Indigenous Peoples and the COVID-19 pandemic

04/08/2020

UNESCO Indigenous Peoples Bulletin, Issue 1, August 2020 | Subscribe

Foreword by Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO

It is my pleasure to present this foreword to UNESCO’s first bulletin on indigenous peoples, which has a particular focus on their resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. This bulletin showcases the important work carried out in recent months to prioritize indigenous issues – and the UNESCO Intersectoral Working Group on Indigenous Peoples Issues has played an essential role this year in supporting cultural diversity and human rights, in line with the longstanding missions of our Organization.

This action was born of a shared observation – the pandemic did not create inequalities, it exacerbated them and revealed existing divisions between social groups. In many places, indigenous populations are among the most marginal and precarious of all. This difficult reality was clearly illustrated by Pat Turner, the Chief Executive of the Australian National Aboriginal Community Council Health Organization, who stated: ‘I can’t be any blunter. If COVID-19 gets into our communities, we are gone.’

Yet, in the face of these difficulties, we all have much to learn from indigenous peoples and their experience in managing epidemics. Continue reading

Articles

Indigenous peoples and the COVID-19 pandemic: a Global Overview

Contagious diseases and indigenous peoples have a long and painful history.  The novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic have raised again the specific vulnerabilities and resilience required of indigenous peoples. From the Okavango Delta in Botswana to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, how are indigenous peoples being impacted on by the COVID-19 pandemic and how has UNESCO responded?

African Voices – UNESCO’s indigenous partners in Africa

COVID-19 affects everyone but it does not impact evenly on all populations. In this report from the ground, African indigenous leaders share with UNESCO their experiences of the onset of the global pandemic in their communities. They speak of the generosity, solidarity and responsiveness of their communities and organizations.

The view from Mexico

COVID-19 has had a strong impact in Mexico. UNESCO’s office in Mexico City has been engaging with indigenous peoples to support targeted actions to respond to the crisis and their particular needs.

Media and Communications with indigenous peoples

The pandemic highlighted the importance of swift, good communication, carrying accurate information in a format and language that would be meaningful for its users. For indigenous peoples, avoiding ‘fake news’ and having the tools to prepare and respond to the health crisis was challenging. UNESCO offices responded to improve access to reliable information and fight the infodemic.

Addressing learning challenges for indigenous peoples during COVID-19 pandemic

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO took initiatives to support Member States in their efforts to mitigate the immediate impact of school closures, particularly for vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. School closures widen learning inequalities and disproportionately impacted vulnerable children and youth, including indigenous peoples.

Amplify the voices of indigenous communities during crisis and beyond

The current health crisis has further highlighted the necessity for indigenous and community media in order to realize a more sustainable, resilient, and democratic future. The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an information crisis, where citizens have had difficulty finding accurate information, understanding complex data, and determining the validity of the news. In this climate, indigenous members of the society can be particularly vulnerable.

COVID-19 recovery and indigenous peoples

While the planet waits to see whether there is a distinct end point to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO is working with indigenous peoples to consider elements necessary for a recovery process. The pandemic crisis highlighted inequalities while also shining light on new opportunities and creativity.

Interview

As COVID-19 threatens Living Heritage around Lake Chad, women respond
An interview with Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim
English | Français | Español

 

See also: Video, Women's voices

Foreword by Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO

It is my pleasure to present this foreword to UNESCO’s first bulletin on indigenous peoples, which has a particular focus on their resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. This bulletin showcases the important work carried out in recent months to prioritize indigenous issues – and the UNESCO Intersectoral Working Group on Indigenous Peoples Issues has played an essential role this year in supporting cultural diversity and human rights, in line with the longstanding missions of our Organization.

This action was born of a shared observation – the pandemic did not create inequalities, it exacerbated them and revealed existing divisions between social groups. In many places, indigenous populations are among the most marginal and precarious of all. This difficult reality was clearly illustrated by Pat Turner, the Chief Executive of the Australian National Aboriginal Community Council Health Organization, who stated: ‘I can’t be any blunter. If COVID-19 gets into our communities, we are gone.’

Yet, in the face of these difficulties, we all have much to learn from indigenous peoples and their experience in managing epidemics. For instance, the Orang Rimba, an indigenous community living in the province of Jambi, Indonesia, have a longstanding tradition of enforcing social distancing measures. According to the practice of besesandingon[1], sick members of the community must isolate themselves to prevent the spread of illness.

During the current crisis, UNESCO took action in all areas of its mandate to support indigenous peoples. In the domain of education, our Organization launched the Global Education Coalition, aimed at supporting learners most at risk due to school closures. The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning similarly launched several initiatives, supported by the network of UNESCO Learning Cities, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the growing issues of racism, discrimination and exclusion faced by indigenous peoples, we also organized a webinar in order to promote universal rights.

In the long term, our Organization strives to preserve not just the health, but also the spirit and culture of these populations. To achieve this, it is vital to protect and promote indigenous languages. In 2019, it was estimated that forty per cent of the world’s languages were in danger of extinction, the majority indigenous languages.

In this context, our Organization is proud to be leading the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032), building upon the successes and lessons learned during the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages. I was delighted to be in Mexico this year to participate in the closing event for this International Year, which led to the publication of the Los Pinos Declaration that presents the Global Action Plan of the International Decade.

By exploring the links in this electronic bulletin, you can travel across the globe to see how resilience is being built worldwide on the foundations of education, culture, science and communication – by, with and for indigenous people.

This fight for the longevity and survival of indigenous peoples, in a period of crisis and beyond, does not stand alone. It is a universal fight to defend fundamental human rights for all.  Indigenous peoples represent both a rich cultural past and present, anchored in traditions, natural heritage and shared knowledge, and also a glimmer of hope for building a sustainable and peaceful future.

 

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Image credits:
Header: Graphic elements © DEL HAMBRE.
Photo credits (in order of appearance): © Venuca Evanan, Violeta Quispe y Gaudencia Yupari, © UNESCO, © Venuca Evanan, Violeta Quispe y Gaudencia Yupari, © AFPAT, © UNESCO Office in Mexico, © COICA-OPS, © Shuttertock.com, © UNESCO Mexico Office, © Shutterstock.com, © Salma Khalil, © UNESCO, © Shutterstock.com, © DEL HAMBRE, © Shutterstock.com