Governments must recognise indigenous peoples' rights, states a series of recommendations

Cultural heritage of indigenous peoples should not be separated from land rights, insist representatives from indigenous peoples around the world.

Cultural heritage is about more than culture, and is inseparable from land rights and the right to health.

This was the unanimous message from representatives of indigenous peoples from across the world attending a conference on indigenous peoples' rights to cultural heritage at the University of Helsinki.

Speakers and delegates from the Arctic to the Amazon came together to discuss issues from land rights to language rights.

“Language rights aren’t just about language, but about respecting the indigenous peoples’ cultures and livelihoods as a whole” said Petra Laiti, co-chair of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus and chairperson of Suoma Sámi Nuorat, speaking on a panel discussion on endangered indigenous languages.

Recommendations call for strong measures

In the strongly worded recommendations, the indigenous peoples’ representatives call for governments around the world to promote the teaching and learning of indigenous languages, indigenous histories, indigenous knowledge, and cultural heritage at all levels of education. Recommendations were also made for international organisations such as UNESCO and academic institutions.

"Indigenous cultural heritage is embedded in the natural environment, and therefore cultural heritage cannot be separated from land rights.”

Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Assistant Professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of Helsinki, said the recommendations underline the need for indigenous peoples to partake in the governance of their cultural heritage.

“The dominant society urgently has to know more about the indigenous perspective on their cultural heritage and indigenous histories and presents. Indigenous cultural heritage is embedded in the natural environment, and therefore cultural heritage cannot be separated from land rights,” she said.

Irja Seurujärvi-Kari, a researcher of indigenous studies, said the recommendations highlight indigenous peoples' holistic relationship with their cultural heritage.

“These recommendations are important as they bridge the gap between international laws and conventions and the everyday challenges of indigenous peoples at the grassroots level,” Seurujärvi-Kari said.

Mother Earth is for all of us

The speakers from all over the globe, many dressed in their traditional costumes, made passionate and at times emotional addresses to the conference, occasionally singing or switching to their indigenous languages.

Many spoke of their peoples’ deep connection with the natural world around them, be it in the Amazon, Bangladesh or the Canadian, Russian, Finnish and Norwegian Arctic Circle.

"Take care of Mother Earth; it isn’t just for indigenous peoples but each one of us.”

Joaquim Tashka Yawanawa, leader of the Yawanawa tribe in Brazilian Amazonia, described the Yawanawa life plan, which allows the tribe to survive into the future. .

“We all live in a global village. Take care of Mother Earth; it isn’t just for indigenous peoples but each one of us,” Yawanawa stressed.

Recommendations from International Conference on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights to Cultural Heritage, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland, November 16–17, 2017

The Conference participants agreed, that indigenous peoples’ rights with respect to their cultural heritage, are strongly interrelated and interdependent with the other rights, set up in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Participants welcome the endorsing by UNESCO of a new policy of engaging with indigenous peoples and the convening of a steering committee to prepare and supervise the Action plan for the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages.

To UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee:

1. Take effective measures to ensure that the identification, nomination and management of World Heritage sites incorporating or affecting indigenous peoples’ lands, territories and resources take place with the full and effective participation of the indigenous peoples concerned. Obtaining indigenous peoples’ free, prior and informed consent must become a mandatory requirement for States nominating sites affecting indigenous peoples to the World Heritage List.

2. Establish an open and transparent process to elaborate, with the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples, changes to the World Heritage Convention’s operational guidelines in order to align them with the UNDRIP, the UNESCO Policy on Engaging with Indigenous Peoples and the World Heritage Sustainable Development Policy.

3. Continue finding ways to develop protocols and procedures for the new mechanism of repatriation of indigenous peoples’ sacred and cultural items and human remains, including by co-organizing seminars with UN indigenous-specific mechanisms and indigenous peoples.

4. Set up a data base of items in State facilities on indigenous objects in their archives: encourage States and museums to post information on the items in their possession.

5. Establish a new regulation requiring proof of FPIC from appropriate Tribal/Cultural Indigenous entities before sale/international transport of sacred items or human remains is permitted.

6. Discuss the Implementation Plan for the new policy and its reference to repatriation as an agenda item at the next Subsidiary Committee of the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

7. Ensure, that the Action Plan for the 2019 International Year of Indigenous languages, includes a human rights based approach and concrete and effective practical measures and actions on the global level to ensure protection of endangered indigenous languages. Encourage Member-States to establish national action plans and programmes in collaboration with indigenous peoples to promote indigenous languages nationally, regionally and locally, along the lines of the global Action Plan. Take into account interlinkages between the language rights and other rights of indigenous peoples.

8. UNESCO Executive Board to initiate a direct multilateral conversation between UNESCO, UNPFII, EMRIP, Member states and Indigenous communities concerning certain indigenous territories – the territories of historically compact settlement under the danger with intent to take immediate measures of indigenous environment protection.

9. Realizing the special role of Eurasian nomadic lifestyles and societies, we recommend support for indigenous-established and controlled nomadic schools as mechanisms to maintain and develop educational opportunities while maintaining traditional land uses.


10. Continue practice of organizing regional awareness raising seminars for indigenous peoples, striving to secure the regional balance, in order for them to better understand and use the advantages of the current intellectual property system.

To Member-States:

11. Ensure that all interlinkages between cultural rights and other rights of indigenous peoples (including right to education, land rights, right to health) are mainstreamed in all policies and law enforcement.

12. Take strong measures to promote the teaching and learning of indigenous languages, indigenous histories, knowledge, and cultural heritage in all levels of educational systems. Take into account indigenous concepts of education and cultural specificities while renewing curricula.

13. Take measures to raise awareness of indigenous peoples’ history and cultural heritage among both indigenous and mainstream population.

14. Make indigenous languages as compulsory subjects in education.

15. Fulfil and implement their national and international obligations towards indigenous languages, knowledge, and cultural heritage.

16. Include indigenous peoples’ views and fully respect FPIC principle, at all stages of nominating world heritage sites and intangible heritage objects.

17. Include indigenous peoples and fully respect FPIC principle in the decision-making, management and protection of the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples.

18. Support and encourage indigenous peoples’ initiatives to establish their own governance structures for their cultural heritage and sacred landscapes.

19. If have not done so yet, to ratify the International Convention on the Safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage.

20. Develop and implement national action plans for the implementation of UNDRIP (World conference on indigenous peoples’ outcome document op8).

21. Give specific attention to the preservation of indigenous tangible and intangible cultural heritage in areas of potential or ongoing industrial development. Ensure FPIC (especially by the people directly affected) before licences are given out to industrially develop a particular site, and involve indigenous practitioners in the monitoring, conserving and developing of the cultural heritage in the areas of such industrial development.

To academic institutions:

22. Encourage, even more, engagement of indigenous peoples.

23. Include indigenous peoples as equal partners and fully respect FPIC in research about indigenous cultural heritage.

24. Support indigenous peoples’ rights for their cultural heritage by promoting and supporting research that is based on the needs of indigenous peoples and including and promoting indigenous methodologies.

25. University of Helsinki: Encourage teaching Ingrian/Izhorian language and its study, as well as contributing to the language training program for members of Ingrian/Izhorian community.

To the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:

26. Continue examining and reflecting on cultural rights of indigenous peoples while undertaking different elements of EMRIP’s mandate, including while preparing its new study on free, prior and informed consent.

27. Engage with academic institutions and continue collaboration with other UN mechanisms and agencies as an effort to follow up the implementation of cultural rights and experts’ advice.

28. Engage with UNESCO and its Convention bodies in the implementation of the UNESCO Policy on Engaging with Indigenous Peoples.

To Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues:

29. Continue to give a particular attention to indigenous culture in its work, including follow up to its recommendations on cultural heritage.

30. We welcome Permanent Forum works in the promotion, protection and revitalization of Indigenous languages and we encourage Permanent Forum in collaboration with UN mechanisms on Indigenous Issues to ensure the participation of Indigenous Caucus on languages in the Action Plan of International Year of Indigenous Languages.

31. To include a cultural right dimension in its upcoming EGM 2018 on Sustainable development in territories of indigenous peoples.

To Indigenous Peoples by the Indigenous Peoples participating in the conference:

32. As indigenous peoples, we encourage, support and recommend that we continue to carry on, practice, revitalize and transmit to our future generations our traditional knowledge and ways of life, including our languages, subsistence and cultural practices, as fundamental inherent rights essential for our identity, dignity, survival and well-being.