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Indigenous Peoples of the World United for Education

On 2016's Day of the World's Indigenous People, Education is the main theme

Indigenous Wayuu children in the village of Pessuapa, Colombia. UN Photo/Gill Fickling

As Experts call on the global community to take steps to improve the quality of education offered to indigenous people, UN Secretary General warns: “We will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if we fail to address the educational needs of indigenous peoples.”

On Tuesday, August 9th, the United Nations celebrated the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. In a briefing given to UN journalists, a panel of three experts on the topic of indigenous rights discussed the progress that has been made on behalf of granting indigenous peoples rights, but also looked forward on the still unsatisfactory nature of the educational opportunities offered the natives in many countries. This focus, which is in line with the theme of this year’s celebration, Indigenous People’s Right to Education, also correlates to this year’s recently adapted Sustainable Development Goals, as Goal #4 of the 2030 Agenda calls for “ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.”

One of the speakers on the panel was Dr. Octaviana Trujillo, a Yaqui native who grew up in a segregated school system. She experienced desegregation as she entered college, becoming the first Yaqui woman to attend Arizona State University. She went on to become a teacher, but continued her education to fight for education reform on behalf of indigenous children everywhere. In the briefing, she affirmed her belief that “We were not the problem. That we could learn, and that we could succeed. That we needed to work with teachers, and for teachers to learn how to better teach our children.” (Statement at 5:30, full statement here.

All three members of the panel discussed what they viewed as the predominant issues which block indigenous peoples from accessing quality education. One of the main grievances listed was a lack of bilingual teaching, as some do not know English. In his address to the Global community in honor of the day, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged this global shortcoming, and called on governments everywhere to “improve access to education for indigenous peoples and to reflect their experiences and culture in places of learning.” Additionally, the Secretary General warned that “We will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if we fail to address the educational needs of indigenous peoples.” He asked the Global Community to respect and adhere to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which adamantly states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.”

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