A Day to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples around the World

Kayapó woman in Brazil. Indigenous knowledge offers unique solutions that can help the world fight climate change and preserve biodiversity. (Photo: © Cristina Mittermeier)

Today is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People — a day created by the United Nations to further the “strengthening of international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous people in such areas as culture, education, health, human rights, the environment, and social and economic development.”

Indigenous peoples number about 370 million in some 70 countries and are spread across the globe, from the Pacific Islands to the heart of the Amazon and the Congo Basin to the Arctic region. They live in and depend on unique ecosystems and have their own socioeconomic and political structures distinct from Western society. On this global day of recognition, CI celebrates indigenous peoples — our partners around the world, including the Wai Wai, Kanak, Kayapó, Maya and San — and acknowledges the important role indigenous peoples play in conserving biodiversity for all of humanity.

Indigenous peoples are found in some of the most vulnerable yet species-rich regions on this planet. Over millennia, they have developed traditional knowledge that reflects their close relationships with their environment and ties them to their land and resources.

At the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, indigenous peoples demonstrated their ability to help address some of the world’s most important environmental threats by sharing their traditional knowledge and practices. While the Rio Declaration recognized the need for the participation of civil society in addressing environmental issues, it has been difficult for indigenous peoples to participate fully. In recent years however, more spaces have been opening for broader participation of indigenous peoples at the national and international policy level on issues and decisions that affect their rights, lands and well-being.

The 2007 adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was a historic moment for indigenous peoples. The declaration has helped to ensure indigenous rights within international negotiations such as the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Since the adoption of UNDRIP, many private sector and public institutions, NGOs and governments have created their own policies, process and laws to support its implementation. At the national level, UNDRIP has set the stage for new legislation in many countries.

At CI, we know that intercultural dialogue and continued support for and with indigenous peoples in environmental policy development is critical. By promoting, respecting and strengthening indigenous peoples’ rights to their own forms of territorial and resource management, we not only help support the well-being of these important cultures and their future generations, but also help to protect some of Earth’s most critical biodiversity. (Check out the video below to see this in practice in Abrolhos, Brazil.)

The growing threat of climate change is impacting people across the globe, but especially the lands and territories of indigenous peoples. Ironically, climate change has also provided opportunities to bring diverse types of knowledge together in the global effort to mitigate and adapt to climate change — incorporating indigenous knowledge on issues like shifting weather patterns, food production, wildlife migration and species loss. The traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples offers unique solutions that deserve recognition and should be incorporated into national level strategies addressing climate change.

CI’s Indigenous and Tradi­tional Peoples’ Program (ITPP) works to strengthen the capacities of indigenous and tra­ditional peoples and conservationists to ensure respect for indigenous rights within conservation action; strengthen cultural identities and livelihoods; and conserve biodiversity for ecosystem security. ITPP is also guiding CI’s development of a rights-based framework that integrates a human rights ap­proach into existing conservation policy and practice.

Taken together, these efforts strengthen the foundation for our collaborative work with indigenous peoples, which is a fundamental component of conservation success. We believe that the relationship between conservation NGOs and indigenous peoples is critical to addressing the global climate crisis and conserving our global biodiversity.

Kristen Walker Painemilla heads CI’s Social Policy and Practice Department. Johnson Cerda, Indigenous Quichua from Ecuador, oversees CI’s work with indigenous and traditional peoples.


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  2. Alex Gregory says

    I didn’t know about this day until now! It’s a great idea though, to spread awareness of how careless actions could affect these people. What specifically does CI’s ITPP program do to lend indigenous peoples a voice within local decision-making processes? How do larger companies be sure to communicate and cooperate with them?

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