Toronto – August 5, 2015 – Each year, on August 9, the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples is observed to acknowledge and promote the rights of the world’s indigenous population. It is also a somber reminder of the displacement and extinction of thousands of indigenous communities throughout the world, along with their traditional ways of life. Originally proclaimed in December 1994, the day was marked in honour of the August 9, 1982 meeting of the UN working group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub-commission on the promotion and protection of human rights.
This year's theme is “Ensuring Indigenous Peoples' Health and Well-being" – a call-to-action as Indigenous Peoples continue to suffer the health consequences of marginalization, as well as the destruction of the lands and water around them through resource extraction and industrial activity in many places around the globe.
Some examples: according to the Anti-Chevron committee, indigenous people in Ecuador continue to face diseases such as cancer, along with displacement of their land due to the environmental contamination of the Amazon by Chevron. This has led to a claim for $9.5 billion for compensation.
In Canada, members of indigenous communities in Grassy Narrows, Ontario, continue to show mercury blood levels at harmful levels, fifty years after 10 tonnes of mercury were dumped into the Wabigoon-English River system by a local paper mill. Many people living in the area continue to suffer symptoms, including neurological damage, consistent with mercury poisoning are still evident.
Furthermore, health data of members of indigenous communities across Canada continue to show lower life expectancy rates than for individuals who do not identify as Indigenous. According to Statistics Canada projections, by 2017, the life expectancy for Canadian males is 79, but just 64-years-of-age for Inuit. Similarly, the projected life expectancy for Canadian women is 83, but decreases by five years for people who identify as First Nations. Determinants of health such as poverty, substandard housing, and lack of access to medical care are some of the contributing factors.
“August 9th is a day to acknowledge that the health and hopes of Indigenous Peoples continue to suffer here in Canada and around the world because of exclusion, discrimination and outright denial of basic human rights,” says UFCW Canada National President Paul Meinema. “As activists and community members, we must continue to work together in the ongoing struggle for full equality and opportunity for Indigenous Peoples in Canada and throughout the world.”