The Right to be Cool: Celebrating International Day of the World's Indigenous People
The International Day of the World's Indigenous People is commemorated each year on 9 August in recognition of the first meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations in Geneva in 1982. The special day also recognizes indigenous peoples' contribution to environmental protection. This year's observance at the UN is being organized by the Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Department of Economic and Social Affairs; and the NGO Committee on the Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples.
The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) proudly joins with the rest of the UN family in celebrating this international day, and recognizes that indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to climate change.
"The Saami community in Scandinavia is well-known for having brought the issue of climate change and it's impact on their future livelihoods to the fora of the international community," said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.
In recognition of indigenous peoples' particular vulnerability to climate change and their important role in responding to it, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in its 2008 session will focus on "Climate change, bio-cultural diversity and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges".
Furthermore, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as adopted by the Human Rights Council in June 2006 and currently being considered for adoption by the General Assembly, also recognizes that respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable development, including proper management of the environment.
"The debate about rights and the debate about an equitable approach to sharing resources in societies will continue to accompany us in UNEP and in the development process for many years to come - hopefully with more positive outcomes than we have often seen in the past. Thus, celebrating the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples is something that matters to UNEP," said Mr. Steiner.
In caring for the environment, UNEP has long considered indigenous peoples as important stakeholders and actively seeks to cooperate closely with indigenous peoples in the pursuance of its mission of 'environment for development'.
For example, indigenous peoples use their traditional knowledge to lessen the impact of natural disasters.
UNEP has recently launched the Indigenous Knowledge in Africa (IK) web site, a web-enabled database containing information on indigenous practices in Africa. The data presented on the website is centered on four African countries where research was carried out, namely; Kenya, Tanzania, Swaziland and South Africa. The research brings out four themes ? Nature Conservation, Natural Disaster Management, Poverty Alleviation and Traditional Medical Practices ? under which various indigenous practices fall. The overall theme however, is the sustainable use of natural resources. This website aims to cultivate interest in indigenous practices the world over. It also aims to engage and encourage governments, civil society, policy makers and the private sector to incorporate this vast repertoire of knowledge into development projects and policies in a bid to save our environment.