Since 1994, the United Nations General Assembly has observed International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9th. This year’s event is especially notable, as it marks the Tenth Anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The UNDRIP, “establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of the world’s indigenous peoples."1 The enactment of the UNDRIP has been a critical step towards the recognition and legitimization of indigenous rights within global communities.
While the Declaration has served indigenous rights activists as a pillar of substantiation and legitimacy, progress has been slow. The UN has acknowledged that, “despite the achievements, there continues to be a gap between the formal recognition of indigenous peoples and the implementation of policies on the ground.”2
Today there are estimated to be 370 million indigenous persons worldwide, speaking roughly 7,000 different languages and dialects.3 Indigenous communities continue to face a range of threats, including systemic marginalization, deforestation and land grabs, driven by urbanization, fossil fuel exploration and distribution on sacred lands, among others.
At Domini, our work is grounded in the promotion of universal human dignity and ecological sustainability, which are crucial to preserving indigenous cultures and ways of life. The Impact Investment Standards we developed and employ explicitly include indigenous peoples, noting that:
“Confrontations between large faceless corporations and often small and relatively defenseless communities can be avoided if companies show initial and ongoing sensitivities to the cultures of those around them. The value of the diversity that these groups bring is incalculable and its loss is irretrievable. Responsible corporations can help preserve unique cultural riches in our world that are all too easily destroyed in a rush to short-term profit.
We evaluate such controversies with care both because we respect the rights of indigenous peoples to preserve their cultures and because the effect of confrontations between companies and indigenous peoples can be harmful to corporate reputations.”
We have also raised these issues with corporations. Most recently, in 2017, Domini signed the Investor Statement on Banks Financing the Dakota Access Pipeline, in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Dakota Access Pipeline protests were a significant event for indigenous peoples worldwide, highlighting the discrepancies between having autonomous rights on paper, and actually being able to exercise them. One key issue at the center of this controversy is the willingness, and ability, of banks to implement the international standard of free, prior and informed consent from affected communities.
The importance of recognizing indigenous rights extends far beyond a single day on the calendar. Our commitment to the pursuit of universal human dignity demands that we pay attention to the concerns of indigenous communities every day.
Visit http://www.un.org/en/events/indigenousday/ to learn more about the UN International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
1. United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IPeoples/Pages/Declaration.aspx
2. United Nations. International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 9 August. http://www.un.org/en/events/indigenousday/