Church and Society Celebrates The International Day of The World’s Indigenous Peoples
United Methodists continue to play an active role in support of Indigenous peoples’ recognition worldwide.
In 1982, the inaugural session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) was held and by 1994 the WGIP identified August 9th as The Annual International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples to promote human rights protections for Indigenous Peoples all over the world.
“August 9th is the official day we celebrate Indigenous peoples around the globe,” said John Hill, Deputy General Secretary of The General Board of Church and Society. “It’s a culmination of the work we do year-round to support Indigenous peoples, who have sought recognition of their identities, way of life and their right to traditional lands, territories and natural resources.”
After the initial recognition in 1994, it wasn’t until 2007 that the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) was ratified with 144 Nations in agreement for the preservation of Indigenous peoples’ language, arts, and biodiversity. In addition, the weight of UNDRIP also highlighted human rights, justice, anti-colonialism, and honoring sacred spaces.
According to the United Nations, Indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. They have retained social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Despite their cultural differences, indigenous peoples from around the world share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples.
Five-thousand cultures, approximately 350 million people around the world are labeled Indigenous, prior to colonization by a dominant society. Although smaller in size, these civilizations comprise the majority of the world’s 7,000 languages and tend 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. View here the United Nations diverse cultures of the world through portraits of Indigenous Peoples.
“I’m proud that the United Methodist Church was a major influencer in support of Indigenous peoples’ rights and participation,” said The Rev. Dr. Levi Bautista, Assistant General Secretary for United Nations and International Affairs of The General Board of Church and Society. “We were there during the multi-year drafting process of UNDRIP and were active in advocating the creation of what is now called the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), with United Methodist delegations attending the forum every year.”
The General Conference of The United Methodist Church has consistently supported Indigenous peoples, also called First peoples, First nations, Aboriginal peoples, Native peoples, Indigenous natives, or Autochthonous peoples, depending on where they live.
Among the many resolutions approved by the General Conference, the following paragraph addresses the core of Indigenous peoples’ demands and aspirations along with United Methodist support:
“Indigenous peoples’ self-determination, sovereignty and spirituality are at the core of our support for their historic claim to their cultures, histories and spiritual traditions, and to their historic rights to specific lands, territories and resources. Colonialism eroded these claims and extinguished their rights. The process of decolonization is an unfinished business at the United Nations and in many social institutions. The role of religion and the church in the colonization of peoples and nations, including Native nations and indigenous peoples, is part of this hard and painful process of decolonization. It is part of an act of repentance that truly honors what indigenous people feel about how they have been wronged and where the restitution and forgiveness might come from, and what it will look like and entail.” (2016 Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, Resolution #6025.C)
“As the United Nations has recognized, Indigenous peoples today are arguably among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of people in the world,” said Bautista. “The international community now recognizes that special measures are required to protect their rights and maintain their distinct cultures and their way of life.”
On May 6, 2022, a special conversation with United Methodist Indigenous leaders about Indigenous issues relevant to United Methodist Church was held at the Church and Society New York Office. The Rev. Dr. Levi Bautista was joined by The Rev. Chebon Kernell and the Rev. Dr. Richard Grounds, ordained UMC elders in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, and Ms. Holly Helton-Ashinaabeqwa, a lay leader from the Wisconsin Conference.
Thanks to Rev. Levi Bautista, Quinn Wonderling and Brie Sparks, who all contributed to this article.