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Indigenous Peoples Around the Globe

The United Nations estimates that approximately 476 million Indigenous people live in 90 different countries and speak more than 4,000 of the world’s 7,000 languages (United Nations 2021).

The global community is beginning to acknowledge that Indigenous peoples “hold vital ancestral knowledge and expertise on how to adapt, mitigate, and reduce climate and disaster risks” (World Bank 2021). However, the reluctance of many nations to respect Indigenous sovereignty and their rights to land ownership and use threatens their cultural survival.

Indigenous Activism and Accomplishments

Indigenous communities have been fighting for the recognition of their right to self-determination and self-governance since first contact with Europeans.

World Indigenous Peoples Day gives us a chance to the honour the Indigenous leaders from around the world that forced the international community to pay attention to the ongoing impacts of colonization. These impacts include intergenerational trauma, the theft of ancestral lands, destruction of ecosystems, socio-economic marginalization and unequal access to education, health care and justice.

In 1923 Chief Deskaheh, a hereditary chief of the Cayuga Nation, brought petitions to the League of Nations (the forerunner of the United Nations), asking them to pressure Canada to respect their traditional forms of governance and leadership (Hanson 2009). The League of Nations ignored his request but that did not deter future generations from forcefully advocating for their rights on an international stage. In the 1960s and 1970s, Indigenous activists from different countries began to work together and form organizations like the World Council of Indigenous Peoples that could collectively lobby for Indigenous rights.

In 1975, The World Council’s first leader, George Manuel, himself a survivor of the Kamloops residential school, continued pressuring the international community to recognize Indigenous sovereignty (Hanson 2009). In 2007, the United Nations passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”), an international law that finally recognized the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous peoples around the world including the rights to self-determination and self-governance. In 2019, this Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (aka “DRIPA”) became law in British Columbia and on June 16, 2021, the government of Canada passed Bill C-15 with the aim of making UNDRIP federal law (As of July 29, 2021, Bill C-15 is not yet law).

The Origin of World Indigenous Peoples Day

On December 23, 1994, the United Nations decided that August 9th each year should be celebrated as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (“World Indigenous Peoples Day”) (DESA 2021). The international community chose this date because the United Nation’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations first met on August 9, 1982 to discuss common issues faced by Indigenous peoples around the globe.

August 9, 2021 will be the 26th anniversary of World Indigenous Peoples Day. The theme of this year’s celebration is the creation of a new social contract, a new relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. This new relationship, based on mutual understanding, respect, collaboration and reciprocity, involves every Canadian. Mary Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, has called on every Canadian to see “reconciliation as a way of life [that] requires work every day” (Richardson 2021).

Ways to Celebrate

There are many ways that you can celebrate this year’s World Indigenous Peoples Day. Cultural Survival, a non-profit, Indigenous-led organization, has prepared a list of thirteen activities that you can do to celebrate Indigenous contributions to the global community here.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations has decided to host a virtual celebration this year on August 9, 2021 from 9am-11am Eastern Daylight Time or 6am-9am Pacific Daylight Time. You can learn about the speakers at this event here. Check back frequently because we will be posting information about how you can register to attend this virtual celebration when it becomes available.

Countdown to World Indigenous Peoples Day

From August 5-8, 2021, we will be counting down to World Indigenous Peoples Day.

Join us each day as we explore different issues faced by Indigenous peoples. Here is an overview of what you can expect:

August 5th – What is intergenerational trauma?
August 6th – Indigenous Languages
August 7th – United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
August 8th – Support for Survivors of Residential Schools and their families

And on August 9th, we will invite you to create a daily practice of reconciliation. We will provide you with some tips and resources to get you started.

If you have any questions about World Indigenous Peoples Day, please reach out to our team by email: