Monday, April 29, 2013

When We Fight for Indigenous, We Fight for All of Life

Those who consider themselves to be a part of civilization, the general approach or view (if any) towards native peoples is at best facile. The disappearance of indigenous peoples is extremely complex and the ramifications widespread; beyond the emic. A vast majority of humans today are disconnected from the natural world, but there are still those who have profound ecological knowledge and display a collective stewardship towards the earth. That stewardship comes from deep attachment with the spiritual realm; everything is connected and there is no taking without giving. For good reason, “…ideas from indigenous, or native peoples-communities whose relations to nature originated before the current mode of the domination of the earth…” (Gottlieb, ¶ 15, pg.11, 2004). With the Industrial Revolution and subsequent technology, humans are now global. The present paradigm is the development of many indigenous people’s land and the result is loss of livelihoods, loss of ecosystems and subsequently loss of species; many of which have yet to be discovered, displacement and in many cases acculturation. Along with acculturation comes the forfeiture of vast ecological knowledge and the remaining few who hold a deep sacred connection to the earth and its inhabitants.

Whether residing in an affluent or developing nation, indigenous people, also called natives which are “distinct from their country‘s dominant language, culture, religion and racial communities” are the least influential politically and economically as well as the most neglected. Far too often the descendants of the original inhabitants of an area are dominated by outsiders. The disregard of indigenous people would be better than fine as they are more affluent than all other societies. Monetarily speaking, these peoples want not and have all they need with a straightforward ecological approach and simple functionalism. An example of this simplicity is displayed with the most threatened tribe of recent, “If my children are hungry, I just go into the forest and I can find them food” states Peccary Awa and yet another from Survival International, “The forest provides its bounty, but not everything is taken. Some animals, such as the capybara and the harpy eagle, are taboo and no Awá will eat them. Eating a bat is said to cause a headache. The large opossum? Bad-smelling. Hummingbirds? Just too small. Other animals are hunted only at certain times of the year. In this way the Awá ensure the survival of the entire forest, themselves included” ( (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.survivalinternational.org/awa, 2012). Their simple functionalism and the interdependentness of indigenous with their natural surroundings, however effective in their survival, is futile when it comes to defense against more powerful societies who would exploit the native’s way of life as well as the surrounding lands. By comparison, many people do not know nor care where and how needs and wants are obtained, yet there remains that innate curiosity of the natural world within all humans. What survival has come down to for most is “no longer dependent on the forest, but simply cashing a paycheck” (Gupta & Madhusudan, n.d.).

There are around 6,000 recognized cultures in the world. Of these, 5,000 are indigenous, but this only makes up for about 10% of the world’s population. Indigenous peoples generally do not follow a state system which is the current dominant paradigm today and because of this, they are repressed and their unique way of life is being destroyed. A great deal of the destruction is due to Western culture’s influence. As modern society moves forward, the native’s language is not being passed on to future generations. Within that language is an irreplaceable ecological knowledge that most, if not all, of the remaining 90% of the population does not hold. Only 12 countries account for 60% of all human language and seven of those comprise countries that have “mega diversity” or biodiversity (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2009). We can ask why it is important to save these people and their way of life and the answer is simple. As with all else, cultural diversity and biological diversity are connected. Those countries with the highest amount of cultural diversity are those with the highest amount of rare biological organisms (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2009). Biodiversity is the mainstay for all of life and ensures ecosystems bounce back from disturbance which today is mostly development. There is also the ever important intrinsic value of the diversity nature holds. E.O. Wilson in his book The Future of Life, insists rightly so “that the cheapest and most effective way to preserve species is to protect the natural ecosystems in which they now live” (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2009).
What is to become of indigenous peoples who were once marginalized, but now are in contact with influential societies many of which are only looking to profit from exploitation of the land and its people? The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) mandate is to provide expert advice and recommendations on indigenous issues to the council, as well as to programmes, funds and agencies of the United Nations and through the council, raise awareness, promote the integration and coordination of activities related to indigenous issues within the UN system and prepare and disseminate information on indigenous issues (UNPFII, 2011).

The UNPFII convene yearly. In 2007, the United Nation’s general assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNPFII, 2011). However profound in declaration, actual practice of and enforcement of is subject to individual states in relation to international laws. In addition to the UNPFII, there are many non-governmental organizations which work tirelessly to promote public awareness. It is paramount to acknowledge native land rights and facilitate political pluralism in order to save ecological processes, endangered species, and life as we know it. Unfortunately, in many of the cultural and biological diverse countries, this is not the case. Pressure, in whatever form, must be placed to ensure the protection of indigenous cultures.


~Written by RMOG Manager, Jessica Nuckles-Wright

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