“New Social Contract” for Indigenous Peoples

With almost 500 million indigenous peoples living in 90 countries across the globe and speaking nearly 7000 languages, a major percentage of the world’s cultural diversity exists in these populations. The commemoration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples acknowledges their rights, achievements, and contributions.

This occasion is observed around the world each year on August 9 to mark the first meeting of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations at the United Nations (UN) in 1982 in Geneva to draft the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The 2021 theme “Leaving no one behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract,” addresses the need to redesign the social contract for indigenous peoples to promote inclusion, participation, partnership, the freedom to self-govern, and approval in the constitution of a system with social and economic benefits for all based on their free, prior, and informed consent.

As the holders of vast traditions, cultures, and knowledge systems, indigenous people have unique concepts and views on human development, the environment, and governance. According to the United Nations, indigenous peoples have found harmonious approaches to self-governance, yet their autonomy is challenged by the ultimate authority of central governments that control their lands, territories, and resources. This day of international observance helps to raise awareness for the recognition of indigenous peoples and advocate for constitutional reform to prevent ill-treatment and protect their cultural traditions and way of life.

Historically, indigenous populations have experienced prejudice, marginalization, human rights violations and live in conditions of extreme poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these pre-existing inequalities and has disproportionately exposed them to illness, discrimination, institutional instability, or financial insecurity.

There are greater risks to the health and wellness of indigenous peoples. With an average life expectancy that is 20 years lower than non-indigenous people and a higher prevalence of major chronic diseases including diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and mental disorders, there is a need to enhance indigenous health competencies globally. Learn more about the determinants of health for indigenous populations and how we can move towards a more equitable future with improved healthcare access and outcomes for indigenous populations. Check out our Indigenous Health course for more information.