International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples

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  • Ciara Kelly

International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples all over the world have faced unprecedented challenges for centuries, and unfortunately this has taken a toll on their lifestyles. From relocations to wars, mental health has not been on the top of many to-do lists. However, given the trauma, poverty, and depopulation that Indigenous people all over the world have had to endure, it’s time to start talking about their mental well-being. On International Day of Indigenous Peoples it’s important to discuss the recognition of their culture because they have fought hard to keep it, and also the struggles they still face, including barriers to mental health.

Why we celebrate

Most nations have a day to celebrate their independence, a victory in war, or the ratification of their constitution, however, all too often we ignore the fact that these days come at the cost of millions of lives over the past 500+ years. Today there are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world, in 90 different countries. They have constantly been relocated and faced political and economic barriers to a successful life. Although they are about 5% of the world’s population, they account for 15% of the poorest. Their (dying) cultures and languages are plentiful and need to be honored and respected.


Indigenous people may be among the most disadvantaged groups of people in the world, and there are, finally, measures being taken to protect their rights and distinct cultures. August 9th was chosen as World Indigenous Peoples Day as the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations was held in Geneva in 1982 on this day.


Every year, there is a theme to the World Indigenous Day to honor and educate the rest of the world on the variety of cultures and identities of Indigenous People. This year’s theme is languages, an important topic to bring awareness to, as Indigenous people speak the majority of the world’s 7,000 languages, but many go extinct each month. It is estimated that every two weeks an indigenous language disappears, which slowly deteriorates the culture of these people as well. It’s time everyone began to honor and celebrate the lives of Indigenous People, their languages, and their identity. Indigenous people play an important role in society’s past, present, and future.


Indigenous People and Mental Health

Unfortunately there is very little research on worldwide Indigenous people’s mental health, but there are a few sources of research on Native American mental health. This lack of knowledge is, in a way, not a surprise, as Indigenous People’s health and rights have been of little concern to the western world. Consequently, this marginalized identity has also caused the general mental health of Indigenous Peoples to be much lower than that of their white counterparts.


Suicide rates among American Indian and Alaskan Natives are higher than any other racial/ethnic group in the United States and has been increasing since 2003. Unlike in the rest of the U.S. suicide rates actually decrease with age in Native American and Alaskan Native populations, making it one of the leading causes of death for Native American youth, especially men. One possible circumstance that leads to these numbers is a higher rate of substance abuse. However, all in all, the cause of most of these issues can all lead back to societal and political turmoil that has caused gaps between Indigenous People’s cultures and that of the nation. It has forced them to be seen as outsiders in places where they were natives, and these pressures can be very hard for youth.


Although, most of the research is on Native Americans and other Indigenous groups in the Western Hemisphere, the same can be said for peoples of Oceania and Northern Russia, and reports of high suicide and alcoholism have been stated in Taiwan as well. Thus, it deems true that these issues have served the entire community of Indigenous People, no matter where they are in the world.

Time for Change

In recent years there has finally been help and hope for Indigenous people. With the UN starting the Working Group on Indigenous People, Amnesty International looking into many cases of tribal killings including some of tribal people from the Philippines in custody in India.


The Aspen Institute has started a Center for Native American Youth that strives to provide equal access to opportunity and healthy lives for Native American youth, a lot of their work focuses on policy change. The Indian Health Services as part of the United States government has started initiatives and plans for lowering suicide rates in the Native American youth. iBobbly is a mental health app bring telehealth to Aboriginals in Australia, hoping to lower suicide rates, similar to AYANA they, hope to bring accessible mental health care to those who need it.


Most impressively, Canada has taken great strides to providing better care for their Indigenous people. From an initiative called Hope for Wellness providing a crisis help line for Inuit and First Nations, their Indigenous people, in 5 different languages. There are also many companies like LifeLine Canada and Life Voice that have teams focused directly on Aboriginal mental health. This is what is necessary, and should be implemented everywhere.


AYANA and Indigenous People

AYANA is working to create a safe space for Indigenous people, with therapists that understand the barriers and circumstances that people may have faced due to their culture. AYANA is here to honor each and every culture, and provide accessible and affordable online therapy for groups such as Indigenous People. Here the barriers will be broken down and therapy will not be constricted by colonized worlds.

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