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The writer
The writer

Rights of indigenous people - Applying the golden rule

At a recently held high-level meeting in New York, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples discussed their rights and role in promoting peace and development. Prior to that, there was the commemoration of the Golden Rule Day in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as part of the World Interfaith Harmony Week. Indigenous peoples, by definition, are “ethnic groups that are the original inhabitants of a particular geographic region, often predating the establishment of modern nation-states.
They have distinct cultural, linguistic, social and economic characteristics that differentiate them from the dominant societies in which they live”. Indigenous peoples have historically lived in close connection with their ancestral lands, relying on traditional knowledge and practices for sustenance and cultural expression.
In Africa, and particularly, Ghana, we have been able to successfully merge tradition with our adopted rational-legal way of getting things done, especially traditional rule alongside contemporary governance at all levels.
Indigenous peoples are the custodians of unique cultures, traditions and knowledge systems that are valuable to the fabric of the larger societies of which they are a part. Their rights are not only essential for upholding principles of justice and equality but also for supporting sustainable development and promoting peace.
As custodians of Ghana's diverse cultural heritage, we bear a collective responsibility to uphold the rights and dignity of indigenous communities by recognising their intrinsic value and contributions to the nation's social, cultural and economic development. 
By furthering dialogue, promoting understanding, and nurturing genuine partnerships between indigenous and non-indigenous stakeholders, we can forge a path towards a more just, equitable and harmonious country where all citizens can realise their full potential and live with dignity and respect.
In many parts of Africa, among indigenous peoples, there are holidays of obligation dedicated to conservation of nature. In Ghana, among fisherfolks, specific days are dedicated to rest. Anyone who violates these rules is sanctioned by the appropriate traditional authorities. 
The practical essence is to protect the natural resources and the ecosystem. This is just one of many examples of environmental protection and sustainable development strategies.
However, in spite of these pragmatic approaches derived from their customs, indigenous peoples have faced challenges such as marginalisation and displacement,  and their voices often drowned by the tumult of progress. 
Their ancestral lands are encroached upon, disrupting the delicate balance of life. Their lack of access to basic services, such as equitable, quality education and healthcare, further deepens the divide, leaving many indigenous families trapped in cycles of poverty and despair.
We need to review our approach to the inclusion of indigenous peoples by applying the Golden Rule. It is a principle rooted in the teachings of different faith traditions, and underscores the importance of empathy, compassion and mutual respect in promoting peace and harmony in communities. 
The Golden Rule is commemorated on April 5, every year. It reminds us of our shared humanity and the importance of empathy and compassion. Though Ghana is making progress in this regard, we need to scale-up the effort. The chieftaincy institution in this country isa  practical evidence of this remarkable feat.
Its arrangements allow chiefs in different traditional areas to adjudicate and resolve issues facing their people with fairness and justice.  The way traditional authorities have been integrated in governance and public administration in the country points to how we can advance the rights of indigenous peoples. 
In spite of the steps taken in recognising indigenous peoples’ rights through legislative and policy reforms, significant challenges persist. Land-related conflicts, stemming from competing claims and encroachments on ancestral lands threaten to destabilise communities and erode cultural identities.
Inadequate representation in decision-making processes further marginalises indigenous voices, hindering their ability to shape policies that directly impact their lives and livelihoods. 
Limited access to education and healthcare worsens socio-economic disparities, perpetuating cycles of poverty and exclusion within indigenous populations. Addressing these challenges require a comprehensive approach that combines legal reforms with community-driven initiatives aimed at empowering indigenous communities and amplifying their voices.
It also requires strengthening mechanisms for land tenure security, promoting cultural preservation and building a more inclusive and equitable society. Furthermore, we must ensure that indigenous rights are mainstreamed into the national development agenda and international frameworks, including the Sustainable Development Goals. 
By integrating indigenous perspectives into decision-making processes and development initiatives, we can build more resilient, inclusive and sustainable societies. We need to reaffirm our commitment to stand in solidarity with Africa's indigenous peoples, pledging to ensure that their rights are not just recognised but celebrated. 
The writer is the Doliwura of Kusawgu Traditional Area, Savannah Region.

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