IWGIA calls for global solidarity for Indigenous Peoples in these times of crisis
On this day, 9 August 2020 – the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples – IWGIA re-affirms its commitment to promote, protect and defend the rights of Indigenous Peoples at a time when the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the rise of populist leaders and a shrinking civil space for human rights, are posing tremendous threats to their lives, lands and traditions.
“Indigenous Peoples have continuously and consistently shown that they manage their lands, territories and natural resources sustainably and that their knowledge of biodiversity and the environment is crucial for the world community. Their contribution to climate actions for example has increasingly been recognised and requested by the world community,” Kathrin Wessendorf, IWGIA Executive Director said. “Therefore, it is crucial that Indigenous Peoples’ rights are respected and they can protect their lives, especially in these dangerous times where we are witnessing an escalation of attacks and violence against Indigenous Peoples.”
As the pandemic spreads across the globe, today, the Americas are the hardest hit continents – accounting for just above half of all confirmed cases – and Brazil is the country with the second highest number of cases posing a real threat to the Indigenous Peoples living in the Amazon. But Indigenous Peoples everywhere are being affected daily by the ever-present virus. And in many countries, they have to additionally cope with threats to their lands and livelihoods. Just in July, we have heard about evictions of Ogiek families in the Mau forest in Kenya where their houses were burned and their leaders and activists were threatened, arrested or even killed.
Around the globe, Indigenous Peoples, and particularly Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defenders, are being attacked under the guise of protection measures enacted as a response to COVID-19, which can be seen in countries such as Myanmar and the Philippines where government and military actions are targeting Indigenous people.
Despite these disproportionate challenges, today, we want to celebrate the resilience and strength Indigenous Peoples have continued to demonstrate throughout this pandemic, as they have throughout their ongoing struggle to hold on to their identities, traditions, lands and lives.
“Indigenous peoples have for generations been able to adapt to changes in their environment and have shown strength and resilience in surviving many challenges. Today, Indigenous Peoples once again employ methods to cope with the current pandemic and are, where possible, relying on their knowledge and livelihood skills in order to isolate and protect themselves,” Wessendorf said.
Indigenous Peoples worldwide have mobilised their traditional knowledge and deep understanding of their land to protect their communities and are responding to the pandemic using self-determined, customary protection mechanisms, such as taking advanced measures to seal off their villages – as the Karen in Thailand have done – or to retreat further into more remote areas to avoid contact.
They are also proactively rising to the challenge to meet the critical need for information with radio/podcast communications disseminating COVID-19 information to their communities as well as precautionary measures in Indigenous languages, such as throughout the Amazon. Furthermore, Indigenous communities have shown strong solidarity and have actively engaged in relief support to Indigenous brothers and sisters in need.
COVID-19 poses a grave threat in the best of times, with access to the best resources and health facilities available. The reality for Indigenous Peoples, however, is that they are facing chronic shortages in terms of medicines, health infrastructure, information in local languages and relevant support from states; and yet they continue to leverage and activate their unique knowledge to fight the pandemic.
We urge and remind authorities that Indigenous Peoples need to be fully included in the discussions, solutions and responses around the pandemic to ensure their knowledge and their needs are fully taken into consideration and adequate measures are pursued so they too can survive this global threat. They must also fully and effectively participate in discussions concerning the long-term recovery after the pandemic subsides.
What the pandemic has magnified is the daily reality for Indigenous Peoples and the constant struggle they fight against: namely that they are often left out of decision-making, their circumstances are not considered, their land rights are not respected, their access to health and other basic services are limited and information is not produced in their languages. Simply put, the pandemic is showing the world that Indigenous Peoples, despite all their actions and advocacy continue to be ignored or undermined.
On this day – which also celebrates the anniversary of the inaugural session of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations at the United Nations in 1982 – it is more important than ever to ensure that Indigenous Peoples rights are respected and recognised as the pandemic continues and that in our post-COVID-19 world, we build a future that ensures Indigenous Peoples are not left behind and that their contributions are embraced.
Photo by Pablo Lasansky