eBook | “Indigenous cultures and knowledge systems at risk”: Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032 – United Nations

The United Nations General Assembly designates a number of “International Days” to mark important aspects of human life and history | Official list >>
International Day of the World’s Indigenous People (9 August) >>

Indigenous languages are connected to nature. With the ability, for instance, to recognise over a thousand plants and know the medicinal uses of each one, the level of nature knowledge is far beyond what most major world languages have. This comes from the fact that these languages are perfectly adapted to the environmental niche they are located in. They have taxonomies, or the science of naming, classifying and analysing organisms. Thus indigenous communities can name hundreds of plant, animal and fish species – they also have very precise ways of telling time and tracking astronomical events, without needing clocks or calendars.

Source: Lexicographer David Harrison interviewed by Srijana Mitra Das in “Indigenous languages have wisdom that can save us from climate crisis”, Times of India, 23 January 2021
URL: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/indigenous-languages-have-wisdom-that-can-save-us-from-climate-crisis/articleshow/80411082.cms
Date Visited: 26 July 2022

1. Language is one of the fundamental preconditions to human development, dialogue, reconciliation, tolerance, cultural and linguistic diversity, and the peaceful existence of human society. People need language to communicate with one another and also transmit from generation to generation knowledge, ideas, beliefs and traditions, which are essential for their recognition, well-being, evolution and peaceful coexistence.

2. Despite their immense value, languages around the world continue to disappear at alarming rates. This is a cause for serious concern. According to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, no less than 40 per cent of the estimated 6,700 languages spoken in 2016 were in danger of disappearing. The fact that many of those are indigenous languages places at risk the indigenous cultures and knowledge systems to which those languages belong. Because many speakers of indigenous languages also use one or more other languages, there is a heightened risk that the indigenous languages disappear, since they become dispensable.

3. The reasons for the endangerment of languages vary across different communities and locations, but all indigenous peoples face tremendous challenges such as assimilation, enforced relocation, educational disadvantage, illiteracy, migration and other manifestations of discrimination that may eventually lead to the weakening of a culture or language almost to the point of disappearance. In practical terms, the risk is that parents and elders can no longer transmit indigenous languages to their children and that indigenous languages fall out of daily use.

4. In 2007, in its resolution 61/295, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In so doing, the Assembly established a comprehensive framework of minimum standards for economic, social and cultural well-being and rights for the world’s indigenous peoples, recognized the rights of indigenous peoples to revitalize, use, protect, preserve and transmit their histories, languages and oral traditions to future generations, and granted indigenous peoples the right to establish media and educational systems in their own languages. […]

67. By addressing the needs of users of indigenous languages and offering an adequate response to the challenges indigenous people face in maintaining and transmitting their languages from one generation to another, the global community acknowledges the wider and special significance of all indigenous languages and their role in and relevance to peacebuilding, good governance, sustainable development and reconciliation within our societies.

69. The findings will serve as input to the preparations of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022–2032).

Source: “Summary report on the International Year of Indigenous Languages, 2019”, United Nations, Economic and Social Council, 14 February 2020
URL: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N20/040/59/PDF/N2004059.pdf?OpenElement
Date Visited: 28 July 2022

At least 40% of the 7,000 languages used worldwide are at some level of endangerment. Indigenous languages are particularly vulnerable because many of them are not taught at school or used in the public sphere. Next year, we will start another important milestone to advocate for indigenous cultures: the Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022 – 2032).

Source: International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples
9 August
URL: https://www.un.org/en/observances/indigenous-day
Date Visited: 3 January 2022

Upcoming Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022 – 2032) to focus on Indigenous language users’ human rights | Initiatives >>

Read or download the eBook titled “Los Pinos Declaration” (PDF, 1,2 MB): los_pinos_declaration_170720_en.pdf >>

Centrality of indigenous peoples – ‘Nothing for us without us’, according to the principle of self-determination; the right to use, develop, revitalize, and transmit languages orally and in written forms to future generations which reflect the insights and values of indigenous peoples, their identities and traditional knowledge systems and cultures; the equal treatment of indigenous languages with respect to other languages; and the effective and inclusive participation of indigenous peoples in consultation, planning and implementation of processes based on their free, prior and informed consent right from the start of any development initiative as well as the recognition of the specific barriers and challenges faced by indigenous women, whose identity, cultural traditions and forms of social organization enhance and strengthen the communities in which they live.

Source: “Los Pinos Declaration [Chapoltepek] – Making a Decade of Action for Indigenous Languages”: Outcome document of the High-level event ‘Making a Decade of Action for Indigenous Languages’ on the occasion of the closing of the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages
27-28 February 2020 Mexico City, Mexico
9 August
URL: https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/los_pinos_declaration_170720_en.pdf
Date Visited: 3 January 2022

Table of the number of endangered languages with the states that they are spoken in according to India Today | Learn more >>

Indian states No. of languages Endangered Languages
Andaman and Nicobar Islands 11 Great Andamanese, Jarawa, Lamongse, Luro, Muot, Onge, Pu, Sanenyo, Sentilese, Shompen and Takahanyilang
Manipur 7 Aimol, Aka, Koiren, Lamgang, Langrong, Purum and Tarao
Himachal Pradesh 4 Baghati, Handuri, Pangvali and Sirmaudi
Odisha 3 Manda, Parji and Pengo
Karnataka 2 Koraga and Kuruba
Andhra Pradesh 2 Gadaba and Naiki
Tamil Nadu 2 Kota and Toda
Arunachal Pradesh 2 Mra and Na
Assam 2 Tai Nora and Tai Rong
Uttarakhand 1 Bangani
Jharkhand 1 Birhor
Maharashtra 1 Nihali
Meghalaya 1 Ruga
West Bengal 1 Toto

The Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, has been working for the protection and preservation of endangered languages in India under a central scheme […]

Central Institute of Indian Languages (Official website): https://www.ciil.org

Source: International Mother Language Day: 42 Indian languages heading towards extinction, India Today, 21 February 2018
URL: https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/international-mother-language-day-42-indian-languages-heading-towards-extinction-1174384-2018-02-21
Date visited: 21 July 2020

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“[T]he Constitution gives equal respect to all communities, sects, lingual and ethnic groups, etc. The Constitution guarantees to all citizens freedom of speech (Article 19), freedom of religion (Article 25), equality (Articles 14 to 17), liberty (Article 21), etc.” – Supreme Court judgment quoted by The Hindu in “India, largely a country of immigrants” >>

In Marginalised but not Defeated, Tarun Kanti Bose (a seasoned public interest journalist) “documents the hard and difficult struggle to implement the Forest Rights Act, how the oppressed adivasis have united into forest unions, how they are now entering into new thresholds of protracted struggles and victories in a non-violent manner. […] A must for all young journalists, social science students, editors, civil society groups and the academia.” | Read the full book review here:
https://countercurrents.org/2023/05/book-review-marginalised-but-not-defeated >>

Learn more about “The world’s largest democracy“, its Constitution and Supreme Court and linguistic heritage, and why Democracy depends on Accountability in the face of Modernity and Globalization >>

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