Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Celebrating the International Day of the World's Indigenous People

Since 1995 the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) has sponsored the International Day of the World's Indigenous People each year on August 9.  Created by the General Assembly in December of 1994, the observation was meant to highlight the perilous conditions of minority indigenous populations around the world. Like many of these specialized International Days, it seldom gets attention outside indigenous communities and their most ardent supporters.  

There are currently more than 370 million indigenous people in some 70 countries worldwide, according to the U.N.

The first observation kicked off an International Decade of the World's Indigenous People from 1995-2004.  In 2005 the commitment was renewed with the Second International Decade with the theme A Decade for Action and Dignity.
Each year has its own theme.  This year the hot topic of cultural appropriation will be highlighted in programming with the theme Indigenous Designs: Celebrating Stories and Cultures, Crafting Our Own Future
As usual the day will be marked at the United Nations with a special program.  Unfortunately the public is not invited and the press will undoubtedly ignore it.  The program will feature the usual round of brief speeches by UN dignitaries, a panel discussion, and the screening of an Indonesian film, Kalimantan's Craft; Harmony of Culture and Nature, by Gekko Studios.  

The film “tells the story of the Crafts Kalimantan Network, formed…to encourage and promote sustainably-produced community-based handicrafts made by the Dayak people. The Network sought to provide an alternative source of income to more destructive economic ventures, and one that would also promote the cultural and ecological heritage of the indigenous people of Kalimantan. The Network launched the Borneo Chic brand in 2010, consisting of a collection of woven modern/heritage handbags, which has so far been very well received.”  Too bad you won’t be able to see it unless it is someday run on an obscure cable channel unavailable to most households.

Similar craft promoting programs now provide income to many indigenous communities who sell their wares in the U.S. at Fair Trade Gift Fairs and other venues.

Meanwhile Native American communities in the United States, already among the most poverty stricken in the country, are under even heavier pressure as the general economic collapse erodes what markets they do have, impacts tourism which is an important source of income for many, and reduces every level of government “safety net” assistance. 

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