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Group of smiling Mayan weavers, dressed in red and blue traditional huipil and corte, from an Indigenous Community of the Guatemalan Highlands

Indigenous Cultures: An Incredible Richness to be Safeguarded

It is estimated that in the world there are more than 5000 indigenous populations, numbering at least 370 million people who live in 70 different nations. The recognition of indigenous people's rights is the result of decades of fighting, in which indigenous representatives have struggled for the legitimacy of their rights and culture and for being involved as actors.

Since the Sixties, indigenous representatives tried to underline in the international debate, the necessity of conceiving their history and culture as something unique and separate. The discussion continued in the following years with the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982. The rising concern over indigenous peoples was included in the U.N. agenda and led to the creation of a special day in which all the people are encouraged to participate and spread the UN’s message on indigenous peoples.

On the 9th of August, we celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1994. Since then, every year on this date, international organisations, governments, indigenous people, and citizens are encouraged to take part in different activities and discussions to promote a more inclusive approach and celebrate the uniqueness of indigenous communities around the world.  Important in this direction was also the UN the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of 2007, which answered to the necessity of defining an international framework for the recognition and safeguard of indigenous people’s rights, also including their cultural heritage and traditions.
Indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artifacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.”   
(Article 11, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)

Despite this international recognition, indigenous people continue to fight against many threads, such as poverty, human and cultural rights violations, land expropriation, climate changes and Covid-19 emergency.  This situation also regards Guatemala, where most indigenous peoples are of Mayan descent. Guatemala represents an interesting case not only for the number of indigenous people encompassed but also for the variety of its communities from a social and cultural perspective. The uniqueness of Mayans of Guatemala is that they are the only indigenous community in Central America representing the majority of a country’s population. The communities are spread in different parts of the country, but mostly in the western highlands, such as in the departments of Huehuetenango, Sololá, and Quiché, where TRAMA is working actively.

 


 

In Guatemala, the 1985-95 internal armed conflict ended with the 1996 peace agreement that recognized indigenous cultural and social rights. Despite that, these communities continue to undergo discrimination and prejudices. Moreover, the safeguard of this culture is hampered both by the lack of resources and political will to introduce reinforcing measures to the 1996 accord.  Cultural heritage safeguard requires strong governmental action and the guaranty that cultural and social rights are recognized as a universal value.  Therefore, even if in the last few decades many efforts have been made, indigenous people's condition mostly depends on the national laws and policies, which in many cases hardly follow the international guidelines.

Now more than ever, we should take some time to reflect on this topic and to think about how we can give our contribution and support to promote a more inclusive approach to other cultures, especially considering indigenous people and their fragile situation. We need to support this diversity and act together for the survival of indigenous peoples and their heritage.

In this direction, TRAMA works to empower each of our communities through standing as a unified cooperative, promoting our Mayan cultural heritage but also by guaranteeing each weaver of our cooperative a fair source of income for their valuable work. By supporting TRAMA activities, you have the chance to be part of this huge community that is taking action to revitalize ancient traditions and transmit this legacy to future generations.

 

 

Article sources:

UNESCO

https://en.unesco.org/events/international-day-worlds-indigenous-peoples  

UN 

https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/SOWIP/en/SOWIP_web.pdf

https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/2018/11/UNDRIP_E_web.pdf

https://www.un.org/en/observances/indigenous-day

UNHCR 

https://www.refworld.org/docid/49749d163c.html

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