On 22 April 2019, the Living Heritage Entity organized a roundtable discussion on the sidelines of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) on “The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage: Opportunities for Indigenous Peoples.”
The UNPFII is an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) established in 2000 with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, the environment, culture, education, health and human rights. The focus for this year’s Forum was on the special theme of “Traditional knowledge: generation, transmission and protection.”
The Secretary of the Convention, Mr Tim Curtis, gave an overview of the Convention and why it is relevant for indigenous peoples to support the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
“There are some quite inherent alignments between some of the key concepts that exist in the UNDRIP and the 2003 Convention. Even though the Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention is not specifically directed to indigenous peoples, it captures a lot of those same concerns, especially around community custodianship.”
Ambassador Rubén Escalante Hasbún, Permanent Representative of El Salvador to the UN, shared some recent experiences from El Salvador of an International Assistance project that aimed to safeguard the oral traditions of Náhuat speakers in the municipality of Santo Domingo de Guzmán. The project, in particular, focused on engaging youth in the inventorying process, which enhanced community self-esteem and pride in their indigenous culture. “We have to include the young people, making sure that youth can have a better understanding of their identity.”
Ambassador Hasbún emphasized the importance of harnessing existing synergies between different international mechanisms to enhance indigenous rights.
This was a point likewise highlighted by Mr Elifuraha Laltaika, member of the UNPFII and founder of the Association for Law and Advocacy for Pastoralists in Tanzania.
“The importance of the 2003 Convention cannot be overemphasized because it provides the spaces for indigenous peoples to exercise their agency in terms of fostering their identity and continuity through transmission.”
Mr Laltaika spoke of the potential of international instruments to enhance the cultural rights of indigenous peoples that have historically been threatened by global histories of colonialism and dispossession.
“The 2003 Convention is a central to boosting or amplifying indigenous peoples’ historical and ongoing efforts to assert their identities and preserve their languages, cultures and traditions.”
Ms Hindou Ibrahim co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change and founder of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad emphasised how the Convention corresponds to indigenous concerns about safeguarding cultural heritage and ensuring its continued relevance for future generations. She underscored the Convention’s community-based approach, which requires the free, prior and informed consent of communities in all safeguarding activities.
“This convention…means a lot for me and it can mean a lot for indigenous peoples. If it can guide us through the best approach, with free, prior and informed consent and safeguard all what we have as culture, knowledge and as our future because we talk about the technological future but our indigenous knowledge is our future.”
Other issues discussed included the links between education and intangible cultural heritage, the important role of indigenous women as carriers of their cultures and challenges to ensure compliance and implementation of international conventions protecting indigenous peoples’ rights at the country level.
The event generated interest in the Convention among the participants at the Forum, building on the momentum of the International Year of Indigenous Languages. UNESCO will continue its work on this important issue with side events at the upcoming session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Bogota, Colombia, to focus on the role of indigenous languages and safeguarding living heritage.
You can listen to the full event here