Importance of indigenous education highlighted in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Opening the discussion, a representative of the United Nations Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) observed that millions of children continued to be taught in languages they did not use or even understand.  She added that the participation of indigenous peoples in designing curricula was still limited, and education still fell short of eliminating prejudice and discrimination targeted at indigenous peoples.

The lack of indigenous education, emphasized a representative of indigenous youth, would continue to set indigenous youth apart from their own cultures. Stressing that education was the key to self-determination, she recommended that educational instruction take place in indigenous languages.

A representative of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido said Ainu children were at a much higher risk of dropping out of school due to the discrimination, which could be addressed by teaching Ainu culture and history in public schools to both Japanese and Ainu children.  At present, Ainu children were deprived of the opportunity to take pride in their indigenous background, which hindered their identification with the Ainu culture and history.

Other speakers highlighted the lack of adequate funding for indigenous youth, the difficulties experienced in adapting to western standards, and the high drop-out rate.  Greater attention must be paid to youth who were dropping out of school, they stressed, by offering culturally specific and language assistance.

Many recommended that indigenous languages be integrated into national curricula, and urged United Nations agencies to design materials sensitive to the cultural and educational needs of indigenous peoples.  They also stressed that multilingual education should occur at all educational levels, and that indigenous peoples be trained so that they could compete both nationally and internationally.

During the morning session on culture, speakers stressed the importance of preserving indigenous languages and sacred sites, as well as recognizing traditional lands and natural resources.  Lamenting the tragic disappearance of entire indigenous cultures, they urged governments to protect traditional languages in national constitutions, and encouraged UNESCO to set up programmes aimed at recovering indigenous culture.

Addressing those concerns, a representative of the Alaska Federation of Natives said her culture had fallen prey to government policies emphasizing English at the expense of indigenous languages.  Ignoring those languages had severed ties between indigenous youth and their ancestors, damaging the confidence of her people.

Similarly, a representative of the Asia Caucus said indigenous cultures were severely threatened in his region, which was perhaps the most culturally diverse in the world.  Not only was commercial tourism destroying cultural integrity, but mainstream education was distorting indigenous history.

UNESCO’s representative stressed that cultural diversity played a vital role in today’s globalized world, and that culture was an essential element of sustainable development.  His organization had decided that tangible heritage should be regulated by an international convention, and was currently preparing another instrument on cultural diversity

Efforts were already being made to halt illicit traffic in cultural artifacts, he added, through UNESCO’s 1997 Convention on the Return of Cultural Property, and some property had been returned.  Cambodia, for example, had recovered 70 objects that had been in the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

The representatives of Guatemala, Indonesia, Mexico, Canada and New Zealand also spoke this morning.

Other speakers addressing the Forum this morning were the representatives of the Organización de Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonia Colombiana, the Consejo Indio de Sudamerica, the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordination Committee (IPACC), the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, the Consejo Internacional de Tratados Indios (CITI), the Masai Women for Education and Economic Development, the Consultoria de los Pueblos Indígenas en el Norte de Mexico, the Committee on Indigenous Health, the Aldet Centre Saint Lucia, the Pacific Caucus, the Boarding School Caucus, the European Parliament, the Confederaciones Nacionalidades Indigenas del Ecuador (CONAIE), the World Festival, the Rapa Nui Parliament, and the Parliamento Indígena America.

Statements were also made this afternoon by the representatives of Sweden, Brazil, Myanmar, Belize (on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Bangladesh, Nepal and Mexico, as well as the Observer for the Holy See.

In addition, the representatives of the Pacific Caucus, the Navajo Nation, Inuit Youth International, the Canadian Teacher’s Federation and Education International, the Bangladesh Adivasi Forum, the former Indigenous fellows of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Asia-Pacific Indigenous Youth Network, the Organización de los Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonia Columbiana, the Asia Indigenous Caucus, the Consejo Internacional de Tratados Indios (CITI), St. Johns Mission and the Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordination Committee (IPACC), the Boarding School Caucus, the Global Teaching and Learning Project, Consejo Nacional Indio de Venezuela, Projecto de Desarollo Santiago-Prodessa-Plataforma MAYA, the Indigenous People’s Caucus on Sustainable Development, the Aldet Centre Saint Lucia, and the Regional Action Group for the Environment also spoke.

The Permanent Forum will meet again at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 22 May to discuss its future work.

For further information and individuals' statements please see the original press release on the UNPFII website

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Indigenous Education

We support the propagation of education that is developed in indigenous territories; rooted in the knowledge systems and practices of the ancestors; and helping communities address the challenges of today.

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