In 2007, the UN General Assembly endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (1). The Declaration places the responsibility on Member States to ‘provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for… any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct people or ethnic identities, or of cultural values (Article 8)’ (1). Further, Article 15 states ‘Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information’ (1). Simply, without adequate and accurate statistics on Indigenous peoples at international and national levels, we are unable to identify and monitor the progress of Indigenous peoples.
In the years following the endorsement, there has been a strong call from a range of United Nations agencies and spokespersons for countries to act to improve their statistics relating to Indigenous peoples as part of their response to the Declaration. These calls have emphasised the need for a holistic approach, describing the strengths and resilience of Indigenous people and not just a focus on gaps and disadvantage. National responses to improving Indigenous statistics have been mixed and global statistics remain inadequate. Significantly, there has been no international statistical effort through the United Nations statistical structures to respond to the Declaration and the increasing array of calls for improved statistics. It is time for countries to make a concerted effort to improve their own statistics on Indigenous peoples, and to insist that the Statistical Commission work in partnership with the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and other stakeholders to lead a major international drive to improve statistics on and for Indigenous people.