In 2004 the first International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (1995-2004) came to an end. Its main merit was that it had centred the attention of the United Nations on the need for awareness of the problems encountered by indigenous peoples the world over. The time has now come to consider new perspectives and strengthen international cooperation in order to meet these peoples’ expectations.
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, 9 August, marks the day on which the Working Group on Indigenous Populations met for the first time in 1982. It should act as an occasion for thinking about this process and taking part in it.
Faced with the reality of the living conditions of indigenous people, which often remain precarious, the General Assembly of the United Nations, at its 59th session, proclaimed a second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, from 2005 to 2014.
The second Decade will provide UNESCO with an opportunity to pursue and intensify its efforts to promote the cultures of indigenous people and their fundamental rights. It will also offer the occasion to emphasize the need to mainstream culture in every development policy. Such mainstreaming is all the more necessary when indigenous people are involved, since they have a holistic vision of the world and maintain a special link with their environment.
It is therefore essential to strengthen the partnership with indigenous people by improving the mechanisms for the consultation of communities and arranging their participation in projects undertaken in UNESCO’s fields of competence. A central plank of our work will be to give greater thought to an issue of overriding importance for indigenous people – namely their informed, free and prior consent – and its application in the processes of project formulation and execution.
Moreover, UNESCO will pursue its efforts to protect and promote the diversity of cultures and ways of life peculiar to indigenous peoples. I hope that in 2006 the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage will enter into effect, once it has been ratified by the thirtieth State Party. The Organization will also be presenting, at the 33rd session of the General Conference in October 2005, a preliminary draft convention on the protection of the diversity of cultural contents and artistic expressions. These international instruments may provide a framework for the protection of traditional indigenous forms of expression and the promotion of indigenous people’s contemporary creations.
We must at the same time emphasize the role of indigenous individuals, particularly women and young people, in the transmission and safeguarding of knowledge linked to their cultural and natural heritage. As guarantors of cultural diversity and biodiversity, young indigenous people should be proud of their identity and their culture and retain their specificity while taking their rightful place in a globalized world.
Consequently, UNESCO must renew its efforts, particularly in its action on education for all, to introduce curricula that are culturally and linguistically adapted to indigenous history, values and traditions. Formal and informal education for local communities, combined with the proper use of means of information and communication, should bring about an increase in the transmission of knowledge between custodians of traditional knowledge, young people and the rest of the world.
Finally, I wish to pay special tribute to indigenous women. Subjected to twofold discrimination, both as women and indigenous people, they are often especially vulnerable to all kinds of injustice. Nonetheless, their role in the safeguarding of traditions, in particular through the transmission of the mother tongue, is crucial for the planet’s cultural and biological diversity.
I conclude by expressing the wish that 9 August 2005 and the second Decade may provide an opportunity for making progress in the recognition of indigenous peoples’ cultures and rights, since their contribution is more vital than ever for the survival and development of humanity.