Sustainable Solutions for Indigenous Communities Indigenous communities are pre-colonial societies that are considered ethnically native to a specific region. Recently, such communities have been developing locally sustainable solutions to their regional issues such as poverty, land erosion, unemployment rates, food insecurity, etc. These solutions tend to be nature-based and promote biodiversity and sustainability. Here are five examples of sustainable solutions for indigenous communities.

5 Examples of Sustainable Solutions for Indigenous Communities

  1. Association de Gestion Intégrée des RessourcesAl Hoceima, Morocco
    A group of indigenous people noticed the need for sustainable reform in the fishing methods in their community. The method of dynamite fishing threatened the fish stock and the poaching of osprey nests caused a decrease in the local population. Since then, the community decided to practice legal fishing techniques that do not harm the environment. This switch to sustainable fishing techniques led to a 20 to 30 percent increase in marine resource abundance. It also led to the employment of some 3,000 artisanal fishermen and the complete removal of copper sulfate and dynamite fishing. It also reduced poverty for around 30 percent of the fishermen employed.
  2. TRY Oyster Women’s Association – Banjul, Gambia
    This association achieved many sustainable goals including women’s empowerment, environmental preservation and green trade practices. Around 500 women from 15 different villages practice the trade of oyster harvesting, which they started after learning about environmentally responsible resource management. These women were also educated on microfinance possibilities and received training in small-scale enterprise development. The association also worked with the government to implement policies that positively impact the oyster trade.
  3. The Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Highlands in the Heart of Borneo – Malaysia-Indonesia
    This alliance is a trans-border cultural bond that brings together three indigenous communities to preserve culture and biodiversity. The alliance attempts to reap benefits for the local communities who live on the island of Borneo by preserving the environment. The alliance employs a native manner of producing rice by the traditional wet-rice farming system, which was developed over centuries. It also works towards sustainable development through community-based ecotourism, agroforestry and organic farming, communication and information technology.
  4. FITEMA, Association of Manambolo Natives – Manambolo Valley, Madagascar
    This association successfully improved the conditions of food security within the local Betsileo community by reintroducing an indigenous land-use system in the 7,500-hectare Manambolo Valley. The purpose of the reintroduction is to help protect the environment, including the forests and the wetlands surrounding this region. This would improve food security conditions for 200,000 locals of five neighboring districts.
  5. Reserva y EcolodgeKapawi, Ecuadorian Amazon
    Founded in 1995, this organization was initiated by the Achuar community to create an ecotourism business that benefits the local communities and the local businesses as well. It produces sustainable energy, employs sustainable forestry and contributes to biodiversity conservation. The organization makes use of traditional and modern governance systems to make sure that the enterprise remains for the benefit of the surrounding locals.

– Nergis Sefer
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

poverty among Aboriginal AustraliansAboriginal Australians have faced discrimination, genocide and marginalization within their own lands since the British began their initial colonization of the continent in 1788. Aboriginals did not receive any credence in the eye of the Australian government until 1967. Because of this, poverty among Aboriginal Australians skyrocketed.

By simply removing the words “…other than the Aboriginal people in any State…” in section 51(xxvi) and the whole of section 127 of the constitution, the country finally saw Aboriginals as their own individualized people. They are now part of the census and the government can make laws specifically concerning Aboriginal issues. However, even with the government’s recognition of these peoples did not eliminate the discrimination and inequality they often face from the government and society. Here are eight facts about aboriginal Australians’ quality of life.

8 Facts About Aboriginal Australians’ Quality of Life

  1. Today in Australia, a mere 3.1 percent of the Australian population is indigenous. Even though they make up so little of the population, however, 19.3 percent of Aboriginal Australians live in poverty compared to 12.4 percent of other Australians.
  2. Only 4.8 percent of Aboriginal peoples have employment within the upper salary levels in Australia. This low percentage may link to pervasive racism within the country. Nineteen percent of Australians believe they are casual racists but refuse to change. Twenty-six percent of Australians have anti-Aboriginal concerns. Meanwhile, eleven percent of Australians do not think all races are equal. There does seem to be a changing tide, however, as 86 percent of Australians believe that Australia needs to do something to fight the pervasive racism in the country.
  3. There have been significant improvements and money allocations towards the betterment of the indigenous communities in Australia in recent years. In 2017, $33.4 billion went toward government expenditure on indigenous Australians, a 23.7 percent increase since 2009 (taking into account inflation). That is $44,886 per indigenous person or two times the amount of direct government expenditure on non-indigenous peoples. However, Aboriginal peoples are still more than twice as likely to be in the bottom 20 percent for equivalized gross weekly household income. High unemployment and lasting impacts from colonialism have caused low income in Aboriginal homes.
  4. Today, people often find that Aboriginal communities in non-rural areas live off welfare in crowded housing. About 20 percent of Aboriginal Australians living in non-rural areas were living in overcrowded accommodations in 2014 and 2015. In remote or very remote areas of Australia, the overcrowding was almost 40 percent. Overcrowding can often lead to a faster spread of illness in these communities. The proliferation of disease in overcrowded spaces creates a significant financial burden on families who must then seek treatment for their ailing loved ones. However, Australia has put multiple initiatives into place to address and resolve these issues. In 2008, the Federal government started and funded the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.
  5. From 2014 to 2015, three in 10 Aboriginals (29 percent) 15 and over experienced homelessness for a portion of time. Homelessness prevents individuals not only from human, tribal and societal interaction but can also often prevent them from being active members in the workforce, and therefore, the economy. Aboriginal peoples 15 and over in remote or very remote areas experienced homelessness in their lifetime at a 3 percent increase from non-remote Aboriginals (32 percent).
  6. Aboriginal Australian children between the ages of 5 to 17 are committing suicide at a five times higher rate than non-indigenous peoples in Australia. There is a direct link between the suicide rate and the crushing poverty in these communities and failing government-funded aid services. People have called upon the Australian government to either increase spending on indigenous peoples’ aid or to even wholly reconsider its tactics. As of 2019, the Australian government has implemented restrictions on takeaway alcohol, broadening education initiatives and developing further cultural healing projects.
  7. More than 28 percent of Australia’s prison population was Aboriginal in 2016, which is a shocking fact as less than 3 percent of Australia’s population identifies as indigenous. This widespread incarceration significantly impacts rates of poverty in the Aboriginal community. When one removes a person from a home–that statistically is likely to suffer overcrowding and have underprivileged individuals–they remove supporting income from an already disadvantaged family.
  8. People widely acknowledged that limited completion of education, and more specifically, secondary education, have close ties to poverty for Aboriginal Australians. In previous years, Aboriginal peoples were less likely to obtain a Year 12 or equivalent level of education; 45 percent of Aboriginals achieved this level of education in 2008. However, the gap is closing fast, and as of 2014-2015, records indicate that that percentage has risen to 62 percent of Aboriginal peoples obtaining their Year 12 level of education.
Though the gap between non-indigenous and Aboriginal people ages 20 to 24 with post-school qualifications has not changed, the number of indigenous peoples in this age range who have received a secondary education has doubled since 2002.

NASCA

NASCA, or the National Aboriginal Supporting Chance Academy, is a nonprofit that works directly within indigenous communities doing mentoring, education and development programs. Its initiatives seek to create empowerment and movement from within these communities and alleviate poverty among Aboriginal Australians. Each year, over 1,200 indigenous youths directly benefit from the organization’s work.
In 2018 alone, the program delivered a total of 6,006 educational and health program hours, and attendance in its northern territory program schools saw a 33 percent increase in school attendance. Its work is seeking to create pride in communities and put into motion change that will bleed into the higher political and social sphere of Australia.

Australia has so long ignored its Aboriginal community on both a social and governmental level, so it is a welcome and pleasant change to see so much work on behalf of an underprivileged group of people. Though there is still far to go, some are taking steps both within and outside of the community to build up the visibility and civil rights of the Aboriginal peoples and their needs. Poverty among Aboriginal Australians has set them back long enough. Though they are undeniably Australian, they are fiercely and independently Aboriginal peoples with a right to civil liberties, native land and socioeconomic equality.

– Emma Hodge
Photo: Flickr

Healing for Guatemala

Guatemala, a country with a rich Mayan past, has a history riddled with trauma and violence which contributes to the country’s poverty level today. After a 36-year civil war that tore the country apart, healing for Guatemala has just begun. While the civil war and accompanying genocide of its indigenous people ended in 1996, the country and those affected have struggled to hold military leaders accountable, to find their missing loved ones and to have the world recognize the pain and suffering that took place from 1960 until 1996.

Civil War and Genocide

The civil war hit a peak in violence in the mid-1980s, when General Efraín Ríos Montt formed a coup and overthrew the government. General Ríos Montt started a bloody genocide where over 200,000 indigenous Mayan Indians were killed or forcibly disappeared, having yet to resurface today. General Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide in 2013 after being found guilty of massacring 1,771 members of the Mayan Ixil group. Despite this ruling, the conviction was overturned shortly after and General Ríos Montt died while a retrial was underway.

Throughout their country’s violence and unrest, the indigenous Mayan people remain very proud of their culture and want to uphold their traditions.  While around half of the population in Guatemala is indigenous, these Mayans have suffered through exploitation, discrimination and marginalization. Today, healing for Guatemala means protecting and celebrating the Mayan culture in the face of extreme violence and terror. One long-held tradition of the Mayan people is backstrap weaving, which is a method of weaving beautiful and intricate textiles for clothing and other material uses.

Illiteracy and Language Barriers

Many Mayan women today are still living well below the poverty line (which means living on less than $1.80 per day) and many indigenous women are illiterate. Only 73 percent of women over 15 years of age in Guatemala are literate, a proportion that is vastly skewed toward women who live in cities, not in the rural countryside of the Mayan people. Numbers of Mayan women who are illiterate are unknown because births are often not registered with the state of Guatemala. It is estimated that roughly 60 percent of the indigenous population are illiterate. Due to extreme poverty, in which nearly 80 percent of indigenous families fall, one in two children under the age of five is malnourished.

Many of these Mayan women do not speak Spanish, the official language of Guatemala. These women only speak their Mayan language, of which there are 21 in Guatemala alone. Because these women do not speak Spanish, they are forced to sell their meticulous weavings to a Spanish-speaking middleman for much lower prices. Because of the low rates these women bring home from their weaving, they often have no choice but to pull their daughters out of school to help bring in money for the household. Only one in four indigenous girls over the age of 16 stay in school while the remainder typically start working to help their household.

The Formation of Trama Textiles

During the height of the violence, when it was dangerous and possibly deadly to wear Mayan clothing, the Mayan women of the Guatemala Highlands formed Trama Textiles, a woman-owned cooperative focused on backstrap weaving. As Mayan men were “disappearing,” the women of the community banded together in order to support themselves and their families. They did so by doing what they always had: backstrap weaving.

Weaving with Trama Textiles not only provides a way for these women to deliver clothing, money and other support to their families, it also helps these women deal with their trauma. The 400 members of this artisan cooperative work together, exploring different colors and designs in their textiles. With the sense of empowerment and purpose the cooperative gives them, they are able to grow stronger and work towards a better future. At Trama Textiles, the women weavers who are producing the product are the ones setting their own pricing, not a middleman. Trama Textiles helps these women to uphold Mayan traditions while ensuring a better future for their children.

Trama Textiles provides a place of relief for many indigenous Mayan women of Guatemala. Not only is it delivering healing for Guatemala it is helping women in indigenous villages form a community in which they thrive. These women who are often illiterate and do not speak the same language as one another are able to come together to run a cooperative. They earn money and valuable business knowledge while showing the rest of the nation that peace and healing are possible after a violent and turbulent past. This process, with the help of Trama Textiles and other cooperatives like it, will help pull indigenous communities out of the poverty that the 36-year civil war imposed on them. With a rise in income, these rural communities will be able to let their children finish their education, which will continue the cycle of pulling them out of poverty. Cooperatives like Trama Textiles are imperative in healing for Guatemala and all those affected by the genocide.

– Kathryn Moffet
Photo: Pixabay

World Changing Celebrities
People often recognize celebrities for their music and performances but there are a variety of stars that use their fame as a platform to support charities, create foundations and change the world. Below are five world changing celebrities that are actively using their voice to fight global poverty.

Leonardo DiCaprio Protects Indigenous Rights

Along with spreading awareness and educating followers about climate change on his Instagram page, DiCaprio created the Leonardo Dicaprio Foundation which focusses on protecting all of Earth’s inhabitants. It has recently partnered with Earth Alliance to address and take steps to find solutions to major threats to the planet’s life support systems.

One of his most notable works is the protection of indigenous rights. Dicaprio’s Foundation helps fund programs focused on and led by indigenous people. It helps indigenous people defend their rights, create renewable energy sources, develop sustainable livelihoods and increase the political impact of advocacy efforts. As of 2015, The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation accumulated $15 million in grants to fund innovative organizations and environmental projects focused on preserving and protecting the planet.

Christy Turlington Assists with Childbirth Safety in Haiti and Uganda

Because of her personal experience with complications in childbirth, Turlington is using her voice to advocate the importance of making childbirth safe for every woman. In 2010, she worked on “No Woman, No Cry,” a documentary that told the stories of pregnant women in four different countries: Bangladesh, Guatemala, Tanzania and the United States. She expressed the need for lifesaving medical care for women giving birth in case of the occurrence of complications.

She also founded the nonprofit Every Mother Counts, an organization that focuses on the health and wellbeing of mothers all over the world. As of now, her organization has partners in countries like Guatemala, Haiti, India, Tanzania and the U.S., and has impacted more than 600,000 lives.

Matt Damon Gives Access to Safe Water

Another of the world changing celebrities is Matt Damon, who is the co-founder of Water.org, an organization focused on providing families with safe water and sanitation. The foundation hopes that less time spent searching for water will allow children to go to school and get an education, improve health and help the economy. Damon’s foundation expresses the importance of access to affordable financing through WaterCredit. WaterCredit is a pay-it-forward system that makes it possible for household water and toilet solutions by bringing repayable loans to those who need access to affordable financing. In total, Damon’s foundation has benefited more than 20 million people across 12 different countries.

The Lewis Family Improves Access to Health Care

In the 1980s, Ryan Lewis’ mother, Julie Lewis, contracted HIV due to a blood transfusion from pregnancy complications. She lived through her prognosis and decided to create the 30/30 project. The 30/30 project’s main focus is to improve access to comprehensive health care by building multiple medical facilities worldwide. The project has placed a total of 30 medical facilities in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, South Africa, Togo, India, the U.S., Rwanda, Bolivia and Puerto Rico.

The organization places medical facilities based on the needs of the area. For example, the Mbita Clinic in Kenya intends to prevent and treat major diseases, which include HIV, TB, malaria, water­borne illnesses and respiratory and heart ailments. The Mbita Clinic reduces waiting cues, prioritizes critical care needs, improves conditions for the staff and allows for service expansion due to the district’s high infant mortality rate and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. In total, the medical facilities have had 215,963 patient visits.

Bono Fights to End Extreme Poverty

In 2004, Bono co-founded the ONE organization. ONE’s goal is to end extreme poverty and preventable illnesses and diseases by 2030. ONE is a nonprofit organization with diverse groups of people. These groups come together and take action to organize, mobilize, educate and advocate for gender equality, youth employment, quality education and equal access to health services. ONE has secured over $30 billion in funding for historic health initiatives. It also helped pass the Electrify Africa Act of 2016, a U.S. legislation on energy poverty.

From actors to musicians, these five world changing celebrities put their public reputations to use by showing everyone that their voices matter and are an important key to make a difference and change the world.

– Juliette Lopez
Photo: Flickr

Digital Inclusion in Malaysia

In this age of rapid digital evolution, ensuring widespread access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) has become a serious goal for countries seeking economic modernization. And Malaysia is no exception. Efforts to increase digital inclusion in Malaysia are well underway.

Malaysia’s National Information Technology Council invests in building communications infrastructure in remote rural areas, including lands inhabited by peninsular Malaysia‘s Orang Asli indigenous people. The scope and expense of this task has raised questions regarding the practicability of installing effective communications infrastructure in outlying areas, and large segments of marginalized populations remain without digital access. However, Malaysia persists in its commitment to expanding ICT access and receives assistance in this regard from multinational conglomerates such as the Samsung Group.

Malaysia’s Orang Asli

Orang Asli, meaning “original people” in Malay, is an umbrella term encompassing the indigenous people of the Malay peninsula in modern-day Malaysia. These peoples comprise 18 distinct groups, together constituting half a percent of Malaysia’s population. Such communities are more likely to live in remote rural regions.

As an impoverished minority, nearly 30.8 percent of Orang Asli are illiterate compared with only 8 percent of the total Malaysian population. Access of Malaysia’s Orang Asli to digital technology is more limited than in neighboring populations.

Digital Inclusion in Malaysia and Cultural Integrity

A study published in 2011 revealed that within the indigenous Semai population of Kampung Bukit Terang, only 5.2 percent were computer literate. This study’s outcome can be attributed to the remoteness and low educational and socioeconomic outcomes of these groups as compared with urban and non-indigenous populations within the country. The authors of the study recommend proactive policies, such as direct provisioning of technologies to remote communities, to expedite these communities’ integration into the digital economy.

Besides economic considerations, access to digital space has positive consequences for the preservation of indigenous culture. Digital technology facilitates spreading knowledge of the existence and cultures of indigenous groups and thus provides opportunities for cultural diffusion. An online presence may galvanize outside support for the preservation and appreciation of indigenous cultures.

Yet, access to modern technology may inadvertently corrupt centuries-old traditions, flattening uniqueness and disrupting continuity with the past. This threatens to irreversibly alter the identity of indigenous peoples, even to the extent of assimilation and loss of traditions. However, these potentially negative consequences do not necessarily outweigh the potentially positive consequences.

Promoting and Preserving the Culture

Through scientific polling, the Department of Social and Development Sciences of Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Faculty of Human Ecology uncovered that only 20.7 percent of Malaysia’s Orang Asli used ICT to spread cultural awareness to others and preserve their heritage. As of November 2015, two Facebook pages operated to promote indigenous culture, according to the nonprofit organization Gerai Orang Asli.

According to Dr. Sarjit Singh, particularly the young Orang Asli, as shown by their enjoyment of cyber cafes, are enthusiastic about the prospect of increased online access. The young are quick to master new technologies, and Dr. Singh suggests that authorities prioritize the installation of relevant technologies in schools wherever possible.

Increasing Digital Access

Programs initiated by the Samsung Group in Orang Asli regions have highlighted the adeptness and eagerness of Orang Asli youth in adapting to new technologies. For instance, in 2015 Samsung Malaysia Electronics sponsored a trip for Orang Asli children to a Malaysian amusement park, designing activities that required the youths to use smartphone technology. In affirmation of the possibility of coexistence between modern technology and the preservation of traditional lifestyles, a tree-planting followed these technology-centered activities.

In a separate initiative, Perak saw the establishment of a Samsung Smart Community Center in Perak providing improved digital access, products and an air-conditioned learning space to people in deprived areas. The Chief Minister of Perak expressed his hope that these investments will bolster the Malaysian government’s economic goals and lift these communities out of poverty.

Moving Forward

The government, in conjunction with multinational corporations such as the Samsung Group, has made progress in expanding digital inclusion in Malaysia. Obstacles remain because of the remoteness and relative poverty of these populations, but such impediments are overcome rather rapidly alongside the development of these technologies.

While the impact of digital technology on indigenous traditions and identity remains a concern, there is room to use digital technology in the preservation and promotion of these unique cultures. Though statistics gathered in prior studies confirm low rates of access to Malaysia’s Orang Asli to digital technology, if efforts persist, improvements will continue. As digital access and literacy continue to rise, poverty and marginalization will be conquered gradually, meaning that there is reason for optimism regarding the future of the Orang Asli in a modern economy.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Every Stock Photo

aboriginal homelessness in canada
In 2017, the Reputation Institution ranked Canada the most reputable country in the world in its Reptrak survey. In fact, in the prior six years that the institution conducted the RepTrak survey, Canada never ranked worse than second. Many know the country for its welcoming disposition, health care and welfare programs. Unfortunately, Aboriginal homelessness in Canada proves that the quality of life is very poor for one particular minority group.

The Problem

Every country, no matter the reputation, faces its own set of problems. For Canada, a key problem is the under-representation of Aboriginal voices in government and the over-representation of Aboriginals living in the streets. Indeed, one of the most reputable countries in the world contains an impoverished indigenous population, a remnant of the atrocious treatment of aboriginals since colonial times.

Caryl Patrick, a York University researcher finds that “Aboriginal homelessness in Canada is a crisis that should be considered an epidemic.” He attributes this to the disproportionate native representation in homeless populations. In major urban zones, Aboriginals account for between 11 percent to almost 100 percent of the homeless population, even though only 4 percent of the Canadian population is native. In Yellowknife, the Northwest Territories, 95 percent of the homeless population is native.

A study by the Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia found that aboriginal Canadians face a different set of challenges than non-Aboriginals. On the issue of homelessness, these inequalities are very evident.

Aboriginal people in Canada are 10 times more likely than non-Aboriginal people to become homeless. Although homeless people all have similar challenges, Aboriginal homeless people have to deal with the additional issues of racism and discrimination. Exclusionary practices in treatment programs that should address everyone equitably exacerbate the problem.

Reports state that Inuit populations in Montreal avoid using shelters and charitable organizations because they experience discrimination from not only the non-native workers that serve them but from non-native homeless people as well. In addition, Aboriginal homeless people are more likely to be younger and completely homeless rather than in a shelter. It is clear that the Aboriginal homeless in Canada face more difficult challenges than non-native homeless.

Cause of Aboriginal Homelessness

Aboriginal homelessness in Canada is part of the larger issue of homelessness, housing inadequacy and poverty in Canada. Moreover, Aboriginal homelessness intricately connects to their history with the Canadian government. The aforementioned exclusionary practices which only perpetuate the racism and poverty in Canada are a symptom of a failure to provide culturally appropriate services that take into consideration the scars of intergenerational trauma. In any case, when a service does not tailor to its users, it is less effective.

There are general pathways to homelessness, but for the native population, there are many more. Beyond the broader context of increasing income inequality and decreasing availability of affordable housing across Canada, Aboriginal people must cope with unresolved historical and cultural trauma and discriminatory community systems and services.

Solutions

Like any other systemic, structural problem, the Canadian government has made funding commitments toward the housing and well-being of both reserve and urban-dwelling Aboriginal people. In 1999, the federal government allocated $753 million toward resolving homelessness across the country. The government devoted $59 million to addressing urban Aboriginal homelessness, and it continues to replenish the budget as the problem continues. However, money alone cannot solve the problem.

Some Aboriginal-specific healing strategies have proven effective. In order to successfully reverse historical and cultural trauma, people must apply culturally appropriate and responsive methods. An example of this approach on a local level is the Lu’Ma Native Housing Society in Vancouver, BC. The program provides 300 culturally-appropriate and affordable housing units for low-income Aboriginal peoples and offers culturally-relevant programs like ceremonial activities and traditional clothing and jewelry making courses.

Additionally, the Society ensures Aboriginal representation at employee, management and board levels. Culturally responsive programs like these decrease Aboriginal homelessness in urban centers and combat discriminatory practices.

On a national level, the Canadian government has launched Reaching Home, a strategy that aims to prevent and reduce homelessness by doubling support for at-risk communities. Communities involved in Reaching Home are attempting to reduce chronic homelessness by 50 percent. In 2016, the government doubled its investment in reducing indigenous homelessness. Reaching Home played a key role by supporting the delivery of culturally appropriate responses to the needs of Aboriginals in vulnerable conditions, including women, youth and mothers.

Looking Ahead

People often overlook Aboriginal homelessness in Canada, even though the country has a top-tier reputation. It is a complex aspect of poverty that intricately connects the larger issue of homelessness to the nuanced history and culture of Aboriginal peoples. Although only 4 percent of the population is native, the over-representation of indigenous peoples living on the streets is a startling statistic. It illustrates the magnitude of the issue and the need for resolution. Hopefully, through local and nationwide efforts that fund and support communities in need through culturally appropriate approaches, perhaps every person living on the streets can find not just shelter, but a home.

Andrew Yang
Photo: Flickr

 

Violence against indigenous women
Recently, activist groups in the U.S. have brought attention to a staggering problem: the increasing number of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls. Violence against indigenous women and girls does not only occur in the U.S. Native women all around the world also find themselves trapped in the margins of justice, vulnerable to various forms of violence. This article will consider three common threads that perpetuate these patterns and the initiatives taken to stop them.

Economic Exploitation

Due to centuries of displacement and disenfranchisement that nation-state expansion caused, many indigenous communities around the world have limited access to economic opportunity. As a result, indigenous women must often work in highly exploitative labor, which can take the form of slavery and/or human trafficking.

In Nepal, girls of Tharu origin or Kamlaris frequently find themselves in a coordinated system of bondage. While the Nepal government prohibited this system in 2000, the economic scarcity that some Tharu families face allows for this exploitation to survive, according to the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network.

Violence against indigenous women takes the form of debt bondage in several other Asian countries. Cases have popped up in China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and other countries in the region. In Latin America, economic exploitation is a detriment to the well-being of indigenous women and girls, with life-threatening child labor forced upon many native communities.

Encroachment onto Indigenous Land

Land-grabbing for economic or political reasons threatens many indigenous communities around the world. In many cases, this weakens the solidarity instrumental in ensuring the well-being of community members, leaving women and girls more vulnerable. Seventy-six percent of people living on tribal land and 96 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence against indigenous women in the U.S., for example, are of non-native identity.

In Asia-Pacific countries, the appropriation of land for private or public use met with resistance and has led to the increased terrorization of indigenous communities, according to the U.N. The military forces of the Philippines, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Fiji have all used rape and murder of women and girls as a war tactic.

Governmental Negligence

Combating the multifaceted forms of violence against indigenous women and girls is a tall task; political negligence of the problem makes it even harder.

Consider one particularly harmful U.S. policy which states that tribes do not have legal jurisdiction over criminal acts that nonmembers commit. In 2013, this law changed to allow prosecution in cases of domestic violence, but sexual assault and trafficking crimes still lie outside tribes’ legal power. Of course, the federal level could try these crimes, but law enforcement often fails to respond in an adequate or timely manner. Even in urban settings, nearly a third of perpetrators of violence against indigenous women do not receive justice in the U.S., according to the Urban Indian Health Institute.

There is a similar dynamic playing out in New Zealand, where Maori women often face discrimination. If they bring a complaint to the government, it may not be fruitful, as “[t]he government has a poor record of recognizing and protecting Maori rights and interests generally,” says indigenous legal scholar Kerensa Johnston.

Confronting the Challenge

To address violence against indigenous women and girls, two different types of solutions are necessary. First, governments must implement immediate-relief policies: the U.N. notes that many countries have invested in support services for women and girls affected by violence and in awareness campaigns to prevent violence from even occurring. Policies can also work to improve data collection to ensure that fewer cases go unaddressed; Washington state just passed a bill with this aim.

As the U.N. warns, however, solving this problem will require more than tinkering around the edges. Histories of inequities make justice elusive, putting native women and girls at a higher risk for gender-based violence. The U.N. report suggests that communities and countries will find a path forward only once they recognize this history.

– James Delegal
Photo: Flickr

Self-Determination in Ecuador

For indigenous people in the Americas, one of the greatest struggles has been for the right to their land and autonomy. Historically, this has been an uphill battle, but a recent legal victory by the Waorani tribe in the Amazon rainforest set an important legal precedent for indigenous people’s self-determination in Ecuador.

The Waorani Tribe’s Legal Victory

In the past few years, the Ecuadorian government has been dividing much of its rainforest land, including Waorani territory, into blocks to be leased out for mineral and oil rights through international auctions. The lawsuit contends that the tribe was not properly consulted about the auction. According to Amazon Frontlines, a non-governmental organization that worked with the tribe on the lawsuit, the consultation process by the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Resources had numerous failings in design and implementation.

Some issues cited in the lawsuit were “bad faith and false reporting of compliance, unintelligible communications, grossly insufficient time allocation, unaddressed complexities of translation, and poorly crafted informatic materials.” On April 26, 2019, a panel of three judges ruled that the Ecuadorian government had failed to properly inform the Waorani tribe or receive its consent for its land to be auctioned off. They ruled that the free, prior and informed consent process must be repeated.

A Victory for All Amazon Tribes and the Land

This ruling was not only a victory for the Waorani tribe but an overall win for indigenous people’s self-determination in Ecuador because the Waorani people’s territory was not the only indigenous land up for auction. According to Maria Espinosa, one of the Waorani’s lawyers, the ruling means that, because the land of the other tribes was dealt with under the “same flawed and unconstitutional process” as that of the Waorani, “the State cannot auction off the territories.” This is a huge victory for indigenous people in Ecuador.

This victory has also set a precedent for the rights of the rainforest itself. In 2008, Ecuador became the first country to recognize the rights of nature to exist and act out its processes. Ecuador has some of the most diverse varieties of species on the planet. Globally, it has the highest number of species per area, including at least “1,500 species of birds, more than 840 species of reptiles and amphibians and more than 300 species of mammals.” In Yasuni National Park alone, there is more flora variety than any other place on the planet with more than 20,000 species.

Alternatives to Oil

The Ecuadorian government has appealed the verdict. The South American country is currently the fourth-smallest producer of oil, but it is looking to attract investors in the fossil fuel industry. In 2018, President Lenín Moreno argued that the public-private partnerships in infrastructure, oil, energy and telecoms could bring in $7 billion dollars in investments by 2021.

However, Ecuador has shown success in producing clean energy, and a more sustainable solution to boosting the economy could be found in tourism. With its natural beauty and biodiversity, the Ecuador tourism industry grew by 44 percent from 2017 through 2018, bringing in an estimated 1.3 billion dollars. Through building these sectors, Ecuador could find an alternative to auctioning off its oil rights.

It’s unclear how the courts will rule on the appeal. At the moment, it is a victory for the protection of the rainforest and indigenous people’s self-determination in Ecuador. Even if they lose on the appeal, the Waorani people are not giving up. Nemonte Nenquimo, president of the Waorani Pastaza Organization said, “We have shown the government to respect us, and other indigenous people of the world, that we are the guardians of the jungle, and we’re never going to sell our territory.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

Land Demarcation Rights
Within hours of being sworn in as the new president of Brazil this past January 2019, Jair Bolsonaro removed land demarcation rights from the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) and transferred that power to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Under the 1988 Brazil Constitution, it is illegal for agricultural companies to lease land inside indigenous reservations for the growing of commercial crops. However, with the transference of land demarcation rights to the Ministry of Agriculture, the agribusiness sector of Brazil may be allowed to cultivate land inside of indigenous territory – because they will be the ones defining what constitutes “indigenous land.”

This was a controversial decision, but not a surprising one for Bolsonaro. During his campaign, the far-right president-elect of Brazil promised to open up indigenous territories – which make up 13 percent of Brazilian land – to agricultural and mining interests. The Parliamentary Agricultural Front endorsed him, a congressional lobby which represents the agribusiness sector of the Brazilian economy and whose members make up more than a quarter of the nation’s Senate.

Bolsonaro and Indigenous Rights

In addition, Bolsonaro has been a vocal opponent of indigenous rights throughout his political career. The indigenous rights organization, Survival International, created an archive of various speeches, interviews and social media posts where Bolsonaro made racist remarks or proclaimed his intent to remove the rights of indigenous peoples, especially where land demarcation was concerned.

The list extends as far back as 1998 when Bolsonaro said that it was “a shame that the Brazilian cavalry hasn’t been as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated the Indians.” (from the newspaper Correio Braziliense, April 1998). In February 2018, Bolsonaro announced his intent to remove land demarcation altogether: “If I become President, there will not be a centimeter more of indigenous land.”

For many indigenous groups, the fulfillment of these claims is all but a declaration of war against them by the government. The indigenous territories of Brazil are home to approximately 900,000 people from 305 different ethnic groups. These groups range in size from tribes of 50,000 or more to dwindling groups that consist of only a few families; at least one tribe in the Amazon region consists of a single, unnamed survivor. Some of these groups have never made contact with the outside world. If the Brazilian government is to allow their lands to be opened to industrial interests, any of these people could lose the land that they have inhabited for centuries.

Opponents of land demarcation, including President Bolsonaro and the new Minister of Agriculture, Tereza Cristina Dias, have argued that indigenous groups would benefit from being exposed to agricultural and industrial interests.

Indigenous Rights Activists

Nevertheless, indigenous rights activists maintain that the original inhabitants of Brazil have a right to stay on their own land with their own cultures. In a letter to President Bolsonaro, representatives from three different tribes – the Aruak, the Baniwa and the Apurina – stated their opposition to the forced opening of demarcation lines: “Who is not indigenous cannot suggest or dictate rules of how we should behave or act in our territory and in our country. We have the capacity and autonomy to speak for ourselves. We have the full civilian capacity to think, discuss the paths of indigenous peoples according to our rights… Our way of life is different. We are not against those who opt for a Western, capitalist economic model. But we have our own way of living and organizing in our lands and we have our way of sustainability. Therefore, we do not accept development nor an economic model done in any way and exclusive, that only impacts our territories. Our form of sustainability is to maintain and guarantee the future of our generation.”

Bolsonaro’s new policies have sparked protest by indigenous rights activists, who refuse to give their land up without a fight. The “Red January” movement, led by the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), has denounced Bolsonaro’s anti-indigenous and anti-environmental stances in Brazil and all over the world. In the words of activist Rosilene Guajajara of the Amazon Guajajara tribe, “We’ve been resisting for 519 years. We won’t stop now. We’ll put all our strength together and we’ll win.”

Environment Impact of Agriculture on the Amazon

Aside from the threat posed to indigenous groups, the environmental impact of agricultural overtaking the Amazon could be devastating for the entire planet. Sometimes referred to as “the lungs of the planet,” the Amazon Rainforest produces more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. It is also home to nearly 10 percent of the world’s wildlife, including 427 mammal species, 1,300 bird species and nearly 40,000 different plant species – including many that no one has discovered or named yet.

Since 1970, around 700,000 square miles of land – 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest – have been cleared away for use in cattle ranching, soy plantations and other agricultural ventures. The rate of disappearing land decreased drastically between 2004 and 2012, but in recent years deforestation has seen an increase. Recent research shows that the Amazon rainforest is currently absorbing a third less oxygen than it was a decade ago.

This increase in deforestation is in part due to the prominent agricultural lobby in Brazil pushing for more control over indigenous territory – the same agricultural lobby that endorsed Bolsonaro as he promised to strip indigenous tribes of their land demarcation rights.

Whether or not the combined resistance of Brazil’s indigenous peoples can put a stop to President Bolsonaro’s attempts to industrialize their land remains to be seen. Organizations like APIB and Survival International are attempting to save land demarcation rights by spreading the word about the plight of indigenous peoples in Brazil.

– Keira Charles
Photo: Flickr

Epilepsy, Indigenous
Epilepsy represents an important public health issue, particularly in low-income communities where significant disparities are present in the care available to patients with epilepsy.

Where there is annually between 30 to 50 per 100 thousand people in the general population in high-income countries who suffer from epilepsy, this figure could be two times higher in low- and middle-income countries. Up to 80 percent of people with epilepsy live in low- and middle-income communities.

Due to the higher incidence of psychological stress, nutritional deficiencies and missed medication, poverty-stricken countries are prompted with greater seizure triggers, situations that precipitate seizures. Mortality associated with epilepsy in low-income countries is substantially higher because of untreated epileptic seizures.

According to a study by The World Bank, indigenous peoples are more likely to be poor as opposed to the general population due to their likelihood of living in rural areas and lack of education. Therefore, what can be said about their epilepsy rates?

Epilepsy in Indigenous Populations

Within the indigenous populations of Bolivia, the prevalence of this non-communicable disease is 12.3 persons out of 1000. This prevalence is also reflected within Canada’s First Nations, wherein 122 per 100,000 persons were found to have epilepsy, twice more than the non-indigenous populations. The numbers were even greater among the Australian Aboriginals, with over 44 percent of patients who were admitted to hospitals identifying as indigenous.

Despite the similarity in epilepsy syndromes among the indigenous and non-indigenous populations, the former presents with more serious degrees of the disease when diagnosed. Research has stated this is related to the inequitable access of healthcare resulting from geographic isolation and cultural issues to treatment.

Geographic Isolation and Epilepsy

The Bolivian Guaraní live in the Bolivian Chaco, a hot and semi-arid region of the Río de la Plata Basin. This area is sparsely populated, but of the 49 percent of indigenous persons, 68.9 percent of them live in conditions of poverty, with everyday issues of energy and sanitation.

Nevertheless, in 2012, an educational campaign directed to the Bolivian Guaraní has been implemented by general practitioners to teach the population about the main causes of epilepsy, its diagnosis, treatment and first aid. They also target the social stigma that exists around the disease.

With the help of programs like Bono Juana Azurduy, Programa Mi Salud, Ley de Gratuidad and Seguros Departamentales, there has been an increase in the social security and improvement in the treatment for epilepsy among the geographically isolated community.

Cultural Issues

Apart from geographic isolation, indigenous populations such as the Aboriginals of Australia also have traditional health beliefs about the causes of epilepsy. For instance, environmental factors like the moon are seen as an epileptic precursor. They also associate a connection with the supernatural due to transgressions as causes of the diseases, making it more difficult to find treatment for the neurological condition.

When such cultural issues arise due to a difference in beliefs, it is important for general practitioners and patients to find a suitable course of treatment that is acceptable for both parties. Various clinics in Far North Queensland, where many Aboriginals reside, have assessed and managed the situation through gathering as much information as possible about the person’s original function and the impact of the disease on them.

They also advise other hospitals treating Aboriginal people to identify and implement strategies, whether they be medication, behavioral, environmental or social, to be developed in conjunction with the patient, their families and communities. In time, it is believed that this will lead to the best interim solution for all parties in the support network and the patient themselves.

Within the Aboriginals living in Canada, the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society (BCANDS) has also successfully delivered treatment for epilepsy patients by working as a liaison between service agencies and clients to find the best possible treatment. Their services extend to alleviate anxiety from patients who have previously had negative experiences with healthcare.

Moving Forward

Knowing that epilepsy is a neurological condition that receives substantial stigma in indigenous communities, there is a barrier for patients to have access to biomedical treatment and have it become integrated within the society they live in. Therefore, in order to reduce the burden of epilepsy in poor regions of the world, and especially within indigenous populations, hospitals, non-governmental organizations and the government have much to do. Aid can come in the form of risk factor prevention, offering check-up clinics in rural areas, stigma-reducing educational programs, improving access to biomedical diagnosis and treatment as well as providing a continuous supply of good quality anti-epileptic drugs to patients who need it, irrespective of their background.

– Monique Santoso
Photo: Pixabay