Thursday, 03 December 2020

UN in your language

Indigenous people

Individual vs. collective rights

norske samer Karin Beate NøsterudIndigenous peoples have become more visible in the last 50 years, largely due to efforts from within their own communities and organizations. However, it has not been easy for the international community to create legal instruments that would guarantee their autonomy, cultural integrity, protection of their special needs… in general to guarantee their rights. Indigenous peoples are the inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to other people and to the environment. Indigenous peoples have retained social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Despite their cultural differences, the various groups of indigenous peoples around the world share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples.


Greenland: Oil fortune to fund independence

Grönland Mats HolmströmGreenland, the world’s biggest island could become the first independent country of indigenous people in modern times, if the current search for oil in its territorial waters bears fruit.
Although the Scottish company Cairn Energy did not find oil during drilling in Baffin Bay off the west coast of Greenland in late 2011, it is thought very likely that drilling off the north eastern coast this year will strike oil.
In a self-governing agreement with Denmark in 2009, the Greenlanders were recognized as a distinct people with the right to self-determination and given greater control over potential oil finds.
In practice the agreement can serve as a road map to independence if /when the 57,000 Greenlanders are self-sufficient but for now they are dependent on grants from the state budget of Denmark.
Greenland has been part of the Danish Kingdom for three hundred years but was granted limited sovereignty when home rule was established in 1979.


The Sami of Northern Europe – one people, four countries

Sámi UN Photo - John IsaacThere are over 370 million indigenous people in some 90 countries, living in all regions of the world. The Sami are the indigenous people living in the very north of Europe, in Sápmi, which stretches across the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula. They are a minority in today’s Finland, Russia, Sweden and Norway, but a majority in the innermost parts of Finnmark county in Norway and in the municipality of Utsjoki in Finland. However, although regarded as one people, there are several kinds of Sami based on their patterns of settlement and how they sustain themselves. Furthermore, their rights and general situation differ considerably depending on the nation state within which they live.


Indigenous Peoples in Canada

girl in native dress UN Photo - Evan SchneiderAlthough the term is gaining acceptance, the use of Indigenous Peoples in the Canadian context can be misleading, as it masks their quite intricate and heavily codified status in Canada. Indian collectively describes all the Indigenous Peoples in Canada that are not Inuit or Métis, and can be further divided into Status, Non-Status and Treaty Indians. Only Status Indians are recognized as Indians under the Indian Act and are entitled to specific rights and benefits under the law. To make matters even more complicated, in the Constitution Act of 1982, along with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, enshrined in the Constitution, Aboriginal Peoples is used to refer to Indians, Inuit and Métis.


3 Questions to Denise Zmekho Director of the film "Children of the Amazon"


  • Considering the diversity of indigenous peoples, an official definition of “indigenous” has not been adopted by any UN-system body. Instead the system has developed a modern understanding of this term based on the following:
    o Self- identification as indigenous peoples at the individual level and accepted by the community as their member.
    o Historical continuity with pre-colonial and/or pre-settler societies
    o Strong link to territories and surrounding natural resources
    o Distinct social, economic or political systems
    o Distinct language, culture and beliefs
    o Form non-dominant groups of society
    o Resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities.

  • It is estimated that there are more than 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide. Practicing unique traditions, they retain social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live.

  • Most indicators of well-being show that indigenous peoples suffer disproportionately compared to non-indigenous peoples. Poverty rates are significantly higher among indigenous peoples compared to other groups. While they constitute 5 per cent of the world's population, they are 15 per cent of the world's poor.

  • Of the some 7,000 languages today, it is estimated that more than 4,000 are spoken by indigenous peoples. Language specialists predict that up to 90 per cent of the world’s languages are likely to become extinct or threatened with extinction by the end of the century.