The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is celebrated on August 9 each year since 1994 to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population. By resolution 49/214 of 23 December 1994, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People shall be observed on 9 August every year during the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People. The date marks the day of the first meeting, in 1982, of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

Indigenous people are people defined in international or national legislation as having a set of specific rights based on their historical ties to a particular territory, and their cultural or historical distinctiveness from other populations that are often politically dominant. Right now there are about 370 million indigenous people in the world, living across 90 countries. They make up less than 5% of the world’s population, but account for 15% of the poorest. At the same time, they speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures.

Despite the diversity of Indigenous peoples, it may be noted that they share common problems and issues in dealing with the prevailing, or invading, society. They are generally concerned that the cultures of Indigenous peoples are being lost and that indigenous peoples suffer both discrimination and pressure to assimilate into their surrounding societies. Indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge that is unique to a culture or society. Other names for it include: ‘local knowledge’, ‘folk knowledge’, ‘people’s knowledge’, ‘traditional wisdom’ or ‘traditional science’. This knowledge is passed from generation to generation, usually by word of mouth and cultural rituals, and has been the basis for agriculture, food preparation, health care, education, conservation and the wide range of other activities that sustain societies in many parts of the world. Indigenous people have a broad knowledge of how to live sustainably. However, formal education systems have disrupted the practical everyday life aspects of indigenous knowledge and ways of learning, replacing them with abstract knowledge and academic ways of learning. Today, there is a grave risk that much indigenous knowledge is being lost and, along with it, valuable knowledge about ways of living sustainably.

Nevertheless, in 2016 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is devoted to the right to education. This right is protected by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which in Article 14 states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.” Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous people and children in vulnerable situations.

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