Indigenous people, across domestic and international borders share a long history as victims of exploitation, marginalization and oppression. However, in the past few years, significant efforts have been taken both at local and international levels for the preservation of the age-old traditions and lifestyles of the indigenous people that are threatening to decline in the wake of growing modernization. One such effort includes the annual celebration of an international day for the indigenous people.
There are about 476 million indigenous people living all over the world. Image Source: Free Press Journal

International Day For Indigenous People

Celebrated globally every year on 9th August, the international day for indigenous people was adopted formally in 1994 by the United Nations. The date symbolizes the first meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) overseen by the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights held in Geneva, in the year 1982. The aim of the WGIP was to promote and protect human rights, including the fundamental rights of the indigenous people.

Some 476 million tribes are scattered all over the world, with about 104 million of them belonging to India alone. These people are bound together by their experiences of exploitation at the hands of the mainstream population. Stories like that of Columbus’ success in the ‘New World’ or the Americas, go side by side with those of suffering and pain encountered by the indigenous people who became marginalized and alienated from their own land. As groups with power and knowledge began to expand their influence over foreign lands, the traditional knowledge systems of those people who had lived in those lands for centuries, came to be undermined. Stripped-off of their lands, the tribal people succumb to poverty because they are completely dependent on the nature. As the world continues to evolve and make advancements in fields of science, technology and other aspects, the indigenous people step closer to the risk of getting wiped out completely from the surface of the earth.

The International day for Indigenous People is celebrated on 9th August. Image Source: Yoair Blog

In India, the term ‘Adivasi’ is used collectively for the indigenous people residing in the country. As a result, the International Day for Indigenous people is also celebrated as the Adivasi Divas in India and is considered a regional public holiday in Madhya Pradesh.

The history of the Adivasis is equally tainted with oppression and violence at the hands of colonizers and other authorities. Half a century has passed since the independence of India but the condition of the tribal population has not improved much. Even today, the tribes struggle to retain hold over their ancestral lands, which threaten to slip away for meeting the infrastructural and other developmental needs of the nation. Celebrating and honouring the indigenous people one day in the whole year is simply not enough. However, it is still a significant step towards creating and spreading awareness about the problems faced by these people everywhere. Loss of livelihood, poverty, scarcity of resources, especially for women and children resulting in the lack of nutrition and general discrimination by the mainstream society for their ‘backward’ ‘uncivilized’ ways are few of the many problems faced by the indigenous people on a day-to-day basis.

The international day for indigenous people adopts a distinct program every year designed specifically with the aim of benefitting these oppressed communities across the globe. The theme for 2021 for instance, was “Leaving no one behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract”. This theme was adopted to acknowledge that indigenous people have their own ways of governance and ways of life and therefore any changes desired by the mainstream groups must not be done without the consent of these concerned people. Similarly, the theme for 2022 is “The Role of Indigenous Women in the Preservation and Transmission of Traditional Knowledge”. Indigenous women face oppression and marginalization on two levels – first because of their tribal affiliation and second, for their gender. Their contributions to their community, particularly their role as preservers and transmitters of ancestral practises and traditions are often neglected. The story of Odisha’s Bonda tribal women and their sustainable ways of seed conservation in the wake of growing climate change issue is only one of the many examples, showing how women contribute to their community and the world environment.

Countless such stories exist within every indigenous community; stories that proof that indigenous people and their ways of life might perhaps be the ultimate solution to the ever-increasing problem of climate change.

Rituparna Goswami Author
I find happiness in mundane activities like spending time with my mom and dad, helping out around the house, watching funny youtube videos with my elder sister and so on. I don't believe in sticking to only one area or one skill. Life is too short to limit ourselves, isn't it? I am curious about almost anything and I love exploring new things. I read fiction novels and watch movies/series, when I feel too lazy to get up from my bed. I sing when I am in a really good mood. I'm quite easy to get along with and I love meeting or talking to new people. After all, every person has a unique story to tell and who doesn't love stories?

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