Statement On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Today, on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we celebrate the unique contributions and achievements of the world’s indigenous peoples and reaffirm our commitment to advancing their rights and supporting their struggles both at home and around the world.

Indigenous peoples live in over 90 countries and represent some 5,000 distinct cultures. Their contributions to the global community are incalculable.They are guardians of the world’s biological diversity and stewards of the world’s remaining intact ecosystems.Their farming techniques, food crops, medicines, art, music, spiritual knowledge, languages, and systems of governance enrich the world and help to create more just and sustainable societies.

Today, as we celebrate indigenous peoples, we must also acknowledge the oppression and discrimination that indigenous peoples around the world continue to face.Knowing the tragic history of the treatment of indigenous peoples in the United States, we must work with them to remedy injustices, strengthen their self-determination and protect their lands, territories, and resources.I call particular attention to the efforts of indigenous peoples in the United States to address the ongoing crisis of violence against indigenous women and girls, as well as to their struggles to protect sacred sites, including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, and in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

Today, we also acknowledge that indigenous peoples on virtually every continent face existential threats, as the world’s insatiable demand for arable land, water, timber, minerals, and energy encroaches further and further into their territories. These encroachments, sanctioned or ignored by governments, often violate international law, destroy indigenous people’s lives and livelihoods, and cause lasting harm to the natural environment. When indigenous leaders defend their people’s rights in relation to this onslaught, they are threatened, jailed, and even murdered.This is a crisis that urgently needs to be addressed by the international community.

Some years ago, I established the position of Advisor for Indigenous Peoples Issues at the U.S. Agency for International Development. The role of the Advisor is to ensure that the United States engages indigenous peoples as partners in development; and that our foreign assistance programs are designed with their meaningful participation and with their free, prior and informed consent.New programs developed by the office of the Advisor are working proactively and effectively to address the needs, protect the rights, and strengthen the institutions of indigenous peoples around the world.

With its new “Policy on Promoting the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” it is my hope that USAID will lead in the creation of a new development model that values the knowledge and contributions of indigenous peoples, and recognizes and respects their individual and collective rights as spelled out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.If we do not work in partnership with the world’s indigenous peoples it will be difficult, if not impossible, to address the environmental, social and economic challenges that humanity is facing.

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