Summary of the High Level event to Launch the International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-23

A summary of the IDIL launch event‘s inputs is provided here in keeping with Linguapax’s commitment to disseminating the activities and substance of the Decade.

Last December 16th, 2022, at the UN headquarters of New York, was the high level event to launch the International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022–2032.

The President of the General Assembly, Mr. Csaba Kőrösi, opened the ceremony by referring to XVIII c. Samuel Johnson’s words, “Language is the dress of thought,” to take the participants to the crux of what was going to be at play throughout the debates and henceforth the Decade: with each Indigenous language that goes extinct, so goes the thought—that is, the culture, tradition, and knowledge it bears.

The certitude is that we are in dire need of a radical transformation in the way we relate to our environment, and if we want to successfully protect nature, we must listen to Indigenous peoples, and we must do so in their own languages. They are the guardians of almost 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. Yet every two weeks, an Indigenous language dies.

The debate went far beyond the preservation, revitalisation and promotion of Indigenous languages; it also carried the protection of Mother Earth, especially regarding climate change, through the strengthening of linguistic diversity; it contributed to the reaching of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals; and it was an effective promotion of human rights.

Apart from the opening address and closing remarks by Csaba Kőrösi; the remarks by the representative of the Secretary-General of the UN, Maria-Francesca Spatolisano and the remarks by the Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Dario Jose Mejia Montalvo, the suggestions made by the 19 Speakers who took the floor during the Plenary Segment were expected to focus on the following three questions meant to be guidelines in the implementation of the Global Action Plan:

  1. What concrete support can be given to facilitate the intergenerational transmission of Indigenous languages to future generations?
  2. What steps should be taken by all stakeholders for the implementation of the Global Action Plan of the International Decade?
  3. What role can be played by Indigenous peoples’ institutions and organisations, Member States, and the UN System in the preservation and revitalization of Indigenous peoples’ languages?

Most of them—from those representing Member States and Indigenous Peoples’ Socio-Cultural Regions to the other groups or organisations working on Indigenous people’s issues—coincided in the fact that although a lot is being done regarding the points in the above-quoted guideline, there is a pressing necessity in doing much more to revert the situation and stop the trend of seeing a language disappear every two weeks, implying that by the end of the 21st century the world would have lost at least 2,000 languages, which would be a dramatic and tragic loss for humanity.

By taking the floor, all participants, in one way or another, brought ideas and solutions that can become game-changers:

Mexico, on behalf of the Group of Friends of Indigenous Peoples (which comprises Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Colombia, the Kingdom of Denmark, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Norway, New Zealand, Spain, Paraguay, Peru, and the USA); the Dominican Republic on behalf of the Central American Integration System (SICA: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama) with its 40 Indigenous languages (16 are cross-border ones); Colombia with its 65 indigenous languages and Bolivia with its 36 Indigenous people, among others, suggested melding the Decade of Indigenous Languages with the achievement of the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Goals.

The European Union with its 60 Indigenous languages spoken by 40 million people, the Indigenous Peoples’ Socio-cultural Region of Africa, New Zealand, the Indigenous Peoples’ Socio-cultural Region of the Pacific (the largest Socio-cultural Region of the UN, who reminded the audience that 1 in 5 of the languages in imminent danger of extinction are in the Pacific), the Indigenous Peoples’ Socio-cultural Region of the Arctic, the Russian Federation with its 74 Indigenous languages, Equator, the Indigenous Peoples’ Socio-cultural Region of Central & South America and the Caribbean, and Guatemala with its 4 Indigenous languages, among others, urged UNESCO and the different stakeholders to fund the empowerment of Indigenous peoples. This must be done by implementing legislation that genuinely demonstrates their political will to achieve the equality of Indigenous peoples, by funding quality education in Indigenous languages, and by financially contributing to the provision of services in Indigenous languages (ex: Equator requested institutional, road and territorial signage in both languages, although it may seem self-evident for others), by allocating human resources to meaningfully support Indigenous languages (ex: Russia whose key field in this area are education, culture and digitalization and whose key objective is bridging the digital divides experienced by peoples residing in the remote territories or those leading nomadic lives).

The Philippines with its 14 million Indigenous people and its 110 ethno-linguistic groups, Australia with its 250 Indigenous languages, of which only 120 are spoken today, Guyana with its nine Indigenous languages, Nicaragua with its nine Indigenous people, Paraguay with its 19 Indigenous people integrated into five linguistic families, and El Salvador with Náhuat the only ancestral language that is still alive in that country, among others, insisted on linking the preservation of Indigenous languages to the protection of Indigenous rights and in coordinating this decade of language revitalisation with the Oceans Decade, with biodiversity aims and climate change issues.

As a conclusion, it is worth saying that both of the 19 speakers, the president of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the Representative of the Secretary General of the UN, and the President of the UN General Assembly as well, mostly agreed that we can only progress successfully in this decade if Indigenous peoples are actively involved in leading government positions and in assuming decision-making roles.

“Languages tell the stories of humanity. They are an anchor to our past and a compass to our future. Indigenous languages can unite nations at a time when we need to unite more than

ever before.”

Rawinia Higgins, Indigenous Peoples’ Representative of the Socio-Cultural Region of the Pacific.

With the support of: