What Is International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples?

7 min read
16/08/21 1:50 AM

Over 476 million Indigenous people live in 90 countries across the world today. They account for 6.2% of the global population and boast a massive diversity of unique cultures.

The UN established the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The purpose of this day is to honour the contributions of Indigenous nations. It is also meant to bring attention to the issues that they face today.

This article will cover the history of this celebration and how it is being observed in 2021. We will also go over the issues that Aboriginal Australians are facing today. In the end, we’ll cover what you can do to help and be a positive force for change.


The United Nations General Assembly pronounced the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in December of 1994. They decided to hold observance on the ninth of August every year.

They chose this date because it marked the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations. This sub-commission of the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights was first met in 1982.

The UN declared 1995-2004 to be the first International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. In 2004, they proclaimed 2005-2015 to be the Second International Decade. They declared the theme “A Decade for Action and Dignity.”

In 2022, the UN will establish the Third International Decade. The theme for this one will be the Decade of Indigenous Languages. It will last from 2022-2032.

This decade aims to conserve Indigenous languages. These languages preserve Indigenous cultures, visions, worldviews, and expressions of self-determination.

Indigenous languages make “up nearly one-third of the world’s seven thousand languages. It’s estimated that every two weeks, another Indigenous language dies.

Goals of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is observed on August ninth. The primary goal of this observance is to protect the rights of Indigenous people. This event exists to raise awareness about the issues that they face today.

The day also celebrates the contributions and achievements of Indigenous people. Those contributions include protection of the environment and endangered languages. The day also celebrates Indigenous art, music, and culture.

At the UN headquarters in New York, representatives meet to hear messages from Indigenous leaders. High-level UN officials and government representatives are also allowed to speak. There are panel discussions on emerging issues and performances by Indigenous artists.

Around the world, countries hold their own events to commemorate this day.

2021 Observance

The 2021 theme is Leaving No One Behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract. Many Indigenous peoples are self-governing and have established autonomy in varying forms.

This includes the right to the legal prosecution of people that commit crimes on their land. It also includes the right to regulate their land and resources. The right to refuse commercial development on their sacred land is also included.

But, many Indigenous peoples are still subject to the authority of central governments. These governments exercise control over their lands, territories, and resources. They continue to refuse to honour legal treaties signed with Indigenous groups.

This has forced Indigenous people to face off against militarized government forces. You can see this issue demonstrated in the recent fight to stop Line 3.

Line 3 is a proposed pipeline extension by Enbridge. This Canadian pipeline company is responsible for the largest inland oil spill in the US. The pipeline will run through the treaty territory of the Anishinaabe peoples.

Native activists are trying to prevent the building of this pipeline. They aim to protect their sacred land and prevent environmental damage.

In other recent events, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally affected Indigenous people. The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities. They include discrimination, financial insecurity, institutional discrimination, and high poverty rates.

The Call for A New Social Contract

These are just a few of the reasons that the UN decided to select the theme of calling for a new social contract. A social contract is an unwritten agreement that societies make. The goal is to cooperate for economic and social benefits.

In many countries, Indigenous people were forced from their lands. The colonizing population then established a social contract without their input. This lead to their marginalization and the denigration of their cultures and languages.

The United Nations has sought to address this. They adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. They have also established advisory bodies like the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Various governments and societies have also attempted to address the social contract. They have tried legislative and constitutional reforms, apologies, and truth and reconciliation efforts.

Unfortunately, many governing bodies have not gotten on board. Most are simply not doing enough.

This is why we must build a new social contract. It must be based on genuine participation and partnership. It must provide equal opportunities for all.

The new social contract must respect the rights, dignity, and freedoms of everyone.

The key to building this new social contract is allowing Indigenous people to take centre stage in the conversation. Both governments and individuals must actively listen and adjust their behaviour accordingly. This both includes daily interactions and lawmaking practices.

Indigenous Australians and Transgenerational Trauma

Indigenous people in Australia are the victims of transgenerational trauma. This is trauma that has been passed down through generations. It continues to impact people living today.

Muslim immigrants have long had ties to the Aboriginal communities of Australia. Those that intermarried and joined Indigenous peoples faced many of the same traumas.

The first generation of Aboriginal people after colonization were subjected to horrific treatment. Men and boys were killed, enslaved, and imprisoned. This deprived them of the ability to provide for their families.

Women were frequently raped and forced into prostitution. They became single mothers and had to raise children on their own.

The second generation of Indigenous Australians was sent to reserves and missions. Colonizers deprived them of work, sanitation, healthcare, housing, and education.

Indigenous people began to rely on alcohol and drugs to cope. They had to wrangle with their profound grief and loss of dignity.

The Australian government stole the third generation of Aboriginal children from their families. They placed them in non-indigenous care environments known as residential schools.

These residential schools subjected people to forced inferiority, abuse, and deprivation. Their goal was to kill Indigenous culture.

Indigenous groups in Canada have recently recovered hundreds of bodies at residential schools. Activists suspect that there are remains hidden at residential schools internationally. This is just the most recent evidence for the cruelty and horror of these institutions.

The Northern Territory Intervention

In 2007, the Australian government created more generational trauma. This happened when they launched the Northern Territory intervention.

The intervention stripped the rights of Indigenous Australians. The government removed the permit system for access to Aboriginal land. They also forced Indigenous children to be taught in a language they did not speak.

The government halted 50% of welfare payments and suspended the Racial Discrimination Act. They forced Aboriginal people to lease property to the government in return for basic services. They also subjected Indigenous children to mandatory health checks without parental consultation.

Australian Aboriginal Issues Today

The Northern Territory intervention was launched because of suspected widespread child abuse. Many of these accusations were later proven to be false.

Ultimately, the government used the intervention to steal Aboriginal land. It has resulted in the fourth generation of trauma. Indigenous people still have to deal with this today.

Aboriginal people are still fighting for Indigenous civil rights. Their communities face a wide swath of issues. Most are the result of the trauma they have experienced for hundreds of years.

Many communities lack medical and disability services. There are areas with no dental care available. Others have no medical centre at all.

Communities also face high unemployment rates and a lack of education. Educational services and school attendance have been on a decline for several years.

Indigenous land is also victim to decaying infrastructure. Problems with sewage and clean water provision persist. Aboriginal children will swim in sewage ponds because local pools are inoperable.

Children often deal with broken home situations as a result of transgenerational trauma. Experiencing that kind of trauma so early in life leads to high crime rates. It also leads to high rates of drug abuse and alcoholism.

Government programs are often ineffective at providing any real relief. This is because they were designed for Aboriginal people, not with them. The lack of coordination leads to wasted time, money, and frustration.

What You Can Do to Help

The best way to celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is by giving back to Aboriginal communities.

Research the tribe or people that originally lived in the land that you currently occupy. Discover their culture, language, and the issues that they are facing today.

If you are financially able, donate to the people whose land you are living on. Purchase clothing, art, and other pieces from Native artisans. If you have time, volunteer onsite at a mission or reservation.

If you have neither time nor money, that’s ok. Share educational articles with your friends and family. Post on social media and share how you are taking part in writing a new social contract.

Encourage the people in your life to do their own research about the trauma and problems that the Aboriginal people around you are dealing with. Make an effort to be a part of positive change, not just on August ninth, but every day.

Celebrating the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

The purpose of The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is twofold. Its purpose is to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions that Indigenous societies make to our world. It is also to draw attention to the manifold issues that Aboriginal communities face today.

You can be a part of establishing a new social contract that includes Indigenous people. All you have to do is start listening.

If you’re ready to be a force for positive change, check out some of our other Ummah Reads today. Together, we can work towards a brighter future for all people.