Press release

The UNESCO’s High-Level Event towards the International Decade of Indigenous Languages begins

UNESCO Director-General calls for a change of paradigm in the attention to the problems of indigenous languages, towards its International Decade


Mexico City, February 27 2020—. More than 7,000 languages are spoken throughout the world (the majority are indigenous) and it is estimated that around 90% of those 7,000 could be extinguished to the end of this century (in just 80 years). That is why the High-Level Event developed at Mexico and the next Global Plan of Action for the Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032 are fundamental, said the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Audrey Azoulay.


During the inaugural ceremony of the UNESCO’s High-Level Event, “Making a decade of action for indigenous languages”, with more than 500 indigenous leaders, members of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, activists, academics and government officials, Ms Azoulay reiterated the Organization’s commitment to consolidate a vision where linguistic rights wouldn’t be considered isolated or as an ethnographic reduction, because “a language that dies is a glance over the world that disappears”.


To preserve the planet’s hospitality, the indigenous languages must prevail, as they not only mark identities but also knowledge networks and essential knowledge. For example, the indigenous communities occupy 22% of the lands and are surrounded by 80% of the biological diversity that they take care of. Thus, the crucial course of action is to protect the ones that are part of those communities and to promote the multilingualism in all spaces, like schools (where 40% of them don’t receive education in their language) or the media (ecosystem in which UNESCO’s Mexican Offices are working towards the sustainability of community radio.


Because of the alarming statistics on languages at risk, Goodwill Ambassador Yalitza Aparicio called not to try to find a perpetrator but to find a solution to preserve the languages, as they provide a different perspective to address social and environmental issues.

In her emotional speech, which was immediately translated into Mixtec (indigenous language in Mexico) by Araceli Torres, a member of the UNESCO team in Mexico, Yalitza stressed that linguistic diversity and being of indigenous descent is a reason for the pride that should be transmitted from the first levels of education.


"Today we are here to show our people that we are capable of doing what we want, even though we have been led to believe otherwise and that, to get where we are, it was not necessary to deny who we are. It was not necessary to look down on offences. On the contrary, it was necessary to infect the rest of the country and the world with our pride for our identity," said UNESCO's Goodwill Ambassador. 


The International Decade of the World's Indigenous Languages is a link that will position languages and culture as a profound axis of a transformation of realities, expressed Alejandra Frausto, Secretary of Culture of Mexico. "We must begin to see the world from all our diversity and our differences and celebrate it. 


About the collaboration agreement between UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture, she said that work will be done with the communities at the centre of the actions, for the preservation of the intangible cultural heritage that exists in Mexico. 


At the end of the opening ceremony, Ms Audrey Azoulay had the opportunity to share brief talks and take some photographs with guardians of the word and indigenous leaders, to go on a tour of the Indigenous Languages Pavilion with Mexican authorities, a space that shows the multicultural and multilingual mosaic of Mexico, with its 68 native languages.


The Pavilion is divided into seven spaces where it is possible to learn about Mexico's linguistic landscape through playful and interactive resources in its projection room, a space for listening to sound files, an area with around 150 publications, an augmented reality zone, a sign language booth and a workshop area.


To conclude her visit, the Director-General recorded a video in the company of Yalitza Aparicio, through which they highlighted the role of indigenous languages, the actions undertaken from Mexico and the work of the Goodwill Ambassador in favour of indigenous peoples.