The World Council of Churches will join many in honouring indigenous communities across the world on 9 August. Designated by the United Nations as “International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples,” this year the day is particularly honouring indigenous people for seeking unique solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, and for leading the way in sustainable living in a post-COVID-19 era.
Those observing the special day also acknowledged that the experience of indigenous peoples, both in society and in the life of the churches, is still to a great extent a story of continued exclusion and oppression.
Despite this vulnerability, their resilience, wisdom and knowledge for living sustainably in a post-COVID era is being honoured by churches and others around the world.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened existing inequalities and vulnerabilities, some communities still do not have access to adequate drinking water.
For indigenous communities already lacking adequate access to health care systems, financial and social services, COVID-19 has made access to these services even more difficult. Language and communication are an additional barrier in a time of critical need as information about the pandemic or access to services is not usually translated into indigenous languages. For many indigenous communities, COVID-19 not only poses a continuing health threat but also more critically threatens their very survival and existence. The pandemic affects the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions, and the loss of the elderly inevitably means a loss of culture.
Indigenous communities tend to live communally and many already have pre-existing medical conditions placing them at a high risk in the pandemic.
Economically, many indigenous communities rely on an informal economy, earning income through handicrafts, selling food and products at the markets, seasonal work and tourism. The lockdown has meant a loss of income and livelihood. In some countries, unfortunately, governments are taking advantage of the pandemic to further exploit and oppress indigenous communities.
The experience of Indigenous Peoples, both in society and in the life of the churches, is still to a great extent a story of continued exclusion and oppression. The worldviews, spiritualities, cultures and experiences of Indigenous Peoples are distinct. At the heart of their struggles for survival as distinct self-determining peoples is the maintenance of Indigenous Peoples’ spiritual, cultural, social, economic, and political integrity.