Native Village 
Youth and Education News

March 1, 2013

Indigenous Youth Step up to Protect Their Roots
http://wagingnonviolence.org/
Condensed by Native Village

United Nations: Indigenous youth from some of the world's oldest living cultures are stepping forward. Their mission: 

To steer their communities past the threat of disappearance while coexisting with a globalized world.

370,000 indigenous 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 resources.

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 peoples. 

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 organizations.

Language, education and awareness


Anishinaabe Nation

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,

Education systems 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.

Landry and 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 feat challenging.

Community-based language programs funded by organizations was another youth suggestion.
 

lack of awareness and misrepresentation


Bundjalung Jugun Nation in Australia

UNPFII 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.

When 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.


Batwa tribe in Uganda

Niwamanya Rodgers 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.

In addition, 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.

When language barriers prevent citizens from accessing essential rights and perpetuate the marginalisation, actions and governments must work together to eliminate these barriers.

Asia's youth 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

Finding a balance

The 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.

Some 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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Native Village Gina Boltz
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