Indigenous Poverty in Mexico
Mexico has a rich tapestry of cultures mixed together. Its indigenous community reflects its own diversity with many different traditions and languages. However, indigenous poverty in Mexico is very prevalent and many seldom discuss or address the issue. Here are some facts to shed light on the challenges indigenous people face along with examples of their opportunities for a thriving future.

Poverty Statistics

Nearly 26 million indigenous people live in Mexico today. Furthermore, 68 different indigenous communities live in the country. A staggering 75% of these families live in extreme poverty. The majority work in low-skilled, manual labor jobs with little hope of upward social mobility. As a result, many have to migrate from their homes to find economic opportunities elsewhere.

The Government’s Clumsy Attempts To Help

Mexico’s government has noticed indigenous poverty in Mexico. In fact, Mexico has attempted to address the vast economic disparity by investing in large infrastructure projects and supplemental programs. However, the government did not consult with indigenous communities on implementation or whether it may unintentionally harm social and cultural values. Mexican President Obrador announced the construction of a 948 mile-long train to boost tourism in historic Mayan territory in 2018. Many activists perceived the Maya Train as an encroachment on indigenous sovereignty as it would cut through ancient jungles in the Yucatan Peninsula. Furthermore, environmental concerns arose when the construction of the train uncovered thousands of artifacts.

Education Challenges

The 2018 Report on the Evaluation of Social Development Policy indicated some harsh truths about education levels within indigenous Mexican communities. It indicated that adults between the ages of 30 and 64 had an illiteracy rate of almost 20%. More than half of the indigenous population never sought education past the primary level. This reinforces extreme poverty.

Unique Challenges of Indigenous Women

Indigenous poverty in Mexico puts women at a greater disadvantage. A study by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography revealed that indigenous women showed the lowest literacy rates and education retention. In addition, the report showed indigenous women reported high rates of domestic violence, health problems, pregnancy risks and mortality. Psydeh is an NGO that launched projects to empower women from indigenous communities. Furthermore, it is currently raising thousands of dollars to train women to launch self-sustaining initiatives for long-term community growth such as distributing stove ovens and growing organic farms.

Indigenous poverty in Mexico has a lack of upward mobility, poor quality of life and a lack of educational opportunities. Many measures have undergone implementation to alleviate inequality. Moreover, the Mexican government has provided mixed results. However, with help from organizations such as Psydeh, indigenous people can obtain more opportunities for a better life.

– Zachary Sherry
Photo: Flickr

Native American WomenThe 2017 film, Wind River, based on actual events, riveted the public with its reported death rate of Native American women on American reservations. Writer-producer Taylor Sheridan aimed to raise awareness of the overlooked death rate and has succesfully done so since.

Violence Against Indigenous Women

Where poverty is the greatest, indigenous women experience domestic violence rates 10 times higher than the national average for all races. In addition, 84% of Native American women experience violence in their lifetimes or one in three each year. The perpetrators are most often non-Native men outside the jurisdiction of tribal law enforcement.

Murdered indigenous women numbers rose to 500 in 2018, which is a low figure compared to the actual number of missing persons on reservations. Women have silently died and gone missing, underreported, for years. This is due to the discordance that exists between tribal, federal and local law enforcement. However, changes are being made ever since the 1978 ruling of Oliphant v. Suquamish, where it was ruled that Indian courts have no criminal jurisdiction over non-natives. In November of 2019, President Trump signed an executive order to investigate the matter of unsolved cases of missing or murdered Native Americans.

Legislatively Addressing the Issue

Several major changes have since been underway. For example, the Not Invisible Act of 2020 will increase national focus on violent crime against indigenous people and intergovernmental coordination on the high death rate of Native American women. This bill began in 2019 as the Not Invisible Act of 2019; the first bipartisan bill in history to be introduced by four tribal representatives: Deb Haaland, Tom Cole, Sharice Davids and Markwayne Mullin.

To complement the Not Invisible Act, Savanna’s Act became public law in October 2020. Named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a murdered young indigenous woman whose fetus was cut from her womb, Savanna’s Act will ensure the Justice Department reports statistics on all missing/murdered native women and reform law enforcement. In addition, the National Institute of Justice has created the National Baseline Study which is a study on the health, wellbeing and safety of Native American women, to also provide more accurate data on femicide.

Safe Women, Strong Nations

In addition, the Safe Women, Strong Nations project partners with native nations to combat abductions and murder. The project provides legal advice to the tribes in restoring authority and holding perpetrators responsible. The project works to raise awareness to gain federal action to eliminate the violence against native women.

Poverty makes it easier for native women to be overlooked. One in three Native Americans suffer from poverty, living off on average $23,000 a year. “Poverty is both the cause and the consequence of all the ills visited upon Native Americans.” It is common knowledge that poverty provides leeway for criminality, and with Native American reservations being economically disadvantaged, this is no exception. Addressing systemic poverty instead of turning a blind eye will help lower the death rate of native women. The reservations only need opportunity and U.S.  juridical attention. It is hopeful to see that the United States’ legislative representatives are addressing violence against minority groups but more work needs to be done to protect the well-being of Native American women.

– Shelby Gruber
Photo: Flickr

Slow Fashion in Mexico
Mexico is rich with indigenous craftsmanship but it is slowly disappearing because of fast fashion. Without artisanal work, indigenous communities have had to work in different markets or migrate to seek jobs overseas. This has caused highly skilled artisans to leave behind their craft and their unique culture in exchange for underpaid jobs with inhumane working conditions. Brands and consumers that prioritize Mexican artisanal work help preserve the textile heritage and techniques unique to indigenous communities. Here is some information about the relationship between poverty reduction and slow fashion in Mexico.

Slow Fashion

The concept of slow fashion takes into account the resources and processes necessary to make clothing with a positive social and environmental impact. It means valuing the fair treatment of people, animals and the planet. Slow fashion in Mexico has been most effective through the small-scale, ethical and eco-friendly production of textiles and garments that artisans make. Carla Fernandez, designer and pioneer of slow fashion in Mexico, set the framework to prioritize a bottom-up creation process rooted in studying the artisanal textile-making techniques so that artisans can be the protagonists in the production and design process. This allows respect to go to ancestral production techniques and designs and helps preserve traditional pre-hispanic craftsmanship.

The Partnership with Conaculta

In 2013, Fernandez and her team partnered with the Mexican Secretary of Culture to systemize a methodology to work with artisan cooperatives. The Barefoot Designer Manual published the research and the General Directorate of Publications of Conaculta edited it. Partnership with Conaculta meant greater institutional responsibility for preserving Mexico’s cultural heritage through fashion. It also allowed more designers to take part in slow fashion through the detailed training manual. This has empowered rural artisans because they can receive fair wages for their labor and greater market access as more designers acquire knowledge on sustainable production techniques in indigenous communities and how to fairly integrate them into the fashion industry.

As indigenous artisanry secures more commercial success at international value chains, it also helps shift the industry to slow fashion. This transition especially supports Mexican artisans based in rural areas. In 2016, Mexican Household Income and Expenditure Survey data revealed that citizens within major federal entities earned more than 50% in comparison to those in rural areas. Artisanal cooperatives would help bring economic growth within Mexico’s most remote areas, which was previously not achieved by top-down NGO and governmental development programs aimed at supporting and training artisans.

Benefits of Slow Fashion

At the beginning of the pandemic, Mexico’s federal government and two companies committed to purchasing handmade face masks produced in Mexican communities that the pandemic hit the hardest. The National Fund for the Promotion of Handicrafts managed 139 artisanal groups which included Mayan, Mixtec and Zapotec artisans to make cloth masks using their traditional techniques. This initiative provided $85,560 USD for materials and provided training to ensure masks met health requirements. Every mask produced has had the name of the maker and the name of their town embroidered on it. This initiative is an example of how artisans are capable of producing essential goods during COVID-19 while still promoting cultural diversity through slow fashion.

By understanding the problems of unemployment and artisanal skills unique to each region, it has allowed for economic opportunities to open up. This helps preserve traditional artisanal activities, supports the growth of slow fashion and empowers forgotten and invisible rural artisans.

– Giselle Magana
Photo: Pexels

child poverty in costa ricaDespite being one of the most progressive countries in Latin America in terms of free education, no military and access to healthcare, there are still many people living in poverty in Costa Rica and the youngest people are oftentimes hit the hardest. More than 65% of poor Costa Ricans are under 35 years old and children under the age of 18 make up the largest group of the poor. Additionally, many of the children who are impacted by child poverty in Costa Rica are indigenous. When it comes to children, issues include child labor, child mortality and disparities in education.

Things to Know About Child Poverty in Costa Rica

  1. Primary school in Costa Rica is free and mandatory and many children have access to the education system. However, many children who come from poor families or rural areas miss out on education because they work to provide for their families. About 8% of children in Costa Rica are not educated and 9% of children from the ages of 5 to 14 are economically active as their families depend on the money their children generate. As a country that is a major producer of coffee, work and harvesting is a priority in Costa Rica. In fact, during the coffee bean harvest, the teachers and students in poor regions in Costa Rica go to the farms to work in order to afford school supplies.

  2. Costa Rica has a large number of child trafficking victims. About 36,000 children in Costa Rica are orphans and due to the lack of or dysfunction in their family structures, many of these children are at risk of exploitation, drug abuse and gang violence.

  3. Although Costa Rica has the longest life expectancy in Latin America and an effective health care system, there are still issues regarding child mortality. Roughly, 10% of children in Costa Rica die before reaching the age of 5. These are often the children who are born into families living below the poverty line, indigenous families or rural families.

  4. Violence against children in Costa Rica is a concern. In fact, there were over 700 sexual violence cases in 2009, though it is estimated that much more went unreported. The physical and psychological abuse and violence that children endure has serious consequences for their development and health.

SOS Children’s Villages

SOS Children’s Villages initially started with a commitment to caring for orphaned or abandoned children throughout the world. There are SOS Children’s Villages in three cities in Costa Rica: San José, Limón and Cartago. SOS Children’s Villages aim to address child poverty in Costa Rica. The organization provides Costa Rican children with day-care, education, medical services and vocational training, sports facilities and playgrounds. Children whose parents cannot take care of them are often taken in. The organization has a comprehensive approach: preventing child abandonment, offering long-term care for children in need and empowering young people with the resources to reach their full potential.

The organization’s YouthCan! program trains adolescents to enhance their skills and competencies in order to achieve employment. In Costa Rica, where almost 100,000 young people were unemployed in 2016, the youth development program lasts for three to 12 months. The program consists of life skills training, employability training and helping the youth find jobs and further training opportunities.

Through organizations like the SOS Children’s Villages, child poverty in Costa Rica can be successfully alleviated.

– Naomi Schmeck
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous PovertyGuatemala is one of Latin America’s most unequal countries, with an indigenous population that has been especially impacted by COVID-19. Indigenous groups make up more than 40% of Guatemala’s population, which equates to more than 6.5 million people. Poverty rates average 79% among indigenous groups, with 35% suffering from food insecurity.

COVID-19 Exacerbates Indigenous Poverty in Guatemala

COVID-19 has only exacerbated the suffering of indigenous Guatemalans. Not only have indigenous families been pushed further into poverty, but reports of gender-based and intrafamily violence, murders and child pregnancies have also increased during Guatemala’s stay-at-home orders, which were intended to control the spread of COVID-19. The only exception to note is that there has been a drop in violent crime since lockdowns were imposed.

Child labor rates have increased, which is a concern since a child’s education is their channel to achieve social mobility and is key to reducing poverty. At the start of the lockdown, remote learning was promoted. However, less than 30% of Guatemala’s population has internet access. Only 21% of the population has access to a computer. In effect, COVID-19 is widening the economic gap between the indigenous population and those in urban Guatemala.

OCHA, the United Nations emergency aid coordination body, reported in April 2020 that seasonal hunger rates have worsened in eastern Guatemala due to lockdown measures. Compared to a year ago, health ministry figures point out that acute malnutrition cases in the department of Chiquimula increased by roughly 56%.

Oxfam Assists Guatemala

Oxfam, a confederation working to alleviate global poverty, has been on the ground in Guatemala, delivering food, sanitary and medical products, particularly to Guatemala’s indigenous communities.  However, Oxfam is working a little differently than in the past due to COVID-19 measures. Instead of risking the spread of the virus by sending outside people in, Oxfam is employing local Guatemalans by transferring credit to their phones and having them collect and distribute two months’ worth of necessary goods to those requiring assistance.

Insufficient Governmental Support

Guatemala’s government offers little help to relieve the effects of COVID-19 in its rural zones. In 2017, a study by the Guatemalan health ministry reported that the government spends fractions of its health budget in its rural zones compared to its wealthiest, urban cities.

The United States has increased its level of deportations under COVID-19-related regulations, leading Guatemala to trace 20% of its infections to those returnees. With the lack of governmental support and social safety nets, many poor Guatemalans are looking to flee the country.

Hopes for an Inclusive Society

Although the indigenous in Guatemala are creating their own solutions, using traditional knowledge and practices to contain COVID-19, the Guatemalan government must treat its indigenous population equally and include those who have been historically excluded by implementing strategies and operations to prevent and contain COVID-19 as well as alleviate its indigenous poverty rates overall.

– Danielle Lindenbaum
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous communities in Canada

The Canadian Constitution recognizes three Indigenous communities — First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. Here are five of the many Indigenous-led organizations in Canada, collectively working to create success and prosperity for Indigenous communities.

5 Canadian Organizations for Indigenous Prosperity

  1. First Nations Information Governance CentreThe First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC) is working to achieve data sovereignty. With support from regional partners and a special mandate from the Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs in Assembly (Resolution #48, December 2009), the FNIGC collects and uses data to “build culturally relevant portraits of the lives of First Nations people and the communities they live in.” Their motto, “our data, our stories, our future” reflects their vision of Indigenous stories being told by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people.
  2. IndspireIndspire is using the gift of learning to help provide academic success and long-term prosperity with support through financial aid, scholarships/bursaries, awards, mentoring and physical resources.
  3. Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada – Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada (AFOA) is creating a community of Indigenous professionals by supporting successful self-determination through “improving the management skills of those responsible for the stewardship of Indigenous resources.” This includes aid in management, finance and governance.
  4. Reconciliation CanadaReconciliation Canada facilitates the engagement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with meaningful conversations on reconciliation and the lived experiences of Indigenous people. They aim to inspire positive change and understanding. At present, the programs and initiatives offered by the charity are Reconciliation in Action: A National Engagement Strategy, Reconciliation Dialogue Workshops, interactive community outreach activities and Reconciliation Canada.
  5. First Nations Child and Family Caring SocietyThe Caring Society supports First Nations children, youth and families. The organization has been able to provide 250,000 services and products to Indigenous children by putting Indigenous children and families first.

These five organizations are just some of many who are working to support success and prosperity for Indigenous communities in Canada. Their work helps blaze a path for a brighter future for Indigenous people and the country alike.

– Jasmeen Bassi
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in NunavutAlthough Canada is an undeniably prosperous nation, some territories experience levels of poverty disproportionate to other areas. Poverty in Nunavut is deeper and more severe than in any other part of Canada and it affects First Nation, Inuit and Métis people at higher levels than any other group.

Poverty for Indigenous People

Overall, 25% of Inuit children live below the poverty line. As of 2010, 56% of the Inuit population was classified as food insecure, compared to the 14.7% that represents the Canadian average. This is not only due to the loss of historical lands and resources, but cultural heritage, traditional government and the impositions of colonization on traditional lifestyles and social structures. However, in recent years, local communities as well as government forces have worked to form innovative policy and poverty reduction techniques. This not only is creating important change in many communities but comes with a local catch-phrase: the Inuit principle, “Piliriqatigiingniq“, referring to people working together well, motivated by shared values, goals,and philosophies.

Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy

In 2016, the government of Canada instated a poverty reduction strategy, aimed to reduce Canada’s poverty rate by 50% by 2030. Importantly, this policy outlines initiatives that specifically reflect First Nations, Inuit and Métis perspectives on poverty and decision making. The priorities outlined included support for improved national housing, indigenous childcare and early learning as well as cooperation with local leaders.

Canada Child Benefit

The Canada Child Benefit works to reduce childhood poverty by helping financially support families that are experiencing poverty. Due to the marked success of the program, the number of children living in poverty decreased by 278,000 in just two years. Because Nunavut’s child poverty rate of 31.2% is well above the Canadian average of 18.6%, The Canada Child benefit directly impacts many Inuit, Métis and First Nation families.

Canada’s First National Housing Strategy

Over the course of 10 years, this initiative will invest $40 billion to fix broken housing, provide affordable housing and significantly reduce homelessness for Canadians in need. Additionally, the National Housing Strategy will be equitable with investments, ensuring 33% of the budget goes towards housing for First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples as well as programs for women and children. This type of investment is the first of its kind for Canada and promises real change for many. https://www.oecd.org/els/family/child-well-being/Bussiere.pd

The Makimaniq Plans

The Makimaniq Plan 2 expresses a shared approach, “Piliriqatigiingniq”, to overcome the challenges faced by native people. This includes more adaptation to Inuit ways and better collaboration with the government among other ways people can work together to reduce poverty. This also covers strengthening local economies, increased access and amplification of community voices and a greater emphasis and investment in health and well-being. These are all problems that have significantly affected native people for generations and need to be addressed in order to create real change. Through increased community and government teamwork, there is a tangible method and drive to change conditions for people living in poverty in Nunavut. This is an important step for the Inuit people, as Nunavut is the only territory in Canada with a poverty reduction strategy that specifically targets Inuit interests.

Working Together

For the issue of poverty in Nunavut, “Piliriqatigiingniq” is more than just working together to achieve a common goal. It means growing as a country and as people and working to develop within communities, the lasting bonds of respect and teamwork to foster a better present and more equitable future. Due to changes already implemented, thousands of people’s standards of living have increased in the region.

– Noelle Nelson
Photo: Flickr

How MUIXIL is Empowering Indigenous Guatemalan WomenAs the 1960 Guatemalan Civil War continued, military dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt targeted the indigenous populations of the country as part of his counterinsurgency tactics from March 1982 to August 1983. His “scorched earth” policy led to the brutalizing of Indigenous Mayans, specifically those in the Ixil region. As few as 10% of Ixil villages remained by the end of 1983, and over 5% of the Ixil population was killed. The effects of the civil war and the genocide continue to be felt by the Ixil people—especially women, which is why MUIXIL works to empower Indigenous Guatemalan women.

The Effects of the War on Ixil Women

The Ixil region of Guatemala was specifically targeted during the civil war because of the indigenous population. As a result of the destruction of their villages, 29,000 Ixil people are estimated to have been displaced by the war. This displacement and destruction caused many Ixil people to lose their birth certificates and other forms of identification that are necessary for political participation in the post-war country, making it nearly impossible for many to vote in elections and creating widespread indigenous disenfranchisement.

The mass murders of Ixil people during the war widowed many women, making them solely responsible for providing for their families. This struggle was significantly more difficult for Indigenous women in Guatemala as they were often denied access to jobs and resources that could benefit them financially. Widespread poverty, malnutrition and the highest infant mortality rate in Central America at 23 deaths per 1,000 births are associated with the financial troubles of Ixil people.

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, and in a two-year period ending in 2016, more than 2,000 women were murdered. Indigenous women are disproportionately affected by violence against women, which many researchers say is a result of the widespread violence against them and the lack of punishment for sexual and gender-based violence that occurred during the war.

The History of MUIXIL

MUIXIL was founded as Mujeres Sufridas de Area Ixil (Women Sufferers of Ixil) in 2003 to empower and support indigenous Ixil women, especially those who survived the civil war. The grassroots organization aims to promote the civil, political and economic rights of Indigenous Guatemalan women through the development of income-generating projects and a support system made up of other Ixil women.

The MUIXIL Weaving-Collective

MUIXIL partnered with MADRE, an international women’s empowerment nonprofit, to develop a weaving-collective for Ixil women. The project provides grants for women to purchase materials, such as yarn, that are needed to create products that can be sold at local markets. By selling their creations, these women earn additional income and learn entrepreneurial skills. The weaving-collective also preserve a culture that was nearly destroyed by the war as the women incorporate traditional designs into their creations. As of 2012, 45 women participate in the weaving-collective.

Also in partnership with MADRE, MUIXIL runs a sustainable chicken farming initiative. Indigenous women are given chickens to establish small-scale farms and grants to purchase the supplies needed for upkeep. At the end of 2010, 350 women participated in this project, supporting nearly 2,500 individuals. The initiative was later expanded in 2013 to three more communities with 50 additional women participating.

Like the weaving collective, the chicken farms provide Ixil women with income as they sell eggs at local markets. The chicken farming initiative also combats food insecurity in Indigenous communities as it provides access to protein-rich chickens and eggs.

Political Empowerment for Indigenous Guatemalan Women

MUIXIL also hosts workshops to show Ixil women the importance of and teach the skills needed for political participation at the local and national levels. The nonprofit organization also assists Indigenous women with the legal system, “including in trials to hold perpetrators accountable for human rights abuses against Indigenous Peoples.” Women seeking the recognition of their human rights by the government are accompanied by MUIXIL’s members for support.

During the 2012 session of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, MUIXIL advocated for the political rights of Indigenous women in Guatemala in the Report on Violations of Women’s Human Rights. In this report, the organization called out the national government for failing its constitutional duty to protect women and indigenous peoples by excluding them from the legal system. This exclusion takes on many forms, such as a lack of access to translators who are fluent in Indigenous languages, which effectively prevents many women from seeking justice. MUIXIL also provided recommendations in this report for how the government can better protect the rights of Indigenous women, including decreasing costs within the legal system, making courts more accessible by spreading them throughout the country and launching a program to document Indigenous peoples who were displaced or lost their forms of identification during the war to allow for more widespread political participation.

The Guatemalan Civil War witnessed genocide against the country’s Indigenous Ixil populations, leading to long-term consequences for these communities, especially women. MUIXIL combats the legacy of violence and discrimination against Ixil women by providing income-earning initiatives, political empowerment and a space where Indigenous Guatemalan women can find support and continue their cultural traditions.

—Sydney Leiter
Photo: Flickr

Native American reservationsLow qualities of life exist in developing countries as well as developed countries, including the United States. Within the 326 Native American reservations in the U.S., Indigenous peoples experience unequal life conditions. Those on reservations face discrimination, violence, poverty and inadequate education.

Here are 5 facts about the Native American population and reservations.

1. Native Americans are the poorest ethnic group in the United States.

According to a study done by Northwestern University, one-third of Native Americans live in poverty. The population has a median income of $23,000 per year, and 20% of households make under $5,000 a year.

Due to the oppression of Indigenous peoples, reservations cannot provide adequate economic opportunity. As a result, a majority of adults are unemployed. Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota has better numbers than most reservations — 43.2% of the population is under the poverty line. However, this rate still is nearly three times the national average

2. Native Americans have the highest risk for health complications.

Across the board, Native American health is disproportionately worse than other racial groups in the United States. This population is 177%  more likely to die of diabetes, 500% more likely to die from tuberculosis and have a 60% higher infant mortality rate when compared to Caucasians.

Most Native American reservations rely on the Indian Health Service. It is a severely underfunded federal program that can only provide for approximately 60% of the needs of the insured. That does not account for a majority of those on the reservations. Only about 36% of Native Americans have private health care, and one-third of the non-elderly remain uninsured.

3. Native Americans, especially women, are frequently victims of violence.

A study from the National Institute of Justice concluded nearly 84% of American Indian and Native Alaskan women have experienced violence in their lifetimes. These women more likely to be victim to interracial perpetrators and are significantly more likely to suffer at the hands of intimate partners. The numbers are similarly high for men of this population. Over 80% of men admit to experiencing violence in their lifetimes. Most victims report feeling the need to reach out to legal services, but many severely lack the tools to get the help they need.

A few law practicing organizations have dedicated their existence to ensure Native American voices are heard in the legal world. Native American Rights Fund (NARF), for example, is a non-profit organization that uses legal action to ensure the rights of Native Americans are being upheld. Since their inception in 1970, NARF has helped tens of thousands of Native Americans from over 250 tribes all over the country.

4. Native students hold the highest national dropout rate.

Conditions on reservations leave schools severely underfunded, and many children are unable to attend. This delay in education leaves early childhood skills undeveloped. According to Native Hope, “Simple skills that many five-year-olds possess like holding a crayon, looking at a book and counting to 10 have not been developed.” Inadequate education is highly reflective of Native American graduation rates. Native students have a 30% dropout rate before graduating high school, which is twice the rate of the national average. This number is worse in universities — 75% to 93% of Native American students drop out before completing their degrees.

Such disparity between Native American students and their colleagues has inspired the increase in scholarships for this community. Colorado University of Boulder, for example, offers a multitude of scholarships and campus tours specifically for those of Indigenous descent. Further, they founded the CU Upward Bound Program which is dedicated to inspiring and encouraging the success of their Native American students. Third party scholarships also come from a multitude of organizations such as the Native American College Fund and the Point Foundation.

5. Quality of Life on Reservations is Extremely Poor.

Federal programs dedicated to housing on Native Americans reservations are severely inadequate. Waiting lists for spaces are years long, and such a wait doesn’t guarantee adequate housing. Often, three generations of a single family live in one cramped dwelling space. The packed households frequently take in tribe members in need as well.  Additionally, most residences lack adequate plumbing, cooking facilities, and air conditioning. The state of these Native American reservations is receiving increased attention.

Some reservations are taking matters into their own hands. Native Hope is a volunteer-based organization working to address the injustices brought upon the Native American community. Their commitment to the tribes has not stopped during the pandemic. One woman from Illinois handmade over 2,500 face masks so Indigenous children could still go to school in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. The organization also provided 33 households with necessary groceries and personal hygiene supplies.

How to Help

The marginalization of the Native American population has recently gained traction through the internet and social media. New and established charities alike are getting more attention, which allows them to have increased beneficial impacts on the Native American population.

Native American tribes have been around for hundreds of years and only recently have been getting the help and attention they require. With continued attention and advocacy, Native Americans can one day receive the justice and equality they deserve.

Amanda J Godfrey
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous People of the Congolese Rainforest
Notable for their short stature, “Pygmies” or the African Rainforest Hunter-Gatherers are a group of ethnic minorities living in the rainforests of Central Africa, most commonly in the Congo Basin. “Pygmy” is a hypernym to refer to various ethnic groups that reside in the Central African rainforests. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),  the term “indigenous peoples” refers to the Mbati, Batwa and Baka. Indigenous people of the Congolese rainforest consider the term offensive. The DRC is home to around 60% of this indigenous population. According to University College London, Manchester Metropolitan Museum and the University of Malaga, an estimated 960,000 indigenous peoples belonged to this ethnic group in Central Africa in 2016.

Discrimination: Extreme Poverty and Corruption in the Workplace

The African rainforest indigenous people have historically faced oppression in their homeland. In fact, other ethnic and rebel groups ostracize them. In 2011, the Agence-France Presse revealed that the Bantu people of the Congo have been exploiting Pygmies as properties or slaves. In fact, many only saw them as ‘pets’ or extensions of their own property.

Due to rapid modernization, the indigenous people of the Congolese rainforest must abandon their traditional ways of living in exchange for the lowest paying jobs available. Due to their inhumane wages, many do not receive adequate nutrition. When these indigenous people must find work outside of the rainforest, they frequently become ill due to sudden changes in their lifestyle. In 2016, reports determined that working indigenous children received moonshine or other addictive substances instead of money.

Ethnic Cleansing and Murder

Congolese rebel forces are often the culprits behind acts of violence and murder against the Mbati, Batwa and Baka people. In 2003, the United Nations confirmed that the indigenous rainforest people of the DRC have suffered rape, killing or being eaten. One of the most notable instances is the Effacer le tableau, an operation that the Movement for the Liberation of Congo led. Its main goal was to exterminate the Bambuti people of Eastern Congo. The Bambutis experienced mass murder in the span of a few months between 2002 and 2003. The rebels even ate some of the Bambutis due to the belief that ‘Pygmy’ flesh contains supernatural powers. In total, about 60-70,000 total indigenous people experienced killing, which was about 40% of the indigenous population in the eastern Congo region.

In 2017, the ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) fatally shot a young Congolese Batwa boy named Christian Mbone Nakulire. These guards received an assignment to manage protected regions of the Congo. After this tragic incident, the Batwa people have unsuccessfully pleaded for their right to ownership of their land as they believe that is the only way to prevent future deaths of their innocent people.

Fight for the Forgotten

Former Greco-Roman wrestler and MMA fighter Justin Wren has founded the Fight for The Forgotten initiative. Justin Wren met the Mbuti people of Congo in 2011 and lived with them for a year. Wren, who received the name “Efeosa” (the man who loves us) by the Mbutis made it his mission to help the marginalized community. Fight for the Forgotten has drilled 86 wells, freed 1,500 enslaved pygmies, aided 30,300 overall villagers, granted 3,048 acres of land and provided sanitation and agricultural training. Wren believes that justice for these indigenous people is possible if they “acquire their own land, access clean water, and develop sustainable agriculture” as these three factors aid in ending the cycle of continuous poverty and discrimination.

Currently, the organization is helping the Batwa people of Uganda by providing them with their own land, building wells for clean water, constructing various buildings and educating on agriculture, along with providing literacy training and much more. People can donate to its website, fightforthefortten.org, and even obtain the opportunity to start their own fundraiser to help the cause.

Survival International

This charity organization is attempting to end the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) conservation zone project in the Congo Rainforest. Some have accused the WWF of hiring park rangers who have abused and murdered multiple Baka villagers. According to Survival International, eco guards have instigated many accounts of abuse against the Bakas. In 2017, WWF eco guards whipped Baka men, women and children while they crawled on the ground. In 2018, four Baka individuals received accusations of hunting elephants and eco guards beat them although there was no concrete evidence of poaching. Two of those Baka men experienced unlawful arrest and went to prison.

To this day, the Baka people live in daily fear as eco guards frequent their communities to physically abuse villagers and burn down homes. Survival International fights to protect the Baka people as the WWF has continuously denied these abuse cases. Leaked WWF reports have shown major discrepancies between the internal reports on the violence against the Baka people, and the statements it has made publicly.

 In February 2016, Survival International submitted a complaint to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD has admitted its complaint and opened an investigation against the WWF, a major accomplishment for a nonprofit like Survival International.

Taking Action

People can contact the embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo to express concerns for the Congolese indigenous rainforest people and give suggestions on how things can reform and change. Contact information exists on its website.

Although the indigenous rainforest people of the Congo Basin continue to face extreme economic hardships, violence and ethnic issues, others are beginning to hear their voices. Change and reform, despite its difficulty, is starting to look like a possibility. Hope is not bleak for the indigenous people of the Congolese rainforest, and the light at the end of the tunnel is slowly but surely getting brighter.

Kelly McGarry
Photo: Wikimedia Commons