Indigenous youth using political power for social change was published by Bond on August 25, 2021.
Indigenous leaders have faced crises, including climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, with innovative approaches.
Yet indigenous peoples – about 5 percent of the world’s population – continue to face fundamental challenges to meaningful participation and inclusion in decision-making processes.
To address these challenges, this year’s International Indigenous Peoples Day called for a new social contract to tackle inequality. Achieving this goal is only possible when indigenous peoples have the opportunity to participate in decisions that impact their communities.
In recognition of the International Day of Indigenous Peoples and International Youth Day, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) hosted a discussion on “Promoting the Political Rights of Indigenous Youth” with indigenous advocates from Guatemala, from Libya and Nepal.
Advocates highlighted the critical role of Indigenous youth in decision-making processes, addressing misinformation and climate change, which disproportionately impact Indigenous peoples. Indigenous youth, in particular, face social norms that prohibit their participation alongside older leaders. However, indigenous youth not only help protect the traditional wisdom and knowledge of elders, but bring new ideas and approaches.
Mitigating Barriers to Meaningful Participation
The right of indigenous peoples to participate in political life, if they wish, is protected by the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) (article 18) and ILO Convention 169 (section 6). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child promotes the rights of Indigenous children and youth. Yet indigenous peoples face barriers to inclusion in political processes and free, prior and informed consent to development.
Rupika Budha Shresthaa young Newar woman attending the National Law College in Nepal, a member of the Association of Youth Organizations of Nepal (AYON), explained that high unemployment rates and low income generation all have an impact on access to decision-making: “Because of the [family structure]… in terms of rights and political participation, [Indigenous youth] it is said to follow rather than [act] independently.”
Indigenous peoples also face targeted discrimination in the form of hate speech, as well as misinformation, especially when defending land rights. Shrestha, who helped lead a training on countering misinformation, educated her family and peers about the threat. She recommends verifying information and reporting misinformation from political parties or the media to authorities as key tactics to ensure that information is factual, especially when it relates to indigenous peoples.
Maria Floridalma Lopez Atz, a young Maya Kaqchikel from the Kaqchikel People’s Council and member of the Indigenous Women’s Platform of Guatemala, noted that stereotypes persist around age and participation, including the assumption that young people are not interested by politics or risk being corrupted. López Atz, who participated as an election observer before she was of voting age, noted that becoming an observer not only allowed her to participate in political life, but also benefited the observation mission, because Indigenous voters felt comfortable sharing their voting experience with her.
According to Huda Badroush Dahanan incredible disabled woman, president of La Tai’asoo for Persons with Disabilities and founder of the Libyan Network for the Development of Democracy and alumnus of IFES’s Power to Persuade training in public policy advocacy, highlighted election monitoring and the use of candidate debates “to ensure [candidates’ views] exposed to the public” as a way to fight corruption.
“We are trying to show people that climate change is real and happening, so we have to prepare for it. Indigenous youth with disabilities have collaborated with other Amazingh communities in the mountains who are not as affected by sea level rise but have other issues, so we coordinate and share information as an indigenous group . – Huda Badroush Dahan, an Amazingh woman with disabilities in Libya
Indigenous youth are also active in politics to respond to crises, such as climate change. As López Atz explained: “I live in a community where I can see green landscapes, but there are communities nearby where we can see the difference in deforestation and people have lost the right to their land or businesses entered without consent.
“As young people, we joined collective actions to protest against mega-corporations that want to grow and fight for the environment with politicians. We have banned the use of plastic in my community, so when we go to buy tortillas, we have to bring our own bag. These are small actions but when we all do it, we help our community. It’s part of the process, everything we do is like a little grain of sand to help fight this big threat to the whole world.
In Libya, Badroush Dahan, who is from a coastal community on the Mediterranean Sea, and a group of young indigenous people with disabilities raised awareness of the impacts of climate change among Amazingh communities in the mountains that are not yet experiencing the impacts of the sea level rise. Information sharing and coordination between indigenous communities builds political power.
“We are starting to teach young people so that when they come of age, they have a broader vision of what they have to do and their responsibilities. We need to focus on aboriginal youth, so that we have equality of knowledge within the political system. . …Since they are young, they should learn to use their civil rights, their voters and their other responsibilities. – María Floridalma López Atz, a young Maya Kaqchikel
Badroush Dahan, López Atz and Shrestha highlighted access to education as a key barrier to overcome for inclusive indigenous youth participation and recommended sharing rights-based information with younger generations to better understand their democratic roles and responsibilities. As part of his Power to Persuade project, Badroush Dahan led meetings with Indigenous youth with disabilities about the voting process, including finding accessible polling stations. Creating safe spaces for collective voices is an essential part of inclusion.
Recommendations for Meaningful Inclusion of Indigenous Youth
- Ensure that educational programs targeting Indigenous youth, particularly in rural or remote areas, include civic education. Programs should emphasize democratic roles and responsibilities, as well as how to communicate with government stakeholders and other decision makers to inform policy decisions.
- Provide leadership training and skills building opportunities for Indigenous youth and facilitate intergenerational learning opportunities alongside traditional and older leaders to build relationships and change social norms.
- Tailor information on political party structures and positions to indigenous youth and encourage them to engage in formal political participation, if they wish.
- Prepare questions related to Indigenous peoples, including Indigenous people with disabilities and Indigenous women, to pose in policy debates to increase the visibility of people with intersectional identities.
- Ensure that indigenous youth have a role to play in both indigenous peoples’ organizations and youth-led organizations, including integrating their rights into strategic planning and goal setting.
- Conduct anti-hate speech campaigns and anti-misinformation and disinformation campaigns to address discrimination targeting Indigenous communities.
- Organize feedback sessions with indigenous peoples, including youth, women and people with disabilities, to ensure free, prior and informed consent on all projects that affect them.
Published February 9, 2022.