Understanding Indigenous Peoples’ Day
There are an estimated 475 million Indigenous peoples currently living around the world. Indigenous peoples speak over 4,000 of the world’s languages, but over half of those are at the risk of becoming extinct. Although there isn’t a very large population of Indigenous peoples living in Europe, it’s still important to recognize and honor their cultural traditions and ways of life. For those interested in learning more about this holiday, here’s some information on understanding International Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
What is Indigenous Peoples’ Day?
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an international holiday that aims to commemorate the Indigenous people of the world. It’s held on August 9 each year and is meant to show respect to Indigenous lifestyles, traditions, cultures, languages, and more. It’s a way to bring awareness to social issues and oppression that many Indigenous people continue to suffer from. This year on August 9, 2022, the theme of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is “The Role of Indigenous Women in the Preservation and Transmission of Traditional Knowledge.”
When is Indigenous Peoples’ Day?
Throughout most of the world, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated on August 9. However, the actual date of Indigenous Peoples’ Day varies in a few countries. For example, in the United States, it’s observed on October 11. In Canada, residents celebrate it on June 21. The reason for this variation stems from country-specific differences. For example, October 11 is used in the U.S. in lieu of the previously celebrated Columbus Day—which was a historical moment in Indigenous culture and oppression. However, the official “International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples” recognized in Europe, Oceania, India, and many other parts of the globe is August 9. This marks the date of the inaugural session of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations that occurred in 1982.
The History Behind Indigenous Peoples’ Day
On August 9, 1982, the first meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous People was held. This prompted further discussions and led to stronger recognition of oppression and discrimination. Then, on December 23, 1994, International Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first recognized as an international event after the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed resolution 49/214. The UNGA also declared the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People from 1995 to 2005. The Second International Decade occurred from 2005 to 2015.
The committee that first recognized this day is headed by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. In their resolution, they announced that on this day, people from around the world should spread the UN’s message regarding the protection and promotion of the rights of Indigenous peoples. Each year, different goals are chosen to help strengthen international cooperation in an effort to solve problems faced by Indigenous people, especially in regard to human rights, environmental issues, lack of development and stability, poor education, and a disparity in healthcare and accessible medicines.
A few of the themes over the past few years were as follows:
2021: Leaving No One Behind: Indigenous Peoples and the Call for a New Social Contract
2020: COVID-19 and Indigenous Peoples’ Resilience
2019: Indigenous Languages
2018: Indigenous Peoples’ Migration and Movement
You can learn more about the history of themes and Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the United Nations’ website here.
Several countries have since ratified the ILO Convention 169, which recognizes the “Indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination within a nation-state, while setting standards for national governments regarding Indigenous peoples’ economic, socio-cultural and political rights, including the right to a land base.”[i] This marked a big step in human rights representation around the world and further supports celebrations held on August 9. While this was a moment of international progress, there’s still a long way to go. Even when countries ratify things like the ILO Convention 169, they will still need to be upheld and implemented by the respective government policies and commercial businesses within the jurisdiction.
Today, International Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated with events, parades, reenactments, and more. However, many Native people want the world to understand the real history behind their culture and lifestyle—not what they see in movies.
How to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day should be done so in a respectable manner that doesn’t contribute to systemic issues. Performing in “Indian hobbyism,” which involves dressing up or pretending to be involved in Native life in the past, is considered cultural appropriation and should be avoided. These types of events and behaviors further alienate Indigenous people and push stereotypes further into mainstream views. Although many people may have good intentions with costumes or their celebratory behaviors, Native hobbyism isn’t well construed. There are much better ways to honor these people and their rich cultural history.
Since there’s such a small population of Indigenous peoples in Europe, it’s important to respect their representation through more educational options that help grow awareness of their oppression and other struggles. This helps reduce the risk of oversimplifying their culture and using International Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a reason to merely dress up and hang out with friends.
Instead, consider celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day in a way that honors and respects this culture. Some options for this include the following:
Discover Their History
Learning about the history of Indigenous peoples around the world is a great way to break the stigma and honor their traditions. You can even see the history of their land across the world using this map from Native Land Digital. This is an Indigenous-led, not-for-profit organization that aims to create and foster conversations about the history of colonialism, Indigenous life, and more. Spend some time looking through their website and gaining a better understanding of their rich history throughout the years.
Make a Donation
There are several organizations created to support and amplify work being done by Indigenous peoples across the world. By making a donation this Indigenous Peoples’ Day, you can show your support and provide funding to help protect their way of life. Some options for organizations include Native American Rights Fund (NARF), Native Wellness Institute, First Nations COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, and Cultural Survival.
Attend an Event
There are several events that happen on Indigenous Peoples’ Day that don’t involve cultural appropriation. Try to attend one of these, either in-person or virtually, to gain a better understanding of their culture. Many events involve public speakers, traditional music, Indigenous-led performances, and more.
Another way to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day is to do a little research about one or more of their various languages. Indigenous language is central to the identity of Indigenous people around the world and the preservation of their culture. A great way to do this and make personal connections with Indigenous peoples is to download Tandem. Tandem is a language exchange app with over 18 million members around the world. We bring learners together to form a community where native languages can be exchanged, taught, and understood. Tandem offers various Indigenous languages, such as Quechua, Apachean, Cherokee, and more. If you’re ready to practice languages with a like-minded native speaker and learn more about their culture, sign up for Tandem today.
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