Indigenous Peoples’ Day

August 9 is observed the world over as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. This event celebrates indigenous people across the globe and their contributions to indigenous knowledge systems, especially with regards to medicinal herbs and traditional healing systems. On this day indigenous people remind themselves of their ancestors and what they have handed down over the centuries such as the value systems, language, conservation wisdom and knowledge about sustainable living. The United Nations designates a theme every year around which the day is being observed. The theme this year is ‘Role of Indigenous Women in the Preservation and Transmission of Traditional Knowledge.’ Indigenous people have been known to have equal respect for women and men and the theme captures the essence of the celebration. Indigenous women are known to be innovative farmers and have for thousands of years conserved seeds and exchanged the seeds among themselves. That way the traditional farming practices are kept alive. Now scientists tell us that indigenous seeds are more resilient to climate change than genetically modified seeds. These seeds are hardy and resistant to pests and the vagaries of nature.
Indigenous women have been the natural custodians of natural resources. By nature, women are not exploitative but protective of the environment. It is unfortunate that this important milestone in the life of Indigenous peoples passed off uneventfully in Meghalaya. For one, the day coincided with Muharram which is an official holiday for schools and colleges where discussions should have been held to remind the young about their ancestors and the rich tradition they passed on down the family tree. This day should have been observed with a sense of pride and gratitude to the ancestors. Interestingly, in other states where indigenous people are aware of the erosion of their rights and the exploitation of their natural resources by corporations and big business, the day was observed with solemnity and dignity. People expressed themselves through songs and dances and organised events so that the young are exposed to the events and learn about their rich traditions. There were exhibitions of traditional arts and crafts and discussions on the importance of language as a link to the past and a bridge to the future.
It is common for indigenous peoples living in territories where they don’t feel any threat to their existence to ignore this important day but those living in countries like Canada, USA, Australia etc., where they have been subjugated over centuries realise the importance of this day and observe it meaningfully. In India indigenous people are not recognised as a separate category because governments say that all who have settled in India are indigenous to the place. It is this dichotomy that has created confusion. Adivasis and hill tribes have first claim to the land they have first settled in and this needs to be recognised.

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