Statement at the 22nd Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
“Indigenous Peoples, human health, planetary and territorial health and climate change: a rights-based approach”
New York, 18 April 2023
The Holy See expresses its appreciation for the work of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and would like to offer a few thoughts on the role Indigenous Peoples play in the areas of health and care for the environment.
Recently, Pope Francis asked Governments “to recognize the Indigenous Peoples of the whole world, with their cultures, languages, traditions, and spirituality, and to respect their dignity and their rights.” In this sense, it is vital to acknowledge their unique experience in the areas that we are discussing today, which represent an irreplaceable resource for all humanity.
In matters related to health, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) affirms the right of indigenous people to their traditional medicines and to maintain their health practices. In this regard, the Holy See stresses the importance of culturally sensitive healthcare. Imposing a model of health disregards the dignity and rights of Indigenous Peoples and risks becoming a form of “ideological colonization.” Furthermore, Governments should remove cultural, economic, linguistic, and information barriers to ensure access to quality health care.
Second, while Indigenous Peoples have a minimal impact on climate change, they are among the first to face its consequences. At the same time, the contribution of Indigenous Peoples is fundamental in the fight against climate change. They can help enhance the resilience of ecosystems, including by adapting to the impact of climate change in creative ways, drawing on their traditional knowledge and practice. Therefore, valuing their cultural heritage and traditional knowledge helps open up pathways for better environmental management.
Third, Indigenous lands make up around twenty percent of the Earth’s territory and contain eighty percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity. In this regard, Indigenous Peoples are irreplaceable custodians of biodiversity and key partners in its conservation, restoration and sustainable use. Indeed, Indigenous populations hold valuable knowledge and practices for the sustainable management of biodiversity due to their unique relationship with their lands, which is a “fundamental expression of their identity.” With this in mind, the Holy See thus reiterates that any effort to achieve the ambitious targets agreed upon in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework must respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including over their territories.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
 Pope Francis. Address to the Participants in the Indigenous Peoples Forum, Rome, 10 February 2023.
 UNDRIP, Article 24.1.
 Cfr. Pope Francis, Address to Civil Authorities, Representatives of Indigenous Peoples and Members of the Diplomatic Corps, 27 July 2022.
 Pope Francis, Address to participants in the Indigenous Peoples Forum, 10 February 2023.
 Pope John Paul II, Address to the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon, Manaus, 10 July 1980.