International Decade of Indigenous Languages?

Logo of IYIL2019
                                 Logo of IYIL2019

As we look beyond the current International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019), it is interesting to note a proposal for continuing that effort as an International Decade, 2020-2030 (IDIL). In this post, I’ll share at what information I have found about the latter, and relate it to a similar, but now almost forgotten, proposal for a Decade following the International Year of Languages (IYL2008).

The proposal for an IDIL may have originated with Wilton “Willie” Littlechild, Grand Chief, Maskwacis. He, in turn, indicated in an April 2019 meeting of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) that the Assembly of First Nations (Canada) had in December 2018 passed a resolution advocating an IDIL. That meeting of the UNPFII also issued a call for an IDIL.

In January 2019, the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, (EMRIP)a subsidiary body of the UN Human Rights Council, released a “Statement on the International Year of Indigenous Languages, 2019.” It included this paragraph, which seems like a good summary of the rationale for IDIL:

We strongly support the States that have encouraged the United Nations to Declare 2020-2030 the Decade of Indigenous Languages. This initial year is important to raise awareness among states and convene stakeholders, including universities, civil society, private sector, and other actors, in the movement for indigenous language revitalization. Yet it will take more time to reverse the dire situation of indigenous peoples’ language loss. Over the course of a decade, however, it would be possible to truly transform the situation of indigenous peoples’ languages, such that these languages could fully recover and flourish in the lives of indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples must play a leading role and be fully consulted while these initiatives are being discussed.

I do not currently have information on which countries actively back the IDIL proposal.

The EMRIP, in its July meeting celebrating IYIL2019, reaffirmed its support for declaration of an IDIL.

And on the recent International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, August 9, several UN human rights experts called for “a decade of action to protect and promote the use of indigenous languages, many of which are endangered.”

UN Decades

UN International Decades, like the Years, are typically established by resolution of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). As I understand the process, a resolution would need to be proposed by member states, then go through a normal process of debate and revision before a vote.

It may be possible for UNESCO, the agency facilitating IYIL2019, to declare a Decade and then seek UNGA adoption. In any event, the process for something so significant is not quick (note the attempts by India, beginning with appeal to FAO in 2017, to establish a Year of Millets – which may finally happen in 2023).

IYL2008 & the Decade of Languages

Towards the end of IYL2008, I speculated on this blog about a possible International Decade of Languages and what it might do.

It was probably inevitable that someone in official circles would at least float a proposal along these lines, and indeed that was what happened in 2009. Details were hard to come by, but apparently Hungary made a proposal at UNESCO that was supported by Austria. And Venezuela, Chile, and Ethiopia also backed the idea, which evidently was given the title “International Decade of Languages and Multilingualism.”

This proposal never seemed to gather the kind of constituency and support that IDIL has today.  So it will be interesting to see how the latter fares.

Indigenous & endangered languages?

IDIL would address vitally important issues just as IYIL2019 does, and it is a proposal with merit. Given the frequent mention of endangered languages in the context of discussing indigenous languages – since many of the latter are among the former – I’m personally wondering if the proposal wouldn’t be strengthened by joining the two categories.

Could an International Decade of Indigenous and Endangered Languages gain wider support and ultimately achieve more, while not diluting attention to languages of indigenous peoples?