According to the UN, “there are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world, living across 90 countries. They make up less than 5 per cent of the world’s population, but account for 15 per cent of the poorest. They speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures.
“Indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. They have retained social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Despite their cultural differences, indigenous peoples from around the world share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples.”
The Holy See has been a strong and consistent advocate for the rights of indigenous people, noting that governments are to promote the “true development” of indigenous peoples.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, made this appeal on April 25, 2017, to the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, taking place on the 10th anniversary of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
To promote this development, he insisted, requires harmonizing “their right to cultural and social development alongside economic development.”
When initiatives of economic activities affect the indigenous, the Vatican official said it is necessary first to obtain their “informed consent.”
“These deeply ingrained values in indigenous traditions and cultures,” Archbishop Auza said “deserve to be set as examples for all people to protect the environment from further degradation. In this regard, indigenous peoples deserve not only our respect, but also our gratitude and support.”