The centuries-old marginalization and vulnerabilities of the indigenous population continue to have serious consequences - Martine Perret and UNICEF Ecuador-Arcos
CAIRO – 9 August 2021: More than 476 million Indigenous individuals live in 90 countries, representing 6.2 percent of the world's population.
Indigenous peoples are endowed with a great diversity of unique cultures, traditions, languages and knowledge systems. They enjoy an exceptional relationship with their lands, and have diverse conceptions of development based on their worldviews and priorities.
Although many indigenous peoples in the world are self-governing and some have succeeded in establishing autonomy in various forms, many indigenous peoples are still under the final authority of central governments exercising control over their lands, territories and resources.
Despite this fact, indigenous peoples have shown exceptional examples of good governance, ranging from the Iroquois (the association of ancient American First Nations tribes united in the Great Lakes region) to the present-day Sami parliaments of Finland, Sweden and Norway.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many existing inequalities, affecting indigenous peoples around the world, even though they are already suffering from poverty, disease, discrimination, institutional turmoil or financial insecurity.
From the point of view of the indigenous population, the contradiction is even more pronounced. In many of their societies, the social contract needs, to say the least, some revision.
What is the social contract?
August 9 is designated the International Day of the Indigenous People, where societies must demand the inclusion, participation and consent of indigenous peoples within a constitutional framework that brings social and economic benefits to all.
The social contract is an unwritten agreement made by societies for cooperation between its components to achieve social and economic benefits for all. In many countries—where indigenous peoples have been expelled from their lands, their cultures and languages distorted, and their participation in political and economic activities marginalized—indigenous peoples were not even included in the existing social contract, and those social contracts developed between dominant social parties.
Over the past years and decades, different societies have sought to address this imbalance by several means, including offering apologies, making real efforts for societal reconciliation, and working to implement legislative and constitutional reforms.
At the international level, these efforts have included the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and advisory bodies such as the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Although there are international instruments to address these inequalities, not everyone has taken part in collective action to ensure that no one is left behind, including indigenous peoples. Therefore, there is a need to build and redesign a new social contract as an expression of cooperation for the social interest and the common good of humanity and nature.
The new social contract must be based on real participation and partnership that promote equal opportunities and respect the rights, dignity and freedoms of all. The right of indigenous peoples to participate in decision-making is an essential element in achieving reconciliation between indigenous peoples and states of the world.