You’ve all probably heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. But did you know that the General Assembly adopted a declaration specifically about indigenous rights in 2007? It is a really beautiful document, and you can read the whole thing here.
When this declaration was put up to a vote, 143 countries approved and 4 opposed. The four opposed were Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. Do you see a pattern there? The original opposition was frustrating, to say the least, but since then all four of these countries have formally approved the Declaration as well. Instead of staying angry at my own representatives for their initial stubbornness, I’ll try to be grateful that the declaration was ever formally adopted at all. It puts forward some pretty bold statements about the rights of indigenous peoples, and while there is a long, long way to go in the way big nations treat their indigenous communities, I take heart in the fact that the international community recognizes the problems and recognizes that it is important to address them.
Of particular interest to me, and hopefully to you readers, is Article 13:
Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.
There it is, enshrined in a declaration, adopted by 147 of the member countries of the United Nations. This international body recognizes the rights of peoples to maintain and revitalize their languages and their linguistic heritages.
Isn’t that inspirational?
(If you’re interested in reading more about this, the Australian Human Rights Council has developed a very nice Community Guide to the Declaration, including this section which talks about the practical implications of the Articles concerning cultural and linguistic preservation.)