Indigenous Youth Step up to
Protect Their Roots
Condensed by Native Village
Indigenous youth from some of the world's oldest living cultures are
stepping forward. Their mission:
peoples live in communities around the world. Some live in urban
settings, some on reservations and others straddle both worlds.
They face the same
urgent problems as other minorities - poverty, lack of education,
unemployment, crime rates and lack of access to public services and
But indigenous people
also face unique issues: forced separation from homelands,
loss of native languages, histories of injustice, social
exclusion and violence. Today, they've become an marginalized
In the year 2000, the
United Nations created
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). The Forum
members are experts nominated by governments and indigenous civil
society. These experts discuss critical issues and recommend actions
to the U.N. system.
This year, UNPFII is
highlighting the role of indigenous youth as community leaders. In
January, indigenous youth from seven world regions gathered to share
their insights with Forum members and experts from related
Language, education and awareness
All 7 youth
representatives expressed dismay over the rapid disappearance of
indigenous languages -- and with good reason. UNESCO estimates that
every 2 weeks, 1 language disappears from the world. Languages
are vital to cultural unity,
have played a large part in the disappearance of indigenous
languages. Many severely punished and shamed children for speaking
their native language or showing indigenous identity in any way.
Andrea Landry, youth
representative for North America, is from an
Anishinaabe tribe in Canada.
Her tribe's last fluent speaker is 80 years old. The elder has still
not overcome the shame instilled in her as a child for speaking her
own language. That makes it difficult for her to pass down her
knowledge to younger generations.
others said that, ideally, the state
should provide bilingual education for indigenous youth in schools.
They realize, however, the amount of regional languages makes this
language programs funded by organizations was another youth
awareness and misrepresentation
Youth Reps expressed concern about the lack of
awareness and misrepresentation of indigenous
peoples' histories, cultures and struggles today.
They want education systems to teach history and
diversity more thoroughly and accurately.
Landry was studying for her master's degree in
communications and social justice, she was
astonished by the lack of materials on indigenous
issues. Andrea tries filling the gaps with
supplementary materials but argues, "I shouldn't be
the one teaching these things."
Steven Brown was a
youth representative from Australia's
Australia's Bundjalung and
Yuin Nation. He raised concerns about growing negative
stereotypes instead of real understanding about indigenous peoples.
Brown has experienced the way Indigenous youth internalize
stereotypes, such as being poor and undereducated.
All the youth
agreed that that success is not only
for non-indigenous people. Achieving success, Brown said, "does not
mean I forget where I've come from".
Rights to access
In some communities,
most people speak only the native language. That causes another
problem: access to important information such as health care,
employment opportunities, legal rights and public services.
Matuna is from the
Batwa hunger and gather tribe in Uganda. . He described how his
tribe lacks information about medication and it proper usage in
their language. Patients took medicines with no directions, and
medical problems often ensued. Now the tribe mistrusts medicine from
outside their community.
this improper use -- and poor quality
-- of antibiotics have enabled bacterial diseases to develop a
resistance to the medications. This has become a major issue in
poverty-stricken countries. It's easily curbed by improving
access to information.
barriers prevent citizens from accessing essential
rights and perpetuate the marginalisation, actions
and governments must work together to eliminate
representative, Meenakshi Munda of the
Munda community in
India, said she doesn't want her people to rely on government or
international support. The believes her community needs resources
to become self-sufficient.
Munda Tribe, India
youth agree that the world has much to learn from
indigenous ways of life because, despite their great
diversity, indigenous peoples share central ideas
absent in most modern cultures.
may struggle to understand the importance of
protecting indigenous cultures as the ancestors of
modern civilisation. But as Matuna pointed out,
quoting an African proverb, "A river which forgets
its source, dries soon."
They are confident
this learning process can -- and should -- be an exchange between
equals. It should not require the subjugation of a people or the
elimination of its culture or history.
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