Each year, on the 9th of August, the United Nations asks that we recognise the diversity and survival of the world’s Indigenous peoples. There are almost 400 million Indigenous peoples from 90 different countries spread over the planet. Despite generations of political advocacy, active resistance, peaceful demonstration and attempts at ensuring a fair stake in the life of member states, it has only been in recent years that there has been a broader international focus on the circumstances, needs and challenges facing Indigenous peoples.
Much of this recent attention has stemmed from the 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Such a momentous process highlighted several issues. Firstly, there was strong consensus among representatives of the world’s Indigenous peoples and their advocates of the importance of a human rights based approach to health and wellbeing of vulnerable communities. Secondly, there was recognition that Indigenous peoples represent immeasurably diverse cultural, social and geopolitical realities. In every sense this complex tapestry reflects the full diversity of the human condition.
Yet despite their differences, Indigenous peoples are often over-represented in the poorest and most marginalised sector of society. As a consequence they frequently demonstrate the worst health, the highest mortality and the lowest socioeconomic status of any population within their country. The reasons for this shared pattern of disadvantage include shared histories of depopulation, frontier conflict, exposure to previously unknown infectious agents, and in many instances governmental policy of devaluation, cultural re-education, forced separation from family and language, removal from ancestral lands and cultural practices, and systematic marginalisation.
It is relatively easy to think that these negatives define Indigenous people. However, despite its importance, the role of Indigenous people and cultures and what they can offer broader societies is rarely discussed. At a time when the world struggles with the burden and challenges of environmental degradation, Indigenous peoples provide exemplars of sustainable living and have a deep understanding of better ways to care for the earth. While the world wonders about how they have lost touch with one another, despite spending much of their lives constantly in ‘contact’, it is Indigenous peoples who have historically connected people, places, and the natural wonders of the planet.
It therefore seems apt that at the beginning of our journey as a newly established journal, the 2015 Theme for the International Day of the Worlds Indigenous People focuses on ensuring their health and wellbeing. We hope that Global Health, Epidemiology and Genomics can become a forum and repository for research that supports Indigenous peoples health, and assists in the translation of science and advanced technology to the worlds disadvantaged and marginalised. Ensuring we can all learn from the wisdom and survival of the worlds’ oldest cultures will help to provide a better future for all of humanity.