World Book and Copyright Day 2019: A Celebration of Indigenous Languages
By admin April 23, 2019

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“In these turbulent times, books embody the diversity of human ingenuity, giving shape to the wealth of human experience, expressing the search for meaning and expression we all share, that drive all societies forward. Books help weave humanity together as a single family, holding a past in common, a history and heritage, to craft a destiny that is shared, where all voices are heard in the great chorus of human aspiration.” – Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director General


April 23 is the date of birth or death for many prominent writers, including Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. Naturally, it was the first choice for UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day, which celebrates literature and reading as a means of furthering humanity’s social and cultural progress. In 2019, on the 24th celebration of the day, UNESCO calls for the global celebration and protection of Indigenous languages. In this way, books and stories bring people togther through their common heritage and culture in spite of their different identities and situations.

Spanning 90 countries, 5,000 cultures and 6,700 languages, it is easy to see how the protection of these languages is vital for sustainable development, peacebuilding and reconciliation, both between and within communities, as well as being a massive contribution to the world’s rich cultural diversity. However, the reality of this is faced with a number of obstacles. Studies show that children learn best in their own mother tongue, and yet lack of funding and technical support make establishing these native and local programs a difficult task. While the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that indigenous people have the right to provide education in their own languages, it is important to note that Indigenous peoples account for 15 percent of the poorest on earth, despite making up less than six percent of the world’s population.  Furthermore, the UN reports that hundreds of ancestral languages have become endangered in recent generations, with some dying out completely, along with the loss of the culture, knowledge and traditions of those who spoke them.

However, local entrepreneurs across the world have been showing their dedication to the preservation of their individual languages, by creating small businesses designed to connect those who share the language, as well as educating those who may not know about them. For example, mother-daughter duo Kim Blackburde-Moore, and her daughter Tehya, make garments inspired by four different indigenous languages – Michif French, Michif Cree, Ojibwe, and Dakota. This began when Tehya wanted t-shirts for her family saying ‘mama bear’ and ‘papa bear’ in Ojibwe, but stores only carried the shirts in English. Now, their clothes are popular among First Nation reserves in Manitoba, with proceeds from the clothing being dedicated to protecting Canada’s host of indigenous languages.

Yet, these initiatives are in no way limited to retail efforts, taking all sorts of innovative forms. For example, a Central California neighborhood has started its own community-run radio program that has been described as a ‘cultural lifeline’ for Indigenous Mexicans living in the state. As the first indigenous Central American program in the US, Radio Indigena runs music and talk shows in Zaptecom, Triqui, Mixteco, and Nahuatl. The station also offers Spanish programming, but its focus on indigenous languages has helped to ease pressure that has been placed on them as a result of socioeconomic and migratory factors, and allowed those who felt marginalized or isolated in a new culture to connect with a community that felt like home.

Therefore, by celebrating these languages, not only can we raise awareness of their existence and valuable contributions to global cultures, but we can benefit the people who speak these languages by protecting their education, customs, history and identity.


For more information:

Call to revitalize ‘language of the ancestors’ for survival of future generations

Manitoba family makes clothing to preserve Indigenous languages

A radio station becomes a lifeline for endangered Mexican, Central American indigenous languages

Traditional knowledge at ‘core’ of indigenous heritage, and ‘must be protected’, says UN Forum

UN Events: World Book and Copyright Day

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