In 1992, world leaders expressed the need for full partnership between indigenous peoples and their communities, governments and, where appropriate, intergovernmental organizations. They also declared that national and international efforts to implement sustainable environmental development should recognize, accommodate, promote and strengthen the role of indigenous peoples and their communities.
Six years after the Rio Summit and three years into the United Nations International Decade for the World's Indigenous People, we must reflect on the progress made in strengthening international cooperation in finding solutions to problems faced by indigenous peoples in such areas as human rights, the environment, development, education and health.
From the beginning, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has recognized indigenous peoples as our allies; that most indigenous cultures are based on a profound respect for nature and that their consumption patterns and lifestyles are premised on the principle of sustainability - a principle best summed up in the adage, "Take no more than you need."
Throughout the years, UNEP has found common cause with indigenous peoples from the Arctic to the Amazon, from Australia to Argentina. Indigenous peoples have solutions to the many challenges facing the world, and there are numerous examples of the great contributions indigenous peoples have made to sustainable development: The Arctic peoples developed a comprehensive management plan based on centuries of oral traditions encoding time and space coordinators on population dynamics and subsistence use. The Mebengokre people have responsibly managed parts of the Brazilian Amazon Forest for centuries, and their practices are a model for sustainable forest management. The San of the Kalahari in southern Africa provide a model for sustainable living in a fragile environment.
As we enter the new millennium, the United Nations Environment Programme will redouble its efforts in assessing and monitoring environmental trends, and in providing information that will enable governments and civil society to make timely responses to environmental challenges. We invite indigenous peoples all over the world to join as partners in this venture.
In commemorating this International Day of the World's Indigenous People, we would do well to reflect on the words of Pat Dodson of Australia: "Land cannot be given or taken away. We belong to the land; our birth does not sever the cord of life which comes from the land. Our spirituality, our culture and our social life depend on it."
For more information:
Tore J. Brevik,
Director, Information and Public Affairs,
P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya,
Tel., 254-2-623292, Fax: 254-2-623927,
UNEP News Release 1998/82