Health & Wellbeing focus: International Day of Indigenous Peoples

UN Secretary General says most challenges are preventable

The UN marked the recent 2015 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples with a call for improving access to healthcare services. It also launched a publication focusing on health-related needs for indigenous peoples in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This year’s occasion was organised on the theme, ‘Post-2015 Agenda: Ensuring indigenous peoples’ health and well-being.’

In South Africa small groups of people gathered to observe the Day led by Khoisan Chiefs and activists. In the Western Cape, a fire ceremony was held at the multi-purpose centre in Atlantis at the weekend.

A special event to mark the Day took place at UN Headquarters in New York, US, on 10 August 2015, organised by the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII) and the Department of Public Information.

In his message, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that most challenges to indigenous peoples’ health and wellbeing were preventable, including:

– inadequate sanitation
– unsuitable housing
– lack of prenatal care
– and violence against women

He pointed to high rates of diabetes, drug and alcohol abuse, youth suicide and infant mortality among indigenous peoples around the world, saying these should be urgently addressed.

Indigenous Peoples Day Atlantis Ceremony

Affecting People’s Health

The ‘State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples: Volume 2,’ an advance copy of which was launched for the Day, finds that poor living conditions, low income and employment rates, and lack of access to safe water, sanitation, food and health care all affect the health status of indigenous peoples. The report also notes that indigenous peoples face destruction of their lands, territories and resources, including through the impacts of climate change and environmental contamination by heavy metals, industrial gases and effluent wastes. Indigenous peoples experience structural barriers in accessing health care, such as geographical isolation, poverty and discrimination, as well as lack of recognition for their social and cultural practices, it also finds.

On the occasion of the International Day, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) highlighted its work on a UN-wide plan to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in a coordinated manner. The UN-wide initiative, referred to as the UN System Wide Action Plan (SWAP), was called for at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) in September 2014, and includes a survey and consultations with indigenous peoples around the world. The global survey has identified climate change and environmental degradation as affecting indigenous peoples’ lands and way of life. UNDP recently approved social and environment standards to ensure that its own projects foster full respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.

Bradley van Sitters Khoi & San Active Awareness Group (KSAAG)

Bradley van Sitters Khoi & San Active Awareness Group (KSAAG)

Genocide & Erosion of Identity

One of the organisations behind the Western Cape event marking August 10th was the Khoi & San Active Awareness Group (KSAAG). The organisation states:

“The Western Cape cultural landscape reflects underdevelopment, neglect, blatant disregard of certain cultures and preferential treatment of particular cultural communities and cultural practices. The Khoikhoi and San were displaced from their land and experienced erosion of their identity by acts of genocide inflicted by the Dutch, British, and German settlers. They also suffered greatly under the early segregation policies of the English and the later apartheid regime of the Afrikaners, and were later absorbed into the Afrikaans-speaking ‘Coloured’ communities, while others were absorbed into the dominant societies around them, both African and European, and into the populations of labourers who were brought from Malaya, China, and from other regions of Africa.

“Nowhere in the world, with a few exceptions elsewhere, were the ill -effects of European Colonisation as severe and brutal, as in the case of the genocide perpetrated against the original inhabitants of Southern Africa; the Khoe-San (Khoi-San).”

Indigenous People's Day Atlantis

Indigenous People’s Day Atlantis

Worldwide Plan

On the occasion of the International Day, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) highlighted its work on a UN-wide plan to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in a co-ordinated manner. The UN-wide initiative, referred to as the UN System Wide Action Plan (SWAP), was called for at the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) in September 2014, and includes a survey and consultations with indigenous peoples around the world. The global survey has identified climate change and environmental degradation as affecting indigenous peoples’ lands and way of life. UNDP recently approved social and environment standards to ensure that its own projects foster full respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.

Alejandra Pero, Equator Initiative, called on governments to ensure that implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) respects the value of indigenous knowledge and includes indigenous peoples in decision making. He said that while information technologies provide the means to record traditional knowledge, it is necessary to clarify questions of access, storage and rights to such information.

The UN has commemorated International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on 9 August each year since 1994. Eighty percent of the world’s indigenous peoples live in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Source: International Institute for Sustainable Development & KSAAG.

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