Indigenous World 2020: Global Indigenous Youth Caucus

It is estimated that there are 370 million Indigenous persons in the world, approximately 45% of whom are between 15 and 30 years of age. This group of Indigenous Peoples face numerous challenges, including marginalisation, migration and premature maternity. Despite these problems, Indigenous youth continue organising to attain their rights and bring their situation to the light of day.

The Global Indigenous Youth Caucus (GIYC) is a global network of Indigenous youth from the seven Indigenous sociocultural regions. Ever since the first session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), Indigenous youth participants have been meeting and developing statements and positions expressing the concerns of Indigenous youth in various bodies, mechanisms, and international processes.

In 2008, the UNPFII recognised the Youth Caucus as a stable working caucus. The Youth Caucus has two or three co-chairs, who have the responsibility of organising, coordinating and communicating with caucus members. It also has two to three regional focal points from each of the seven sociocultural regions, who maintain communication with the Indigenous youth of their region. The caucus’s objective is to bring Indigenous youth together across borders and continents in order to contribute to the struggle for the rights of the Indigenous Peoples and strengthen their capacity to act as custodians of Indigenous cultural heritage.

When one speaks of hope, youth have always been important to bear in mind. The youth of today have distinct aspirations, dreams, desires and many challenges that lie ahead for them. Much of the data of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reaffirms that there are 1.8 billion adolescents in the world, representing 18% of the world’s population. That great strength that the world’s youth represents includes Indigenous youth, who have a need to undertake new challenges in defense of the lives and the futures of their peoples.

Indigenous youth from the seven sociocultural regions[1] who belong to the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus (GIYC),[2] have promoted the creation of participatory political action mechanisms to defend the rights of Indigenous Peoples where their aspirations as youth can be reflected.

It is fundamental that Indigenous youth be included in spaces of social participation through permanent mechanisms. Over the years, Indigenous youth have demanded spaces that guarantee their full and effective participation. In 2019, this demand grew, fundamentally due to an increase in human rights violations, murders, the persecution of Indigenous leaders, illegal exploitation in Indigenous territories and the direct consequences of all of this on our identity.

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) have been two of the most important international spaces for Indigenous youth, which have served to shed light on the issues, advances and challenges faced by Indigenous youth.

The report issued by the UNPFII in 2016 “Youth: Self-Harm and Suicide”[3] and the report “Perspective of Indigenous Youth 10 Years after the Adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”[4] marked the guideline for analyses involving Indigenous youth. This was further strengthened in the document entitled “Rome Statement”[5] presented at the 16th session of the UNPFII, where Indigenous youth underscored the urgency of recognising Indigenous youth as a fundamental agent of change and action.

Indigenous youth have engaged in a series of efforts to promote their participation in monitoring the implementation of individual and collective rights of Indigenous Peoples. In this regard, the review process on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has given Indigenous youth an important opportunity to bring their situation to light, speak transversally about their rights and be holistically contemplated in the global agenda.

During 2019, the advocacy work and participation of Indigenous youth in various national and international spaces made it possible for them to develop positions on the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), principally highlighting the transversal nature of SDG 13 (Climate Action) and of SDG 15 (sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems), since those SDGs have a direct impact on the lives of the world’s Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous youth commitment and activities at a global level in UN processes

When weighing the dualism of modernity and traditionality, Indigenous youth cannot set aside the history endured by their peoples, including the genocide and acculturation to which they have been subjected. Despite that, century after century, Indigenous Peoples have resisted and maintained their cultural and territorial identity. Yet currently, Indigenous youth are extremely concerned as they see an acceleration of the consumption model, an advance of new models of production innovations, a changing sociodemographic dynamic and certain changes in the use of the lands and territories, which are significantly increasing pressure on the natural resources and ancestral territories of the Indigenous Peoples.

Climate change is affecting everyone, generating an enormous mobilization worldwide led by youth such as Greta Thunberg.[6] In 2019, Indigenous youth have made great efforts to ensure their participation in international spaces addressing climate change. Their work has aimed to call attention to the climate crisis and its impact on Indigenous Peoples. They have also called upon the States to recognise the impact on Indigenous Peoples of climate change itself and of mitigation measures, and not to deny climate justice for Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous Youth in the 2030 Agenda

The SDGs are formulated to end poverty, promote well-being and protect the environment, with the message of “leave no one behind”, all based on the principle of equality and nondiscrimination. In order to achieve this it is necessary to ensure Indigenous Peoples’ right to participation through permanent institutional mechanisms.

The demand by Indigenous youth to have their right to participate recognised has been supported by various important actors, for example the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Youth, Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, who has been involved in the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus (GIYC) and who has pointed out the need for their inclusion: “We need to ensure that Indigenous youth have a voice not only in their communities, but also in decision-making processes at a national and international level.”[7]

It is important to recognise the connection between the SDGs and other global negotiating processes addressing issues of an economic, social and environmental nature in order to ensure synergies in meeting the objectives and ensure their scope at a country level and in the Indigenous communities.

It is necessary to continue creating and strengthening alliances with UN bodies, in particular with members of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues (IASG), States, NGOs, institutions, academia and other actors, so that they will collaborate in mobilising resources to help ensure the implementation of the SDGs, fundamentally at the country level.

In 2019, Indigenous youth participated in following global events:

  • Forum of the Indigenous Peoples at International Fund for Agricultural Development (12 - 13 February 2019, Rome, Italy)
  • UNPFII 2019 (22 April - 3 May 2019, New York)
  • Preparatory Meeting for the Climate Action Summit (30 June - 1 July 2019, Abu Dhabi)
  • EMRIP (15 - 19 July 2019, Geneva)
  • Global Landscapes Forum (22 -23 June 2019, Bonn, Germany)
  • Youth Climate Summit (23 September 2019, New York)
  • Sustainable Development Summit (25 - 27 September 2019, New York)
  • High-Level Meetings during the 74th session of the General Assembly (23 - 27 September 2019, New York)
  • Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 (12 - 14 November 2019)
  • COP 25 (2 - 13 December 2019, Madrid)

Advances and Challenges

When seeking to identify the principal advances and challenges it is important to indicate that all of the progress made by Indigenous youth has been possible thanks to the confidence bestowed by Indigenous organisations, UN offices that have worked with Indigenous youth, non-governmental organisations and international bodies that have given them support, but, above all, the confidence placed in them by their elders.

Among the progress made, Indigenous youth from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific were inlcuded in the Indigenous Steering Committee of the IFAD Indigenous Peoples Forum.

The youth have also indicated that there has been recognition of and inter-sectional attention paid to the situation of Indigenous youth on the UN global agenda. In this context, the attention given by UNFPA has been particularly relevant.

The importance of the commitment by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) and IFAD in recognising the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the special attention granted to Indigenous youth in recent years are especially important. The interest demonstrated by the special youth envoy to Indigenous youth issues and climate change has also been a great achievement for Indigenous youth.

With respect to best practices, at a regional level in Latin America, it is important to recognise and share the work carried out by the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (FILAC)[8] and its commitment towards Indigenous youth based on their Unity of Youth. FILAC is the only international entity with parity participation of governments and Indigenous Peoples, where Indigenous youth are involved in their actions, programmes and projects. Among FILAC’s major actions in relation to the involvement of Indigenous youth, the youth participated and specific strategies were developed at the Regional Dialogue of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean in the framework of the Green Climate Fund, which was convened by FILAC and supported by the Government of Nicaragua and FAO.

Recognition must be given to the important role played by the global youth movement to ensure equitable and differentiated participation of Indigenous youth in the various decision-making spaces on public policies, strategies, plans and projects for climate change adaptation and mitigation.


Indigenous youth understand that their mission in the international arena is to contribute to the unity of the Indigenous movement, strengthening its demands, increasing awareness on what is occurring at a local and regional level, and developing collective recommendations and strategies.

For Indigenous youth, transmission of traditional knowledge is a core element for empowerment. Indigenous Peoples are not separate from the earth, and an attack on Mother Earth is an attack on the preservation of traditional knowledge and on the cultural and spiritual identity of its peoples. They request that investments be made in Indigenous organisations as principal actors for actions aimed at mitigating climate change.

The survival of Indigenous languages and their traditional knowledge are fundamental for integral development of communities and the world. Indigenous Peoples are the guardians of Mother Earth and defenders of life. They do not need to change the climate; they need to change the system.

Jessica Vega Ortega is an Indigenous youth belonging to the Mixteco people of Mexico. She is currently Vice-Chair of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus (GIYC).

Rayanne Cristine Maximum França is an Indigenous youth activist from Brazil who is part of the Indigenous Youth Network of Brazil.

Notes and References 

[1] The seven sociocultural regions are: (I) Africa; (II) Asia; (III) North America; (IV) Central America, South America, and the Caribbean; (V) the Artic; (VI) the Pacific; and (VII) Eastern Europe, Russia, Central Asia, and Transcaucasia.

[2] The Global Indigenous Youth Caucus (GIYC):

[3] Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. “Youth: Self-Harm and Suicide.” Accessed 3 March 2020: [Available in English at:]

[4] 3 Q”apaj Conde, Informe Perspectiva de Jóvenes Indígenas a los 10 Años de la Adopción de la Declaración de Naciones Unidas sobre los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas, FILAC (2017). Accessed 3 March 2020:

[5] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Rome Statement on the Contribution of Indigenous Youth towards a World without Hunger: [Available in English at:]. The Rome Statement was presented at the Permanent Forum at its 16th session in 2017.

[6] Peinado, Fernando “Greta Thunberg se rodea de jóvenes indígenas para darles visibilidad”. El País, 9 December 2019:

[7] Global Indigenous Youth: Through Their Eyes, Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights and the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus. Accessed 3 March 2020:

[8] Fund for the Development of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean:


This article is part of the 34th edition of the The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced.  Find The Indigenous World 2020 in full here

Tags: Youth, Global governance



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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