There are approximately 476 million Indigenous people around the world, who are spread across more than 90 countries and who speak more than 4,000 languages. This great diversity is rarely celebrated — and has even become the target of discrimination and violence. As a result, even though they only represent about 6% of the world’s population, Indigenous peoples make up 15% of the world’s extreme poor.
In order to advance the rights of Indigenous peoples, the United Nations decided in 1994 to name Aug. 9 as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This date marks the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations back in 1982. For this year, the theme is resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the pandemic has affected people around the world, Indigenous communities are among those most vulnerable to its threats because of widespread poverty and lack of access to clean water, sanitation, and medical services, according to the UN.
In celebration of this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, here are five ways you can take action and support Indigenous communities around the world.
1. Get informed.
The first step to becoming an ally is to educate yourself on the identities and experiences of those you are seeking to support. One way you can do this in the US is by checking out Reclaiming Native Truth, a project that aims to dispel myths and misconceptions about Native Americans.
"Learn more about Indigenous groups and individuals in your community," Raymond Foxworth, First Nations Development Institute's vice president of grantmaking, development, and communications, told Global Citizen over email. "Talk about myths and misconceptions, and take the opportunity to start the conversation. Take active steps to counter discrimination, invisibility, and the dominant narratives that limit Native opportunity, access to justice, health, and determination."
2. Promote Indigenous groups and businesses.
By supporting Indigenous-led work, you can contribute to economic development and independence "in ways that best align with their cultural values and identities," Foxworth said.
Here are ten Native-owned brands from which you can shop for your next gift.
3. Invest in Indigenous youth.
The education gap between Indigenous peoples and the rest of the population remains large worldwide, and now with the pandemic forcing schools to shut down, more children are at risk of being denied an education. You can support the future of Indigenous youth by contributing to organizations like the International Indigenous Youth Council, which provides educational and skills-based training programs for kids.
4. Protect Indigenous lands.
Since the pandemic began, there have been reports around the world of increased deforestation in areas where Indigenous people live. Illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and in Cambodia’s protected Prey Lang Forest has been rising — both are habitats that Indigenous communities live in and depend on for survival.
But this isn’t a new issue.
"Indigenous peoples in the US and beyond continue to be among the poorest of the poor and continue to fight for their inherent rights to control their lands and natural resources," Foxworth said.
You can support the protection of Indigenous lands by getting involved with Survival International, an organization that has been stopping loggers, miners, and oil companies from encroaching on Indigenous peoples' homes since 1969. You can also support politicians at all levels of government who vow to advance Indigenous causes.
5. Participate in the UN's panel discussion.
To celebrate this year’s theme of resilience, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is hosting a virtual event that is open to the public. This is a perfect chance to learn more about the ways Indigenous peoples have shown strength in the face of the pandemic, and to gain appreciation for the power of their traditional knowledge and practices.
The event will take place on Aug. 10, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET, and will feature an interactive panel that brings together Indigenous organizations, UN agencies, and relevant stakeholders.