Indigenous woman with folded hands.

Voices of the Earth: Commemorating International Day of the World’s Indigenous People

International Day of the World’s Indigenous People takes place on August 9th each year, and it’s an opportunity to raise awareness about protecting indigenous populations across the globe. The United Nations General Assembly has named this year’s theme “Indigenous Youth as Agents of Change for Self-determination.”

A Virtual Commemoration

The United Nations created the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People in 1994. But if this is your first time hearing about it, it’s not too late to participate today; a virtual International Day observance will take place from 9:00 am to 10:30 am Eastern Standard Time. You can sign up for this virtual commemoration online.

Traveling to Empower

Tours to indigenous communities are trending in the travel space. When run with good intentions, such tours can help lift communities out of poverty, give women employment, and preserve indigenous groups’ culture, among other benefits.

Sadly, many tour operators cut corners when arranging tours to indigenous communities. Jamie Sweeting, VP of Sustainability at G Adventures, explains. “Be cautious of companies that are selling indigenous experiences that are promoting a fictional stereotype of what they think you want.” He explains that it’s important for tour companies to allow indigenous groups “to tell their story, their history, their culture and their nature their way.”

From a tourist’s perspective, that can be hard to identify. So, Sweeting recommends seeking out indigenous-owned, run, and managed experiences. Some tour operators, such as G Adventures, partner with these indigenous-owned companies.

Weaving in Peru

Peruvian woman weaving.
Photo Credit: G Adventures Inc.

An example of positive indigenous tourism is visiting a women’s weaving co-op in Ccaccaccollo, Peru. Tourists who join a tour, such as the Inca Discovery tour that G Adventures arranges, have the opportunity to meet local indigenous Peruvian women and learn about their traditional weaving process. Over 45 women are part of the group, and tourism helps them generate an income while encouraging younger generations to practice traditional llama and alpaca wool weaving methods.

Partnering With Non-Profits

Indigenous people in Northern Thailand.
Photo Credit: G Adventures Inc.

Researching companies that partner with respected non-profits is another way tourists can feel good about where they put their tourist dollars. Planeterra is an example of a non-profit that works with tour companies like G Adventures to help indigenous communities in Northern Thailand earn a living from tourism.

Taking Responsibility

Every tourist who wants to visit an indigenous community should consider it their responsibility to identify a tour that will uplift rather than harm or degrade the locals.

Sweeting cautions tourists to “beware of experiences that are being dictated by outsiders and where indigenous people are required to ‘perform’ dances or rituals for tourists that they feel uncomfortable doing.”

How can a tourist know if indigenous people are being forced to do things they’re uncomfortable with? Researching the indigenous group and travel company is a good start. Reading reviews to see what travelers say about the experience is also helpful, keeping an eye out for words indicating the locals seemed unhappy, mistreated, or taken advantage of.

Souvenir Time

Most indigenous communities sell traditional products they make. Purchasing them can be an excellent way to ensure your tourist dollars go directly to the families you visit.

Depending on the situation, credit cards may not be a payment option. So, bring plenty of cash and a list of family and friends you want to buy souvenirs for; it’ll be more fulfilling than purchasing manufactured souvenirs from a store in the nearest city.

Creating Change

According to the UN, 47% of indigenous people with employment have no education, with the gap being even greater for women. Furthermore, people from indigenous communities are three times more likely to live in extreme poverty than non-indigenous people.

So, don’t let the fear of choosing a poorly-run indigenous tour prevent you from visiting indigenous communities. Tourism can be an excellent way to empower local indigenous groups; do your due diligence, and be generous with purchasing local products.

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