Message from the Director General

Celebrating the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples

Kathmandu, 9 August 2012

ICIMOD joins organizations and people from around the world to celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Our region is proud to claim a rich diversity in the culture and knowledge of indigenous peoples, from the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh in the east to the striking mountains of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan in the west. The indigenous peoples in the greater Himalayas, one of the most spectacular regions of the world, have deep attachments to their land, distinct cultures, spiritual practices, social relations, and languages. They have a strong connection to the environment, as their livelihoods and very survival depend on natural resources found in the region’s forests, rangelands, and agricultural and shifting cultivation lands. Despite their rich culture and knowledge, they are often among the poorest, most marginalized, and most vulnerable to impacts of change, including climate change, globalization, land grabbing, and resource exploitation.  

Custodians of biodiversity, ecosystem services, and rich cultural practices, and sustainable managers of the environment, indigenous peoples are often the best placed stakeholders to put conservation and development initiatives into practice. For instance, Article 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity commits parties to “respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and practices”. It also encourages equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of indigenous knowledge, innovations and practices.

Together with partners, ICIMOD assessed the impact of the First International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (1995–2004) in South and Southeast Asia, including five countries of the greater Himalayas: Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, and Nepal. The assessment showed that indigenous people had little awareness about the international decade; that their struggles and issues were inadequately covered in mainstream media; and that conventional development approaches were still not taking into account the specific needs, values, knowledge, and practices of indigenous people. The assessment concluded that efforts should be stepped up in the second international decade (2005–2014).

This year’s theme for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is ‘Indigenous Media: Empowering voices’, highlighting the need for indigenous people to use the media to challenge stereotypes, combat injustices, drive their own narrative, and set their own social, cultural and political agenda. This approach can, I believe, go a long way in addressing the shortcomings of the First International Decade identified by ICIMOD and its partners. There is also the need to sensitize media professionals on indigenous peoples’ issues and ways of life and to train indigenous women and men on techniques for influencing mainstream media. The latter entails not only strengthening the capacity of indigenous people to use emerging technologies and new tools such as social media and multimedia, but also supporting and spreading age-old forms of communication such as the art of storytelling.

There have been some positive developments. The number of organizations working on indigenous issues has grown, and many have created magazines and other information materials in the local languages. Community radio and drama are emerging as increasingly popular and effective ways of reaching far-flung indigenous communities. Many schools are providing education in indigenous languages and subject matters. Indigenous film festivals have become a fixture in the region, even if they are mostly limited to major cities.

ICIMOD, too, has worked to support the knowledge and development needs of indigenous peoples. We are working with partners to incorporate the concerns and needs of mountain peoples, including indigenous peoples, in the design of our joint initiatives such as the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP), AdaptHimal project, and REDD+ project. By assessing their overall vulnerability to all kinds of changes affecting them, we aim to contribute to improving their livelihoods and enhancing their resilience to deal with impacts of climate change and other changes. ICIMOD is committed to working with regional partners to address indigenous issues within our mandate to improve the wellbeing of women, men, and children in the greater Himalayas.

As we observe the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples today, let us also resolve to contribute in meaningful ways to the last years of the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (2005–2014) with the theme ‘A Decade for Action and Dignity’. As ICIMOD strives to improve the quality of the research and science it carries out, this also means placing the needs of mountain communities of the greater Himalayas, including indigenous peoples, at the heart of our mandate. We look forward to striving for a more inter-cultural world, where different ways of life are celebrated. 

With best wishes for a happy International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. 

David Molden