Photo credit: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Photo credit: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2023

EI Statement

published 8 August 2023 updated 21 March 2024

On 9 August, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Education International reaffirms the rights of Indigenous Peoples and youth to quality, culturally relevant education at all levels. The ability of Indigenous Peoples to control and implement their own education systems in Indigenous or traditional languages is an exercise of their right to self-determination. The perspectives of Indigenous youth are key and their participation and consultation on decisions related to them is more critical than ever.

For the last 30 years, Education International and its member organisations have been working to advance the rights of Indigenous Peoples at local, national, regional and global levels. In this time, we have seen significant movement at the international level, with the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as the creation of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Coolangatta Statement on Indigenous Rights in Education, and several Recommendations from the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

More recently, after nearly 20 years of collective actions and advocacy, on 26 October 2022, the Indigenous women's movement succeeded in getting the CEDAW to develop a specific recommendation, General Recommendation 39 on Indigenous women and girls. General Recommendation 39 promotes the voices of Indigenous women and girls as leaders both inside and outside their communities, addresses the different forms of intersectional discrimination frequently committed by State and non state actors, and guarantees explicit protections to Indigenous women and girls worldwide.

Despite these key advances, there remains a gap between what these instruments guarantee and how States implement these rights, particularly regarding the rights of Indigenous children and youth. Without sustained political will, funding, and meaningful engagement with Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Peoples continue to be marginalised socially, economically and politically across the world, impacting Indigenous youth particularly.

Structural discrimination and racism against Indigenous youth is embedded in constitutions, laws and policies, as well as government programmes, action and services. This is experienced in education most acutely. Brutal colonial histories and current neo colonial realities create varied challenges to the ability of Indigenous children and youth to fully enjoy their right to education. They often do not have enough qualified teachers to provide culturally relevant instruction and curriculum in Indigenous languages. These challenges vary depending on region and their individual situations, and may be compounded by intersecting vulnerabilities, including for girls, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and two-spirit children, children with disabilities and those in remote or nomadic settlements or urban settings [1].

At the same time, Indigenous human rights defenders, many of whom are children and youth, face arrests, harassment, and violence, especially when defending their sovereignty and rights to land, territories, and natural resources from the expansion of extractive industries and militarisation.

Despite these challenges, Indigenous youth are playing an active role in exercising their right to self-determination.

Indigenous youth have been changing this reality by leading and organising diverse activities to strengthen and promote their cultural identities, participating in assemblies, and sharing cultural spaces with Indigenous elders, and creating solidarity networks in the global climate action movement, peace building, and digital cooperation. Indigenous youth have been demonstrating how social media and online platforms can be harnessed to raise awareness, build solidarity, and mobilise a narrative shift.

Education International and its member organisations stand in solidarity with Indigenous youth and their communities in these endeavours.

As the right to education is fundamental to the exercise of many other rights, Education International and its member organisations call on governments to:

  • Prioritise the full participation of Indigenous communities in formulating, defining, and implementing quality education, especially in the recruitment and training of teachers.
  • Ratify and implement the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 169, key human rights treaties, and national corresponding legislation and incorporate those instruments into national implementation plans, with the participation of, and in consultation with, Indigenous Peoples, including children and youth.
  • Go Public and Fund Education at all levels to strengthen the delivery of quality, culturally relevant education to Indigenous Peoples including in their traditional languages.
  • Establish and fund national mechanisms to implement the International Decade of Indigenous Languages(2022–2032), including through the provision of educational materials in Indigenous languages, in partnership with Indigenous Peoples.

To explore the ways education unions and Indigenous education experts, activists, and teachers are working to ensure quality education that centres Indigenous youth and furthering the rights of Indigenous Peoples in and through education, Education International will feature a blog series that brings together the voices of Indigenous Peoples and their allies from across the world this month.