Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples
9 August 2020
In sometimes tragic fashion, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to put a strain on the ways of life of indigenous peoples, who make up 6% of the world’s population. These communities are seeing their vulnerabilities exacerbated by the disease.
Indeed, indigenous peoples have been rendered more vulnerable by insufficient access to basic health services, exposure to socioeconomic marginalization, and all too frequent discrimination. Furthermore, the pandemic has forced them to refrain from engaging in practices, rituals and gatherings which are integral to their intangible heritage.
Yet indigenous peoples have a great deal to teach the world. For example, certain communities in the Philippines have historical experience with sanitary confinement and voluntary isolation, observing the practice of ubaya or tengaw. Similar knowledge-based traditions are found in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
然而，土著人民卻可以教給我們很多東西。例如，菲律賓的一些社區在防疫禁足和自願隔離（通過被稱為 ubaya 或 tengaw 的習俗）方面有着長期經驗。馬來西亞、泰國或印度尼西亞也有類似的傳統。
Indigenous peoples are also the guardians of our planet’s biological and cultural diversity. They teach humanity how to coexist harmoniously with all living things, and the nearly 4,000 languages they speak reflect just as many ways of seeing, thinking about and perceiving our environment.
In the light of the COVID-19 crisis, it is thus incumbent upon us to devote greater attention to indigenous communities. UNESCO has risen to the occasion, mobilizing to foster community resilience by providing relevant information through a dedicated e-newsletter developed by the Organization’s corresponding intersectoral working group.
To understand how the rights of indigenous peoples have been disproportionately affected, we also organized a special webinar, for which we drew on the expertise of our International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities (ICCAR).
Our organization knows that the urgency of this crisis behoves us to cast a wider net. In 2019, the United Nations put us in charge of coordinating the International Year of Indigenous Languages; throughout that year, more than 900 events were held. UNESCO is now overseeing the coordination of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, which begins in 2022.
The Decade provides a historic opportunity to take action to protect and raise awareness of indigenous heritage. More broadly, and in keeping with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it provides an opportunity to stand up for indigenous peoples’ rights.
One of these rights is critical: access to information. Very often, communities living in remote areas are left in the dark with regard to the pandemic. This is why UNESCO has proposed special resources, translated into several indigenous languages, on the subject. In addition, on 9 August this year, the Organization, in partnership with other United Nations agencies, is launching a communication campaign on social media to promote global awareness.
In the same spirit, we are continuing our fundamental efforts, encouraging linguistic diversity and multilingualism in schools and contributing to the safeguarding and preservation of indigenous intangible heritage.
On the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2020, UNESCO calls upon everyone to take up this universal cause: every day, indigenous peoples teach the world so much; it is the world’s turn to help indigenous peoples.