Celebrating Indigenous languages on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People


Today marks the 29th International Day of the World’s Indigenous People since the United Nations voted to celebrate the day back in the mid-1990s.

We’re also about a year and a half into the UN’s International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL). The UN rang in the decade at the beginning of 2022 — although it has recognized two International Decades of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the decade from 2022 to 2032 is the UN’s first decade focused primarily on promoting and celebrating their languages. 

“Across the globe, languages are disappearing at an alarming pace, with a significant number of them being Indigenous languages,” reads a statement from the team behind IDIL. “These linguistic treasures encapsulate the essence of peoples’ identities, cultures and complex knowledge systems cultivated over thousands of years. (August 9) presents an excellent opportunity to foster awareness about the significance of Indigenous languages.”

And today, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) held a handful of events to honor Indigenous people, languages, and cultures in honor of the International Day of Indigenous Peoples. In Bangkok, the organization held a live screening of stories from UNESCO’s Hooked on Peace initiative, highlighting the story of Indigenous people living in Asia. At the event, speakers from UNESCO also spoke about education and communication initiatives to promote the livelihood of Indigenous people.

Meanwhile, in Chile, UNESCO will host a more linguistically focused event: an in-person launch event to celebrate the publication of a bilingual version of What Makes Us Human. The event will focus on the bilingual Spanish and Mapuzugun translation of the book, which focuses on the importance of linguistic diversity. Mapuzugun is an Indigenous South American language spoken by around 700,000 Mapuche people throughout Chile and Argentina.

“Through partnerships and multicultural dialogues with Indigenous peoples, UNESCO aids in addressing the various challenges they face,” reads a statement from UNESCO that was published Tuesday. “At the same time, it recognizes their significant role in the diversity and preservation of the world’s cultural and natural landscape. Their knowledge and worldview, which encompass diverse languages, spirituality, and culture, have maintained many of the world’s most important natural areas for centuries.”

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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