Almost three decades ago, the 9th of August was designated as the International Day of Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations General Assembly. In Latin America, although progress has been made in the legal sphere in terms of securing their rights, we only have to look a little further afield to find serious paradoxes that compel us to raise our voices rather than celebrate the day.
One of the most important historical demands of Indigenous Peoples is the one concerning the security of their territorial rights. Territory, in addition to providing their livelihoods, is central to their spiritual connection, identity building and cultural reproduction. This space, in turn, allows the exercise of their autonomy and self-government, the development of their social relations, and the sustainability of their collective action. Thus, securing the territorial rights of Indigenous Peoples is an invaluable step towards securing other fundamental rights, both individual and collective.
In our region, the behaviour of governments towards this right has generally been dual and bipolar. On the one hand, there is widespread ratification of international conventions and declarations in favour of indigenous rights, as well as a proliferation of norms and policies - of acceptable quality - for the realisation of their territorial rights. On the other hand, Latin America is the most lethal region in the world for land and environmental defenders, with Indigenous Peoples being the most frequently attacked and killed. Moreover, according to the FAO, 30% of indigenous territories are not legally recognised in the region.
There is, therefore, a huge gap between the production of regulations and their implementation, but it is well camouflaged by the lack of data and visibility on the situation of the region's Indigenous Peoples.
In this regard, it is urgent to overcome statistical invisibility and generate complementary information to the official one, considering the voice of the different actors in the territory, and contributing to unmasking legislative "virtuosity".
A second, rather more outrageous paradox occurs when laws and policies that should protect Indigenous Peoples are designed to deliberately restrict their territorial rights. It occurs regularly in the region, as the Indigenous Peoples of Jujuy (Argentina) have recently witnessed with the provincial government's decision to reform the Constitution, facilitating the exploitation of lithium in their territories, or with the Peruvian Congress' attempts to alter the norms protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples in voluntary isolation. In general, this path generates severe social conflicts and high costs in human lives.
This being the case, although the production of regulations is often the first step towards profound transformations, it is also essential to look at public behaviour in the territories. For example, it is worth asking: How many resources have been allocated to the regularisation of indigenous territories? What public institutions work to address indigenous issues and what capacities do they have to do so? What mechanisms have been put in place to ensure indigenous participation and prior consultation? Furthermore, it is also important to observe the state's behaviour when facing the productive sectors of major capital that are putting pressure on indigenous territories. It will be a contradiction, for example, to implement generous natural resource management programmes for indigenous communities if, at the same time, incentives are generated for the operation of the oil sector or the expansion of monoculture plantations on indigenous territories.
Fortunately, indigenous organisations and their allies are working together to address these challenges. Initiatives such as the Indigenous Peoples Working Group, promoted by ILC Latin America, and its campaign "Securing Indigenous Territories to Protect Life", point in this direction.