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UNGA President highlights importance of indigenous groups in protecting biodiversity



President of the UN

The President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Abdulla Shahid, has highlighted the important roles indigenous groups play in protecting biodiversity.

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Permanent Forum

Shahid spoke at the opening of the 21st session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on Monday in New York.

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International Decade of Indigenous Languages

This year marks the beginning of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, running from 2022 to 2032.

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Agency of Nigeria

The UN correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that it is the first time in three years that the Forum is held in-person at the UN headquarters due to COVID-19 pandemic.

UNGA president said that for generations, indigenous communities had prioritised a relationship with nature – grounded in kinship, centered around reciprocity and infused with reverence.

“By emulating their example on a broader scale, we can preserve the Earth’s rich biodiversity and diverse landscapes,” he said.

Shahid pointed out that indigenous people comprise less than five per cent of the global population yet protect 80 per cent of global biodiversity.

He stressing that high linguistic diversity occurs where conditions for biological diversity thrive, saying, “It’s the richness of one that sustains the other’’.

Shahid said there was growing scientific evidence that indigenous languages that are rich in oral traditions offer evidence for events that happened thousands of years ago.

“By preserving and promoting these languages, we preserve and promote an important part of our human heritage, identity and belonging.

United Nations

“We have an obligation to ensure that they can participate in and benefit from the work of the United Nations,” he said.

Economic and Social Council President

Also addressing participants, UN Economic and Social Council President Collen Vixen Kelapile said the Forum’s expert advice – as an advisory body to the Council – is crucial to highlighting the key issues affecting indigenous peoples.

High-Level Political Forum

Kelapile said the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development– to be held in July and feature the national reviews of 45 Member States – will offer a significant opportunity for indigenous peoples to showcase their traditional knowledge on biodiversity, climate change and environmental stewardship.

Member States

He urged Member States to seek their participation, adding: “I look forward to your recommendations which should be built into the Council’s different platforms”.

Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin

UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin stressed that indigenous peoples customarily claim and manage more than 50 per cent of the world’s land, yet only legally own 10 per cent of it.

Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs Maria-Francesca Spatolisano

Zhenmin address was delivered by Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs Maria-Francesca Spatolisano.

Chair of the Forum

In his remarks, the Chair of the Forum,  Darío José Mejía Montalvo of Colombia said the 2022 theme touches upon the cosmos visions through which indigenous peoples had developed their systems for food, culture and coexistence with nature on their territories.

“We share a holistic relationship with nature, where rights are not anthropocentric. An infinity of sacred histories and stories underpin our visions of the world.”

According to him, ancestors too have rights – including to exist – because their task is enduring in the preservation of life and these ancestral practices maintain life in all its forms, with dignity.

Therefore, he said the question of whether indigenous knowledge is scientific is “meaningless”:  concepts of life, energy and spirituality are synonymous

He added that separating them from an economic, religious or other point of view leads to confusion, disputes and unnecessary clashes.  (NAN) (


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