Indigenous Communities in Latin America
Data from 2014 shows that there are 58.2 million Indigenous people and 826 different ethnic groups in Latin America. Due to marginalization and discrimination, the current challenges for Indigenous communities in Latin America include a lack of access to quality education, inadequate access to health care services, low internet access and land appropriation.

Challenges for Indigenous Communities in Latin America

  • Health. Life expectancy among Indigenous peoples is up to 20 years lower than non-Indigenous people, according to the United Nations, due to disease outbreaks. A lack of access to treatment and quality health care due to poverty and marginalization also plays a significant role. In particular, “Indigenous peoples experience disproportionately high levels of maternal and infant mortality, malnutrition, cardiovascular illnesses, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis,” the U.N. reports. In fact, more than half of Indigenous adults suffer from type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, maternal mortality is a very concerning issue that affects mothers and newborns because of low access to hospitals and the lack of available doctors/trained professionals. In Guatemala, for example, in 2008, skilled professionals attended only about 30% of the births involving Indigenous women.
  • Education. Education is a proven pathway out of oppression, marginalization and poverty. According to Article 14 of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.” Yet, one of the current challenges for Indigenous communities in Latin America is the lack of access to quality education at all levels and low completion rates. In 2016, 85% of Indigenous children in Latin America participated in secondary education but just 40% finished their secondary education.
  • Access to the Internet. The OECD says the “Internet is the backbone of the digital economy, it underpins much of the world’s social activity and it is a powerful catalyst for innovation, economic growth and social well-being.” Among other benefits, the internet increases access to education, job opportunities and information and allows for the dissemination of information and news. But, Indigenous peoples lack access to the internet and digital tools required to thrive in an increasingly digital world. For example, in Ecuador and Peru, non-indigenous households have access to the internet “six times greater” than Indigenous communities.
  • Land Appropriation. Indigenous people have faced issues concerning land rights in the territories belonging to them. Apart from territorial invasions and forced displacements, deforestation as well as construction and mining activities affect Indigenous peoples’ rights to preserve their lands. In most of these situations, major companies are involved. Indigenous communities have faced violence from people looking to exploit the land’s resources. Data indicates that Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras saw 2,109 incidents of “communities affected by extractive industries and their associated activities” between 2017 and 2021.

The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)

The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) is a non-governmental organization dedicated to defending and upholding “Indigenous Peoples’ individual and collective rights.” Its primary goal is to promote, respect and safeguard “Indigenous Peoples’ rights to land, territories and resources.”

The IWGIA was founded in 1968 when a group of concerned scholars became aware of the genocide against Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon. The IWGIA is currently working in different areas, such as climate change, land appropriation and global governance.

Safeguarding Land Rights and Amplifying Voices

In terms of displacement and land appropriation/dispossession, IWGIA explains the far-reaching consequences: “Land dispossession will lead to the loss of Indigenous Peoples’ traditional livelihood practices and the inter-generational transfer of Indigenous knowledge and will undermine their social organization, traditional institutions and cultural and spiritual practices; all of which can cause poverty, food insecurity, social disintegration and loss of identity and human dignity.” For these reasons, IWGIA’s “strategic focus areas” for 2021 to 2025 involve documenting violations, advocating for accountability and protection and empowering and supporting Indigenous people to “defend their land rights and to achieve land tenure security.”

The IWGIA wants to ensure Indigenous people’s voices are heard at an international level and that Indigenous people participate in important decision-making processes. In 2021, IWGIA produced 58 articles, podcasts and videos to raise awareness of Indigenous rights and spoke to nine different universities to disseminate this information. The IWGIA also participated in 20 United Nations meetings and made efforts by “facilitating events, providing information and supporting Indigenous Peoples’ participation.”

Despite ongoing marginalization and discrimination, human rights advocates and organizations continue to fight for the rights of vulnerable Indigenous communities.

– Elena Luisetto
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Indigenous Fishing Rights in Canada
According to Statistics Canada, a 2021 census revealed that 1.8 million Indigenous people reside in Canada, equating to 5% of the overall population. The Mi’kmaq are a First Nations tribe, the first inhabitants of Nova Scotia. The Mi’kmaq have historically relied on fishing as a livelihood, however, several cases have brought to the forefront concerns over Indigenous fishing rights in Canada.

Poverty in Indigenous Communities

“Of the 1.8 million Indigenous people living in Canada in 2021, 18.8% lived in a low-income household, as defined using the low-income measure, after tax, compared with 10.7% of the non-Indigenous population,” said Statistics Canada. Poverty in such communities is in part a historical reminder. According to Indigenous experts, Melisa Brittain and Cindy Blackstock, one of the major causes of poverty within Indigenous communities is the effect of colonization — the “direct result of the dispossession of Indigenous peoples of their lands and livelihoods,” the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) said. Brittain and Blackstock describe this as “poverty by design.”

The Indian Act, which came about in 1876, made it “difficult for Indigenous people to participate in the non-Indigenous economy or profit off of activities such as farming” and fishing. The Indian Act, which originated to assimilate the natives with the colonizers, “has led to trauma, human rights violations and social and cultural disruption for generations of Indigenous peoples.”

The consequence of colonization for indigenous communities is economic dependency. Previously, Indigenous peoples ended up having to leave their resource-dense lands, disrupting livelihoods and causing ever-greater economic dependency.

Marginalization and colonization have led to conditions of poverty among the Indigenous. Indigenous people lack access to education, safe water and proper shelter, among other issues. A lack of investment and funding in these communities exacerbates poverty.

Fishing as a Livelihood

For thousands of years before European colonization and the subsequent industrialization that came with it, indigenous populations engaged in sustainable fishing practices as a livelihood. The Tsleil-Waututh, originally occupying the land that is now modern Vancouver, used weir traps to capture salmon coming to spawn. They did so sustainably by releasing any females caught. A male can mate with up to 10 females, thus keeping the population stable. During European colonization, settlers tore down the weirs set up by Indigenous people.

In Nova Scotia, the Mi’kmaq are taking a stand against historical poverty by fighting for Indigenous fishing rights in Canada. This fight initially began in Canada’s Supreme Court.

Court Cases on Indigenous Fishing Rights in Canada

  • R. v. Sparrow (1990). In a matter citing Aboriginal rights as a defense, the Supreme Court debated whether or not Indigenous people could fish on land the Indigenous traditionally call their own. In the end, Sparrow proved that his people historically fished on these lands and that fishing had cultural importance. Based on these reasons, Canada did allow this fishing. But, Sparrow was only a lone fisherman. The courts still had to determine if Indigenous people had the right to engage in commercial fishing.
  • R. v. Van der Peet (1996). Authorities charged an Indigenous woman for selling fish to a non-native. She claimed that it was part of her Aboriginal rights. This case pivots on the issue of Indigenous culture prior to colonization. If the Indigenous communities can prove that commercially selling fish is a historic cultural practice, they could continue the practice. If not, individuals would need to acquire permission from the Canadian government to commercially sell fish.
  • R v. Marshall (1999). Authorities arrested Marshall, a Mi’kmaw, for selling 210 kilograms of eels without a license. The final ruling of the Supreme Court allowed Indigenous peoples the right to fish and sell commercially to make a “moderate livelihood.” The diameters of a moderate livelihood are, two decades on, still contested, effectively opening the door to more substantial commercial fishing for aboriginal communities, or at least not closing it. The fisher must pass the test outlined in Van der Peet. Following R v. Marshall, the Mi’kmaq peoples in Nova Scotia began lobster fishing, giving rise to the so-called ‘Lobster War’ in Nova Scotia.

The Lobster War

In 2000, after the Marshall case, the Mi’kmaq began setting traps to harvest lobster to “earn a moderate livelihood from fishing and hunting,” as is their right. Video footage showed violence erupting after a Department of Fisheries and Oceans patrol boat rammed native Mi’kmaq fishing boats.

However, 22 years on, the war continues. The Mi’kmaq face “intimidation, bullying, threats and acts of violence by non-native fishermen,” Sierra Magazine reported. The non-native fishermen cite concerns over unsustainable fishing practices on the part of Indigenous people, however, there is no evidence to prove this.

A Victory

In 2020, the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia announced a victory that will combat the long-lasting effect of colonization and the poverty it has imposed on Indigenous peoples. Mi’kmaq communities purchased the Nova Scotia-based company Clearwater Seafoods, in partnership with Premium Brands Holdings Corporation, for $1 billion CAD. This is the “single largest investment in the seafood industry by any Indigenous group in Canada,” the Guardian reported.

The acquisition opens doors of opportunities for these communities, a step away from punitive colonial legislation, giving them a “seat at the table” and a move away from “poverty by design.” The conflict in Nova Scotia represents a deeper governance issue. In an October 2020 article that The Conversation published, researchers Lucia Fanning and Shelley Denny suggested “developing a mechanism by which Mi’kmaq can legitimately contribute to the governance of fisheries as an integrated whole.” Indigenous Canadian fisheries are fighting for progress to support themselves, make a modest living and gain the opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty by design, unfairly introduced in a bygone era.

– William Fletcher
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Ecuadorians
Ecuador is a small South American country on the east coast of the continent. It gets its name from its place on the equator that splits the northern and southern hemispheres. While there is a population of about 17 million people, more than a million of those people are Indigenous Ecuadorians, according to IWGIA. Historically, the Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women, have endured discrimination, poverty and gender-based violence. Here are three facts about Indigenous Ecuadorians, poverty and gender violence.

3 Facts About Indigenous Ecuadorians

  1. “Indigenous Ecuadorians” is an umbrella term. About 14  groups make up Indigenous Ecuadorians. They are: “Tsáchila, Chachi, Epera, Awa, Quichua, Shuar, Achuar, Shiwiar, Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Zápara, Andoa y Waorani, and Afro-Ecuadorians.” According to the group Minority Rights, there are disparities in data on people self-identifying as Indigenous. While officially, in 2010, only 6.8% of Ecuador’s population identified as Indigenous, estimates suggest that up to 30% of the population could be Indigenous.
  2. Poverty is widespread in Indigenous communities. In 2012, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated that 60% of Indigenous Ecuadorians live in poverty. The established poverty level is living on $1.90 or less a day. Additionally, half of this 60% lived in extreme poverty, surviving off of $1.16 a day. In fact, Indigenous Ecuadorians are twice as likely to live in poverty as the rest of the country.
  3. Gender violence is more common against minority women. A 2019 study by Agnes Edeby and Miguel San Sebastián showed that 64% of Indigenous Ecuadorian women surveyed faced some form of violence. Many people of color living in Ecuador also experienced violence, according to the study. The study noted a larger risk difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous women in Ecuador. Gender-based violence occurs partially due to economic dependence. According to the World Bank, economic opportunities for women in Indigenous communities are slim, leaving many reliant on men, whether familial or domestic partners. On top of that, a lack of education, health care and reproductive health care leave Indigenous Ecuadorians more vulnerable to gender-based violence.

Programs to Help Indigenous Women in Ecuador

The World Bank founded the Territorial Economic Empowerment for the Indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorians and Montubian Peoples and Nationalities (TEEIPAM) project, which received board approval in 2020. The project aims to help reduce gender-based violence and provide economic stability among these minority groups. While the TEEIPAM project is still in the early stages of its rollout, project financers have invested $40 million to achieve the project goals by 2026.

TEEIPAM has identified four elements to combat gender-based violence among Indigenous Ecuadorians:

  1. Working to “train and sensitize the local authorities” to gender-based violence and raise the participation of Indigenous peoples in “coordination spaces.”
  2. Creating a community-based approach focused on communication and local activities to address gender-based violence.
  3. Educating households on gender equality and healthy relationships.
  4. Strengthening Indigenous community repercussions for gender-based violence and educating Indigenous leaders to advocate against gender-based violence.

Casa de Mujeres Amazonicas

An Ecuadorian center recently opened to help Indigenous Ecuadorians fleeing gender violence. An alliance of minority women founded the Casa de Mujeres Amazonicas (Home of Amazonian Women) in March 2022. According to its founders, the center is the first in Ecuador to acknowledge the common thread between violence against Indigenous Ecuadorians and Ecuadorian women as violence against both is an ongoing issue. The center provides accommodation, legal help, emotional support and more.

Overall, Ecuador can do more to help Ecuador’s Indigenous people, particularly women, who suffer from violence and discrimination, and therefore, are at higher risk of poverty. Despite the grim statistics, programs are working diligently to get help to those who need it the most, both domestically and abroad. The changes implemented are both structural and abstract but overall will contribute to a better quality of life for Indigenous Ecuadorians.

– Emma Rushworth
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Indigenous Land Mapping
Indigenous communities all around the world have been facing the destruction of their lands as populations grow. Land shortages have only increased as changing climate continues to make parts of the world uninhabitable. The expansion of urban construction into protected Indigenous lands has violated the rights of Indigenous communities, who often have formal legal agreements with surrounding governments. Additionally, Indigenous people typically have poorer health and development outcomes than their non-Indigenous counterparts. The use of drones for land mapping is giving Indigenous communities more power and protection. Here is some information about Indigenous land mapping.

Indigenous Land Mapping

Creating accurate and culturally sensitive maps gives Indigenous communities respect and anchors them in their traditions. While there is a long history of erasure within Indigenous lands, mapping legitimizes their claims in the eyes of surrounding governments. This is particularly important when it comes to the preservation of this land, as well as the livelihoods of the Indigenous peoples who inhabit it.

Drones have become a remarkably efficient means of mapping hard-to-reach areas and the true borders of Indigenous claims to land. They are small, easy to use and can store data electronically. The geographic information systems (GIS) that are in drones can help build virtual maps. Additionally, individuals and large-scale projects alike can use drones.

The Indigenous Mapping Collective is a virtual network of Indigenous people who empower each other to map their communities. It offers skills training in drone use, land mapping and more from professional cartographers. In 2014, the Indigenous Mapping Collective partnered with Google Earth and held its first workshop designed to encourage more representation on the mapping platform.

The Power of Land Mapping

The possibilities are endless when it comes to drone use in Indigenous land mapping. The kinds of information gathered from electronic land mapping have implications for development, health and equity.

Drone mapping data has been used to assess “housing fire risk, historical building preservation status and potential economic resources such as tourist attractions [for] data-poor” Indigenous communities in China.

In Panama, the Indigenous Guna people have been in the throes of a housing crisis, coupled with land shortages and the devastating impacts of environmental changes. Relocation has long been a source of violence for Indigenous people. However, a partnership between Guna community leaders and Panama Flying Labs allowed the Indigenous community to survey their land and make their own decisions about their futures, UAV Coach reported.

Peru and Guyana have also been home to many Indigenous drone mapping projects, whose main outlooks for the future include environmental protection opportunities and the defense against illegal expansion projects.

Indigenous communities are already considered vulnerable populations. In North America, Canada and many other nations around the world, Indigenous peoples face discouraging health disparities.

Given power over their territories, they can be more informed about how to utilize their resources and better protect themselves from illegal government action. Land mapping alone is important in achieving these goals and the use of drone technology makes it that much more accessible and intuitive.

– Hannah Yonas
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Protesters in Ecuador
The president of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, lifted a state of emergency imposed as a response to mass protests by Indigenous protesters in Ecuador on June 26, 2022. The demonstrations, beginning on June 13, 2022, were in opposition to the high prices of gasoline and agricultural products and a low education budget. Six civilians have died as a result of them. Ecuador’s largest Indigenous organization, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), has been spearheading the movement and met with President Lasso in late June 2022.

Ecuadorian Indigenous Organizations: CONAIE

According to the International Work Group of Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), around 1.1 million Ecuadorians are Indigenous and 24.1% of them live in the Amazon. Fourteen Indigenous groups live in Ecuador, including the A’i Cofán, Shiwiar, Siekopai and Chachi.

There are many Indigenous organizations in Ecuador. However, CONAIE is the most involved in these Indigenous protests in Ecuador.

In 1986, the organization started operating in Ecuador’s capital, Quito and cited “the continuous struggle of the communities, centers, federations and confederations of Indigenous peoples” as the reason for its existence. Since then, the organization has become known for its direct action and uprising. In 1996, CONAIE famously formed its political movement called the Pachakutik/Nuevo País after halting alliances with other political movements and candidates. Leonidas Iza, who has been representing CONAIE in government dealings, currently leads the Indigenous group.

Poverty and Prices

Poverty in Ecuador has significantly risen in 2022. Among the country’s population of 18 million, 35% live in poverty. Additionally, poverty is commonly and historically found among Ecuador’s Indigenous people, sometimes attributed to discrimination. In 2006, the United Nations Population Fund reported that some 88% of Ecuador’s Indigenous households live under the poverty line.

As aforementioned, recent Ecuadorian protests by members of the country’s Indigenous populations result from high gasoline and agricultural product prices and low education and health care budgets.

In recent months, Ecuadorian fuel prices have distinctly increased. Before President Lasso made adjustments, standard gasoline cost $2.55 a gallon (40 cents higher than neighboring Colombia’s price) and diesel $1.90 a gallon.

Agricultural product prices, another point of protest, have been rising since the end of 2021. Fertilizer prices have also been increasing, potentially leading to less agricultural production and income heading to farming households.

The Ecuadorian educational budget has been declining since 2019, currently at a mere 11.5% of government expenditure and is comparably lower than neighboring South American countries (Colombia is at 14.5%, Bolivia at 14.2%).

Ecuadorian Government Response

Indigenous protesters in Ecuador agreed with their country’s government on the subjects of protest and fuel prices in late June.

After lifting the state of emergency he imposed and the beginning of talks between his government and Indigenous leaders, Ecuadorian President Lasso cut fuel prices– but not to the degree CONAIE wanted. He decreased petrol and diesel price per gallon by 15 cents, whereas the Indigenous organization called for a 45-cent decrease per gallon of petrol and a 40-cent decrease per gallon of diesel, Al Jazeera reported.

Furthermore, CONAIE leader Iza signed a deal with the Ecuadorian government that aims to lower fuel prices, among other costs, limit oil expansion and prohibit mining in protected areas and cease protests. Iza announced the suspension of protests after signing, according to Al Jazeera.

Although the nearly two-week-long protests in Ecuador caused more than 150 arrests, stunted transport and led to at least six deaths, they have amounted to a deal between Indigenous protesters and the Ecuadorian government, hopefully bringing peace and security into the country.

– Sophie Buibas
Photo: Flickr

Water Access on Canadian First Nation Reserves
On March 24, 2022, married celebrity couple Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively publicly announced their sponsorship of Water First, a Canada-based non-governmental organization (NGO) looking to improve water access on Canadian First Nation reserves. The couple made a donation of $500,000 to help the Water First nonprofit combat the drinking water crisis on Canadian First Nation reserves. Reynolds, a Canadian native, expressed support for the NGO in an Instagram post saying, “Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right. Canada is home to over 20% of the planet’s freshwater — an abundance that’s envied around the world. There’s absolutely no reason Indigenous communities should not have access to safe, clean water.”

The Canadian Water Crisis

Currently, several Indigenous and First Nations communities are without access to clean drinking water. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, “First Nations is a term used to describe Indigenous peoples in Canada who are not Métis or Inuit. First Nations people are original inhabitants of the land that is now Canada, and were the first to encounter sustained European contact, settlement and trade.” The Canadian government has dedicated portions of land called reserves for the use of First Nations people.

Throughout Canada, there are approximately 8.8 million acres of reserve land. It is on these reserves that the water crisis is most severe, leaving Indigenous people without access to clean and safe drinking water.

When the water quality in a reserve is low, the Canadian government will enforce a water advisory, which lets the public know that the water is unsafe for consumption. These advisories, or precautions, vary in severity and can be long-term or short-term. As of March 21, 2022, there were “34 long-term water advisories in effect in 29 communities” and as of March 24, 2022, there were 26 short-term advisories. In total, that makes 60 reserve locations in which the water is unsafe to some degree.

Unfortunately, solutions are difficult to find and can take years to implement. As the official website for the Government of Canada reports, “Completion of a new water treatment system can take three to four years on average.” Additionally, there is no guarantee that the problems will reach a complete resolution even with functional water treatment systems.

The Water First Nonprofit

Water First works closely with Indigenous communities in Canada to improve water access on Canadian First Nation reserves. Water First emerged in 2009 under the name Tin Roof Global and initially set out on a mission to bring clean water to Uganda. It began working in Canada in 2013 and it had completely changed its name and focus by 2016. Water First focuses “exclusively on water issues affecting First Nations communities here in Canada.” The organization’s “mission is to help address water challenges in Indigenous communities in Canada through education, training and meaningful collaboration.”

On its website, Water First explained that “Nobody understands the evolving challenges and needs more than the people who live there.” Water challenges vary depending on the community, thereby requiring community-tailored solutions. In addition, “communities have challenges recruiting and training young Indigenous adults to join the drinking water field,” which is a consideration that Water First prioritizes.

Water First focused on the roots of the problem and decided to address the need for qualified local personnel. The organization’s Drinking Water Internship Program is a 15-month program that provides a way for Indigenous young adults to become certified water treatment plant operators. However, drinking water is just the beginning — the NGO also provides training on fish habitat restoration, watershed restoration, water quality monitoring, mapping and data management.

The unique hands-on approach is what drew Reynolds and Lively to Water First. Reynolds expresses on Instagram that “All the individuals involved [with Water First], whether they are operating water systems or monitoring their local water bodies, are critical. We appreciate Water First’s focus on supporting young, Indigenous adults to become certified water operators and environmental technicians.”

Looking Ahead

Thanks to the team effort that Water First, Indigenous and First Nations communities, the Canadian government and other NGOs put in, clean water access on Canadian First Nation reserves is improving. Since November 2015, Canada lifted 131 long-term water advisories, and in the last seven years, Canada lifted more long-term advisories than it had added. Progress is visible and Reynolds and Lively are accelerating these efforts with their generous donation. “These folks are helping to ensure sustainable access to safe, clean water locally, now and for the future,” Reynolds states. “Blake and I are thrilled to support this important work.”

Mia Sharpe
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

Māori with HIV
The Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people native to New Zealand. The Māori population diminished severely, from 1 million to 40,000, when European settlers came to New Zealand due to warfare and conflict. However, the current population is almost 5 million, and more than 80% of the Māori live in urban environments. Despite the rise in population and reparations from the New Zealand government to the Māori, the Māori have faced economic and social challenges and discrimination. In 2021, Te Whāriki Takapou released the first-ever report on the inequity of Māori with HIV titled “Aotearoa New Zealand People Living with HIV Stigma Index: Māori Participants Report.”

The Te Whāriki Takapou Report

Te Whāriki Takapou is an organization with a focus on the “sexual and reproductive health” of the Māori people. As a result, it has conducted research, such as in the case of the Māori participants in the report. The report centers on “HIV-related stigma and discrimination experienced by Māori people living with HIV.” The report’s main purpose is to showcase the unique experiences of Māori living with HIV and give the participants “a sense of their health and well-being compared to the general Māori population, and compared to the non-Māori study participants living with HIV.” There were 37 Māori participants in the study, which included a survey questionnaire and a peer interview. The final report utilized findings from relative research due to data limitations.

The Findings

The survey and interviews resulted in several findings. About 25% of participants revealed that they faced a violation of their rights due to having HIV or had to report if they had HIV to areas such as their workplace. Māori living with HIV also detailed that the stigma and discrimination affected their mental health and relationships, resulting in almost 33% isolating themselves and limiting their “ability to earn an income that met their needs.” On a positive note, the participants generally felt that their whānau and friends were supportive; however, many of the participants revealed that others disclosed their HIV status without their permission to other whānau and friends, and also at places such as where they work or go to school.

Several of the participants experienced some form of discrimination due to their HIV status, including experiencing verbal abuse when seeking healthcare or losing jobs. Māori with HIV experience several forms of prejudice and injustice in the healthcare sector, including having to undergo testing for HIV against their will, unequal treatment of non-related HIV care by healthcare workers and professionals violating their confidentiality. Māori women also experienced uncomfortable and unwanted pressures and advice regarding their reproductive health and pregnancies, such as sterilizations and/or abortion. The treatment that Māori people receive in and out of the healthcare system is discriminatory and unethical, which is one of the reasons why there are several calls of action within the report following the results.

Future Policy and Initiatives

Currently, there are no modern laws or policies that protect HIV-positive Māori people from discrimination (or even non-Māori who have HIV). Additionally, Te Whāriki Takapou’s study revealed that those who have been HIV-positive for two to three decades have not witnessed a reduction in discrimination. This report details several specific recommendations to stop discrimination and erase the stigma surrounding HIV; some of those recommendations include an HIV and AIDS policy and action plan, incorporating a goal to abolish the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV. Other proposals involve better quality and access to reproductive health measures and education, especially better resources for Māori women with HIV to improve their health in the long run, no-cost counseling, a better system to file HIV-related complaints and so much more. All of the recommendations center on protecting, supporting and improving the lives of Māori with HIV.

Even though the report focuses on Māori individuals who have HIV, the recommendations also advocate for non-discrimination. The Māori experience discrimination in New Zealand and HIV-positive Māori face even more discrimination and stigma, affecting not only their mental health but also their physical health. The Te Whāriki Takapou report is a loud and necessary call to action to end the HIV stigma and discrimination against the Māori in New Zealand.

– Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Flickr

Jarawa tribe
“Dance,” pressured the policeman to the tribal women who were naked from the waist up. “Dance for me,” he pestered, offering them food in exchange for coercing the semi-naked tribe members to put on a performance for his entertainment. This was a viral video from 2012 that brought mainstream attention to the Jarawa tribe. The video shows a tourist fantasy for those who encroach upon the land for a “human safari” experience. The Jarawa, a tribe that some once hunted down during colonial British rule, now runs the risk of extinction due to growing modern-day threats.

About the Jarawa Tribe

According to scholar George Weber, the Jarawa tribe are Pygmy Negrito people living in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India who are “a remnant population representing perhaps the earliest migration out of Africa of modern Homo Sapiens.” This Paleolithic tribe that still lives a Stone Age hunter-gatherer lifestyle has around 450 members in total. The tribe represents one of the four tribal communities (Great Andamanese, Onge and Sentinelese) living in the region who for the longest time refused contact with modern society. Unlike the Sentinelese tribe who refuse contact violently, the bow and arrow-wielding Jarawa tribe first established peaceful contact with the Indian government in 1997.

The Threats the Jarawa Tribe Faces

While making half-naked women dance is common, poachers similarly lure young tribal women with groceries, alcohol and meat to harm them physically and sexually exploit them. The government-approved “contact” resulted in alcohol and smoking addictions as well as the spread of diseases (the tribes lack the immunity of modern people) with COVID-19 now becoming one of their gravest threats. Additionally, a growing number of settlers is encroaching on tribal land. With one Jarawa for every 1,000 settlers, the wealthier settlers tend to deplete tribal land of resources.

But the most threatening thing to the Jarawa tribe today is “mainstreaming.” Mainstreaming refers to the policy of pushing a tribe to join the country’s dominant modern society. This most notably strips the tribe of its self-sufficiency and identity, leaving them struggling at the margins of society. The Borgen Project spoke with Yash Meghwal, the spokesperson of Tribal Army, a leading organization in India that has been fighting against tribal injustice. According to Meghwal, hunter-gatherer, tribal populations like the Jarawas are “not equipped to survive in a market-based economy.” Elaborating on this, he stated that “to move into the upper echelon of society, one must have proper education and then the adequate business or job opportunity” which governments have failed to provide to the tribes.

The Latest Threat: Human Safaris

Interactions with modern society increased after the construction of the Andaman Trunk Road. The road cuts through the Jarawa tribe’s reserve forests and brought in a large population of refugee settlers. Tour companies now allow “human safari” experiences along this road. This does not just exacerbate abuse, addictions and the spread of diseases from interaction with modern people. It also encourages the treatment of tribes as if they are zoo animals. This cultivates the dehumanization of tribal people. As Meghwal put it, “we are failing if our citizens are equated with wild animals.” Human safaris exist to profit from the poor, powerless tribal population. Thus, the tourism industry has emerged at the expense of their privacy, dignity, health and human rights.

When referring to the road, Meghwal said that “the state is only interested in making new roads as infrastructure. Modern society does not care about the ecological and environmental balance; their focus is more on the extraction from the tribal land.”

Larger Problem of Tribal Discrimination

Discrimination in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is emblematic of a larger problem of tribal discrimination. Unfortunately, this level of discrimination is far bigger than the confines of the Islands. Meghwal claimed that this discrimination comes from conflating the tribal population with the Dalits. The Dalits are among the Indian lower caste. The Indian caste system is a hierarchal system that ascribes supremacy to one group and untouchability to the other. “Both Dalits and tribes suffer similar nature problems such as deprivation, discrimination and exclusion,” Meghwal claimed.

The Borgen Project also spoke with Jarken Gadi. He is a former sociology professor who is now a fellow for the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. According to Gadi, this discrimination is a product of “the lack of awareness supplied by educational institutions and media houses.”

Tribal Army as a Solution

Hansraj Meena, one of the most prominent tribal activists in India, founded Tribal Army. This organization may hold the solution to the discrimination of the Jarawa tribe and other tribes across the country. Meghwal claimed that people should grant tribes rights in the case of land and forests. He also mentioned that “we should avoid [letting] too many outsiders into tribal territory.” Additionally, he stated that there is also a need for constitutional measures to protect tribes as they participate in the market economy. Tribal Army has also called for requirements of “reservation in the private sector and in business,” stating “it is the most necessary step for tribal welfare.”

Gadi’s solution to discrimination and threats is a call for awareness programs which the government initiated. These programs would teach the public about the different tribes and how they should treat them. The education system and media can influence thought, change negative attitudes and stop harmful actions toward the tribal community.

Organizations like Tribal Army constantly advocate for policy change. People are challenging the status quo of tribal discrimination. With advancements like these, positive change can come for the Jarawa tribe and for overall tribal welfare.

– Iris Anne Lobo
Photo: Flickr

Japan’s Indigenous PeopleIndigenous people everywhere have struggled with prejudice, the challenge to keep their cultures alive and the societal pressure to assimilate. They also comprise “15% of the world’s” most extremely impoverished despite only making up 5% of the global population. Now, living predominantly in the prefecture of Hokkaido, Japan, the Ainu are Japan’s little-known native people and have faced all of these challenges since the 14th century. It was not until 1991 that the Japanese government acknowledged the group as an ethnic minority. Furthermore, it was not until 2008 that the government recognized the Ainu as Japan’s indigenous people. While legislation has improved conditions for the Ainu people over the years, problems of government accountability remain. The Ainu Association of Hokkaido continues to defend the group’s rights and culture.

A History of Hardship

The Ainu people’s current circumstances of poverty come from a history of colonialism. During Japan’s Meiji era, which lasted from 1868 to 1912, the Japanese government prioritized settlers’ land rights and disregarded the Ainu’s rights. This disrupted the livelihoods and economic activities of Japan’s indigenous people, who largely relied on fishing salmon and hunting deer. A greater effort to strip the Ainu “of their culture and traditions” took root as well. As part of the government’s forced assimilation efforts, the Hokkaido Aborigine Protection Act of 1899 encouraged Ainu people to shift to an agriculture-based economy, but the land they were relocated to was known to be largely barren.

Japan’s indigenous people are still marginalized. Many reside in lower-income areas of Hokkaido. According to CNN, “High levels of poverty and unemployment currently hinder the Ainu’s social progress.” As of 2013, 44.8% of the Ainu received welfare assistance from the government, 11.7% more than Japan’s total population. Relatively few Ainu attend institutions of higher education.

Support for the Ainu​

Founded in 1946, the Ainu Association of Hokkaido exists to advocate for Ainu rights. In an interview with Minority Rights Group International, Ainu Association of Hokkaido Deputy Head Yupo Abe said that, for many years, Ainu people did not know that the government was exploiting them. This was because their indigenous identities went unacknowledged and many did not have education regarding land entitlement. It was only until the Ainu Association of Hokkaido met with other organizations doing similar work for indigenous groups that it realized the Ainu needed to reclaim their culture and fight for their rights.

Discussions with other native people who had experienced similar cases of discrimination led the Ainu Association of Hokkaido to utilize various platforms. This includes the United Nation’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations. The group lobbied for concrete actions from the government to improve the lives of Japan’s indigenous people.

Pushing for Progress

With the establishment of the Advisory Council for Future Ainu Policy in 2008 and the Council for Ainu Policy Promotion of 2009, the Ainu Association of Hokkaido has had some success in bettering conditions for the indigenous of Japan. A shifting focus to Ainu cultural awareness also stands as a positive trend. Driven by Ainu pressure and economic desire, the Japanese government spent at least $220 million building the Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony in Shiraoi, Hokkaido to honor Ainu culture. Though the pandemic led to many delays, the museum and park opened in July 2020.

Some still recognize the need for more work. Hokkaido University law professor, Kunihiko Yoshida, expressed in a BBC interview that the space is not likely to create meaningful change. “The Ainu still cannot fish their salmon and dams are still being built that submerge sacred sites. There’s no self-determination, no collective rights and no reparations. It’s just cultural performance,” he said. However, some Ainu believe that the project is beneficial because of job creation, which could potentially lift some out of unemployment and poverty.

As the ethnic minority of Japan, the Ainu people still struggle with discrimination in multiple ways. At the same time, growing cultural awareness and action suggests a broader desire for change. The Ainu Association of Hokkaido supports the Ainu community, and in time, steps toward progress might spark a national journey toward change.

Safira Schiowitz
Photo: Flickr