Indigenous Peoples and the MDGs: Inclusive and Culturally Sensitive Solutions

UN Chronicle, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Indigenous Peoples and the MDGs: Inclusive and Culturally Sensitive Solutions


The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) summarize the development targets agreed to at international conferences and world summits during the 1990s. At the end of the last century, world leaders distilled the key goals and targets in the Millennium Declaration adopted in September 2000. The Declaration reaffirms the universal values of human rights, equality, mutual respect and shared responsibility for the conditions of all peoples. It also seeks to redress globalization's hugely unequal benefits and the Governments' commitments to fulfilling their obligations by 2015.

The Millennium Declaration, signed by 147 Heads of State and Government, has provided an opportunity for a renewed focus on indigenous peoples in the international development debate. The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) stated during its fourth session on 16 to 27 May 2005: "Indigenous peoples have the right to benefit from the Millennium Development Goals and from other goals and aspirations contained in the Millennium Declaration to the same extent as all others. Indigenous and tribal peoples are lagging behind other parts of the population in the achievement of the Goals in most, if not all, the countries in which they live, and indigenous and tribal women commonly face additional gender-based disadvantages and discrimination."(1).

UNPFII has devoted a great deal of attention to the MDGs. Its fourth session addressed both MDG 1 (eradicate extreme poverty and hunger) and MDG 2 (achieve universal primary education) within the context of indigenous peoples' issues, while its fifth session in 2006 was devoted to the special theme "The Millennium Development Goals and Indigenous Peoples: Redefining the Goals". In September 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which provides, particularly in Articles 41 and 42,(2) a crucial opportunity and a call to action for Member States and the United Nations system to integrate indigenous visions of development into their work towards the achievement of the MDGs.

Indigenous peoples have historically faced social exclusion and marginalization. They are disproportionately represented among the poor and the extremely poor, their levels of access to adequate health and education services are well below national averages, and they are especially vulnerable to the consequences of environmental degradation. If the MDGs are to be met, States need to give priority attention to the situation of indigenous peoples.

Although there is little data on indigenous peoples and the MDGs, a few figures illustrate the situation faced by approximately 300 million to 370 million indigenous peoples around the world. While they constitute approximately 5 per cent of the world's population, indigenous peoples make up 15 per cent of the world's poor. Furthermore, they constitute about one third of the world's 900 million extremely poor rural people, (3) and face huge disparities in access to, and in quality of, education and health. In Guatemala, for example, 53.5 per cent of young indigenous people aged 15 to 19 have not completed primary education, compared to 32.2 per cent of non-indigenous youth (4) In Bolivia, the infant mortality rate among the indigenous populations is close to 75 of 1,000, compared to 50 of 1,000 for the non-indigenous population (5).

During the fifth session of UNPFII, most of the organizations representing indigenous peoples made statements about the urgent need to redefine the MDGs. While the Permanent Forum realizes that it is not possible to redefine these Goals, it also recognizes that there is a clear need to redefine the approaches to the implementation of the MDGs, so as to include the perspectives, concerns, experiences and views of the world's indigenous peoples. Statements also confirmed that there was a need for indigenous peoples to provide their own definitions of poverty and development, and for them to have full and effective participation in the implementation of the MDGs. …

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