The United Nations established the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in 1994 to commemorate the first meeting of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, as part of their work on the promotion and protection of Human Rights.
The day is focused on protecting the rights of the World’s Indigenous population as well as recognising their cultures and the contributions they make to the global society, particularly on issues such as environmental protection.
It is estimated that there are 370 million Indigenous people in around 90 countries across the globe. Many still practice their unique customs and live culturally distinct lives from other citizens of their respective countries.
The day is marked with events around the world including a special forum at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
Dr Sandy O’Sullivan, the Director of the Centre for Collaborative First Nations’ Research points out that the Day provides an opportunity to share knowledge and empowerment across cultures.
"Collaboration and connection is the key to it all. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People are often amazed to hear about the capacity Tribal Nations have in the United States to charge a tax on goods and services sold on their Tribal land, or about the Sami Peoples’ Parliament and the University they formed in Norway."
"Hearing about what these other Communities are achieving, helps us expect and demand more for our Peoples and Communities, and grows the strength of Indigenous Peoples worldwide."
The theme for this year's International Day of World Indigenous Peoples is the Right to Education. Despite increased access, there are still significant gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students all over the world in terms of retention and graduation rates. These statistics often reflect the discrimination and marginalisation of Indigenous peoples.
The upcoming report on the State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Volume III, on Education illustrates some of these troubling figures.
In Australia, the participation of Indigenous 15-19 year-olds in higher education was 60 per cent in 2013, which was well below the 80 per cent participation for all Australians in the same age group. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 85 per cent of Indigenous children attend secondary education on average but only 40 per cent complete that level of schooling.
Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon has called on governments everywhere ‘... to improve access to education for Indigenous peoples and to reflect their experiences and culture in places of learning.”
"Let us commit to ensuring Indigenous peoples are not left behind as we pursue the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals.”
“Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.”
The right to education for Indigenous people is protected in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which in Article 14 states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.”
Professor Peter Buckskin, Dean of Indigenous Scholarship, Engagement and Research at the University of South Australia thought it was highly appropriate that the Day focused on education this year.
"I think that Australia has a long way to go to deliver on Article 14 and Goal 4 in terms of education, but we are heading in the right direction."
Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, Indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.