Published August 9, 2016
NEW YORK — This year, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (9 August) is devoted to indigenous peoples’ right to education, given the persistent gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous students in terms of access to education, school retention and graduation rates in all regions of the world.
“On this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, I call on Governments everywhere … to improve access to education for indigenous peoples and to reflect their experiences and culture in places of learning,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, adding, “Let us commit to ensuring indigenous peoples are not left behind as we pursue the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals.”
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is commemorated annually on 9 August, in recognition of the first meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, held in Geneva in 1982. The International Day was first proclaimed by the General Assembly in December 1994.
A special event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on Tuesday, 9 August, will include three indigenous experts on indigenous education: Karla Jessen Williamson, an Inuit from Greenland, currently teaching at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada; Octaviana Trujillo, a member of Arizona’s Pascua Yaqui Tribe, teaching at Northern Arizona University in the United States; and Juan de Dios Simón Sotz, a Maya Kaqchikel, Director General of School Education at the Ministry of Education in Guatemala.
The discussion, to be moderated by Álvaro Pop, the Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, will focus on the major challenges indigenous peoples face in accessing education, in particular education that is culturally and linguistically appropriate and which is not viewed as a means of assimilation.
According to the upcoming report on the State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Volume III, on Education, in Nunavut, the northernmost territory in Canada, Inuit high-school graduation rates are well below average, and only 40 per cent of all school-age indigenous children are attending school full time. In Australia, participation of indigenous 15-19 year-olds in higher education was 60 per cent in 2013, well below the 80 per cent participation for all Australians in the same age group. In Latin America and the Caribbean, on average, 85 per cent of indigenous children attend secondary education, but only 40 per cent complete that level of education.
The right of indigenous peoples to education is protected by Article 14 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which, among other things, 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.” Further, the UN Declaration provides the right for indigenous peoples to all levels of education within the State without discrimination.