Batwa People Facing Extreme Poverty
Being among the poorest populations in one of the poorest nations, Uganda, the Batwa people face extreme poverty in their everyday life. Once known to live in the depths of the African forests as one of the oldest indigenous tribes in the continent, they now reside in town slums. Many have come to wonder how a population that thrived for centuries started resorting to scavenging garbage cans for their next meal.

The Forest: A True Loss For The Batwa

In 1991, the Ugandan government “reclassified lands of the Batwa” to national parks. This move forced many Batwa people to relocate from their homes, sometimes by gunpoint. A 2008 report indicated that 45% of the Batwa people were landless and lived in poverty.

The Batwa people went from a community that once thrived in hunting and gathering to now struggling to find means of survival. The report also highlighted that many Batwa people are seeking work from foreign people under “bonded labor agreements,” resulting in them experiencing discrimination from “their ethnic neighbors.”

In addition, it is important to note that the Batwa people have lost more than their home; the forest was their place of worship and healing. With strong “spiritual and religious ties to the forest,” Batwa people have lost a significant part of their history and livelihood that provided them with herbal remedies when members became sick. The forest was incredibly significant to the lives and culture of the Batwa people.

The Batwa People’s Current Conditions

As aforementioned, some Batwa work for foreign people who are not part of their tribe. Others make a living from performing for tourists who visit the country. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been limited travel of tourists which means that many Batwa people lost their income, resulting in poverty. Due to these circumstances, many Batwa have resorted to “eating from garbage bins” to stay alive.

Solutions

With the massive displacement that took the place of the Batwa, their community is shrinking more and more as time goes by. With little to no resources to stay alive, extinction is knocking on their door. Furthermore, tourism is a key component to the Batwa people’s survival.

To keep the community going, Uganda is encouraging local tourism where the Batwa people are now giving tours of the Ugandan national parks, a place they once called home. With a keen knowledge of this territory, the Batwa people are the perfect tour guides for the forests.

Additionally, Uganda contains an impressive gorilla population that many people travel to see in person. Having shared the forest with them for centuries, the Batwa tour guides introduce visitors to this impressive species with respect and caution. Such tours, which now target even local tourists, offer a memorable experience that is a “culturally sensitive” visit whose proceeds go to people who truly need them.

The Takeaway

It is incredibly important to bring awareness to the Batwa tribe who live in extreme poverty and could disappear after centuries in the forest. With the modernization of their territory, this community has suffered a great loss of their home and livelihood and now faces extreme poverty and famine.

By supporting their efforts to survive through tourism and lobbying the Ugandan government to aid displaced peoples, this community could find hope again.

– Kler Teran
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Agricultural Practices
Agriculture involves land, plant and livestock cultivation. Through agriculture, people are able to use available natural resources for sustenance and income. In fact, agriculture takes up about 50% “of the world’s habitable land, “an established statistic despite 821 million people experiencing food insecurity, according to 2020 data. The link between agriculture and poverty is as direct as it comes, whether in correlation to the people who do not have access to food or the people who are economically dependent on farming as their primary source of income. The more impoverished a country is, the higher the percentage of people working in the agricultural sector. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) notes that 73% of the people in East Africa and 47% of the people in South Asia work in the agriculture sector. Yet, interestingly enough, experts consider agriculture as one of the most effective occupations in bringing people out of poverty. By incorporating Indigenous agricultural practices into modern-day agriculture, impoverished farmers can increase yields and productivity.

The Problems of Modern Agricultural Practices

A significant portion of the challenges modern agriculture faces stem from how people utilize the land. One of the main issues is monoculture, which involves crop specialization or growing a single crop on a large portion of land. While this practice reduces costs and caters to large-scale demand, it also, unfortunately, brings with it a high risk of crop failure because there are no other crops or wildlife to properly maintain the ecosystem. Additionally, pests are more common in the soil where one crop is grown and this, in turn, calls for higher pesticide use, which disrupts the natural balance of the soil.

While monoculture as an agricultural practice is more prolific in the developed world, developing countries still have remnants of this practice. In Indonesia, in 2020, about 14.6 million hectares of land were dedicated solely to palm oil plantations. Crop specialization often appeals to agricultural sectors because of high efficiency, reduced costs and more profits. However, these increased profits do not always translate to higher incomes for the farmers performing the work. Cocoa farming in Côte d’Ivoire provides an example, where “the household incomes of cocoa farmers” average about $2,707 annually despite the nation producing 2 million tonnes of cocoa crops per year.

Advantages of Indigenous Agricultural Practices

Considering the challenges of modern agriculture, two particular Indigenous agricultural practices may offer benefits to improve agricultural productivity and output in developing countries, improving food insecurity and the incomes of farmers with more produce to sell.

  1. Crop Rotation: Expertly practiced by the Mayan farmers of Mesoamerica, crop rotation involves “growing different crops on the same land so that no bed or plot sees the same crop in successive seasons.” Crop rotation provides a host of benefits such as “[preserving] the productive capacity of the soil,” eliminating risks of both pests and crop diseases, reducing the need for pesticides and maintaining nutritional requirements for the crops and soil to thrive. This practice enables farmers to maximize their yields. The Center for Integral Small Farmer Development in the Mixteca (CEDICAM) operates mainly “in the Mixteca region of Mexico, a region categorized by its high level of environmental degradation and desertification.” CEDICAM teaches farmers agricultural practices such as crop rotation and polyculture to increase agricultural success and simultaneously address food insecurity.
  2. Agroforestry: According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “agroforestry is the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems to create environmental, economic and social benefits.” Dating back to centuries ago, Indigenous Americans utilized agroforestry for its vast range of benefits. Practicing agroforestry ensures the rejuvenation of the soil, protects crops from severe temperatures and creates a system that provides diverse resources for medicines, firewood and food.

Drawing Wisdom From Indigenous Agriculture

All over the world, Indigenous agricultural practices involve an acute knowledge of the land, working to ensure that the sustenance of human needs and the rejuvenation of land occur simultaneously. These practices can teach people how to live in harmony with the land and use natural resources in a sustainable way, safeguarding resources for generations to come.

– Owen Mutiganda
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Food Insecurity in Canada
Globally, indigenous communities living on colonized land face significant difficulties beyond those of non-indigenous citizens. Systemic and historic discrimination have pushed down the livelihoods and traditions of indigenous peoples, creating widespread food insecurity at the same time. In Canada, indigenous households are more likely to face extreme poverty and food insecurity than non-indigenous households. While Canada is not a developing nation, the conditions and treatment of indigenous communities reflect the extreme poverty common in emerging economies. Here are three vital facts to know about indigenous food insecurity in Canada.

First Nation and Métis Food Security

A majority of First Nation people live off-reserve land in Canada, and food insecurity remains high within those communities and on-reserve First Nation people. In First Nation households, about a quarter of 2,878 households that a survey looked at experienced moderate food insecurity involving compromised diets and reduced quality or quantity of food. Compared to the 9% food insecurity among non-indigenous Canadians, 33% of off-reserve First Nation and Métis consider food insecurity prevalent and harmful. Conditions for on-reserve indigenous communities were worse than for off-reserve First Nation people, with approximately 54% of people food insecure. This wide gap between First Nation communities and the broader Canadian population highlights the institutional oversight and avoidance of confronting indigenous struggles.

Inuit Food Security

The Inuit, the indigenous people of the Canadian Arctic, face severe food insecurity rooted in failed government systems and neglect. The presence and prevalence of food insecurity in Inuit households ranked seven times higher than non-indigenous Canadian households. A survey on households with at least one preschooler determined that 69.6% of households were food insecure. Already significantly more at risk of food insecurity than non-indigenous Canadians, the Inuit people face food insecurity at a severity three times greater than First Nation and Métis indigenous nations.

These stark comparisons reflect a failure to support the Inuit people and end indigenous food insecurity in Canada. The access and availability of traditional food remained a significant factor in boosting food security for Inuit communities, and in households with at least one hunter, food insecurity became a less prevalent factor relating to health and livelihoods. Ultimately, the Inuit population in Canada faces the most extreme food insecurity out of other indigenous groups and needs revolutionary reforms to boost health and food systems in their communities.

Food Availability and Affordability

Within each tribe and community, the access to wild food becomes less secure; as a result, many turn to the local markets for sustenance. However, the exceptionally high prices at local markets and the low average incomes of many indigenous communities inhibit the possibility of buying groceries, let alone a meal, from local grocers. On top of high market pricing, the costs of hunting, fishing and gathering food increase due to gas prices and chances of returning empty-handed from hunts. While many indigenous people lack access to traditional meals or diets, the desire for more reasonable access to their traditional foods is powerful. In addition, high prices force families to choose cheaper, less nutritious options to feed themselves. These factors contribute to indigenous food insecurity in Canada and ultimately decrease well-being and perpetuate poverty within these communities.

Potential Solutions

The high food insecurity and poverty within indigenous communities in Canada demand solutions that uplift indigenous communities and put their voices at the forefront of change. There is an apparent schism between low-income indigenous nations and the Canadian government. Some argue to lower prohibitively high pricing for necessary goods and food products in Inuit and First Nation markets. This could be the first step in decreasing indigenous food insecurity in Canada. Organizing to support indigenous leaders and activists who highlight the inequality within Canadian food systems can help build support for change.

While the Canadian government cannot always provide necessary assistance and understanding, grassroots organizations and campaigns also work to end indigenous food insecurity and promote food sovereignty. The Indigenous Food Systems Network (ISFP) is an organization that combines the efforts and minds of Indigenous food producers, researchers and policymakers in Canada, promoting reform and deconstruction. The ISFP forms and supports various projects, such as the Indigenous Food Cooperatives and Challenge, revitalizing First Nation hunting, fishing, gathering and trade practices.

Outside of broad scope projects, the IFSP works on local levels, such as by organizing community gardens for indigenous communities. A second NGO attempting to eliminate food insecurity in Canada is Food Secure Canada, which attempts to reach zero hunger with healthy, safe and sustainable food. Since 2001, Food Secure Canada has lobbied for food justice and policy change, and in 2019, the Canadian government included within its budget $134 million for specific initiatives such as a national school food program. These organizations reflect the hope and growing support for indigenous nations in Canada fighting for positive reform.

– Mikey Redding
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous fashionFast fashion is fashion that producers make cheaply and price low to catch up with current trends. However, indigenous people are trying to change this. With their unique patterns and colorful designs, many indigenous people are using their culture and skills to allow indigenous culture to live forever, especially in the fashion world. More importantly, indigenous people are investing their skills and resources into creating sustainable fashion to combat poverty. Indigenous communities, while representing roughly 5% of the world’s population, also represent much of the world’s impoverished. Through indigenous fashion, the number of indigenous people in poverty may soon decrease.

History Behind the Pattern

Indigenous people, specifically the indigenous people of Guatemala, have a specific reason for choosing their patterns and distinctive colors. Color and design are deeply integrated into their everlasting culture and history. According to an ancient Mayan myth, the Mayan goddess Ixchel first developed this type of design, called loom weaving. People know her as the goddess of love, the moon, medicine and textile arts. Loom weavers utilize her practices to create fashionable crossbody bags. Whether they work with a company or by themselves, weavers are benefitting from the popularity of their culture’s patterns.

Weaving has henceforth become more than just a means for indigenous women to provide for their families. These women have important roles in their communities and these skills are teaching them to push for more self-reliance within themselves.

Mama Tierra

Indigenous Guatemalans are not the only ones taking advantage of this development in indigenous fashion. A nonprofit organization called Mama Tierra (which translates to “Mother Earth” in Spanish) is helping advance self-reliance in the Wayuu community through fashion. Founded in 2014, Mama Tierra assists the Wayuu community of La Guajira in several ways. It works to:

  • Make sure that women making bags (which comprise sustainable materials such as organic cotton, recycled bottles and pineapple leaves) receive proper pay.
  • Teach women how to make soap to keep their families healthier.
  • Provide Wayuu people with accessible solar energy and nutrition programs.
  • Promote indigenous women’s commercial activities around Colombia.

The Wayuu community greatly needs and appreciates Mama Tierra’s work. Consisting of 600,000 people, many in the Wayuu community do not have electricity or running water. Environmental changes make their land less suitable for growing food. Additionally, 50 Wayuu children younger than 5 die each month in La Guajira due to malnutrition and related causes. These families display their humanity through the bags they produce: each bag comes with a tag with a picture of the maker and their children. With the help of organizations like Mama Tierra, the Wayuu people are improving their lives and changing their futures.

Moving Forward

Indigenous women are now turning their skills and culture into something that will pay off in the long run. Apart from providing for their families, the women are making something of themselves, putting their names on something that they created. Organizations like Mama Tierra have also created trading routes for this community, displaying their artistic skills to the fashion world. By doing this, indigenous communities’ work is becoming commercialized for a broader market to see. With skillful weaving and vivid colors, the women make their own indigenous fashion and show the larger industry they are here to stay.

– Maria Garcia
Photo: Flickr

Indian Reservations
In the United States, indigenous people have the highest rates of alcoholism compared to any other minority group. This is due to factors such as unemployment, lack of political rights, cultural loss and minimal education. As a result, poverty has become common on Indian reservations, making these issues highly pressing. Progress in legislation, education, employment and treatment have been on the horizon. Thus, by reducing alcoholism on Indian reservations, poverty can decrease and prosperity can rise.

Recent Political Progress

The year 2021 brought attention to poverty on Indian reservations through legislation. One example highlights Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-WA) who proposed making May 5 a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. Congressman Joe Neguse (D-CO) has also issued a bill that would provide clean water for reservations. Other proposed bills are working to address mental health awareness for veterans. They also aim to provide child support, internet access, accessible healthcare and resource centers. On April 19, 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Protecting Indian Tribes from Scams Act. This bill was able to protect and give a voice to those living in Indian reservations. Through this exposure, Indian reservations have been able to make progress tackling poverty. 

Improvements in Education

To improve education in Indian reservations, tribal leaders have been teaching children, rather than the government. The Native Culture, Language and Access for Success Act (CLASS) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) were bills that allowed this to happen. Reservations saw much success due to this initiative, however, Congress has recently put the reauthorization of these bills on the back burner. The National Council of American Indians is currently fighting for giving tribal leaders control of student records, state and tribal cooperation. The council hopes to honor native languages and preserve tradition, as they believe it is necessary for students to feel connected to their heritage. The initiative hopes to lower dropout rates and create more job opportunities, helping to eliminate poverty in the reservations.

Solutions for Employment Opportunities 

In order to diversify tribes, the U.S. government has received encouragement to build more tribal sovereignty and industry. Many tribes want to move towards climate diaspora and renewable resources. This would mean expanding reservation land previously stolen, leading to industry growth and job creation. Restoring Native American land would give reservations a stronger sense of independence, granting mobility and freedom to these reservations.

Another issue present on reservations is equal access to capital. Many Native Americans are unable to legally own their land or houses. Solutions to possession of land include legislation and government recognition. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently had a victory concerning housing. The department created the Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program, which showed immense progress and hope for the future.

Treatment Options

Unfair treatment is a major cause of alcoholism in Indian reservations. To improve equality for these reservations, tackling poverty needs to be the first priority. Treatment plans such as professional help, medication and counseling are the first step for Indian reservations to receive the help they need. Improvements in education and community activities can also decrease poverty in these reservations. With recent exposure, passed legislation has made a major change for Indian reservations. Overall, by eliminating alcoholism, poverty can reduce, as equality and economic improvement will lead to a healthier, safer community.

– Selena Soto
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Solidarity Work in ColombiaGuerrilla warfare has been particularly devastating to Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in Colombia. These groups number more than 1.5 million people and comprise 3.4% of the country’s total population. Of the 7.5 million internally displaced people in Colombia, there are 192,638 Indigenous people and 794,703 Afro-Colombian people. Organized crime groups and paramilitary organizations target both displaced populations. Dr. Jessica Srikantia suggests that some humanitarian aid is inadvertently escalating the problem because of its approach and suggests alternative methods for effective solidarity work in Colombia.

Harmful Instead of Helpful

The Borgen Project interviewed Dr. Jessica Srikantia, an associate professor at George Mason University who spent years participating in solidarity work in Colombia with Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. She witnessed firsthand the consequences of structural violence on vulnerable communities.

To combat the humanitarian crisis in Colombia, global aid organizations have primarily funded the Colombian government to support nutrition and economic development. Although these organizations may have good intentions, according to Dr. Srikantia, they may contribute to ongoing human rights violations. In a process she labels “self-interested aid,” these humanitarian organizations may be doing more harm than good.

A common form of damaging humanitarian intervention is the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into local agriculture. The use of pesticides and GMO crops threatens the biodiversity of countries like Colombia, home to more than 30 species of maize. Grassroots organizations are trying to eliminate the use of GMO crops. As an alternative, grassroots groups advocate for providing local farmers with access to seeds and funding to preserve and expand the existing crops.

“Decolonizing” Aid

To conduct her solidarity work in Colombia, Dr. Srikantia had to “decolonize” her mind by learning to understand what communities need rather than implementing western “developed” methods. She stresses the distinction between on-the-ground grassroots organizations and organizations that work from a distance through existing power structures.

The first type of organization works with communities to be self-sufficient and maintain their identity. The other type tries to assimilate communities into the global economy, which can be detrimental to local culture and identity. Real solidarity happens when an organization builds a relationship with a community, she says.

Dr. Srikantia’s solidarity work in Colombia took the form of an urgent action response plan. This included organizing people, calling Congress, raising awareness and actively working on the ground. She referred to what she was doing as “putting out fires.” She also lobbied for policy reform to prevent damage to vulnerable communities.

Reclaiming What is Sacred

Dr. Srikantia believes the key to ending human rights violations can be found when “we reclaim what is sacred.” In Colombia, she witnessed communities that lived with respect for the interconnectedness of all living things. The current global development paradigm focuses on privatizing to create wealth. A better method, however, is to help communities by allowing them to keep their cultural identities and current way of existing.

Dr. Srikantia suggests that instead of trying to integrate groups into the global economy, humanitarian organizations should teach them to be self-sufficient and help them be content with what they have. Instead of teaching insecurity, which will only harm vulnerable communities, people need to learn to reclaim what is sacred: living with respect for the interconnectedness of life.

– Gerardo Valladares
Photo: Flickr

Gojira's activismThe Yanomami indigenous reserve in Brazil is roughly the size of Portugal, though fewer than 200 healthcare workers serve the area. The effects of malnutrition and malaria among indigenous Brazilians have taken a severe toll on children. Indigenous populations are also more vulnerable to COVID-19. Epidemiologist Andrey Cardoso told The Guardian that the COVID-19 death rate is higher in indigenous children younger than 5 compared to the same age group in the general population. Deteriorating healthcare is just one of the issues indigenous people in Brazil face. Rampant deforestation and attacks from illegal gold miners have also plagued these groups. These issues have resonated with a heavy metal band, Gojira. Gojira’s activism has spurred people to raise more than $300,000 in support of the indigenous Brazilian rights group, The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.

Illegal Gold Mining

Violent attacks have been a growing problem for indigenous Brazilians. Land conflicts in Brazil hit an all-time high in 2020 with more than 1,500 cases, 656 of which involved indigenous Brazilians. Illegal gold miners have been particularly aggressive toward indigenous groups. In May 2021, unlawful gold miners invaded the Munduruku indigenous reserve, setting multiple houses ablaze.

In another attack on the Yanomami people, illegal miners “opened fire with automatic weapons” during three consecutive days of violent fighting. Illegal mining has also led to severe deforestation in the region with more than 3,000 acres of forestland cleared in the Munduruku reserve in January and February 2021 alone. Additionally, reports indicate that more than 1,700 acres of land have been degraded in the Yanomami reserve from January 2020 till May 2021.

Brazilian Indigenous Healthcare

The effects of the attacks comprise just a portion of the problems that plague indigenous groups in Brazil. A 2019 report requested and funded by UNICEF reveals that, in the Yanomami areas of Polo Base de Auaris and Polo Base de Maturacá, roughly 81% of children younger than 5 were chronically malnourished. Poor access to nutritious foods was highlighted as one of the causes.

Overall, healthcare access in these regions is also poor. Member of the Indigenous District Health Council, Junior Yanomami, told El Pais that healthcare groups had not visited the village of Maimasi for six months at one point. Not only were many residents stricken with malaria, but several children suffered from malnutrition and verminosis — a disease caused by parasitic worms. In total, fewer than 200 healthcare workers cover the 28,000 Yanomami and Ye’kwana people in Brazil, highlighting the lack of health support in the areas.

Gojira Assists

Upon learning more about the problems plaguing indigenous people in Brazil, Gojira partnered with the activism support website, Propeller, to host an auction of heavy metal memorabilia in support of the largest indigenous rights group in Brazil, The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil. Gojira’s activism auction came after the band released its single, Amazonia, in support of The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.

The auction, which featured personal memorabilia from heavy metal icons like Metallica, Slayer, Slash and Tool, raised more than $300,000 for the indigenous rights group. In another successful effort by the band, Gojira’s activism also garnered support and awareness for an important cause. “Words are great, music is great, but action is something concrete,” Gojira drummer, Mario Duplantier, told Louder Sound.

Inspiring Activism

Hopefully, Gojira’s activism marks just one way in which indigenous groups in Brazil begin to receive the support and fundraising needed to combat the major issues they face. In addition, Gojira will hopefully serve as an example of how other famous groups can use their platforms to make an impact in struggling communities around the world.

– Brett Grega
Photo: Flickr

Effect of Residential Schools

For over 150 years, Indigenous children across Canada were forced out of their homes and into Indian Residential Schools. These schools stripped them of their culture, language, and community to assimilate them to Canadian culture. These schools aimed to “kill the Indian, save the man,” as Richard H. Pratt put it.

Despite the terrible conditions and the rampant abuse in these schools, the government and churches could not erase the culture. They were unable to break the spirit of the Indigenous people they sought to “civilize.” While Indigenous People can still feel the effect of residential schools, their strength leaves room for hope.

History

The first Indian Residential School in Canada opened in 1831. Christian Missionaries ran early schools to convert Indigenous people to Catholicism. However, in the 1870s, the government stepped in and began to include treaties regarding these schools. In 1894, attendance became compulsory. Children as young as three years old forcibly removed from their homes and sent to the schools.

Over the next 100 years, more than 130 Indian Residential Schools existed in Canada under state sponsorship. Churches ran the vast majority of these schools; Catholic churches operated three-fifths, the Anglican Church operated one-quarter, and the United and Presbyterian Churches operated the rest.

Over 150,000 children attended these schools. At one point, 75% of children between 7 and 15 years old were attending or had attended Indian Residential Schools. These children faced terrible conditions due to underfunding and physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

Lasting Effect of Residential Schools

The effects of the abuse and mistreatment in the schools have a lasting impact on the Indigenous population. Studies have shown that survivors of the schools have poorer mental and physical health. There are higher rates of suicide attempts as well as chronic illnesses such as diabetes among these individuals.

There is also evidence to suggest that historical trauma has led to negative health impacts for subsequent generations. Historical trauma is when historical events are endured by whole communities and negatively affect the individuals who experience them and the whole group in ways that result in problems for future generations. There are three main characteristics of a historical trauma event including that it was widespread among a specific group, an outgroup perpetrated it with an intentionally destructive purpose and it generates a high level of collective distress.

This historical trauma has led to “enduring links between familial Indian Residential School attendance and a range of health and social outcomes among the descendants of those who attended.” These negative outcomes include higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, drug and alcohol abuse and food insecurity as well as                                  lower educational outcomes and income levels. All of these outcomes show that the effect of residential schools is still with us today.

Moving Forward

As more people become aware of the lasting effect of residential schools, now is the time to face these issues and take action to deal with them. One of the first and most basic steps toward healing is for full acknowledgment of the trauma and effect these schools had from the government and the churches. While the Canadian government has issued apologies, the Catholic Church, which operated most of the schools, has not yet come out with a formal apology. They have also refused to release records from the residential schools, which could provide more accurate information on the effect of residential schools.

Steps have been taken to right this wrong. In 2007, a settlement from The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action suit in Canadian history, implemented the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Between 2007 and its conclusion in 2015, over 6,500 witnesses gave their stories to engage and educate the public. The commission also put out a full report on the Indian Residential Schools, which included 94 calls to action.

Beyond acknowledgment, apology and education, other movements are growing in response to the effect of residential schools. One significant movement, the Land Back Movement, pushes the government to return the land that initially belonged to Indigenous people. This transfer of land back to Indigenous people is already happening in some places. The land returned to the Squamish Nation is now being developed into housing in Vancouver on the Senakw project.

Despite the historical trauma and the lasting effect of residential schools, Indigenous people have used their strength to prevent the complete erasure of their culture. While we are still dealing with the negative effects, there is hope for a better future.

– Taryn Steckler-Houle
Photo: Flickr

Palm plantations in GuatemalaIn the Central American nation of Guatemala, massive palm plantations have encroached upon many rural regions populated largely by indigenous people. While the palm oil companies have experienced financial success, many indigenous people have suffered under this new presence. The infringement on indigenous land rights and livelihoods calls for reform in Guatemala.

About Palm Plantations in Guatemalan Forests

Palm oil is the most widely consumed type of oil in the world and is found in 50% of all packaged products, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Palm trees grow in many tropical environments. In specific, palm plantations in Guatemala have exploded in presence and production over the past few decades. Since 2001, the amount of land covered by palm oil plantations in Guatemala has multiplied by five.

Around half of those plantations are located in the municipality of Sayaxché, which has a majority indigenous population. The plantations are taking over Guatemala’s forest area, leaving little room for the crops of subsistence farmers. Despite the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil deeming palm plantations sustainable, the activities of palm oil producers have polluted water sources used by indigenous populations. Furthermore, palm plantations are impacting people’s livelihoods as palm oil is now a dominant industry.

Impacts on Indigenous Guatemalans

Historically, indigenous people in rural Guatemala have made a living through subsistence farming and sustained themselves by consuming community-grown food. With palm oil as the dominant industry and little remaining land for farming, many subsistence farmers have to transition to working in palm plantations. Palm plantation work is arduous, requiring extremely long hours. Despite long working hours, the pay is not adequate for households to make ends meet.

Dorrian Caal, a palm oil industry worker, told Reuters that he earned 60 quetzales (about $7.80) per day working for the palm oil company Industria Chiquibul. This is below Guatemala’s minimum daily wage of 90 quetzales for the agricultural industry. Repeated complaints by both local workers and the National Council for Displaced People of Guatemala caused the company to increase wages to 91 quetzales, local farmer Jose Maria Ical told Reuters.

Given that people can no longer rely on the food and income security of their own crops, they no longer have subsistence farming to fall back on. Others in Raxruha remain unemployed due to the limited number of available job opportunities. Many people have attempted to migrate to the U.S. out of economic necessity.

Evictions and Police Violence

Some indigenous families have made claims to ancestral land and have attempted subsistence farming on land acquired by plantation companies. In October 2016, a banana plantation company evicted 80 families with the court’s support. The families resisted and the police reacted violently, shooting at indigenous farmers, burning down farmers’ homes and destroying crops. Ultimately, the families held on to their land using machetes and pesticide sprayers to defend themselves.

Indigenous Land Rights

At the end of the Guatemalan Civil War in 1996, a set of peace accords aimed to “respect indigenous community lands, resettle displaced indigenous communities, resolve land conflicts” and provide the impoverished access to land, according to analyst Doug Hertzler. However, if one considers the actions of palm plantation companies in Guatemala, it is fair to conclude that many are not fully observing these accords today. Hertzler argues that the international community provided insufficient support to uphold the promises of the accords when they underwent signing. Hertzler proposes several recommendations.

  • The Guatemalan government needs to acknowledge the land rights of indigenous people.
  • Projects “that do not have the ongoing and legitimate Free Prior and Informed Consent of
    affected indigenous peoples, as required by international law, should stop.”
  • Funding for land tenure should “prioritize community land rights” in locations where there are conflicts with companies.
  • Programs should work with indigenous communities and organizations along with the government.

Evidence from both locals and researchers suggests that palm plantations in Guatemala are harmful to the country’s indigenous communities. Altogether, the communities receive little aid. With better support and respect for indigenous rights, indigenous Guatemalans can rise out of poverty.

– Sawyer Lachance
Photo: Flickr

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