member from Denmark, commended UNESCO for taking practical steps to preserve indigenous languages, which are firmly rooted in culture. Highlighting concerns raised by participants about displacement and national and multinational corporate policies that are detrimental to their communities, he asked UNESCO to consider and address them in related activities.
GERVAIS NZOA, Permanent Forum member from Cameroon, commended efforts made to date and thanked the Russian Federation for having taken related initiatives to address concerns.
RENA TASUJA (Estonia), describing a number of activities to mark the International Year, said a forthcoming congress on indigenous languages will focus on protection measures, among other things. She hoped that funding for related activities worldwide will contribute to realizing goals in line with the Permanent Forum’s recommendations. It is high time to step up efforts to fulfil the objectives of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to increase cultural diversity.
MATTHEW NORRIS, Urban Native Youth Association, making several recommendations, said the Permanent Forum should urge Member States to engage with indigenous peoples to develop, fund and implement national action plans to address the colonial legacies responsible for their displacement, and to provide reparations and resources to indigenous nations to welcome back displaced people. The Permanent Forum should also call on States to provide resources to jointly review laws and policies so that displaced urban communities are accounted for and included.
JOANNA HAUTAKORPI, Minister Adviser in the Ministry for Justice of Finland, said that while three Sami languages are spoken in the country, most Sami children today live outside the Sami homeland area. “There is a need to provide them an opportunity to learn their language and culture,” she said. Last year, the Government in Helsinki started the first class in which lessons are taught in Sami. Now, more and more children around the country are being educated in their mother tongue. A new pilot project is developing ways to teach the three Sami languages. The International Year provides an opportunity to raise these important topics, she emphasized, noting Finland’s new project, operated by the Sami Parliament, aimed at improving the visibility of the Sami languages among youth and families.
JUDY WILSON, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, recommended that the Permanent Forum call on Member States to engage with indigenous peoples through a meaningful and substantive process to co-develop, fully fund and implement national action plans to revitalize and protect indigenous languages and the pursuit of language fluency. Among other things, she also recommended that States provide indigenous peoples the resources and capacity needed to fully participate in the drafting of the action plans as equal partners; that they co-develop and implement independent monitoring and reporting mechanisms for States’ activities to safeguard and revitalize indigenous languages; and that they provide permanent, ongoing and sustainable funding to indigenous nations for those purposes. “States can no longer dismiss or ignore our lived experiences, neither can States adopt a paternalistic approach to recognizing and accommodating our voices and expertise,” she stressed.
PEDRO VARE (Bolivia) highlighted national efforts in relation to the International Year while cautioning that the success of the Year hinges on the inclusion of indigenous peoples in related action plans. Expressing support for a declaration of an international decade on indigenous languages, he said Bolivia has taken several steps, from establishing institutions nationwide to a mobile phone application, with efforts involving 15 State, academic and indigenous institutions.
TATIANA DIATLOVA, Save Ugra, underlining a need for more laws and targeted support for students and teachers, said joint efforts and authoritative initiatives can produce results. Noting that Ugra, a region in the Russian Federation that is home to 124 ethnic groups, needs support, she echoed the call for declaring an international decade of indigenous languages. Moving forward, efforts must include data collection and targeted initiatives to effectively preserve languages. Awareness-raising activities must also bring these issues to the attention of national Governments and the public.
YOLANDA OTAVALO (Ecuador) said national initiatives aim at revitalizing indigenous languages and celebrating cultural diversity. Ecuador has taken many steps to do this and is now in the process of establishing a university of indigenous languages. Emphasizing that all stakeholders must ensure 2019 is a success, she said it is crucial that age-old languages survive and reminded delegates that “we are the guardians.”
MARIAM WALLET MOHAMED ABOUBAKRINE, Permanent Forum member from Mali, said the survival of indigenous peoples is the central issue. The current debate highlights the threat facing indigenous languages, with participants providing examples of reversing this trend. Laws and policies in draft form must now be adopted, and efforts should move towards declaring an international decade, because just one year is not enough.
LES MALENZER, Permanent Forum member from Australia, stressed the need to dedicate and commit resources to preserve indigenous languages. “It won’t just happen by will alone,” he stressed. He noted Australia’s national debate on whether indigenous languages should be recognized as official languages. There is still a lot to be achieved. Over the next 10 years, languages must be made a priority.
WILLIE LITTLECHILD, Assembly of First Nations, said indigenous peoples’ languages are in danger of disappearing but with support they can be sustainable. The importance the United Nations places on indigenous languages will be critical to their survival. Canada’s indigenous languages legislation should serve as a positive example on how to protect languages. “They must be alive in our ceremonies and our daily lives,” he said. It is essential that indigenous groups continue to work with UNESCO to ensure that the International Year of Indigenous Languages produces substantive results. “Our diversity adds to the richness of the human family,” he added.