By Joan Carling

Indigenous peoples have been engaging in the global processes relating to sustainable development since the Rio Summit on Development and during the process of negotiations for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, known as the Sustainable Development Goals, which was adopted in 2015. This global agreement, which calls for “leaving no one behind” is for implementation at the local and national levels, and there are national, regional and global review processes to track progress and challenges in its implementation.

The main engagement mechanism for the engagement of indigenous peoples is the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group (IPMG). Through the sustained engagement of the IPMG, there have been significant advances in the inclusion of indigenous peoples within the related global Declarations and regional and national reports, although much is yet to be done to ensure the respect, recognition and realization of the rights of indigenous peoples, their contributions and aspirations and self-determined development.

Strengthening the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group for the Sustainable Development Goals

The co-facilitators of the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group (IPMG), as organization accredited by UNDESA for engagement in SDG processes, are the Tebtebba Foundation and the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), which formally established the Global Coordinating Committee (GCC) of the IPMG in April 2017. The GCC is composed of representatives of indigenous organizations and networks from all seven regions, and from the global indigenous youth caucus and the global indigenous women’s network. Based on its Terms of Reference, the main function of the GCC is to coordinate the engagement of indigenous peoples in the SDG processes and provide their inputs to reports of the IPMG.

The IPMG has also established its affiliate members, which are currently 63 organizations, including regional networks, across the globe. The IPMG has also set up its secretariat (3 x part time) to assist in sharing information and provide technical and logistical support to the co-facilitators, the GCC and affiliate members as appropriate. For global visibility, the IPMG has set up its website and social media accounts,[1] which contain all information about the IPMG, its reports, statements and regular updates on indigenous peoples and related issues of sustainable development on a global, regional and global.

These efforts by the IPMG’s co-facilitators have resulted in improved cooperation, collaboration and participation of indigenous peoples in the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), along with sustained information dissemination, awareness-raising and visibility of indigenous peoples in SDG processes and related issues. The GCC of the IPMG developed its strategic plan in its meeting during the HLPF.

Indigenous peoples’ participation in the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 

The annual High Level Political Forum (HLPF) is the global Follow Up and Review (FUR) process to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015. The 2017 HLPF was held in July at the UN headquarters in New York with the theme of “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world" and the focused Goals for discussion were: Goal 1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere; Goal 2 End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation and Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.[2]

The HLPF also held the Voluntary National Review (VNR) of 43 countries, 24 of which are home to indigenous peoples, largely in Latin America and Asia. The VNR is a process whereby member states present their progress report on implementation of the SDGs.

The HLPF was attended by 24 indigenous peoples’ representatives from 18 countries, which is a dramatic increase on the previous year. During the thematic sessions of the HLPF, the panel on the theme of the HLPF included a speaker from the IPMG (Africa representative), there was an IPMG speaker (Pacific representative) on the theme of Goal 14 (conservation of oceans) and four statements from the IPMG were presented as interventions on different thematic discussions. This active participation of the IPMG in the thematic sessions and the VNR increased the visibility of indigenous peoples and highlighted their key concerns and recommendations in relation to the SDGs, stressing the need to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples and include their contributions and aspirations, as well as establish institutionalized mechanisms for their participation, particularly at the local and national levels. 

Dialogues with states for the Voluntary National Review

  • Indigenous peoples’ representatives held dialogues with their respective governments during the HLPF on the VNR, namely representatives from Peru, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Indonesia, Nepal and Kenya. They also joined the discussion of Major Groups at the country level on questions to member states during the sessions of the Voluntary National Review (VNR). Two indigenous representatives were designated to ask questions during the VNR sessions (Nepal and Guatemala).
  • In the synthesis report of the 2017 Voluntary National Review during the HLPF,[3] countries expressed concerns regarding health equity, including regional or urban/rural differences, and healthcare for the elderly, migrants, and indigenous peoples among others (Goal 2 on Ending hunger). At the country level, the following references were made to indigenous peoples:
  • Chile made clear reference to indigenous peoples in terms of prioritizing the voice and participation of indigenous peoples, along with other marginalized groups, and identified the specific challenges facing indigenous peoples, including high multidimensional poverty rates. They also reported having included draft legislation for a Ministry of Indigenous Peoples and Council of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Guatemala reported that it aims to contribute to the integral well-being of rural, peasant, indigenous and ladino families, who are highly vulnerable to food insecurity and poverty, under its Family Agriculture Programme aimed at strengthening the Peasant Economy and achieving Goal 2 (Ending hunger).
  • Nepal noted that progress should be tracked at a highly disaggregated level to show disparities by age, sex, location, ethnicity, disability, income groups, and other categories. 
It also reported that the amended Civil Service Act reserves a percentage of public service positions for women and marginalized groups, including dalits, indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities. 

  • Malaysia reported one of its future aims as being to leverage indigenous and local communities in the management of natural resources, as well as empowering them to give or withhold consent to proposed projects that may affect their lands, in order to achieve Goal

Noting that 24 of the 43 countries for VNR have indigenous peoples, the above indicates that indigenous peoples are still largely invisible in the national action plans/strategies for implementation of the SDGs. However, as states are still finalizing their plans, there are still opportunities of indigenous peoples to be included although this will depend on various factors, including the political will of states to be more inclusive and the capacities of indigenous peoples to engage at the local and national levels.

The Indigenous Voices at the HLPF and other media events

The Indigenous Voices at the HLPF was a one-day media event arranged by the Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in collaboration with the IPMG, IWGIA and NOTIMIA. There were five SDG reflection sessions run by indigenous peoples on the six focused SDGs for the HLPF; four panel discussions run by indigenous peoples, UN agencies and national human rights institutions, and individual interviews/conversations between indigenous and government representatives on the Voluntary National Review (VNR). There were more than 30 participants at these events.

This was the first time that key government officials had agreed to have a one-on-one conversation with indigenous representative from certain countries, with media coverage at the UN. These were Finland, Guatemala, Peru and Kenya, which have committed to engage with indigenous peoples in the implementation of the SDGs at the local and national levels. The Indigenous Voices events were live streamed through Facebook and viewed by more than 20,000 people; this had increased to more than 40,000 viewers within a week of broadcast.

The UNPFII Secretariat also facilitated the holding of a press conference at the UN for the UN Permanent Forum and the IPMG. This was well attended by journalists and lasted for more than 30 minutes due to questions from the media. In addition, the IPMG also participated in the UNTV Talk on the SDGs in the panel for marginalized groups. Both events were on the UNTV webcast. Some members of the IPMG were also interviewed by the media during the HLPF.

Collaboration with key institutions, side events and inter-learning session 

A side event on Overcoming Poverty: Indigenous Concepts of Well-being and Development was conducted as a collaborative event of the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the IPMG, IFAD and UN Women. This event had speakers from the Government of Norway, an expert member of the UNPFII, the co-convenor of the IPMG and a representative of IFAD. The event was well attended, and the speakers highlighted the contributions to and aspirations of indigenous peoples for sustainable development, as well as the challenges.

Another collaborative event was the successful holding of a learning session for three hours on “A Human Rights Based Approach to Eradicating Poverty and Promoting Prosperity in a Changing World” in partnership with the Danish Institute for Human Rights, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Pact (AIPP), Forest Peoples’ Programme, UN OHCHR, the Permanent Mission of Denmark to the UN, the Ministry of Economy, Development, and Tourism – Government of Chile, IWGIA, and the ILO. This event was very informative on the interlinkages between the SDGs and human rights, and the need to ensure recognition and protection of human rights, including indigenous peoples’ rights, in the implementation of the SDGs in order to achieve the aim of “no one left behind”. This event was one of the most attended inter-learning sessions during the HLPF, with an overflow of participants beyond the seating capacity of 80.

            A side event on food security organized by civil society organizations also included indigenous representatives as speakers and this also broadened the understanding of the contributions and challenges faced by indigenous peoples on food security and related issues. 

Inclusion of indigenous peoples in the Ministerial Declaration, the President’s Summary Report of the HLPF and in the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development

A Ministerial Declaration is one of the main outcomes of the annual High Level Political Forum (HLPF), as part of the global Follow Up and Review (FUR) process for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015. This negotiated agreement by UN Member States aims to provide further guidance and actions in the implementation of the SDGs.

The Ministerial Declaration of the HLPF 2017[4] made four (4) references to indigenous peoples, compared to only one in 2016. These references were: 1) the need to empower indigenous peoples, which is a reiteration of the Political Declaration of the 2030 Agenda; 2) the inclusion of indigenous peoples in appropriate national plans and measures to implement social protection systems, including social protection floors, 3) the acknowledgement of their extreme vulnerability to climate change and land degradation, and last but not the least, 4) the inclusion of indigenous peoples and the need to reach out to them in the context of the “need to take actions towards localizing and communicating the Sustainable Development Goals”. Additionally, the Ministerial Declaration also repeated the need for data disaggregation by ethnicity, which is critical for indigenous peoples to be visible in monitoring the achievements and gaps in the implementation of the SDGs.

The references to indigenous peoples in the Ministerial Declaration were the result of the active engagement of the IPMG in the drafting process, through its submission of concrete recommendations and participation in the consultations held for this. The proposal made by the indigenous peoples and their allies for inclusion in the Ministerial Declaration, related to securing the land rights of indigenous peoples and local communities in order to end poverty and achieve food security, among others, in the context of “no one left behind”, was not fully included, demonstrating the lack of political will in many states on this critical issue for achieving the SDGs.

Nevertheless, the inclusion of indigenous peoples in the 2017 Ministerial Declaration significantly contributes to their further visibility and places more attention on them in the implementation of the SDGs. Furthermore, indigenous peoples can use the Ministerial Declaration to follow up and advocate for its immediate implementation by governments and other key development actors at all levels, such as those engaged in social protection, climate change and awareness-raising outreach on the SDGs. While indigenous peoples made significant advances in the 2017 Ministerial Declaration, it is important to emphasize that much more work still needs to be done at the national and local levels, where positive and transformational changes are urgently needed if indigenous peoples are to realize their self-determined development and achieve sustainable development for all.

Indigenous peoples were also mentioned in the President’s Summary of the 2017 HLPF,[5] particularly in relation to conflicts that increase their vulnerability, prioritizing an end to discrimination against vulnerable groups, including indigenous peoples, highlighting the use of and respect for indigenous, local knowledge as one of the best ways to ensure the integrity of implementation of actions, full engagement of local communities and the notion of stewardship and responsibility for future generations, among others, under Goal 14 (conservation of forest and biodiversity).

The Report of the 4th Asia Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development, which was a regional preparatory meeting for the HLPF, stated: “The Forum noted that national efforts to localize the SDG targets and indicators through an inclusive and participatory process were improving the rule of law and promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, peace and governance, and the inclusion of persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples.” The IPMG members have engaged in this regional process as well as in some national SDG processes (Nepal, Malaysia, Philippines, Bangladesh, India) albeit still at a limited level due to different factors, including a lack of capacities and resources. 

Thematic reports and Briefing papers

As a key contribution to the HLPF, the IPMG prepared a report based on the theme of the HLPF as an official submission to UNDESA, which was posted on the HLPF website prior to the HLPF meeting.[6] This report highlighted the issues and recommendations of indigenous peoples in relation to the focus SDGs of the HLPF. Three briefing papers on “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity of Indigenous Peoples in a changing world (Goal 1)”, “Ending hunger and achieving food security for Indigenous Peoples (Goal 2)” and “the Empowerment of Indigenous Women (Goal 5) were also published in collaboration with IWGIA.[7] 

Outreach and other engagement of the IPMG

Throughout the year, the IPMG has, largely through its convenors, sustained its outreach and engagement around promoting the rights, contributions and aspirations of - as well the challenges faced by - indigenous peoples in relation to sustainable development.

At the global level, these included their continuing participation in the steering committee of the SDG Major Groups and Stakeholders (MGoS), participation in the World Data Forum on the SDGs, the Science and Technology Forum, the Expert Group Meeting on Goal 2 (Ending Hunger), the session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the UNFCC-COP, the UN Assembly on Environment, and the Global Landscape Forum, among others. The IPMG signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with CIFOR in December 2017 for the sustained participation of indigenous peoples in the activities of the Global Landscape Forum (GLF) from 2018-2022.

The activities of the GLF include thematic workshops, regional and national forums, in which the IPMG will be able to participate in order to increase awareness of and attention to indigenous peoples and their contributions to achieving the SDGs. This partnership will also ensure the mainstreaming of indigenous peoples’ rights and traditional knowledge practices on sustainable resource management, among others; and facilitate greater networking and collaboration plus potential partnerships with research institutions, environmental organizations, and potential donors, to name but a few.

At the regional and national levels, the convenors, the technical secretariat, members of the GCC and affiliate members have facilitated information dissemination, capacity building activities and engagement of indigenous peoples. These were however limited due to resource constraints, and there is an urgent need to step up efforts for awareness-raising and capacity building at the local and national levels.



Notes and references

[1] See

[2] See

[3] See

[4] See

[5] See

[6] See

[7] See Briefing Notes: Eradicating Poverty and Promoting Prosperity of Indigenous Peoples in a Changing World, Goal 1, and Ending Hunger and Achieving Food Security for Indigenous Peoples (Goal 2), All position papers and publications produced by the IPMG can be found at


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