International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

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9 August 2022

The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples promotes national and international action to honour the cultures and uphold the rights of the more than 370 million Indigenous people of the world. Pax Christi International is actively committed to the defense of Indigenous peoples’ rights, their traditional lands and waters, and working in solidarity with Indigenous communities all over the world. We cooperate with local partners, appropriate authorities, and the United Nations. 

In Latin America we support the nonviolent action of Indigenous people as they face threats from extractive industries and destruction and loss of land. Their human rights are further violated with their persecution for the defense of their collective rights and militarization of their territories. In a webinar organized by Pax Christi, UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples José Francisco Calí Tzay highlighted the need for states to attend to Indigenous voices and the need to apply ILO Convention 169, enshrining the right to free, prior, and informed consent in the face of extractivism. He also urged the robust application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We support these appeals and are committed to accompanying Indigenous communities in their efforts for ecological, social, and intergenerational justice.

For at least 160 years, churches in Canada were administrators for Indian residential schools, designed to separate Indigenous children from their families and cultures. The system led to thousands of deaths, widespread abuse, and intergenerational trauma. Unmarked mass graves are now being found, including one with the bodies of 215 children at the site of the Catholic-run Kamloops Indian Residential School.  

In April 2022, Pope Francis received at the Vatican a delegation of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people, including residential school survivors. The visit was a result of decades of Indigenous advocacy and truth-telling, including through a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In hearing their testimony Pope Francis asked for forgiveness, The apology was followed with a July penitential pilgrimage to Canada, where he apologized and promised further action for reconciliation. The steps taken by Pope Francis in Canada are part of a long journey of repentance and reconciliation for the immense and destructive suffering inflicted by the Catholic Church. Much more needs to be done and the work of healing is only starting.

Pax Christi solidarity with Indigenous people also extends to our ongoing commitment to nuclear disarmament. Indigenous people and lands were among the first victims of nuclear testing. From the Marshall Islands to New Mexico to Kazakhstan, traditional people of the land suffered the most from the development of nuclear weapons. Cancers, vascular disease, genome modifications, and reproductive issues, are among the many radiation-induced health problems still faced by these communities.

Theirs has been a strong witness of resistance, survival and faithfulness to traditions based on a deep respect for the earth, for all living creatures and for unity and harmony. On this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples we recommit ourselves to the work of justice, truth and reconciliation so that all Indigenous people may enjoy their full rights, the flourishing of their cultures, and know just and lasting peace in their communities.

Ms Greet Vanaerschot 

Secretary General, Pax Christi International