Aboriginal Community
In a remote area in north-west Queensland Australia, there have been reported deaths of members of the Aboriginal community. An illness known as rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is claiming the lives of those living in this small population. RHD is an entirely preventable disease that rarely exists among Australians.

Who Contracts the Disease?

Rheumatic heart disease develops as a fever called rheumatic fever that worsens over time. Statistically, young children are most at risk of contracting the disease. Aboriginal cultural consultant Janelle Speed addressed the prevalence of the disease among aboriginals in the Australian Journal of General Practice: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia have the world’s highest rates of acute rheumatic fever [ARF]/RHD.”

Symptoms of RHD

An untreated strep throat infection can lead to acute rheumatic fever and can cause irreparable damage to the major cardiac valves causing rheumatic heart disease. Of the more than 5,000 people living with RHD in Australia, 71% are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Without the proper diagnoses and treatment, 8,667 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people could develop ARF/RHD by 2031. This could lead to 1,370 severe cases of RHD and 663 to die.

Curing Rheumatic Heart Disease

The Federal Government hopes to eliminate RHD by 2030, however, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show the disease continues to increase in prevalence. People with RHD normally require ongoing medical care, antibiotic treatment and possibly cardiac surgery. By 2031, it will cost an estimated $273.4 million in medical care to treat the disease.

RHD Research

The End Rheumatic Heart Disease Centre of Research Excellence began its journey in 2014 to provide a robust plan to eradicate RHD in Australia.

Recently, The Queensland Health Minister, Yvette D’Ath, allocated $7.3 million to further research and planning for RHD. Former Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, issued a statement claiming, “Working in genuine partnership through shared decision-making and co-design with the Aboriginal community-controlled sector is critical and is the foundation of the new approach to the Government’s Rheumatic Fever Strategy commencing this year [2021–22].”

Hunt also said that the country will spend $25 million on supporting strategies to prevent RHD including an additional $12 million for activities aimed at preventing RHD throughout the country. Moreover, the University of Western Australia is working to develop a Strep A vaccine that will hopefully “accelerate the elimination of RHD.”

Solutions

In order to prevent the progression of ARF into RHD, it is necessary to improve the early and accurate diagnosis of ARF and the delivery of secondary prophylaxis.

The collective experience of clinicians, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organizations, government and non-government organizations, and research, means the knowledge now exists to permanently eliminate rheumatic heart disease in Australia.

– Kiara Finch
Photo: Picryl

Indigenous People in Montreal
The state of Indigenous homelessness in Montreal is alarming. The Homeless Hub Canada reported that in 2018, there were more than 3,000 homeless individuals, a figure that has risen drastically since the pandemic. Of these individuals, an indigenous person is 27 times more likely to be homeless than a non-indigenous person, and an Inuk person is 80 times more likely. Despite Indigenous individuals expressing a desire to receive services, they usually do not get the care they deserve under the shelter system. There have also been reports of two deaths in the Milton Park area of Montreal during the harsh Canadian winter where temperatures hit -20 degrees Fahrenheit annually. Raphael Indre was a regular client of the Open Door Shelter and passed away in a public bathroom while the shelter had to close due to a COVID-19 outbreak in January 2021. Furthermore, during the pandemic, despite the lack of adequate shelter, the curfew did not exempt homeless indigenous people in Montreal and they received a $1,550 ticket for being outside.

A Background on Homeless Indigenous People in Montreal

When looking at the reasons for the high level of indigenous homeless people in Montreal, it is important to consider Canada’s colonialist history. In a 2020 policy report, The Homeless Hub Canada discussed the need to recall that colonial projects have prevented Indigenous people from accessing traditional land and resources. The Indian Act of 1876 allowed the Canadian government to control resources on reserves and subsequently displaced thousands of Indigenous people putting them in difficult financial situations. The act also stopped Indigenous people from being able to self-govern, hence, giving the Canadian Government power to veto any decisions.

Additionally, Indigenous children had to go to “residential schools” which the Canadian government established to indoctrinate Indigenous children into the Euro-Canadian ways of thinking. In addition to a large amount of abuse taking place in these schools, the students also did not receive the same education as the general public which discouraged them from pursuing higher education. This system largely contributed to the high levels of Indigenous homelessness seen today

Indigenous people in Canada, particularly in Montreal, struggle to access housing due to extreme housing discrimination. A 2020 study found that despite some Indigenous families having the right to certain supports, they still experience “discrimination in the provision of services, resulting in barriers to access.”

Steps in the Right Direction

The situation has incited organizations around Québec as well as the Canadian government to take steps to improve Indigenous housing and reduce homelessness. In 2019, the government passed Canada’s National Housing Strategy Act recognizing that “the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right affirmed in international law.” Additionally, Montreal created a “Strategy for Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples,” which commits the city to support Indigenous social housing initiatives led by Indigenous organizations. Moreover, the city also approved a funding agreement of $1.7 million to help build 23 temporary housing units for homeless Indigenous women.

NGO organizations such as Native Montreal and Projets Autochones du Québec are also making significant progress in reducing Indigenous homelessness. Native Montreal originated in 2014 to “contribute to the holistic health, cultural strength and success of Indigenous families,” and their focus is not just homeless populations; they provide wellness programs for both families and youth and have raised more than $6 million over the years.

Projets Autochones du Québec (PAQ) started in 2004 as a social reinsertion program for First Nation, Inuit and Metis people experiencing homelessness in Montreal. During the pandemic, due to reduced capacities in shelters, PAQ opened a second temporary emergency shelter with limited admission restrictions for Indigenous people. Additionally, it provides psychological support, alcohol addiction treatment programs and transitional housing programs to help with financial literacy.

The state of indigenous homelessness in Montreal is grave, but with the help of indigenous-led charities and government support, one can hope for progress.

– Priya Maiti
Photo: Flickr

Global Land Rights
Land rights present a global issue for numerous people across the world. Land rights protection allows peace promotion, poverty reduction and food security, and it allows local businesses to boost the economy. When poor people have property rights, they can start businesses, become integral parts of their communities, improve their food security and ultimately break the cycle of generational poverty.

Global Land Rights

The World Bank emphasizes that these rights are also extremely important for marginalized groups because they are more vulnerable to poverty. In 2016, only 30% of land in developing countries was unregistered, leaving many individuals prone to displacement along with heightened risks of “poverty, hunger, conflict, violence, poor governance, and lack of economic opportunity,” according to USAID. The good news is that help is available for those with difficulty securing land ownership. Numerous organizations are fighting for global land rights. Below are just a few of them:

5 Organizations Fighting for Global Land Rights

  1. USAID: USAID works in more than 23 countries to secure and improve global land rights by establishing partnerships with local communities. USAID works to maximize efficiency and progress by supporting relevant policies, lowering costs and providing assistance for displaced communities. From 2013 to 2021, USAID secured property rights for 182 million people through policy work.
  2. Landesa: Landesa seeks “equality, dignity, and opportunity through secure land rights,” focusing especially on rural areas because the ownership of land is often tied to livelihood in these areas. This nonprofit works with local governments and organizations to develop property policies that will benefit the poor. This organization also posts educational materials such as reports, research, fact sheets and videos on accessible platforms. Adding on to this, Landesa prioritizes gender equality in all of its endeavors.
  3. Stand For Her Land: This campaign advocates for women’s property rights through a collective effort starting at the local grassroots level and expanding worldwide. Stand For Her Land holds leaders accountable for their commitments to women’s land rights, ensuring that these promises actually come to fruition. This organization prides itself on being the “first advocacy campaign of its kind to radically accelerate land rights for women from the ground up.”
  4. International Land Coalition: Joining citizens and intergovernmental organizations together, the International Land Coalition (ILC) works closely with communities to ensure their needs are met. The ILC has three main objectives: focus land governance on people instead of corporations, hold governments and corporations accountable and prioritize the perspectives of women. The ILC recognizes the third goal as particularly essential because women often have less access to land ownership than men. Improving land rights for women improves gender equality by allowing women to take a more active role in the economy.
  5. ActionAid International: Focusing largely on educational materials for the public, this international NGO supports numerous social justice topics such as poverty, women’s rights, the environment and emergencies. Moreover, they have also sponsored petitions aimed at stopping exploitative corporations and land grabs, authored news sharing the good news about the progress and posted relevant information on its social channels to educate and rally the public.

Looking Ahead

Land rights are important for poverty reduction, equal rights, food security and world peace. When nonprofits like these work to improve land rights, they also work towards a better future.

– Ava Ronning
Photo: Flickr

Displacement of African tribes Protected parks offer much in the way of land conservation and the protection of wildlife. However, many conservation projects have displaced and therefore harmed Indigenous communities across the globe. Throughout Africa, the displacement of African tribes is an ongoing concern as conservation efforts threaten Indigenous livelihoods.

Conservation Exiles Tribes from their Homes

As global efforts are underway to protect and conserve nearly 30% of the world’s land by 2030, experts are raising concerns, suggesting that the expansive and unethical “land grab” would not only be the largest in history but also would lead to the estimated displacement of nearly 300 million people–most of whom are Indigenous.

For example, the Baka forest pygmy tribe of southeast Cameroon, Africa, near Nki National Park lost the right to hunt or fish on lands the tribe has used for generations. Without legal access to their forest, the tribe suffers a loss of livelihood, even though their hunting reportedly does not negatively impact the environment.

And the Baka is not alone. Many other African tribes are suffering at the expense of conservation.  These include the Sengwer tribe of Kenya. Its 5,000 hunters suffer from a 1964 ban that stops them from returning to their ancestral forests. The San Bushmen in Kalahari Desert, Botswana, lost their lands to mining and tourism. The Ogiek of Kenya lost rights to the Mau forest.

Also, while wildlife reserves offer employment and opportunity to local communities, their benefit may be exaggerated. There are many documented cases of abuse against the Indigenous people who live there.

Indigenous Tribes Benefit the Land

Not only does the displacement of African tribes hurt Indigenous communities, but it also may not help and may even hurt the land itself.  For example, the Rainforest Foundation – United Kingdom (RFUK)  documented that while conservation efforts in the Congo Basin totaled hundreds of millions of dollars over ten years, there is little to no evidence that protected areas are actually protecting biodiversity.  Elephant and gorilla populations have declined drastically despite substantial funding for patrolling, anti-poaching and ecotourism.

On the other hand, there is evidence that Indigenous tribes do benefit the land.  A 2022 study by the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact found that Indigenous Peoples offered strategies and traditions benefiting the fight against extreme weather patterns and supporting the overall improvement and sustained health of the lands they inhabit. Additionally, Indigenous lands offer critical biodiversity and sustainability practices, which experts emphasize should be at the forefront of decision-making when governments create conservation and climate change policies, laws and strategies.

Strategies for Harmony of Land and People

For this reason, as conservation efforts move forward throughout the world, many look to strategies that allow Indigenous peoples to remain and have access to and foster their land. Such strategies include ways to reverse the damages of the displacement of African tribes.

As Dr. Grace Lara Souza, a political ecology activist from Kings College in London, emphasizes, “any conservation initiative that does not include Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in its design, implementation and management, should be called into question.”  She and other like-minded advocates suggest a community-based conservation model that empowers Indigenous people to oversee the protected lands rather than removing them from their ancestral grounds.  When protected land is left without community monitors, miners, loggers and hunters often invade and destroy the ecosystem.

Since the year 1968, the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)  has committed to “protecting, promoting and defending the rights of Indigenous peoples” across several regions, including Africa.  To achieve this, the IWGIA  partners with Indigenous peoples’ organizations across Africa. For example, the IWGIA partners with the Rwanda association for Indigenous people (CAURWA) to combat economic, social and political discrimination toward the Batwa people, hunter-gatherers who are the smallest Rwandan ethnic group.  Together CAURWA and IWGIA advocate to apply existing land rights legislation to the Batwa.

Looking Forward

Organizations including IWGIA and activists including Dr. Souza offer hope to Indigenous people and their ancestral grounds.  In Africa, their campaigns simultaneously improve conservation efforts and reverse the displacement of Indigenous African tribes.

– Michelle Collingridge
Photo: Flickr

First Nations’ Culinary Connection
First Nations communities across Canada continue to confront the effects of centuries of colonization, with impacts on not only their communities but also on their nutrition, health and well-being. Recently, through cultural awareness and new government initiatives, First Nations communities have begun a rebirth of their Indigenous agriculture and cuisines. A revival of the First Nations’ culinary connection brings benefits that extend far beyond cultural awareness.

Cultural Genocide and Food Insecurity

The severing of the First Nations’ culinary connection began centuries ago. Ancestral food was all but annihilated during colonization beginning in the 16th century as European protocols replaced Indigenous agricultural practices and traditions.

Beginning in the late 19th century, authorities denied Indigenous children in residential schools what remained of traditional Aboriginal food. Instead, authorities would regularly push these children to the brink of starvation. The little food these children received included high glycemic, non-nutritive, spoiled and canned food.

Recent analytics show that poverty and food insecurity continue to be prevalent among First Nations communities. National statistics often exclude on-reserve studies, leaving First Nations and other Indigenous communities unaccounted for in government poverty estimates.

However, a 2015 study estimates that 53% of on-reserve First Nations children live in poverty and that nearly 80% of reserves have a median income that “falls below the Low-Income Measure.” Most recently, a 2019 study estimates that 18% of off-reserve Indigenous groups lived below the poverty line, with First Nations people accounting for 22.1% of the impoverished in this group.

Alongside high rates of poverty, the severed First Nations’ culinary connection has led to a vast overrepresentation of food insecurity among Indigenous communities. A 2015 study estimates that Indigenous communities suffer an average 28% rate of food insecurity and, while insecurity varies by province, a 2017-2018 study estimates that close to 60% of the communities in the Canadian province of Nunavut, where the Indigenous population accounted for more than 85% of the territory’s population in 2016, suffer from food insecurity. In Ontario, Canada, where 23% of Canada’s First Nations population resides, food insecurity is nearly 15%.

Food Deserts and Chronic Health Issues

A food choice study done in 2020 found that many First Nations reservations lack access to traditional foods, but regularly source processed foods from grocery and convenience stores.

The close proximity of convenience stores to both on and off-reserve communities has led to a high intake of highly processed and unhealthy food, with nearly 60% of First Nations members shopping for food at convenience stores once a month at minimum.

Food prices at convenience stores are more expensive than at grocery stores, leading to both an economic and health deficit in the community. There is a high rate of diabetes and obesity among First Nations communities, as nearly 13% of children, ages 12 to 17, are obese, according to estimates from a 2008-2010 survey. A 25-five-year medical study from 1980 to 2005 found that more than 20% of First Nations women and 16% of First Nations men have Type 2 diabetes.

The Resurrection of Culture

Within First Nations communities, members have not been idle. Culinary enthusiasts, like chef and finalist of the Food Network’s “Top Chef Canada” Rich Francis and First Nations ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph are just two of the many First Nations Peoples to be championing a revival of a First Nations’ culinary connection and renewed agricultural practices. By bringing dishes to the table that pre-date colonialism, the narrative of Indigenous cuisine is seeing a shift among communities.

Foods indigenous to the land, such as salmon, beluga, moose, whale fat, bison, beans, mushroom, corn, mountain blueberries, citrus, fresh herbs, beetroot and cedar are rich in nutrients and sustainable and help to reconnect a community to their roots.

While specific foods, such as whale and wild game meat, are not legally marketed off-reserve, these foods are seeing renewed interest on reserve, alongside traditional hunting and agricultural practices.

Canadian restaurants like Salmon n’ Bannock in Vancouver, Kekuli Cafe in Merritt and Westbank and Feast Café Bistro in Winnipeg are only some of the on and off-reserve restaurants featuring traditional and modernized Indigenous cuisine that are reviving the First Nations’ culinary connection.

Governmental Programs Seek to Support

In 2016, only 2.7% of the agricultural population identified as Indigenous and less than 2% had representation among agricultural operatives.

Due to the severe lack of agricultural representation from these communities, the Canadian government established that “The Indigenous Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative” in 2018, which aims to give opportunities and necessary funding support to Indigenous people to revive agricultural production within their communities over a five-year period.

The $8.5 million initiative seeks to assist in the planning and production of fresh food within Indigenous communities. Overall, it aims to establish food systems within Indigenous communities to increase access to healthy and nutritious foods “while also providing an opportunity for Indigenous Peoples to share their agricultural knowledge and experiences, and market and sell their agriculture products.” The initiative also provides the necessary training for increasing agricultural operations.

Heritage in Harmony

As many First Nations culinary, educational, agricultural, spiritual and cultural traditions see practice in new generations, hopes for lowering chronic health issues and increasing food stability are as plentiful as the land they hail from.

– Michelle Collingridge
Photo: Flickr

Oaxaca’s Indigenous Populations
In Mexico on May 30, 2022, Hurricane Agatha, with a Category 2 rating and winds recorded at 105 mph, made landfall in the southern state of Oaxaca. It is the most intense hurricane to make landfall on Mexico’s pacific coast during the month of May since the National Hurricane Center began keeping records in 1949. Oaxaca’s extreme poverty rates further exacerbated the hurricane’s devastation. The state is consistently among the three poorest states in Mexico with a poverty rate of approximately 66.4% as of 2018. All three of the poorest states are located in the southern part of the country, where the majority of Mexico’s indigenous populations are also located.

Hurricane Agatha’s Initial Damage

The rising level of rivers and flooding swept away roadways and homes in the area. As of the morning of June 1, the governor of Oaxaca, Alejandro Murat, stated that preliminary deaths were estimated to be 11 while 33 were presumed missing. Murat has since announced on June 2 that those numbers have decreased as findings determined that nine died while another four were missing. He explained the decline was due to relief efforts re-gaining contact with the more remote areas. Murat stated the majority of the deaths were due to landslides or sudden flooding and took place primarily in the very remote towns of the mountains. Towns like these are often home to Mexico’s indigenous populations, which are amongst the poorest people in the area leaving them even more vulnerable. The governor also stated that landslides destroyed or covered certain roadways and bridges, making entry into the area more difficult. This is especially true for remote towns with already poor infrastructure.

Poverty in Oaxaca

In Mexico, those wishing to identify the most impoverished use a system of measuring poverty called multidimensional poverty. This is a method of taking into account not only income but also social deprivations such as lack of schooling and unsafe housing when assessing poverty. However, in terms of income alone, many consider Mexicans poor when they make less than 3,898 pesos ($187) per month in urban areas and 2,762 pesos ($133) in rural areas.

Southern Mexico has some of the poorest regions in the country with several municipalities having poverty rates of over 98%. As previously mentioned, the majority of Mexico’s indigenous populations are also located in its southern states, with Oaxaca having the highest indigenous population of any state in Mexico. As of 2010, 33.8 % of Oaxaca’s population spoke at least one indigenous language.

The poorest municipality in all of Mexico, San Simón Zahuatlán is also located in the state of Oaxaca with a staggering poverty rate of 99.6%, according to Mexico News Daily. Approximately 99.3% of this municipality’s population is indigenous as of 2020. A report in 2019 conducted by the United Nations went as far as to deem human development within this municipality as comparable to the war-torn country of Yemen, according to Mexico News Daily. This brings attention to the fact that indigenous communities are amongst the poorest groups in Mexico, and in the case of hurricane Agatha by far the most significantly impacted.

Looking Ahead

The Mexican government will now have a large project on its hands to help those displaced by the violent weather. The local government was proactive in opening 200 storm shelters to help house up to 26,800 people potentially displaced. Hotels also opened their doors to help house tourists not prepared for the hurricane. It could prove beneficial for the government to direct the majority of future relief efforts towards bettering the area’s infrastructure, especially amongst Mexico’s indigenous populations who arguably need it most but for now, southern Mexico is focussing on its recovery.

– Devin Welsh
Photo: Flickr

Impoverished Indigenous Australians
As of 2021, Australia remains within the top 15 economies in the world. However, as the Australian economy flourishes, the Indigenous Australian community remains a forgotten minority. According to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), a former Indigenous Australian government body, this marginalization increases several poverty risks within the community. In reference to research that the ATSIC conducted, more than 120,000 Indigenous Australians are currently living below the poverty line. This indicator signifies that more than 30% of the Australian Indigenous population endure “income poverty” and suffer from various forms of inequality on several life-impacting bases. A closer look at the challenges for impoverished Indigenous Australians provides insight into the severity of this marginalization.

Education and Work

Indigenous Australians often face income inequality when they join the workforce. Between 2018 and 2019, the weekly “median gross adjusted household income” of Indigenous Australians aged 18 and older was approximately $553. This number is a cause for concern because it is significantly lower than the wages of non-Indigenous Australians whose weekly median gross household income is about 65% higher.

Moreover, Indigenous teenagers are three times more likely to not receive full-time education than any non-indigenous group in Australia. Roughly 70% of young adult Australian Indigenous people do not work a full-time job or engage in full-time education, which causes an increased risk that affects their income average, living standards and overall quality of life.

Indigenous Australians must overcome several struggles when seeking out education. One of the biggest obstacles Indigenous Australians in under-funded or rural areas must overcome is the language barrier. The Australian nationwide curriculum includes only English instruction, which creates a language barrier for students within remote Indigenous areas.

Furthermore, schools in rural areas often occupied by Indigenous Australians are severely underfunded. The Australian government spends 47 cents on education per child in remote communities for every dollar spent on education per child in the Northern Territory of Australia. Also, many impoverished Australian students live with their extended family in overcrowded households, which creates distractions and deprioritizes education for Indigenous youth. All the factors mentioned above lead to an increased poverty rate in Indigenous communities due to the poor quality of education or the complete lack of it.

Health

Poverty within Indigenous Australian groups is also a significant contributor to the increased health hazards Indigenous Australians face. Many illnesses threaten the lives of indigenous Australians at much higher rates than non-Indigenous Australians. For example, diseases that otherwise do not exist within other communities threaten Indigenous Australian communities. Moreover, disability, as well as chronic and terminal illness, are observed at much higher rates within Indigenous communities throughout the country. These implications lead to a decreased life expectancy among Indigenous Australians as projections determine that they could live “20 years less” than any other group of people in Australia.

It is important to note that, according to a 2019 Oxfam analysis of Australian inequality, Australian indigenous women face several additional threats when it comes to poverty. Many gender-based health risks arise due to poverty and inequality. Indigenous Australian women face an increased infant mortality rate. In fact, the infant mortality rate for Indigenous Australian women is about twice the rate of their non-indigenous counterparts. In addition, Indigenous Australian women face the consequences of income inequality. Women in Australia make 85 cents for every dollar a man makes. This income gap widens further when it comes to Indigenous women, which puts them at an increased risk of poverty.

Combating COVID-19

The Australian Department of Health states that COVID-19 poses a greater health risk to Indigenous Australians in comparison to non-Indigenous people. Several structural and systematic injustices, such as limited access to health care, added risks due to pre-existing health issues and the lifestyles within remote Indigenous Australian communities, lead to this reality. However, the Australian government launched several efforts to help lessen the dire impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Indigenous Australians. This assistance materialized in the Indigenous community as 53% of Indigenous Australians older than 16 were receiving income support throughout the pandemic, which helped alleviate the impacts poverty has on these communities all over the country.

Community Support for Impoverished Indigenous Australians

While injustices continue to increasingly affect Indigenous Australian communities, it is important to note that activists are leading multiple efforts and initiatives to aid with alleviating poverty in these communities. For example, based in Victoria, Australia, Pay The Rent Grassroots Collective is a collaborative effort between Australians that aids struggling Indigenous Australians by collecting funds from non-Indigenous Australians. Because of this group, many native clans and people avoid instability by allowing the Indigenous Australians within Pay The Rent’s decision-making team to study the community’s needs and establish solutions to meet these needs.

As social and economic hardship continues to affect Indigenous Australians, taking action through evident support and direct aid to the community’s most vulnerable is more important than ever. As funds increase, it is clear to see that the nongovernmental organizations founded by Indigenous Australians are taking steps toward alleviating poverty among impoverished Indigenous Australians.

– Nohad Awada
Photo: Flickr

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