Indigenous peoples call for a seat at the urban table

By on 10/13/2016

Otavalo, Ecuador, 13 October 2016 – With just days to go until the opening of the Habitat III conference in Quito, stakeholders have come to together to discuss the importance of including indigenous peoples, and especially youth and women, in the urbanization process.

The host community of the last of the Indigenous Cities consultations, Otavalo, Ecuador, was selected due to the resilience of the Otavaleñan people. Using the production and sale of traditional textiles, the people of this community have developed a globally recognized textile industry, allowing the culture and the people to flourish.

“Indigenous people have the right to be in charge of their communities and their lives,” said Luzmila Zumbrano, speaking at the conference.  “We recognize the value of urbanization but only if indigenous people, especially women and youth, have a seat at the table.”

“The United Nations recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples and their representation in all levels of government,” said Douglas Ragan, Chief, Youth and Livelihood Unit, UN-Habitat. “Youth globally have looked to indigenous young men and women as leaders in sustainability. The international youth communities of the Youth 21 project sought to adopt the model of indigenous peoples engagement in the UN, through calling for the creation of a Permanent Forum for Youth, similar to the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues.”

Critical to the sustainability of cities is to assure that groups such as indigenous peoples who are often marginalized from the governance, economy and social life of the cities be heard. Indigenous people historically and to this day face social, economic and political exclusion, a situation which is exacerbated in urban contexts where they are often delinked from the traditional territories.

Indigenous people who are blocked from being full citizens have no voice in decision-making processes and are not active participants in urban processes. This is why it is important to recognize, promote, protect and defend indigenous peoples’ rights, and include them in all decision-making processes at all levels and in every agenda.

Globally there are over 370 million indigenous peoples in more than 70 countries speaking over 5000 different languages. Fifty percent of indigenous people are living in cities. The challenges faced by urban indigenous people are many fold – poverty, lack of affordable and decent housing, high unemployment, to name a few. Many of these have roots dating back to colonial times when indigenous peoples languages and nations were taken from them with a parallel suppression of their culture and ways of life.

Yet, urban indigenous peoples also have demonstrated amazing resilience even under these oppressive conditions. In the developed world, urban indigenous peoples have re-established vibrant communities that bring together a number of different indigenous peoples. Land once taken from their communities has been given back, traditional practices have been revived.

Indigenous Cities Declaration

The Indigenous Cities consultations brought together the combined wisdom of hundreds indigenous people from around the world. The main objective of the consultations and the ensuing Declaration is to explore ways and means of mainstreaming indigenous peoples and their communities in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the New Urban Agenda.

The Declaration is based on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which emphasizes the right of indigenous peoples to achieve the minimum standards for their survival, dignity and well-being. Critical to the reality of many indigenous cultures globally, the UNDRIP protects the collective rights that may not be addressed in other human rights instruments that highlights individual rights, and safeguards the individual rights of Indigenous people; and specifically the needs of Indigenous young men and women.

Another critical area in the declaration is the call for gender equality in cities. The  declaration calls for the  recognition of the crucial role of indigenous women in the development of inclusive, safe and sustainable cities, contributing to the local economy, teaching indigenous culture in cities, preserving indigenous language in urban spaces. It highlights the multiple discrimination against indigenous women young; cities must provide a non-discrimination environment for everyone.

Lastly, the declaration recognizes the critical role of local government, and calls on them to create effective social pacts in order to create safe and inclusive spaces. The example of the City of Vancouver’s City of Reconciliation framework is one that will be used in the Declaration as a way in which indigenous people and cities can work together.

The Indigenous Cities Declaration will be launched at YoutHAB during the Indigenous Cities session from 11:30 to 12:30 on Oct 14th. The conference is being held at the Escuela Politécnica Nacional, Quito, Ecuador.  For more information go here

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