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Today the world celebrates the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples to highlight the achievements and contributions that indigenous people make in the world. This year the theme focuses on the Tenth Anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a key milestone for cooperation and solidarity between indigenous peoples and governments. According to the UN, the declaration is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for their survival, dignity and well-being. However, despite major progress, indigenous peoples continue to face exclusion, marginalization and challenges to enjoy basic rights.

Ever since the GEF Small Grants Programme was created more than two decades ago, indigenous people’s issues and the recognition of their value in natural resource management have been at the core of the programme. In the last two years alone, SGP supported over 300 projects from indigenous peoples’ organizations (IPOs) and countries accepted proposals in local languages, participatory video and/or alternative formats to increase their participation.

South AFRICA IPs web

For example, in South Africa, SGP worked with the Namas indigenous peoples of the Wupperthal and Nieuwoudtville areas, in the Northern Cape region, to conserve natural and cultural resources along the Rooibos Heritage Route within the Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor – a tourism circuit poorly known in the region. The project partnered with seven small business enterprises in setting up eco-infrastructure including local biodiversity information, a website, and a podcast to showcase the indigenous heritage of the area. Marketing information captured the attractions along the RHR, the natural environment and local conservation initiatives pertaining to Rooibos (Aspalatusli-nearis), known locally as red bush. Training workshops, field research and meetings were also held to enhance nature and culture-based tourism in the area. As a result, tourism agencies have agreed
to support the ongoing marketing of the Rooibos Heritage Route, which is expected to increase the total number of tourist visitors in the target landscape.

 Survey and marking of Traditional custody land

Survey and marking of Traditional custody land. Credit: SGP Malaysia.

In Malaysia, SGP worked with Natural Justice and the Global Diversity Foundation to support a local community bio-cultural conservation initiative in Bundu Tuhan, an indigenous Dusun community in the state of Sabah. Activities under the project included a bio-cultural resources monitoring programme to track the long-term diversity of critical wild and semi-domesticated species; a cultural heritage and sacred forest documentation initiative to strengthen community knowledge about the cultural values of the Winokok forest landscape, and associated historical sites; and a bio-cultural tourism development programme. Three publications about the Bundu Tuhan customs of the Dusun indigenous people (i.e. community protocol; ecotourism plan; and children’s story book) will be used as a reference and for ongoing outreach with other indigenous Dusun communities across the state of Sabah, and further afield. Furthermore, 1,263 hectares of ICCAs were supported, with 842 hectares now officially gazette as a native reserve.

At the global level, SGP has also launched two major initiatives: an Indigenous Peoples Fellowship Initiative that is supporting four global fellows and several more national fellows to enhance their leadership skills on global environmental issues; and a programme to support Indigenous Peoples and Communities Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCA) with the support of the Government of Germany.

Happy International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples!