Place for Advertisement

Please Contact:

Promotion of Protection of Indigenous Languages under the ILO

                                                                                                         Original: English


Division for Social Policy and Development
Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

8-10 January 2008, New York
The Role of International Labour Organization in the Promotion and
Protection of Indigenous Languages

Morse Caoagas Flores

General Introduction

What would happen to the Creator’s law if the robin couldn’t sing its song anymore? We would feel very bad: We would understand that something snapped in nature’s law. What would happen if you saw a robin and you heard a different song, if it was singing the song of the sea gull? You would say, Robin, that’s not your language; that’s not your song.

Grand Chief Mike Mitchell
Mohawk Nation of Canada
Aboriginal Language Policy Conference 1988

Among the 300 to 400 million indigenous peoples who speak about 5,000 of the known 6000 languages world wide, language is considered as the cornerstone of culture and the ultimate expression  of belonging as it is through language that culture is shared and transmitted, a unique world view is expressed and identity is moulded and recreated.  For indigenous peoples like the Mohawk, language holds the past, present and future of the community whether expressed through prayers, myths, spiritual belief, ceremonies, law, poetry, oratory, or through everyday greetings, conversational styles, humour, ways of speaking to children, or through unique terms for habits, socio-cultural organization and values of the community. 

However, indigenous languages like any language in the world do not and will not exist in a vacuum. Connected with language is the indigenous people’s intimate relationship with the land.[1]For most indigenous peoples, this relationship is the main criterion which identifies them, that is to say, “they are people, the people of the land.”[2]  That special connection embodies a unique and essential cultural wisdom and intimate knowledge about the land, which contributes to the richness of the world’s cultural and biological heritage.[3]

Yet, it is estimated that on average, one language vanishes every two weeks and that half of the approximately 6,000 languages are expected to disappear within the end of the century and the majority of those will be indigenous languages.[4] If that happens, indigenous peoples’  intimate knowledge of the environment and  ecosystems will essentially vanish and unique expressions of the human experience of the world, which maybe held the key to answering fundamental questions of the future, is irrevocably lost.

Although, it is sometimes argued that when an indigenous language disappears (when there are no longer any speakers of the language) then the group itself does no longer exist as such which is of course not the case in many instances as of today. There are still indigenous communities who are able to maintain a strong community despite having lost the use of their traditional language and self-awareness as indigenous peoples (e.g. Ainu, Maori, the San of the Kalahari Dessert in Namibia and South Africa and most Aborigines in Australia). That is why linguistic criteria which were often used to identify and classify indigenous peoples is no longer a viable option as many indigenous peoples were prohibited to speak their languages thus losing their ability to use them at present.[5]Using language as a criterion in identifying indigenous peoples posed a huge challenge as it may exclude many and would result into divided indigenous communities.

It should be noted that some of the reasons of armed movement and uprising of indigenous peoples in several countries, besides other fundamental rights, is the non-recognition of the indigenous languages by their government.[6]The non-recognition and the prohibition of the use of indigenous languages in the education and work place has impacted the lives of many indigenous peoples, it has affected them from childhood to adulthood, in the creation of their identity and development of their communities.

Education, which was used as an instrument of assimilation in most countries, has resulted in the loss of many indigenous languages. There are generations of indigenous people who were taught that their languages are inferior to the national language thus created a negative social stigma of being indigenous as “inferior.” Some have tried to cover up their indigenous identities while others tried to preserve and keep their identity in private.

On the other hand, education has also the potential of saving and reviving indigenous languages that are at the brink of extinction as manifested in some countries and territories today. With the empowerment of indigenous movements and recent developments with regards to the recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights at the national and international level,[7]indigenous languages has become an integral aspect of indigenous peoples’ right to culture (a collective right. With the advent of mass media and telecommunication system (e.g. internet, television and newspaper), new possibilities to strengthen and revive indigenous languages is available, however, a great deal of caution has to be taken in order not to compromise the cultural and intrinsic value of indigenous languages.

ILO Legal Framework for  Protecting Indigenous Languages

The situation faced by indigenous peoples and  the irreversible extinction of their languages is indeed a concern for the International Labour Organization. The ILO has a long history of commitment in addressing issues affecting the lives of indigenous peoples, both in standard setting, supervision and technical assistance.[8] In the normative field the ILO has adopted two instruments that specifically address Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (Conventions Nos. 107 and 169) and there are other ILO conventions, which are not specifically focused on indigenous peoples but are very relevant to their situation. In the technical cooperation field, the ILO is currently running PRO 169/IP LED,[9]two programs that are working complementarily to advance and promote the rights of indigenous peoples and at the same time improve their livelihood through local economic development.

ILO Convention No. 107 was the first attempt to protect indigenous languages at the international level. However, the result came to be criticized as it became clear that the prevailing tone of the Convention is integrationist and assimilationist. Indigenous and Tribal Peoples were seen as backwards and temporary communities and as such the Convention promotes the use of indigenous languages as a “temporary measure” prior to the adoption by indigenous peoples of "modern" languages and the cultures of dominant populations.

With the increasing criticism directed towards Convention No. 107, the ILO convened a meeting of experts in 1986, which eventually led to the adoption in 1989 of the ILO Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (the Convention No. 169)[10]which replaced Convention No. 107.

However, Convention No. 107 is still in force in some countries[11]and it has some provisions on indigenous peoples’ rights to language that can still be of relevance for those countries, such as the right be taught to read and write in their mother tongue (Article 23).  Convention No. 107 also recognizes the need of using written translations and the use of mass media in the languages of these populations (Article 26).

ILO Convention No. 169 marks a break with the integrationist approach to indigenous peoples and instead “recognises the aspirations of indigenous peoples to exercise control over their own institutions, ways of life and economic development, which includes the maintenance and development of their identities, languages and religions.” [12]

Convention No. 169 specifies how states must respect the language rights of indigenous peoples:

The overarching principles of consultation and participation (Articles 2 and 6) of Convention No.169 are applicable regarding indigenous peoples’ language law and policies. In the same manner is the governments’ obligation to develop a coordinated and systematic action to protect and promote indigenous peoples’ rights (Article 2).

Specifically on languages and education, Article 27 stipulates that educational policies must reflect the special needs and incorporate the histories, knowledge, value systems and the further social, economic and cultural aspirations of indigenous peoples.  Moreover, Article 27(3) provides that governments shall recognise the right of these peoples to establish their own educational institutions and facilities and provide appropriate resources for this purpose.

Perhaps the most revealing provision is Article 28, which provides that
hildren belonging to indigenous peoples concerned shall be taught to read and write in their own indigenous language and that measures should be taken to preserve and promote the development and practice of the indigenous languages. Article 28 provisions include as well the right to have the opportunity to attain fluency in the national or one of the official county languages. 

In addition, Article 30, in a similar way as Convention no. 107 stipulates that
governments shall adopt appropriate measures to make indigenous peoples know their rights and duties and this shall be done by means of written translations and through the use of mass communications in the languages of these peoples.

For those countries that have not ratified either Convention 107 or Convention 169, there are a number of other ILO Conventions that are not specifically addressing Indigenous and Tribal Peoples rights but are directly relevant to their situation and most of them are widely ratified by most countries in the world as they are considered the ILO Core Labour Standards.[13]

Of particular importance is the ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (ILO Convention No. 111)[14]which stipulates that discrimination occurs when a distinction, exclusion or preference is made on the basis of certain grounds such as race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin, and such differential treatment has a negative effect on the enjoyment of equality of opportunity and treatment in employment and occupation. While it does not explicitly refer to discrimination against indigenous or tribal peoples, the prohibited grounds of race, colour and national extraction cover discrimination on the ground of a person’s ethnicity, language, and indigenous origin and identity.

The Convention covers all aspects of employment and occupation including vocational training, non-wage work and independent work. Under the provisions of Convention No. 111, indigenous peoples’ individual and collective right to work, including the right to engage in traditional occupations is recognized and promoted.[15]Language plays a vital role in employment and occupation, either it can exclude or empower someone and in many cases indigenous peoples’ experiences show that language is used as an instrument for exclusion in employment and occupation.

Equality of access to employment and occupation includes vocational training. “Without equal access to training, any real possibility of entering an employment of occupation would be illusory, inasmuch as training is one o the keys to the promotion of equality of opportunities. The Convention does not cover only vocational training in a narrow sense but any education or training that is necessary to obtain access to any given employment or to exercise a particular occupation.”[16] 

As also provided by Convention No. 169, education and training should take into account the special needs of indigenous peoples (Article 27) in order to eliminate discrimination in practice. It should be based on their social and cultural conditions and practical needs, should take into account their languages as such training is more likely to promote their equal opportunities.

In the education and vocational training sector, ILO studies[17]have shown that discrimination against indigenous people is widely practiced whether they live in developed or developing countries. Indigenous peoples have lower educational attainment and poorer educational result because of less access and poor quality of education. In many cases, indigenous children has the highest rate of drop out in school because they can not master the national language, or are not able to use their mother tongue in the school, schools are too far away from the community and teachers and school curriculum are not sensitive and culturally appropriate for the values of the communities.[18]

In the labour market, the traditional occupations of indigenous peoples are often not recognized, they are undervalued and sometime even discouraged or prohibited.[19]In Latin America and South Asia, ILO has found out that the biggest number of forced and child laborers are found among indigenous communities. In some countries, land policies and laws have deprived indigenous peoples of their lands. Without access to land, indigenous peoples have difficulty maintaining their ways of life and their cultural identity and integrity on which  the further transmission of their language depend.

ILO Experiences and Lessons Learned in the Context of Convention No. 169

Latin America has been at the forefront of the recognition, protection and preservation of Indigenous languages, especially for the past 30 years. With Convention No. 169 ratified in most of the countries in the region, the official recognition of indigenous languages and the use of the mother tongue in education and public communications has become an important issue for indigenous communities. Policies and programmes for bilingual and intercultural education  have been developed in most countries in the region and experience has shown that early schooling in both the native mother tongue and the official language of the state (mostly Spanish) allow the indigenous children to be proficient in the vehicular language of the wider society without losing their vernacular idiom. To illustrate some of these positive experiences, the next part of this paper shows some of the good practices that have been developed in the context of implementing Convention No. 169:

Mexico started to recognize and institutionalize indigenous languages as early as the 1950s after a long debate about the relevance of having Spanish as the main medium of instruction in communities with indigenous mother tongues. By the mid 1960s, the principle of early literacy in the native language and the teaching of Spanish as a second language became the official policy of the Mexican government. In the 1970s, there was a growing demand for the whole educational programme in the larger indigenous communities to be truly bilingual and bicultural

The amended Mexican Constitution of 2001 (Article 2 on Indigenous Peoples Rights) made new provisions that are based on the main provisions of Convention No. 169 (however, it did not recover all of the indigenous peoples’ demands some of which were based on Convention No. 169).[20]The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on several grounds, including those related to national or ethnic origin (Article 1). The Constitution also recognizes indigenous peoples’ collective right to “preserve and enrich the languages, knowledge and all the elements that constitute their culture and identity” (Article 2 Section A.IV).

In 2003, another Federal Law was promulgated to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination (Ley Federal para Prevenir y Eliminar la Discriminación) which stipulates that the restriction or limitation of the use of indigenous languages in public and private activities is considered discrimination (Article 9.XXV). This law also establishes the government’s duty to take positive and compensatory measures to promote equality of opportunities for indigenous populations, such as bilingual educative programmes that promote cultural interchange, scholarships to promote alphabetization, education at all levels and vocational training (Article 14).

Mexico has also a specific law on indigenous peoples’ languages: the General Law on Linguistic Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Ley General de Derechos Lingüísticos de los Pueblos Indígenas). It was promulgated in 2003 and, among other provision, it stipulates that indigenous languages are national languages (Article 4), that the State will recognize, protect and promote the preservation, development and use of national indigenous languages (Article 5), it recognizes the right of all Mexican people to communicate in their own languages without restrictions (Article 9). It recognizes individual and collective rights to indigenous peoples and communities such as access to compulsory education that is bilingual and intercultural. It also stipulates that indigenous peoples and communities will be co-responsible for the implementation of the objectives of this law and that those peoples and communities will be active participants in the use and teaching of their languages.

The Ley General de Educación stipulates among other provisions that one of the goals of the State is to provide education which promotes linguistic plurality as well as the indigenous peoples’ languages rights. The Law stipulates the right to receive education in their own language besides Spanish (Article 7.IV).

In addition, there exist in Mexico some institutions in charge of the application of laws and policies on indigenous peoples’ languages. The Ministry of Education (Secretaría de Educación Pública –SEP-) through the Coordinación General de Educación Intercultural Bilingüe (CGEIB) and the Dirección General de Educación Indígena (DGEI) has, among its objectives, to guarantee that the education services will respect and promote linguistic diversity. In 2004 was the Instituto Nacional de Lenguas Indígenas (INALI) was created to promote and support indigenous peoples’ languages. These institutions have been in charge of, for example, distribution of education and training material with content that takes into account cultural and linguistic pluralities and indigenous languages.

For centuries, indigenous peoples of Guatemala have experienced severe societal discrimination, marginalization and exclusion, resulting in a severe armed conflict that only ended with the peace accords in 1996.The conflict in Guatemala was understood as being deeply rooted in the long history of marginalization of the indigenous peoples who have been limited in their access to resources and have been denied the full expression of their individual and collective rights as communities.[21]

With the increasing pressure from the international community, peace negotiations had started in the early 1990s and Mayan organizations insisted that ILO Convention No. 169 must be ratified as part of the peace agreements. [22]Through the pressure from the different Mayan organizations, worker's organizations, governmental institutions, the church, and the Latin American governments who have already ratified the convention, the Guatemalan government ratified Convention No. 169 in1996.
The ratification of Convention No. 169 played a pivotal and fundamental role in shaping the peace agreements, particularly the accord on "Indigenous Rights and Identity." This document rests on the main principles of the Convention concerning self-management, consultation and participationin any development of policies and programs that concern their lives and the organization of their communities.
Subsequently, Guatemala has developed policies permitting indigenous people to express themselves freely and to practice their ways of life as they see fits. Most importantly, legislation that considers the uniqueness and contribution of each indigenous community, including their customary law, are now enforced, especially in the education system of the country, which is based on the ideology and epistemology of the indigenous Mayan culture.
The indigenous organizations of Guatemala for example are main partners of the government in organizing bipartisan commissions to propose educational programs that integrate the traditional knowledge and intellectual property of indigenous people in the curricula. The indigenous world views has become an integral part in the experimental educational projects, particularly in the program called "Escuelas Mayas" coordinated by the Centro de lnvestigaciones y Documentacion Maya (CEDIM).[23]
Other projects are now being implemented to promote and protect indigenous languages, the current work of the National Commission for the official recognition of the 21 Mayan languages as well as Xinka and Garifuna in order to encourage the creation of a true multilingual state of Guatemala.[24]Similarly, on the religious front, the Consejo National de Sacerdotes Mayas is consulting the Mayan calendar and proposing its use to guide the educational programs, agricultural projects, and life cycles important in Mayan communities. Indigenous religion and philosophy are also being revived and practiced by men and women, who are now expressing themselves freely in their Mayan religious organizations at the national level.[25]
Indeed, what is happening in Guatemala is a historical opportunity for the country to fulfil its promise of recognizing and valuing its patrimony, not only its ancient Mayan past but also the contemporary inheritors of that millennial Mayan civilization.

In many respects, Boliviais looked upon in the indigenous world as a model and inspiration. Not only have they elected the first indigenous President in the history of the country, but is also the first country in the world that adopted the entirety of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into the national law.

Bolivia has quite a successful experience in promoting the 30 indigenous languages in its territories. After ratifying ILO Convention No. 169 in 1991, the government of Bolivia has codified Supreme Decree No. 23036 in January 1992 that contains provisions for the implementation of the Programa de Educacion Intercultural Bilingual in the Guaraní, Aymara and Quecha communities.[26]In 1994, the government of Bolivia has added in its normative framework the National Education Reform of 1994, which sought to implant bilingual education nationwide, incorporating all 30 Bolivian indigenous languages, beginning with the three largest; Quechua, Aymara, and Guarani.

In addition to the significant advances made in institutionalizing native language education in public primary schools and at the level of teacher training, the three biggest indigenous languages are since 2002 given space in national newspapers. The supplement to the La Paz, newspaper "La Prensa" is now appearing weekly in Quechua, Aymara, and Guarani. The supplement is titled "3 Pacha/Ara 3", borrowing the words for time-space in Aymara and Quechua (pacha) and Guarani (ara). It is directed by the Aymara writer and linguist Felix Layme. The supplement contains news and events written in each of the three languages. The project is supported by UNICEF, the Bolivian Ministry of Education, and the government of the Netherlands.[27]

With the current administration in the country, attempts are made to make Aymara and Quecha the official languages of Bolivia instead of Spanish. Like in many other colonized countries, language was used as a weapon along with religion to divide and rule the country. Promoting those languages is part of a broader effort "to decolonize the mindset” of the people who have experienced discrimination and exclusion for centuries. In this case, language could become an instrument of reconciliation and forgiveness.

In Nepal, the ILO Convention No. 169 was ratified in September 2007.  With 59 indigenous peoples recognized by the government, constituting almost 40% of the population, the government of Nepal is using the ILO Convention No. 169 as a principle instrument and guide to the peace process and in the current constitution-making process, which has the recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights in general, and indigenous languages in particular, as one of the main focus areas.

Other countries in the region have aligned their national policies on indigenous peoples with the main provisions articulated in the Convention such as the main principles of consultation and participation, self- identification, non-discrimination and self management.
Even though Philippineshas not yet ratified Convention No. 169, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA Law) of the Philippines, which is considered a landmark legislation in the country, was inspired by the Convention and has adopted many of its provisions and even strengthened it  by recognizing the inherent right of indigenous peoples to self-determination, self-governance and empowerment. In addition, the right to cultural integrity is also secured, recognizing the indigenous peoples’ rights to preserve and protect their culture, traditions and institutions. In the Philippines, indigenous peoples are free to use their mother tongue as the primary language of instruction in primary schools while learning both Filipino and English (the two official languages) along the way. 
In Europe, Denmark (Greenland) and Norway are two cases where ILO Convention No. 169 has been useful in preserving and promoting the Greenland and and Sami culture in general and their languages in particular.
Greenland or Kalaallit Nunaat in Greenlandic[28](meaning "Land of the Kalaallit”) is a self-governing territory that gained  home rule in 1979. In 1996, when Denmark ratified the ILO Convention No. 169; it was both signed by the Danish Foreign Affairs Minister and the Greenlandic Premier for the Home Rule of Greenland. That move was not seen as symbolic but rather most sensible and realistic to both parties in the progressive realization of the Convention.

For many reasons, Greenland is looked up to by indigenous peoples around the world as a role model for its many achievements in the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples.  While many other indigenous peoples and governments are still debating whether indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination, Greenland vis-a- vis Denmark is already practicing it and showing to the world that indigenous peoples have the right to pursue their own cultural development. The use of the Greenlandic language is just one of the many achievements for the Greenlanders in asserting that right.[29]

While Danish was the main language used in the administration and work places in Greenland since colonization, this policy changed in 1979 upon signing the Home Rule Government Act. [30] For many years during the colonial times, Greenlandinc of Kalaallisutwas prohibited but today, the children in Greenland speak, read and write it and it is has become the medium of instruction in the schools, and, while Danish used to be taught from the first year onwards, it is now delayed until the third year. It is also generally acknowledged that even children of Danish parents living in Greenland should learn Kalaallisut.  Today, Kalaallisut  is  spoken by more than 80 % of the population and it is heard at the deliberations and political debates within Greenlandic Parliament,[31]on the daily news on national TV and radio, and a thriving culture of Greenlandic theatre, poets, musicians and artists.[32]
The development and reclaiming of the Inuit language in Greenland is very much attached to their claim for self-determination as a people and indeed, progress has taken place. In addition, there is also a growing realisation that genuine emancipation of the Greenlandic people and modernisation of their society is impossible without emancipating and modernising the indigenous language.  Interestingly, Microsoft has included Greenlandic language in their program for spell and hyphenation tools in 2006, thus making Greenlandic one of the approximately 100 computerized of the world’s languages."[33]

However, the positive Greenlandic experiences are not shared in other  areas inhabited by Inuit in Canada, US (Alaska) and, Russia (Chukotka), where they struggle to teach the language  to their own children. There, the Inuit struggle against the influence of world languages like Russian and English and at the same time they need these languages in order to progress and get educated, thus, the Kalaallisut language is the least threatened language among the Inuit in Arctic Region.[34]

In the case of the Sami peoples of Norway, the country’s Constitution of 1988 (Article 110) declares that the State of Norway has a responsibility to "create conditions enabling the Sami people to preserve and develop its language, culture and way of life.” [35]With that provision in the constitution, the Sami in Norway has enjoyed a considerable recognition and protection of their language. The Sami language is very much connected with the Sami’s reindeer herding which, again is dependent on   their right to land. 

With the largest population of Sami among the three Scandinavian countries, Norway has promulgated the first Sami language[36]law in 1990 upon Norway’s ratification of the ILO Convention No. 169. Although Sami was allowed as a language of instruction in primary schools in 1959 and that Norwegian legislation formalised the right of children of Sami-speaking parents in Sami districts to be instructed in the language in 1969; it was only in 1990 that the Norwegian Primary School Act stipulated the following policies:[37]

1. Children in Sami districts have the right to be taught Sami and to be instructed through the medium of Sami. From the seventh year on the pupils themselves decide on this matter.  Children taught in or through the medium of Sami are exempted from instruction in one of the two Norwegian language varieties in the eighth and ninth year.

2. On advice from the local school board the municipality board may decide that Sami-speaking children shall be instructed in Sami all nine years and those Norwegian-speaking children shall learn Sami as a subject.

3. Instruction in or through the medium of Sami may also be given to children with a Sami background outside the Sami districts. If there are at least three Sami-speaking pupils at a school, they may demand instruction in Sami.

In addition to the change in policies, Norway has also developed social and political institutions that make the Sami people partners of development in the country. One of these institutions is the Sami Parliament of Norway[38]- the first among the 3 Sami Parliaments which was opened on 9 October 1989 and currently has 43 representatives, who are elected every four years by direct vote from 13 constituencies, which cover the whole of Norway.

Languages, education and the role of indigenous children and youth

Despite all these achievements in various parts of the world, there are still great challenges to tackle. Although indigenous language rights are already recognized in many countries, they are still not being respected in practice, especially not within the education sector.[39] 

For any culture to survive, including language and other forms of expression, its transmission from one generation to another is important. Among indigenous peoples, children and youth are considered the major actors in the transmission, recovery and survival of indigenous culture and languages. Therefore any effort to address indigenous languages should include indigenous children and youth as one of the key stakeholders.

Including indigenous children and youth in this discussion on language and education is befitting and appropriate, as recent ILO studies on child labour in Asia, Africa and Latin America revealed an alarming picture. Indigenous children are disproportionately involved in child labour is highest [40]and the studies confirmed that the lack of quality and appropriate education curriculum and services remains  a discriminatory root cause behind indigenous child labour.[41]

The ILO consultations on child labour in Kenya, Philippines and Guatemala affirmed that education services in indigenous communities are under-funded, low quality, poorly equipped and served by the least educated teachers, thereby contributing to very low educational achievements among indigenous children a very low education results. The same studies  also reveal  that indigenous children, due to poverty, are more likely to arrive in school, hungry, ill and tired which in turns, force them to drop out of school and look for work instead, thus impeding them from learning. Even free and compulsory education does not guarantee accessibility of education to indigenous people as free public schools may entail insurmountable and unforeseen expenses such as transportation (often public schools are located outside of indigenous communities), school contributions, school uniform, shoes and school supplies.

Unless the specific conditions of indigenous peoples in education are addressed pro-actively, efforts are likely to fail. To overcome the barriers to  education, the indigenous communities consulted  underscored the need to develop a education curricula and programmes that are well-rounded, culturally-sensitive, and innovative, and that are motivational and attractive for indigenous children while maintaining their self-respect, dignity, identity and culture as indigenous.[42] The learning methodology should be culturally appropriate, which include the use of their own indigenous languages and in turn can contribute to strengthening the rights and realizing the potential of these peoples.

Bilingual and intercultural education should be offered not only to indigenous but to all students, as a means of combating prejudices and discrimination and promoting inclusive and respectful societies.[43]In addressing education among indigenous peoples, special attention must be given to women, especially the girl child as they are most at risk for not getting an education.

Moreover, the learning process should be initiated  from indigenous peoples’ social and cultural context. The use of indigenous languages in the classrooms  should not be limited  to just giving orders or translating contents from the overall national context and language. Education policies also still need to take the necessary measures to ensure  the direct participation of indigenous peoples in educational and vocational training programmes and take into account indigenous peoples’ own initiatives.[44]

ILO Commitments

The ILO welcomes and considers the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as a great achievement and is committed to contributing to its implementation. With the UNDRIP and ILO Convention No. 169 at hand,[45]the ILO believes that there are more windows of opportunities for partnership and collaborative efforts among members of the IASG, the Permanent Forum and indigenous peoples organizations and communities in the promotion and preservation of indigenous languages.

Guided by the main principles and provision stipulated in Convention No. 169, UNDRIP and other international instruments[46]that are relevant to the protection of indigenous languages, the ILO is committed to:

  • Continue working with indigenous peoples, governments, UN agencies and other development partners for the general promotion and implementation of indigenous peoples collective rights as a precondition for ensuring the social and cultural space in which languages are maintained, developed and transmitted.
  • Promoting the principles of ILO Convention No. 169 and No. 111 with regards to language, education and vocational training to influence the Education for All policies, the strategies to reach the Millennium Development Goals, as well as national employment and vocational training policies and programmes.
  • Continue to making materials, publications etc. available in indigenous languages

[1] Indigenous peoples understand land as territory in the broadest sense, which includes all the aspects that are associated with it (e.g. spiritual, cultural, economic and political aspects).
[2] Many if not most indigenous peoples define themselves as indigenous peoples, tribal’s, first nations, aborigines, etc,  primarily through their relationship to the land. The name they gave themselves, e.g. Inuit, Mapuche, Kayapo, Kalinga – often mean simply ‘people’, the name they give their territories usually translate simply as ‘land.’ The two concepts (people and land) are inseparable.
[3] UNESCO and IUCN reports have shown that the linguistic, cultural and biological diversities as a manifestation of the total diversity of life in a given country or territory is related to the presence of indigenous peoples. Moreover, all three diversities are under threat from some of the same external forces and the loss of diversity at any of the three spells dramatic consequences for humanity and the earth.
[4] See UNECO Portal on Endangered Languages at Also see Harrison, David, “Indigenous Languages Dying,” Director, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania on Al Jazeera at

[5]Education has often been  used to assimilate and integrate indigenous peoples into the mainstream society. This was compounded with the wave of religious indoctrination and conversion. In some indigenous communities, there are generations of the family and community who completely lost the language, while some others were able to preserve it secretly and now trying to transmit them to the younger generation. 
[6] For example, the indigenous movements in Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, and Nepal have expressed concerned about their languages being discriminated especially in the education system.
[7] For example, in 1992 the government of Paraguay has declared that the state of Paraguay is a bilingual country, recognizing Guarani (an indigenous languages) alongside with Spanish as the official languages of the country.
[8] Since the 1920s, the ILO has paid attention to the situation  of indigenous peoples who are most prone to be subjected to forced labour and discrimination at the work place and that commitment has continued and even strengthened  with the subsequent codification of international standards specifically on the rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ILO Conventions Nos. 107and 169).

[9] PRO 169 is the Project to Promote ILO Policy on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples under NORMES (International Labour Standard Department) and IP LED is Indigenous Peoples and Local Economic Development Project (formerly known as INDISCO Programme) under EMP/ENTERPRISE (The Job Creation and Enterprise Development Department). PRO 169/IP LED is an inter-sectoral technical cooperation programme that has been running since 1996 and primarily funded by the Government of Denmark. For more information on PRO 169/IP LED activities:
[10] As of 2007, ILO Convention No. 169 has been ratified by 19 countries and has gained recognition and served as a point of reference even to those countries who have not ratified the convention. With the adoption of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007, provisions of the ILO Convention 169 were taken further along and with that, indigenous peoples see these two documents as complementary and mutually reinforcing.
[11] Signed in 1957 and entered in force in 1959, the convention was closed to further ratifications in September 1991, when ILO Convention 169 was entered into force in 1991. It was ratified by 27 countries and still in force to 18 countries (Angola, Bangladesh, Belgium, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Haiti, India, Iraq, Malawi, Pakistan, Panama, Portugal, Syrian Arab Republic and Tunisia).
[12] Due credit goes to a large number of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples who represented the employers’,  workers’  and of governments during the preparatory works of the Convention.
[13] The ILO Core Labour Standards consist of 8 Fundamental Rights Conventions and are grouped into four key areas which as are follows: Forced Labour ( The Forced Labour Convention , No. 29 & The Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, No. 105); Child Labour (The Minimum Age Convention, No. 138 & The Worst Form of Child Labour Convention, No. 182); Discrimination (The Equal Renumeration Convention, No 100 & The Discrimination on Employment and Occupation, No 111); Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining (The Freedom of Association and Protection to Organize Convention, No. 87 & The Rights to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, No. 98).
[14] Entered into force in 1958 and ratified by 166 countries, ILO Convention 111 promotes the importance of eliminating discrimination which is a widely recognized international standard that has become one of the most important general principles in international law, especially in human rights law.
[15] For more information see the recent publication: Eliminating Discrimination against Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Employment and Occupation: A Guide to ILO Convention 111.
[16] PRO169 and Equality Team, Eliminating discrimination against indigenous and tribal peoples in employment and occupation, International Labour Standards Department, ILO, Geneva, 2007, p. 13
[17] Manuela Tomei, Indigenous and Tribal Peoples: An Ethnic Audit of Selected Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (Geneva: International Labour Organization, 2005).
[18] [18]Within the discourse of human rights, besides taking the land away from Indigenous Peoples, the policy of cultural genocide has accounted as one of the gravest violation of Indigenous Peoples Rights in the modern era.
[19] For example, shifting cultivation in Asia (South Asia and Southeast Asia)
[20] The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people recognised that “La reforma constitucional no satisface las aspiraciones y demandas del movimiento indígena organizado, con lo que se reduce su alcance en cuanto a la protección de los derechos humanos de los pueblos indígenas.” UN Doc. E/CN.4/2004/80/Add.2,

[21] See Montejo, Victor. “Convention 169 and the Implementation of the Peace Accords in Guatemala.” Department of Native American Studies, University of California, Davis. Victor Montejo is the President of the Maya Educational Foundation. See also, The Conclusion of the International Conference on the Guatemala Peace Accords Ten Years Later: An Analysis and the Outlook for International Cooperation.  2-3 May 200,  European Parliament, Brussels

[22] Ibid
[23] Ibid
[24] Ibid
[25] Ibid
[26] Gaceta oficial, 13 March 1992
[27] The Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas, SSILA Bulletin: 2002
[28] Greenlandic or Kalaallisut is an ancient language spoken in the Inuit areas of the Arctic Region, first and foremost in Greenland, but also in Canada, Alaska and Siberia.
[29] Greenland has evolved from a colonial outpost into a self-determining territory. Consequently, unlike Denmark and most countries in Western Europe, Greenland is not a part of the European Union, as Greenlandic voters sin 1985 chose to leave the European Union upon achieving self-rule. This is so far the only case of withdrawal in the European Community.

[30] The period after the signing of the Home Rule Government of Greenland in 1979 is also known as the “greenlandization” of Greenland, when every trace of Danish is to be changed into Greenlandic. The use of language is one of the biggest contentions. One of the biggest dilemmas is the part of the Greenlandic population who was  born in mixed marriage and raised speaking only Danish. This population was c the most educated and economically privileged part and somehow looked upon as the elite of Greenland. But with the current Home Rule policies on the use of language, most of these people felt discriminated by the Greenlandic-speaking group who look at them as the Danified Greenlanders, ignorant of their Greenlandic culture. This conflict has been on-going till now and this is one of the biggest problem faced by the language policy of the Home Rule Government of Greenland.
[31] Simultaneous translation is done in Danish for members of the Greenlandic Parliament who do not speak and understand Greenlandic.
[32] Rasmussen, Henriette, “Oqaatsip Kimia,” Best Practices on the Implementation of ILO Convention 169: PRO 169, International Labour Organization.
[33] Ibid
[34] Ibid
[35] At the moment, Sami is the official language of the following municipalities in Norway: Kautokeino, Karasjok, Kåfjord, Nesseby, Sør-Varanger and Tana. With Norway paving the way, the other 2 Scandinavian countries that has Sami people in their territories has made progressively development with the use of Sami in their territories. In Finland for example, the Sami language act of 1991 granted Sami people the right to use the Sami languages for all government services. The Sami language act of 2003 made Sami an official language in Enontekiö, Inari, Sodankylä and Utsjoki municipalities. In April 1, 2002 Sami became one of five recognized minority languages in Sweden. It can be used in dealing with public authorities in the municipalities of Arjeplog, Gällivare, Jokkmokk and Kiruna.
[36] The Sami languages are spoken in Sápmi in Northern Europe, in a region stretching over the four countries Norway, Sweden, Finlandand Russia, reaching from the southern part of central Scandinaviain the southwest to the tip of the Kola Peninsula in the east.
[37] Vik R, Lars S. (1993), The Nordic Languages: Their Status and  Interrelations, Novus Press, Oslo, at p. 90
[38] Although there is no single, unified Sami Parliament that bring together the Sami within Norway, Sweden, and Finland; each of the aforementioned three countries has set up their own separate legislatures for Sami people, and often work together on cross-border issues. In all three countries, they act as an institution of cultural autonomy for the indigenous Sami people. Besides land rights, cultural rights which includes the right to use the Sami language is well instituted.
[39] Diagnóstico sobre la situación de los derechos humanos en México, OHCHR Mexico, 2003, p. 133
[40] Guidelines for combating Child Labour among Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, ILO/PRO 169, 2006.

[41] For example, in Latin America, it is estimated that indigenous children are twice as likely to work as miners, domestic servant, migrant worker, commercial agriculture worker and prostitutes, than their non-indigenous peers, In Africa, ILO estimates that 41% of all children between the ages of 5-14 are involved in some form of economic activity. Reports from Kenya, Cameroon and other countries in Central Africa indicate that child labour is a growing phenomenon in indigenous communities, who increasingly rely economically on their children’s work. In Asia, ILO estimates that 60% of the children are economically active, and surveys have shown that many of those involved in the worst forms of child labour as, for example, bonded and domestic labour, come from indigenous communities.
[42] Ibid
[43] Feiring, Birgitte. High-Level meeting on Education for All, Beijing: INCLUSION OF INDIGENOUS AND TRIBAL PEOPLES’ ISSUES.

[44] Jiménez, Lelia, Multiculturalidad y Educación en Derechos Humanos. Educar en y para la diversidad, Educacion en Derechos Humanos, Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Mexico, 2006, p. 118-119
[45] The ILO recognizes that the provisions of the two instruments (C 169 and UNDRIP) are compatible and mutually reinforcing. The Declaration’s provisions deal with all the areas covered by the Convention. In addition, the Declaration thus addresses a number of issues that are not covered by the Convention. While there are sometimes differences in wording of provisions, these differences have no implications as to the common objective of the two instruments. Having and using them both in our works in an integrative way would mean developing greater and stronger mechanisms for the promotion and protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples.

[46] For example: UNESCO Constitution of 1944; CERD in 1960; CRC in 1989, ICCPR in 1966 and UNESCO’ Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity in 2001.

Share on Google Plus

About Tudu Marandy and all


Post a Comment