World’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated on August 9 every year since 1994. This day is celebrated to strengthen the international cooperation for solving problems faced by the indigenous peoples in areas such as culture, education, health, human rights, environment, social and economic development. The indigenous population across the world stays in close contact with nature and they share much on environmental protection. The day also recognizes the contributions made by them to protect the world’s environment.
Recently, a Civil Society Group demanded 25 groups of people in the state to be identified as indigenous peoples. One of the bases for the claim of being the indigenous peoples is for those group of people for whom there is no place to return. In India, indigenous peoples are also called scheduled tribe. However, all tribal peoples are not indigenous to the areas where they live now. But in my article, my main emphasis is on the indigenous peoples and the environment.
The indigenous peoples have a unique set of languages, traditions, cultures, and governing systems. They followed the ancestors systems for centuries that stood the test of time by serving them with positive outcomes as on today. Many indigenous people’s special bond and connection with nature have also led to the protection of the general environment.
The theme for 2022 is “The Role of Indigenous Women in the Preservation and Transmission of Traditional Knowledge and the call for a new social contract.” Indigenous women are the backbone of indigenous peoples’ communities and play a crucial role in ancestral knowledge banking. They have an integral collective and community role as careers of natural resources and keepers of scientific knowledge. Many indigenous women are also taking the lead in the defence of lands and territories and advocating for indigenous peoples’ collective rights worldwide.
Small but significant progress has been made by indigenous women in decision-making and stand at the frontlines for defending their lands, their cultures, and their communities.
The reality, however, remains that indigenous women are widely under-represented, disproportionately affected by decisions made on their behalf, and are too frequently the victims of multiple expressions of discrimination and violence. But the major issues encountered by indigenous women, particularly noting the high levels of poverty; low levels of education and illiteracy; limitations in access to health, basic sanitation, credit and employment; limited participation in political life; and the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence.
The places that indigenous peoples reside are home to around 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity and occupy 28 per cent of the global land area and make up 500 million which is less than five per cent of the world's population but account for 15 per cent of the poorest. World’s indigenous peoples estimated to speak 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures. The significance of indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge is widely acknowledged. Long before the development of modern science, indigenous peoples have developed their ways of knowing how to survive and of ideas about meanings, purposes and values.
The efforts of indigenous peoples to maintain their territories have been critically important in providing global environmental benefits. Given the inextricable bond of indigenous peoples to the land, any loss of natural resources threatens their identity and impoverishes their communities. Many indigenous peoples believe the natural world is sacred, consider themselves as one element of the natural world, and that it needs to keep intake for the future generations.
Many indigenous peoples are giving up their traditional lifestyle and taking up farming and cattle ranching in the forest areas causing irreparable damage. Such people, formerly the protectors of forests, are gradually becoming threats to the forests and wildlife.
Environmental health of present and future generations cannot be excluded when it comes to indigenous peoples issues. The problems of indigenous peoples include lack of knowledge, lack of capacity to deal with the issues, lack of expertise, lack of awareness for interventions to environmental degradation and lack of knowledge of relevant legislation.
Traditional uses of plant species and regular consumption of “wild” foods for indigenous peoples have significantly been affected due to the exposure to chemical and biological contaminants. This in turn has affected the traditional lifestyles and food habits of these peoples.
Indigenous peoples have an important role to play in realizing the ambitious goals in combating the climate change. Their traditional knowledge, which cuts across the numerous aspects of sustainability and resilience, has increasingly gained recognition at the international level as a vital way forward. These traditional knowledge systems, rooted in them is important in shaping a low-carbon economy, traditional occupations ranging from agriculture to hunting, with the transformations being experienced in societies, economies, institutions, technologies and the climate.
Indigenous peoples have high accuracy of the biophysical animate and inanimate of the human senses, as well as “spirits” which helps in forecasting weather patterns, including the plants and animals of their surroundings.
Thus, with the coming of World’s Indigenous Peoples Day, all nations should take up the major role of protecting the traditional rights and occupations of the indigenous peoples for the sake of mother earth and the future generations.
(The views expressed are personal)