Three Things to Celebrate on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Today is a great day to think about indigenous peoples, language, treaties, and mapping.

By Aura Bogado Aug 09, 2013

Today is the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Here are three things you might want to consider about indigenous peoples living in the US today:

1) Indigenous peoples speak in different languages

Southern California is home to lots of indigenous Zapotecs–many of whose parents or grandparents arrived from Oaxaca, Mexico in the last few decades. Their language, Dizha Xhon, is endangered–and that’s why, as PRI’s Ruxandra Guidi reports, there’s a concerted effort to preserve it in the Los Angeles neighborhood of MacArthur Park. 

2) Indigenous peoples write in different ways

The Dutch arrived on what was already Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois) land 400 years ago, unannounced. Representatives from five sovereign Haudenosaunee nations: Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga and Seneca, decided to strike a permanent treaty with the Dutch based on friendship and peace. As was the custom for Europeans at the time, the Dutch wrote the treaty with ink. As was the custom for Natives in this part of North America at the time, the Haudenosaunee nations wrote the treaty in wampum beads, on a document known as the Two Row Wampum.

Native and non-Native paddlers honored that treaty as part of the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign on the Hudson River today, and were met by those who came to honor them at a Downtown Manhattan boathouse before marching across the island to the United Nations building. 

3) Indigenous peoples are mapping their own lands

Google Maps has been great at charting the world–but too many indigenous peoples can tell you how problematic the history of map-making (especially as a part of "exploration") has been. As anyone who’s driven through Indian Country can tell you, too many roads and buildings are missing on popular maps, making Native nations representationally invisible. That’s why the National Congress of American Indians teamed up with Google Maps to tap local knowledge from tribal governments, businesses, as well as individuals to improve the maps of their tribes and nations The project kicked off today, and it’s dubbed Indigenous Mapping Day