By Vatican News
The Holy See has called for more care to be given to indigenous communities who suffer a “severe and disproportionate impact” of the Covid-19 pandemic despite representing only six percent of the world’s population.
“The Holy See expresses solidarity and closeness with them, so often marginalized and, yet, keenly aware of their unique identity and contribution to society,” said Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in an address on Thursday during the 45th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.
Challenges of indigenous people
Archbishop Jurkovič highlighted that indigenous people experience some of the highest rates of poverty which makes them more vulnerable – not only to the Covid-19 pandemic – but also to other current challenges such as climate change and natural disasters. Further compounding the situation, the ongoing health crisis has forced restrictions on movement which has increased food and water insecurity and hindered access to medical supplies among these hard-hit communities.
Besides, noted the Bishop, in many parts of the world, the human rights of many indigenous people continue to be violated in various ways, including inadequate access to justice, education, arbitrary arrests of indigenous leaders, as well as the violation of their cultural rights - particularly that of self-determination.
Land and identity
Reiterating Pope Francis’s call in the concluding document of the Synod on the Pan-Amazon Region last year, the Archbishop appealed to the international community to restore justice to indigenous peoples by protecting their lands from expropriation and economic exploitation through legislations.
Archbishop Jurkovic pointed out that for indigenous communities, the land and the natural resources on which they depend “are closely linked not only to their identities and cultures but also to their physical and spiritual well-being.” Besides, they contribute immensely to global ecological integrity as they safeguard “80 percent of the world’s biodiversity.”
Explaining further, he said indigenous peoples consider land not as a commodity but rather as a “gift from God and from their ancestors” and care for it best when they remain on their own land. In this light, he lamented the impact of norms and public policies aimed at mega-project developments which exert pressure on ancestral indigenous territories.
Appeal for inclusion of indigenous communities
Indigenous communities, the Archbishop affirmed, are “principal dialogue partners and should be included in all decision-making processes at the political level, especially those affecting them directly” as they are not “merely one minority among others.”
In this light, Archbishop Jurkovič reiterated the call for developmental policies at all levels that truly involve indigenous people and respect their cultural traditions especially since efforts to include their voices and concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic have been particularly lacking.
“This current crisis is a wakeup call for all of us,” he said. “Man is not the owner of nature, but the one who manages it.” We are therefore to “develop new ways of living” that promote a “more profound and broad understanding of authentic and integral human development.”