International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

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Leaving no one behind
Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract

indigenous = adjective; used to refer to, or relating to, the people who originally lived in a place, rather than people who moved there from somewhere else; can also be used to refer to plants and animals that grow or live naturally in a place; anything not foreign or from outside an area.

“The Chicago area is located on ancestral lands of indigenous tribes, such as the Council of the Three Fires – comprised of the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi Nations.”

“Most agave plants are indigenous to the hot and arid regions of the Americas.”


There are over 476 million indigenous peoples living in 90 countries across the world, accounting for 6.2 per cent of the global population. Indigenous peoples are the holders of a vast diversity of unique cultures, traditions, languages and knowledge systems. They have a special relationship with their lands and hold diverse concepts of development based on their own worldviews and priorities.


indigenous peoples – Why “peoples” and not “people?”

“People” is a plural noun when used to refer to adults, teenagers, and children in most contexts. It can also be used to refer to a group of people who all live in a specific country or who have the same culture or language. In this context, it is a singular noun, and “peoples” is its plural form. Here it refers to multiple indigenous groups of people, so “peoples” is used.


Although numerous indigenous peoples worldwide are self-governing and some have been successful in establishing autonomy in varying forms, many indigenous peoples still come under the ultimate authority of central governments who exercise control over their lands, territories and resources. Despite that reality, indigenous peoples have demonstrated extraordinary examples of good governance, ranging from the Haudenosaunee to the existing Sámi parliaments in Finland, Sweden, and Norway.


autonomy = noun; the right of an organization, country, or region to be independent and govern itself; the ability to make your own decisions without being controlled by anyone else.

“Demonstrators demanded immediate autonomy for their region.”

“The universities want to preserve their autonomy from the central government.”


The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many existing inequalities, disproportionately affecting populations all over the world that were already suffering from poverty, illness, discrimination, institutional instability or financial insecurity. From the perspective of indigenous peoples, the contrast is even starker. In many of our societies, the social contract, at the very least, needs some revision.


exacerbated, to exacerbate = verb; to make something that is already bad even worse.

“This attack will exacerbate the already tense relations between the two communities.”

“Her allergy was exacerbated by the dust.”


Present perfect: Subject + have/has + verb with an -ed or irregular ending.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many existing inequalities . . .”


We use the present perfect to talk about:

  1. an experience from the past, to know whether it happened.
    1. He has lived in Adelaide.
    2. We have never eaten caviar.
  2. a change, or new information
    1. I have bought a new car.
    2. Anna has broken her leg.
  3. a continuing situation. This is a state that started in the past and continues in the present (and will probably continue into the future). This is a situation (not an action).
    1. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many existing inequalities…”
    2. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of people around the world.
    3. The climate crisis has changed how people view their current situation and their future.


starker, stark = adjective; completely clear, obvious.

“The stark reality is that we are operating at a huge loss.”

“The dim halls made a stark contrast with the bright, sun-drenched apartment.”

What is a social contract?

This August 9, International Day of Indigenous Peoples, we must demand indigenous peoples’ inclusion, participation and approval in the constitution of a system with social and economic benefits for all.


That is why the 2021 theme is ““Leaving no one behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for a new social contract.” But, what does it mean?


A social contract is an unwritten agreement that societies make to cooperate for social and economic benefits. In many countries, where indigenous peoples were driven from their lands, their cultures and languages denigrated and their people marginalized from political and economic activities, they were never included in the social contract to begin with. The social contract was made among the dominant populations.


denigrated, to denigrate = verb; to say that someone or something is not good or important.

“You shouldn’t denigrate people just because they are different from you.”

“No one is trying to denigrate the importance of a good education. We all know that it is crucial for success.”


marginalized, to marginalize = verb; to treat someone or something as if they are not important.

“Now that English has taken over as the main language, the country’s native language has been somewhat marginalized.”

“We are protesting the policies in this country that marginalize LGBTQ+, intersex, and two-spirit people.”


Over recent years and decades, various societies have sought to address this, including through apologies, truth and reconciliation efforts, legislative reforms, as well as constitutional reforms, while at the international level, these efforts have included the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and advisory bodies such as the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.


reconciliation = noun; a situation in which two people or groups of people become friendly again after they have argued; the process of making two opposite beliefs, ideas, or situations agree or coexist.

“Signing the trade agreement was praised as an act of reconciliation between the two countries.”

“True reconciliation was never the goal of many settlers; they always sought to maintain what they had taken or to increase their control over the situation.”


Despite the existence of international instruments to respond these inequalities, not all are embarked on the collective journey to ensure that no one is left behind, including indigenous peoples. Therefore, the building and redesigning of a new social contract as an expression of cooperation for social interest and common good for humanity and nature, is needed.

The new social contract must be based on genuine participation and partnership that fosters equal opportunities and respects the rights, dignity and freedoms of all. Indigenous peoples’ right to participate in decision-making is a key component in achieving reconciliation between indigenous peoples and States.


Must: a modal verb used to express obligation, give orders and give advice. It can only be used for present and future reference. When the past is involved, you use “have to.”

“The new social contract must be based on genuine participation and partnership . . .”


Must is used:

  1. to express obligation.
    1. All students must bring a packed lunch tomorrow.
    2. “The new social contract must be based on genuine participation and partnership . . .”
  2. to give orders firmly and positively.
    1. You must go to sleep now.
  3. to give advice or make recommendations emphatically.
    1. You must see that film – it’s brilliant!
  4. to speculate about the truth of something.
    1. She must be mad!
    2. You must be joking!
    3. There must be some mistake.
    4. Singh is here; it must be Tuesday.
  5. Must can be used in the interrogative (in a question), but many speakers prefer “have to” instead.
    1. Must you go so soon? – Do you have to go soon?
    2. Must I invite Robert? – Do I have to invite Robert?


fosters, to foster = verb; to encourage the development or growth of ideas or feelings.

“My family fostered an interest in culinary science from a fairly young age.”

“The company fostered competition between its employees in hopes of increasing work performance and profit.”


dignity = noun; the quality of being worthy of honor or respect; the quality of a person that makes them deserving of respect, sometimes shown in behavior or appearance.

“Many countries strive to cherish freedom and human dignity.”

“Laws of privacy are designed to protect the dignity of individuals.”