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Indigenous Media, Empowering Indigenous Voices

arton4052On 9 August, a special event dedicated to the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples took place at UN Headquarters in New York. It focused on the theme “Indigenous Media, Empowering Indigenous Voices,” and highlighted the importance of indigenous media in challenging stereotypes, forging indigenous peoples’ identities, communicating with the outside world, and influencing the social and political agenda.

The event opened with “Voices through time” – a film produced by Centro de Culturas Indígenas del Perú (Chirapaq) showing how Peruvian indigenous communities are using media, and especially radio, to express their concerns and defend their rights. Following welcome remarks by the Chairperson of the NGO Committee on the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Roberto Múcaro Borrero, the event featured statements by key UN personalities, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Wu Hongbo, the new Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs; and Grand Chief Edward John, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. To conclude, the event continued with a panel discussion with representatives of the UN and of indigenous media organizations from across the world.

The Secretary-General expressed the willingness of the UN system to collaborate with indigenous peoples and apply the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He encouraged the use of new media by indigenous communities and called on producers of traditional media to make it more open to indigenous voices. This message was reinforced by Mr. Wu, who affirmed that there was still a long way to go to realize indigenous peoples aspirations and quoted Art. 16.1 of the above-mentioned Declaration, which stands that “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own media in their own languages and to have access to all form of non-indigenous media without discrimination.” He added that he considered media as a critical element for the survival of these peoples.

Grand Chief Edward John brought a more general perspective on indigenous issues, recalling their significant contributions to humankind, but also drawing attention to the growing marginalization of indigenous communities and the main infringements on their rights (their right to land ownership, self-determination, life, etc.). He explained that having access to means of communication and media, as well as producing media, should both be seen as a human right. Moreover, while emphasizing that every two weeks, one indigenous language is disappearing, he said that the collective challenge is to tell indigenous stories in indigenous languages (to preserve the languages). He cautioned that there are still many endangered languages all over the world and called for action to fight this phenomenon.

Finally, several panelists and discussants presented their indigenous media (TV, radio and Internet) projects and engaged in an interactive discussion with the audience. Lily Valtchanova, Cultural Affairs Officer, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) underscored UNESCO’s engagement to support indigenous peoples and their use of digital media and information and communication technology (ICT) – not only to support their cause, but also to increase people’s access to education, science and culture. Nils Johan Heatta, Chairman of the World Indigenous Television Broadcasters Network, introduced the work of the Network, highlighting that it aims to become a platform for all indigenous peoples’ voices. Professor J. Kehaulani Kauanui of the Center for the Americas, Wesleyan University, questioned how mainstream media could improve its coverage of indigenous issues, moving away from perpetuating the usual stereotypes. Angel Tibán Guala, Director of TV MICC, an indigenous television channel in Ecuador, explained that TV MICC aims to reposition indigenous communities in society, including by focusing on issues such as indigenous justice, defense of the Pachamama (Mother Earth), and food sovereignty. Furthermore, Monika Ille, Director of Programming at the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in Canada; Keoni Lee, General Manager of ‘Ōiwi TV, Hawai’i; and Emil Her Many Horses of the National Museum of the American Indian shared their experiences with indigenous media.

Finally, Roberto Múcaro Borrero concluded the event by underscoring that indigenous peoples want to speak for themselves; have access to communication tools and build networks between communities. They have to continue moving forward, both within and outside the UN System.


This article is also available in Spanish and in French.



Photo credits

© UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

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