Every day is our day | Myrna Cunningham
09 Aug 2017
When 9 August approaches, as an indigenous woman, I tend to ask myself, what does it mean for there to be an International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on the calendar? If 9 August is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, then what are all the other days?
As with many of these celebrations, those of us who belong to the peoples, groups or sectors referred to by these days cannot help but ask this question, whether it is 8 March (International Women’s Day), 1 May (Workers’ Day), or many others.
But for indigenous women, every day is our day, because our status as women and as indigenous is permanent. For the men and women of indigenous communities, every day is our day.
9 August is a day about us, but it is particularly relevant for those who still do not see us or do not want to see us, and who refuse to consider us as peoples with all the rights and potential to build a better, just and sustainable world. It is a date to make visible the different realities, histories and struggles of over 370 million men and women from some 5,000 indigenous peoples in the world.
9 August 1982 was the day the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, originally the United Nations Sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, first met. It was the first time the United Nations endorsed the struggles of indigenous peoples to overcome discrimination and inequality.
Therefore, the General Assembly Resolution that establishes the 9 August commemoration each year includes clear guidance to States to recognize indigenous peoples and their human rights, and to create specific bodies to take action in this regard.
In the December 1994 Resolution, the General Assembly calls on the Human Rights Commission to move forward with the adoption of a draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and requests that recommendations be made for the establishment of a Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples in the United Nations.
Although it took longer than desired, we now have both instruments, in addition to other standards, tools, mechanisms and institutional spaces in which the United Nations System is mandated to address the situation of indigenous peoples in the world. However, States are far from having fulfilled their commitments.
There is still a long way to go in making progress to promote non-discrimination and the inclusion of indigenous peoples in the development, implementation and evaluation of international, regional and particularly national processes related to legislation, policies, resources, programmes and projects.
Each year, 9 August is a time for States, governments and international agencies to analyze what they have done, what they are doing and what they propose to do so that the declarations and commitments become concrete actions in favour of the rights of indigenous peoples, especially now as we commemorate the tenth anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Thus, 9 August is a date to remember and to renew this commitment.
The word “remember” comes from the Latin rememorari, ‘call to mind’ and memor, mindful. Remember those who have given everything - including their lives - for the rights of our peoples: their struggles, their achievements, and, above all, their teachings.
This is a day to renew the personal and collective, constant and unswerving commitment to building a better world, for the men and women of indigenous peoples and for all the people who inhabit the planet, our only Mother Earth.
If each 9 August we can make our existence and our dreams visible, reflect on what is missing to realize our recognized rights, remember our brothers and sisters who for centuries have fought for those same dreams and rights, and if we reaffirm our convictions and pathways to action, then this day will not be just a date on the calendar of commemorations.
It will not be just another day—it will be an important day for the cause of indigenous peoples in the world.