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.

Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen

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