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 lack of access to education. Here are five facts about the Native American population and reservations.

5 Facts About Native Americans and Life on the Reservations

  1. Native Americans are the most impoverished 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 earn less than $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 lives under the poverty line. However, this rate 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 and 500% more likely to die from tuberculosis. Native Americans also have a 60% higher infant mortality rate when compared to Caucasians. Most Native American reservations rely on the Indian Health Service, 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 that more than 84% of American Indian and Native Alaskan women have experienced violence in their lifetimes. These women are more likely to be victims of 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. More than 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 ensuring Native American voices are heard in the legal world. Native American Rights Fund (NARF), for example, is a nonprofit organization that uses legal action to ensure the rights of Native Americans are upheld. Since its inception in 1970, NARF has helped tens of thousands of Native Americans from more than 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 5-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, the university founded the CU Upward Bound Program dedicated to inspiring and encouraging the success of its 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 American reservations are severely inadequate. Waiting lists for spaces are years long and such a wait does not 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.

Help for the Reservations

The condition 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 the Native American community faces. Its commitment to the tribes has not stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic. One woman from Illinois handmade more than 2,500 face masks so Indigenous children could still go to school amid COVID-19. The organization also provided 33 households with necessary groceries and personal hygiene supplies.

How to Help

Solutions to the marginalization of the Native American population have recently gained traction through the internet and social media. New and established charities alike are receiving more attention, which allows them to have stronger impacts on the Native American population.

Native American tribes have been around for hundreds of years but are only recently receiving the help 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

Indigenous Poverty in Canada
Statistics dating back to 2011 indicate that Canada ranked 21st out of 27 Organisations for Economic Co-operation and Development in terms of the level of poverty. In fact, one in seven people or 4.9 million total live in poverty in Canada. Out of those estimated 5 million people, 1.34 million children are in poverty. The indigenous population of Canada has a prevalent poverty rate with one in four aboriginals, Métis and Inuit living in poverty. Of these, four in 10 of Canada’s indigenous children live in poverty making indigenous poverty in Canada a serious issue.

The Situation

Many Native Americans within Canada’s borders are trying to maintain their customs, traditions and lifestyle, but they frequently have limited access to resources. In total, around 1 million indigenous, Inuit and Métis people live in Canada.

In 2016, the chief for the Attawapiskat First Nation, on James Bay in Ontario, Canada, sounded the alarm about a spike in suicide attempts in the indigenous community. More than 116 people attempted suicide within 12 months and this does not account for unreported attempts. A report from Health Canada stated that suicide is the number one cause of death for indigenous young people and adults up to 44.

Indigenous groups in Canada frequently face poorer health, lower education levels, housing that lacks quality and crowded living conditions. Additionally, lower levels of income, high rates of unemployment, strong levels of incarceration and high death rates among the youth due to accidents and high rates of suicide are issues as well.

Reducing Unemployment Among Indigenous People in Canada

Currently, in 2020, the Canadian employment rate is at 59% and its unemployment rate is at 9%. Canada’s government grants the opportunity for indigenous people to find employment through one of its web pages. All they have to do is declare themselves an indigenous person when they apply to receive various public service-wide job opportunities and jobs from specific departments. The Indigenous Student Employment Opportunity program is open year-round to indigenous students and can help support and train them as they garner employment.

Providing Employment Through Natural Resources

Canada has a wide range of natural resources including lumber, uranium, lead, zinc, oil and diamonds. Luckily, Canada gives aboriginal people constitutional rights and all the agreements on their lands must be fair to them and provide jobs.

Diavik, Canada’s largest diamond mine, initiated mining endeavors northeast of Yellowknife in 1999. Diavik aims to aid local indigenous people by providing them with employment, scholarships, training and business opportunities. As of 2013, it provided employment to 171 aboriginal people in the area. Diavik also promised to return the mine areas back to the lake and improve the habitat for fish at the end of the contract.

If more companies include indigenous people in their businesses and policies, there will be a chance for Native Americans to increase their economic status and reduce indigenous poverty in Canada. There is still a long road to equity in Canada, but there are signs of improvement based on some economic successes for aboriginal peoples. Hopefully, with continued aid, indigenous poverty in Canada will become nonexistent.

– Elhadj Oumar Tall
Photo: Flickr

Language ExtinctionEndangered languages are classified by the Endangered Language Project as languages that are not spoken by many or any young people and whose native speakers are elderly or have passed away. When older speakers of a language do not or cannot teach that language to their children, that language eventually ceases to exist. The loss of language education and the loss or destruction of written records can endanger languages. Some languages have an ‘afterlife,’ like Latin, which is teachers teach in schools but people do not speak casually. Most dead languages, however, disappear without the possibility of an afterlife. Language extinction and poverty may seem completely unrelated, but this is not the case.

Language and Ethnicity

Professor Peter L. Patrick of the University of Essex writes in “Linguistic Human Rights: A Sociolinguistic Introduction” that linguistic human rights “[do] not at first blush appear to be the most pressing area of human rights to think about.” He’s right; threats to healthcare, voting rights, freedom of speech, gender equality and economic stability require more immediate attention. However, Patrick also correctly asserts that “the complex relations between language socialization, linguistic competence, and ethnic group membership” are relevant to human rights and therefore, global poverty.

Herman M. Batibo writes in “Language and Poverty” that the intersectionality between language and poverty has “long been recognized.” Poverty affects language survival, and language often helps determine economic status. Small communities that seek to preserve dying languages face obstacles directly relevant to poverty. Without the proper economic stability to train teachers, establish schools and publish books in the endangered language, communities must witness their native languages die. In 2013, it was estimated that a language dies about every two weeks and is then replaced with a major language. The death of a language is more than the loss of its words. Native speakers watch their songs, stories and poems disappear as well. There is music and beauty in every language, signed or spoken, that one cannot replicate through translation. Language extinction causes the world to lose a unique perspective.

Language Extinction

Professor Emily Manetta teaches Introduction to Syntax, Semantics, Linguistic Anthropology and Advanced Topics in Linguistics at the University of Vermont. In Linguistic Anthropology, Professor Manetta explores the concepts of language extinction and endangerment. When asked about how poverty restricts language development and preservation, Professor Manetta writes that it is important to “see language pressure and language endangerment in the context of a wider pattern of oppression of speakers and deprivations that are likely systemic.”

Impoverished communities, often facing extreme inequalities compared to dominant societies, are more likely to experience language loss for several reasons. Impoverished people often choose to move from rural settings to urban settings to improve their quality of life. Their new communities are more likely to speak dominant languages. With little use for their native languages, these individuals may abandon them completely and raise their children using only the language spoken by the majority. After just a generation or two, their native tongue dies. While this is not always the case, Manetta finds that this is “one possible way” in which poverty “create conditions in which language loss is accelerated.”

In discussing the consequences of language death, Manetta writes that it is “hard to say” for certain. She does note that the consequences of “human suffering, of profound inequality, of poverty and lack of opportunity, of racism and colonialism” are all related to language loss. She asserts that it is difficult to distinguish between the consequences of systematic oppression and the consequences of language loss. This is because oppressed communities are the most likely to experience language loss. Language loss, while tragic, does not compare to the “greater losses that accompany language loss.”

Saving Languages

How can people help prevent language extinction? Manetta writes that tackling systematic social problems like racism and other forms of oppression is the most important goal. Dismantling forms of oppression will allow communities to have the resources to educate their children about their native languages. This may seem like an overwhelming task; fortunately, there are smaller tasks that can also help save languages. Honoring and remembering dying languages can extend their lifespans. One can also encourage the use of non-dominant languages in legal, educational and institutional settings. Manetta does not advocate for the intrusion of small communities by larger communities. Rather, it is imperative to give members of small communities the resources to become educators, linguists and researchers to allow them to “preserve the language from within.”

Just as poverty relates to race, gender, sexuality, religion, status and education, poverty relates to language as well. Communities without the resources to preserve their languages often see them die as dominant languages crowd them out. While it is smart to learn more popular languages, they should not replace less-common languages altogether. It is important to remember that all languages connect people and preserve tradition, value and culture. To combat poverty is to combat the erasure of language, the beautiful code that allows human beings to connect with each other.

Levi Reyes
Photo: Unsplash

Poverty in New Zealand
New Zealand is a lush island country in the Pacific Ocean. It comprises two main islands; the North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui) and the South Island (Te Waipounamu) in addition to about 600 smaller island landmasses. With a total population of approximately 5 million people, it is not the most populous of countries, but New Zealand has garnered worldwide recognition as a tourist destination. This is partly due to its stunning ocean views, rolling green hills and jagged mountainsides. In fact, New Zealand is a sought-after location for films, with popular movies like “the Lord of the Rings” showcasing the natural beauty of the area. However, such an idyllic and prosperous country has a darker underbelly. Poverty exists in New Zealand despite its ranking as a developed country.

The Facts

In New Zealand, significant economic restructuring beginning in the 1980s has resulted in prosperity for some and poverty for others. In 1984, the national poverty rate was 9%. Comparatively, in 2016, the poverty rate was 15%. This represents a decrease from the peak poverty rate of 22% in 2004 but still remains significantly higher than before the mid-1980s as a direct result of economic change, including hard hits during the 2008-2011 global recession.

According to the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services, about “one in seven households” experience poverty. In addition, 20% of families do not have access to adequate supplies of food due to financial hardships, according to the 2002 National Children’s Nutrition Survey. This means that more than 328,000 children in New Zealand (29%) came from “a low-income household” in 2019.

When people do not have access to financial and emotional resources, their health is more likely to suffer. New Zealand illustrates this as children experiencing poverty “are more than twice as likely” to require hospitalization than children who are not impoverished. Impoverished children are also far more likely to experience health consequences like heart disease, obesity and substance addiction. These problems often follow children into adulthood, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Vulnerable Groups in New Zealand

There is an inequitable distribution of poverty in New Zealand, with Pacific Peoples and the Māori experiencing higher levels of poverty than other ethnicities. A shocking 40% of Pacific Peoples are “living in significant or severe hardship” with Māori coming in second as nearly one-third of the Māori population experiences the same conditions. Additionally, poverty hits children harder than other groups of people. In addition, “New Zealand has one of the worst rates of child abuse in the developed world.”

According to UNICEF, “a child dies every five weeks” due to violence in New Zealand. Experiencing or seeing violence as a child can lead to negative long-term effects like drug use, early pregnancy, anxiety and mental disorders and can compound the effects of poverty into adulthood.

Families living in poverty need to spend their time and energy on survival. Due to circumstances of necessity and poverty, impoverished families typically prioritize education and health less. This creates a cycle of more people living in poverty, intensifying the circumstances of poverty over time. If more people come out of poverty now, fewer people will continue to live in poverty in the future. Preventing the inequitable effects of poverty is vital in increasing the standard of living for many people across New Zealand, especially the most marginalized groups.

Steps to Reduce Poverty in New Zealand

By 2030, New Zealand aims to decrease the number of children living in poverty by at least 50%, in line with its commitments to U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 1. The government of New Zealand has implemented policies to reduce poverty, including strategies to make housing more affordable and accessible as housing costs are a major reason why many residents struggle financially. New legislation has emerged, including the Child Poverty Reduction Act 2018, which outlines a detailed 10-year strategy to reduce child poverty in the nation. The Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy helps further child poverty reduction by including measures like extending parental leave to 26 weeks, providing increased resources for abuse victims, “[increasing] the minimum wage to $20 per hour by 2021″ and expanding parenting support resources.

Over the past 10 years, New Zealand has reduced poverty rates, and with new, aggressive legislation, should see a boost in those percentages as time goes on.

– Noelle Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Pharmaceutical CompaniesBiopiracy, the act of expropriating a resource from a foreign land and profiting from it, has been a normal practice for pharmaceutical companies and governments for many years. Medicinal compounds with vital medicinal benefits stole from indigenous and impoverished areas without reparations/royalties in exchange. Invasive countries reap millions of dollars from biopiracy. In the process, they strip irreplaceable compounds from populations that fiercely depend on them. Many of these poorer countries lack the financial strength to fund analysis of plants for medicinal value. This analysis can widen the research gap between developing countries and the industrialized world even further. In an effort to reconcile these past injustices and inequalities, some pharmaceutical companies and research institutes have pledged funding to facilitate the growth of the medicinal drug industry in indigenous areas.

Berkeley and Samoa

In 2004, the University of California at Berkeley struck a deal with the government of Samoa, a small Pacific Ocean island nation. The university will share royalties from the highly revolutionary and precious compound prostratin, native to the Samoan mamala trees. It was discovered the drug was effective in treating HIV/AIDS by flushing the virus out of reservoirs in the body. The university pledged to equally split all revenues generated from the drug. It was used commonly on the island to treat hepatitis. After isolating the genes responsible for producing the drug in the tree, the researchers were able to carry out microbial production.

National Cancer Institute and Samoa

Three years prior, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) issued a license to the AIDS Research Alliance (ARA) to conduct research on the drug prostratin. The NCI exclusively patented this. The methodology behind the research is significantly different from Berkeley’s, as it does not rely on gene sequencing. The percentage of total royalties returned to the island is 20%. This is much lower than the charitable cut Berkeley would offer in the future.

However, this partnership was highly influential in staging the blueprint for American companies to share their copious wealth with the lands they took from. Much of the revenue returning to Samoa continues to be funneled into villages. In addition, it provides healers on the island with more sophisticated equipment and labs. In congruence with the deal, there will be over $500,000 of combined value to the construct water tanks, a medical clinic, three schools, a trail system and a tourist walkway from which the village would keep all revenue.

Merck & Co. and Costa Rica

In 1991, Merck & Co. is one of the pharmaceutical companies that sought to turn obscure compounds into gainful products in the agriculture and pharmaceutical markets. It extended a two-year deal to the nonprofit biodiversity institute in Costa Rica INBio. This entailed the exchange of plant and insect samples for $1 million. This was a mutually beneficial investment. Costa Rica was looking for donors in the private sector to help preserve its tropical and sub-tropical forests. There are ethical concerns surrounding the usage of said investment in building more commercially viable tourist attractions instead of natural preserves. However, regardless of Costa Rica’s money management, the company’s investment was nothing short of magnanimous.

ICBG and Coiba

The island of Coiba, 12 miles off the coast of Panama, was designated as a national park in 1991. It drew much interest in its coral reefs in 2005 when scientific research suggested that they contained an abundance of new species with medicinal and commercial potential. By far, the most promising discovery was octocoral, from which anti-malarial properties can be extracted. Following these exciting developments, the International Co-Operative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG) invested millions in building scientific infrastructure on the mainland of Panama. For instance, testing and processing sites for potential medicinal compounds.

The collaboration pledged to distill at least half of all profits into trust funds. The trust funds design to protect Coiba from internal and external environmental hazards. The profit will also go to the institutions that aided the project. A biological research station was built on the island. The security systems programmed will eradicate colonists and fisherman that could disrupt the ecosystem. ICBG has been successful in identifying and analyzing medicinal compounds in many other countries including Suriname, Vietnam and Madagascar.

These examples of corporations reconciling past exploitation of resources are certainly worth celebrating. However, there is work left to do. Pharmaceutical companies fund indigenous communities and spurring growth of their medicinal industries is still the minority. There is damage that has been left unrectified. These communities rely heavily on the resources insular to their area and supported by a well-funded and functioning infrastructure. In the fight to end global poverty, one of the first places to start is in the coniferous islands and peninsulas. It was once abundant in medicinal compounds but has since been plundered. It is important that the people in these areas can live healthy lives and benefit from the rich resources native to their land.

Camden Gilreath
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous peoples in Canada have roots in poverty tracing back to the 19th and 20th centuries. They had to relocate to small plots of land called reserves where destruction of their traditional way of life “combined with the poorly organized set-up of reserves resulted in impoverishment for those on the reserves.”

In Canada, 25% of Indigenous peoples live in poverty with 40% of those living under the poverty line being Indigenous children. Many Indigenous peoples died due to lack of shelter, adequate food, access to health care and lack of federal relief services. Today, Indigenous communities continue to suffer at the hands of institutionalized colonial violence.

Housing Inequalities

Several cross-country reserves have declared a State of Emergency due to poor living conditions. Statistics deemed only 56.9% of homes on reserves adequate in 2000 and 43% unsafe and in need of repairs in 2016. In 2016, both reserve shelters and Inuit homes qualified as overcrowded — 28% and 30% respectively.

Some Indigenous people moved off of reserves and into urban centers. Even there, they continued to face economic struggles. Indigenous peoples are twice as likely to live in poverty in comparison to non-Indigenous folk. In 1995, 55.6% of Aboriginal people in urban centers lived in poverty. Meanwhile, in 2003, 52.1% of Indigenous children lived in poverty.

Income Disparities

Impoverishment within the Indigenous community has resulted in fewer on-reserve schools, rising illiteracy and rising unemployment. Indigenous households making an income below $20,000 represented almost 20% of the entire Canadian population; whereas, non-Indigenous homes only represented 9.9%.

Non-Indigenous folk in lower-income homes have a 12.9% outcome of people with major depressive episodes. Meanwhile, Indigenous folk in lower-income homes had a 21.4% outcome — almost double. The values for higher incomes families are much closer; 6.3% for non-Indigenous and 7.7% for Indigenous.

Health Inequities

The Well-Being Index determined that First Nation and Inuit communities ranked on average 20 points lower than non-Indigenous communities. Despite being only 4% of the Canadian population, Indigenous people make up 14% of the population relying on food banks. Smoking and lung cancer statistics also show an overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples. Lower-income Indigenous households reported daily smoking levels at 48.8%.

The lowest-income Indigenous populations also experience disproportionate difficulties in accessing health care. Popular barriers are that Indigenous peoples are “unable to arrange transportation (19.6%); not covered by Non-Insured health benefits (NIHB) (18.4%); could not afford transportation costs (14.6%); prior approval by NIHB denied (14.2%); could not afford the cost of care, service (11.4%).”

Aid

Many community activists and grassroots organizations work tirelessly to help support the Indigenous communities in Canada. Dismantling generational poverty is another focus of activists and organizations. True North Aid is just one of those in the fight for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

True North Aid has decades’ worth of experience. It has an advisory council of four Indigenous Elders, partners and a Board of Directors with over 35 years of experience. Under such leadership, the organization successfully raises awareness for Indigenous struggles. Additionally, it provides home reconstruction aid, water purification technologies and health care aid to Indigenous communities in Canada.

Activists and organizations supporting Indigenous peoples are imperative in the fight to end poverty for Indigenous people. Indigenous communities suffer disproportionately and need advocacy and action.

– Jasmeen Bassi 
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Communities in Mexico
The Mexican government’s abandonment and abuse of Indigenous communities in Mexico are historical, stretching back to the country’s colonial past. In the present day, governmental neglect is largely to blame for a host of social inequities suffered by Indigenous communities in Mexico, including lack of access to hospitals and quality health care in general. Accustomed to being outliers in a system originally designed to benefit elites, Indigenous Mexicans in one region of Mexico have taken matters into their own hands.

In the Zapotec region of Oaxaca, a state in southern Mexico, a network of villages called the Pueblos Mancomunados lies nestled in the Sierra Norte mountains, and is made up of eight villages which maintain their distinctions while honoring their collective identity as well. Prior to COVID-19, this network of villages had for over 20 years had an agreement amongst themselves to welcome outside tourists into their insular community to observe not only the striking natural environment but also traditions of agriculture, gastronomy, weaving, education and sacred healing.

Where Abandonment is Historical, Prevention is Key

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Claudia Schurr, owner of the ecotourism company Tierraventura, said that the tourism sector in these villages and in the region has been completely shut down since mid-March 2020 to prevent infections. Through the company, which is based in Oaxaca City, Schurr has developed close personal ties to the Pueblos Mancomunados, where, prior to COVID-19, she regularly ran tours with her husband, Yves. She said, “Most of the Indigenous communities have closed to outsiders, even people from the village who live in the city of Oaxaca. Only the village authorities are allowed to leave the community in order to buy supplies.”

Tourism in Mexico

While tourists have still been able to fly into and travel around Mexico in 2020, Indigenous communities in Mexico such as the Pueblos Mancomunados have said “no,” preferring instead to block entrances to their towns and return to their ‘milpa’ fields, where harvests have been abundant due to plentiful rains. Schurr said in an interview, “The interesting thing for me is to observe how people are handling the crisis… nobody is complaining.” Focusing on subsistence and environmental justice rather than business and profits has so far insulated the Zapotec villages from a crisis that continues to ravage the world outside. There have been only a few cases of COVID-19 in these Zapotec communities, according to Schurr. Santos Reyes Yucuná, an Indigenous Mixtec village also in Oaxaca state, remained COVID-free until July 17th, long after Mexico saw its first case in the capital city.

Other Indigenous communities in Mexico are reacting similarly, partially due to a lack of resources to fight the virus. Pavel Guzmán, an activist in the Indigenous Purepecha community of Michoacán state, said in April 2020 “If an infection arrives in the Indigenous communities, then there’s no … medical institution that can contain the problem because the clinics don’t even have basic supplies… These are historical problems, and now… they’ve become more critical.” According to Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL), though 21.5% of Mexicans identify as Indigenous, only 1.5% of public hospitals are located in Indigenous regions.

Community and Autonomy

But these Indigenous communities in Mexico are not merely reacting to the virus. The Zapotec communities—pandemic or not—tend to live in a way that is synonymous with their ancestral traditions of community and autonomy. Zapotec children learn early on the importance of cooperation in the community via the “tequio,” or group that cooperates to accomplish needed work in the community. Rather than one person in the community mending a fence, for example, a group of people may work on it together to make the process quick and easy. This cooperation is also visible in the model of group consensus that runs the villages.

They even made the decision to allow tourists into their villages for ecotourism in a collective process. The community is as self-sustaining as it was before the arrival of the Spanish. And while COVID-19 sent the outside world scrambling to adjust life to a crisis, Zapotec society already had the mechanism in place to take refuge.

What Indigenous Communities in Mexico Can Teach the World

While it remains true that infections or governmental neglect during an economic fallout could adversely affect these communities, the Zapotec remain uniquely sustained by their core ideals. As a result, they are in a good position to beat the virus.

The Zapotec have another tradition called “guelaguetza,” which is a tradition of mutually exchanging gifts and even favors. Schurr, not having run tours for her business since March, says that times are hard. Without an income, her family now finds itself in the position of surviving without much income. However, she has stayed in touch with the Zapotec mountain communities: “I have more the feeling that they support us now, emotionally and sending us vegetables, potatoes, flowers.”

“We always talk about creating a global community, which is a beautiful idea,” Schurr said. “…[T]his includes also [taking] responsibility for each other when times are not so great.”

– Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr