Social media gives voice to indigenous communities

August 9 marks the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, and this year’s theme is "Indigenous Media, Empowering Indigenous Voices". ILO News looks at the growing role of social media and the staying power of radio in these communities.

Feature | 09 August 2012
GENEVA (ILO News) – With about half the world’s indigenous people living in cities -where connection to the wired world is comparatively easy - electronic media is playing a growing role in promoting their rights.


Karmen Ramirez Boscán
“Thanks to the Internet, it only takes a couple of seconds for news related to indigenous communities to travel from one part of the world to the other,” says Karmen Ramirez Boscan, who runs the community website www.indigenousportal.com.

“This is important not only for the different indigenous groups to communicate and exchange ideas but also to alert them in case the rights of a particular community are threatened,” says Ramirez Boscan, who grew up in the Wayuu community, one of 120 indigenous groups in Colombia.

Boscan is a graphic designer who now lives in Bern, Switzerland, where she runs the website on a voluntary basis. “The news that can be found on our website is produced by indigenous people themselves. We have one editor for each part of the world. Our reports are translated into 5 languages,” she explains.

She says there is a need for indigenous-run media. “Most of the reporting from mainstream media on indigenous peoples is either inaccurate or biased as they do not understand our culture and traditions,” she says.

However, finding trained journalists among indigenous communities is not easy. “But we still manage to get quality reports. For instance, a few months ago, we started giving small video cameras to remote communities and they sent us video footage that was telling a lot about the problems that they face but also about their achievements.”

The website has its own Facebook page but does not have a Twitter account yet: “It takes time to be on social media and I want to concentrate on the website first,” she explains.

Workers’ rights in their own language

Social media has been picking up among indigenous people, at least for those who have access to Internet and to modern technology. Many community leaders and indigenous rights’ advocates use Twitter as a way to attract the attention of a wider audience outside their communities.

“Social media is a great way to exchange experiences among our communities but access to technology remains a challenge,” says Chief Wilton Littlechild, Chairperson of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Chief Littlechild – a leader of the Cree community from Western Canada - insists that the expansion of social media should be combined with the further development of community radio stations, which usually broadcast in the local indigenous language. These FM stations can bring the news to people living in remote areas, who sometimes have very limited education and who do not have access to a computer or a smartphone.

Community-based media – be they basic or use the most up to date technology - are key tools for teaching indigenous people about their rights - including their rights at work - in their own languages.

The ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No.169) emphasizes the importance of the rights-related to education and means of communications, as a way to empower indigenous communities.

Contact: Journalists needing more information, please contact ILO spokesperson Hans von Rohland +4122/799-7916, rohland@ilo.org