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

Poverty in Mexico's indigenous communitiesMexico’s indigenous communities experience poverty at nearly double the rate of the population at large, with a whopping 80.6 percent of indigenous people living on less than two dollars a day. Extreme poverty goes in hand with issues like food insecurity and a lack of access to education, healthcare and clean water. Only half of Mexico’s indigenous people have a primary school education, and poor indigenous communities have a lower life expectancy than the rest of Mexico’s population because they haven’t been provided with the same infrastructure to develop their communities as non-indigenous populations have. However, there are efforts being made to address poverty in Mexico’s indigenous communities by developing these communities sustainably and integrating them into Mexico’s economy, without erasing their cultures and traditions.

Cultural Diversity Among Mexico’s Indigenous Communities

Mayans and other indigenous people in Mexico are isolated from other communities and continually hurt by public policies that fail to fully integrate the diverse populations living in a state or region. Mexico is one of the most diverse countries in Latin America, with around 68 different indigenous communities making up around one-fifth of the country’s population. Combating poverty in Mexico’s indigenous communities, without leaving one group at a disadvantage, is difficult when there are so many different cultures present. These communities are all still living with the legacy of Spanish colonialism, which robbed native peoples of their resources and stifled their cultural practices and traditions. Assimilating indigenous communities might seem like a way to foster unity, but this practice has resulted in native communities with very limited autonomy and renders development programs that don’t account for cultural diversity ineffective and inaccessible to indigenous communities.

In response to this issue, Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy has advocated for a “full inclusion approach,” in which all Mexicans have equal access to development through education, healthcare and job stimulation that account for cultural diversity among indigenous communities. With public policy that intentionally prioritizes full inclusion, the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy hopes that indigenous communities will be able to compete in the labor market, gain access to social security and rise out of poverty without sacrificing their languages and traditions. This may be the best way to address poverty in Mexico’s indigenous communities.

Anti-Poverty and Development Efforts

The Mayan community of Quintana Roo has experienced efforts to combat poverty that have both ignored and accounted for cultural difference. The Mayan community is heavily reliant on ejido lands, or communal land that has been farmed and forested by the community for centuries. Largely with the intention to combat poverty among Quintana Roo’s Mayan population, but also in response to a surge in the tourism industry, wealthy developers began privatizing ejidos. Mayans were included in these private development projects, but their traditional farming, forestry and beekeeping practices were not. Therefore, when external funding ran out, the locals were unable to continue the work or reap any rewards for their communities.

However, when development projects have worked within existing ejidos, such as the World Bank’s Dedicated Grant Mechanism (DGM), all decisions are left up to the indigenous communities. The DGM in Quintana Roo provided ejidos with the funding to design and implement sustainable farm and forestry businesses. Juan Ortegon of Ejido Miguel Colorado wrote that Mayans had “never been consulted in the past,” and that these bottom-up development projects finally allowed Mayans to address the needs of their communities.

The Future of Addressing Poverty in Mexico’s Indigenous Communities

Positive steps are being made to combat poverty in Mexico’s indigenous communities, but development programs stand the greatest chance of success when they not only account for cultural diversity but embrace it, allowing indigenous people to make decisions for themselves.

– Macklyn Hutchison
Photo: Flickr

Disparity Affecting Australia's IndigenousAustralia is the largest landmass in Oceania. This place was once home to 750,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who made up more than 500 indigenous groups. Today, Australia’s total population is just over 25 million. But, only approximately 3 percent of the population consists of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Overall, Australia’s indigenous population faces widespread disparity in comparison to its non-indigenous counterpart. Below are ten facts about disparity affecting Australia’s indigenous population.

  1. Socioeconomic disadvantages Socioeconomic disadvantages contribute to developmental vulnerability among indigenous children. In 2015, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated that 42 percent of Indigenous children in their first year of full-time schooling was considered developmentally vulnerable in one or more of the five key areas of early childhood development. These key areas are physical health, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills, communication skills and general knowledge. In comparison, 21 percent of non-indigenous children were considered developmentally vulnerable.
  2. Poor test performance – Indigenous students have lower literacy and numeracy scores than their counterparts. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students achieve lower test scores throughout primary and secondary schooling on the National Assessment Program than their non-Indigenous peers. This certainly highlights educational disparity affecting Australia’s indigenous population. The farther away indigenous children live from cities and regional areas, the lower the test scores.
  3. Negative over-representation –There is over-representation of the indigenous population in the child-protection and justice systems. Indigenous children between the ages of 10 and 17 make up less than 6 percent of the population within that age range. However, 48 percent of those under youth justice supervision and 59 percent of those in youth detention centers are indigenous youths. Indicators of prior familial involvement with the criminal justice system, such as unemployment, can increase the chances of an indigenous child going into one of these two systems.
  4. Indigenous adults in the justice system – The adult justice system over-represents Indigenous individuals. For instance, 27 percent of the prison population in Australia consists of indigenous peoples, but only contribute to 3 percent of Australia’s total population. Socioeconomic factors and institutional discrimination are key factors that contribute to more 25 percent in the adult justice system being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island descent.
  5. High unemployment and low wages – Aboriginal and Torres Islander Strait populations face higher rates of unemployment and lower wages. In fact, just under 50 percent of Australia’s indigenous population is employed. However, over 70 percent of the non-indigenous population is employed. Lower income is associated with poor health, crime and violence, poor education and substance abuse. Consequently, these associations reflect a cycle of poverty and lack of opportunities.
  6. Increased risk of poor health – Indigenous populations are more likely to have poor health than their non-indigenous counterpart. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are approximately two times more likely to have a high risk of complications such as long-term hearing problems, passing away before the age of 50, being born underweight, experiencing high levels of psychological distress or having a disability or long-term health condition.
  7. Poor living conditions – There are regional disparities affecting Australia’s indigenous population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands who live in remote areas are more likely to live in overcrowded communities or having substandard living accommodations. This is compared to those who live in major cities or regional areas.
  8. Beneficial cultural impacts – Although there are detrimental factors with living removed from cities and regional areas, indigenous communities living remotely experience beneficial cultural and communal impacts. They are more likely to speak an indigenous language, identify with a specific clan or tribe, be involved with cultural events and ceremonies. In addition, they are less likely to abuse substances (excluding alcohol and tobacco) and less likely to experience homelessness.
  9. Closing the education gap – There has actually been an improvement in recent years to close the gap in education. For example, indigenous individuals between the ages of 20 and 24 with a 12-year education (or equivalent) increased from 45 percent to 62 percent between the years of 2008 and 2015. Although the statistics for the non-indigenous population is higher at 86%, this is a great start at tackling educational disparity affecting Australia’s Indigenous population.
  10. NACCHO – The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organization (NACCHO) is dedicated to representing Australia’s Indigenous population in regard to their needs and interests. The NACCHO’s main goals are to alleviate poverty, advance spirituality, provide constructive educational programs and deliver holistic and culturally appropriate health services to Aboriginal populations.

Though unfortunate, the history of Australia’s indigenous population includes foreign disease, massacres and violation of rights to their land. The present situation of educational, income and other types of disparity affecting Australia’s indigenous communities stems from the complex colonial history of the continent. Despite centuries of inequity, the Council of Australian Governments and other organizations have committed themselves to raise this marginalized group and decreasing disparity affecting Australia’s Indigenous population.

– Keeley Griego
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous PopulationThere are 370 million indigenous people in the world today. The majority live in China, where 36 percent of the population is indigenous. This is followed by South Asia at 32 percent, Southeast Asia at 10 percent and Latin America at 8 percent. The United States is 1.5 percent indigenous. Indigenous populations account for about 5 percent of the world’s population but more than 15 percent of the world’s poor. What is the connection between indigenous people and poverty, and how can it be broken?

Who Is Indigenous?

There is such a wide variety of indigenous cultures that it makes creating a common definition challenging. The United Nations refers to them as the descendants of the inhabitants of a country or geographic regions prior to the immigration of a second ethnic group. The second ethnic group then became dominant through conquest and settlement, marginalizing the original inhabitants. Examples include Native Americans, the Saami of Northern Europe, the Maori of New Zealand and the Maasai of Eastern Africa.

Many people prefer to be called by the name of their individual group or tribe, such as “Navaho” or “Inuit.” However, the blanket term, “indigenous,” is gaining popularity since it links together different peoples and provides a legitimate status for special rights in many countries.

What Problems Do They Face?

It is difficult to find data for countries in Asia because most governments deny the existence of indigenous populations. For example, China has officially stated that there are no indigenous people within their borders despite having the highest concentration in the world. In areas like the Philippines and Vietnam, there are indigenous populations as well as “ethnic minorities,” who are indigenous but do not come from the country in which they are currently living. Often these “ethnic minorities” were forced to leave their native lands.

The best data came from Latin America in 2010 where indigenous people made up 8 percent of the population, but 14 percent of the poor and 17 percent of the extreme poor. Part of the reason for the disparity is the fact that indigenous populations are more likely to live in rural or remote areas. In cities, there is better access to electricity, clean water and education. This is also evident if they are living in an urban slum where indigenous people can outnumber nonindigenous two-to-one.

There is also a significant pay gap for indigenous populations. In Mexico, native people earn 12 to 14 percent less than non-native people. In Bolivia, the gap is 9 to 13 percent and in Peru and Guatemala, it is about 6 percent. In Australia, aboriginals have 30 percent less disposable income than their non-aboriginal counterparts, and in Canada, the wage gap can be as high as 25 percent. This is a large part of the connection between indigenous people and poverty.

How Can This Be Solved?

Approximately half the poverty gap can be accounted for by differences in employment type, education level, living in a rural area and family size. The other half is the “unexplained” gap, which is a result of direct discrimination or racism. This creates a unique challenge for bringing indigenous people out of poverty. Reducing the gap in education rates is widely regarded as the first step and has been steadily improving in the past few years.

In Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua, indigenous children attend primary school at the same rate as non-indigenous children. However, in many communities, primary education is still strongly associated with assimilation to the majority culture. The best way to fight this belief is to offer bilingual language and a curriculum sensitive to cultural differences, which is slowly gaining popularity in many countries.

Indigenous peoples often have their own ideas of what improvement should look like; therefore it is important to increase their power to advocate for their own needs. The United Nations Declaration of Indigenous People’s Rights in 2007 brought together groups from all over the world. This put them in a better place to negotiate for further rights and land privileges on their terms.  Worldwide, native peoples are asserting their political power to bring long-needed changes to their communities. If governments are willing to listen, indigenous people will have a better chance of breaking the connection between indigenous people and poverty.

Jackie Mead

Photo: Flickr

Education in the NunavikEducation in the NunavikEducation in the Nunavik
The Nunavik is a region located at the north of the Quebec region in Canada. With an area of 507,000 km2, it is home primarily to Aboriginal population, especially the Inuit. With struggles for land rights still occurring in this area, problems of large inequalities in health care and, in particular, education, persist. Inequity in education in the Nunavik is an important issue impacting many young lives and future livelihoods.

Country Overview

According to the OECD, Canada is the most educated country in the world with 56.2 percent of adults completing two-year, four-year or vocational program. In 2010, Canada had a graduation rate of 78.3 percent, making many think that almost everyone can get a diploma. While this national graduation rate may be high, the graduation rate for the Aboriginal youth population in 2011 was only about 24 percent. In comparison, the graduation rate for non-Aboriginal youths in the country was almost 87 percent. There is a huge disparity it the educational attainment in indigenous population, in this case, the Inuit, and in non-indigenous population.

Problems at Different Levels

The question, of course, is why this difference exists? Many failures can be linked to the ineffectiveness of policy initiatives created by officials at the local (Nunavik), regional (Quebec) and national (Canada) level. One example of the inefficiencies happened in 2015 when former Nunavik students learned that their high school diplomas were not in fact real diplomas, but certificates that indicate the “attestation of equivalence of secondary studies.”

While the school board apologized, nothing could be done for the students who worked hard with the resources that they had for their achievements. While this is a problem that came about at a local level, the provincial and national governments did not aide the local government either. The school board that oversees Nunavik education has also placed responsibility on the provincial Minister of Education for not providing more funds and help to the schools.

Alleviating the Problem of Education in the Nunavik

Improving education in the Nunavik is a key component to alleviating poverty and improving livelihoods of the citizens of the region. The first step to solving this education crisis is by recognizing the problem, and this is being done both by the Canadian government and by various nongovernmental organizations. The 2018 Canadian budget dedicated almost $12 billion for investment in indigenous populations through various education endeavors, housing programs and health initiatives.

One nongovernmental organization that is doing incredible work for the Inuit population in Canada is Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. This a national organization that has a goal to represent all Inuit women in Canada, giving them a voice and better access to educational opportunities. This group works with policymakers, other organizations and community leaders to develop ideas and solutions that are most beneficial to the Inuit population.

Another incredibly important nongovernmental organization is Indspire, a cross-national Indigenous-led charity that invests in Indigenous education all across Canada. Indspire has a virtual learning center called the K-12 Institute that helps policymakers, educators and community members best educate the Indigenous population. It also has awarded over $14 million for 2018 school year through about 4,900 scholarships to Indigenous students to advance their studies. This is an incredible organization because it is run by people who understand the struggles of educational attainment in Indigenous communities.

Disparities between indigenous and non-indigenous population have a long history in Canada, but these disparities will decrease with the work of nongovernmental organization such as Indspire and Paktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, along with the country’s government actions. By educating as many people as possible about the inequality, individuals and the government can continue to work hard to close the gap of education in the Nunavik and in whole Canada as well.

– Isabella Niemeyer
Photo: Flickr

Amazon Watch Protects the Indigenous Lands
The Amazon Rainforest is the largest rainforest in the world, covering 1.7 billion acres in the heart of Brazil. It is also the ancestral home of an estimated one million indigenous people who are apart of around 400 tribes. Each of these tribes has its own individual language, culture, and territory. Yet, these tribes and their homes are being threatened due to deforestation. At the current rates, The Amazon Rainforest will be severely degraded by the year 2020. 

Amazon Watch

Amazon Watch is protecting the indigenous lands of the Amazon. Founded in 1996, this nonprofit not only protects the rainforest but to also campaigns for the indigenous human rights of the people living in the Amazon. According to their website, Amazon Watch strives “for a world in which governments, corporations and civil society respect the collective rights of indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent over any activity affecting their territories and resources.”

Amazon Watch is protecting the indigenous lands of the Amazon by advancing solutions, including green development and autonomous solar power. The organization has launched an indigenous solar communications project with Empowered By Light. This project provides clean energy for lights and communication systems for indigenous people in Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador. Amazon Watch will continue to install these solar and communication systems while providing training about their uses and upkeep.  

Sending a Message to Large Corporations

Amazon Watch is protecting the indigenous lands of the Amazon one campaign at a time. Its current campaign, #EndAmazonCrude, is educating others on the dangers of oil drilling in the Amazon. Oil drilling threatens the survival of indigenous people as well as the land and indigenous species that live there. Each day, around ten million gallons of Amazon crude is delivered to The USA.

One of the biggest consumers of this fuel is Amazon.com, due to their transport operations. Many consider it unacceptable to be profiting off the name “Amazon” while destroying the real Amazon Rainforest. Amazon Watch is helping people spread the #EndAmazonCrude message via social media and sending emails Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos about this issue.

Amazon Watch has also called out big companies, such as JPMorgan Chase and BlackRock, for funding the destruction of The Amazon Rainforest and violating indigenous rights. The organization’s petition demands that the CEOs stop financing oil and gas producers in the Amazon. The petition states, “Oil and gas operations that you invest in are actively violating indigenous rights and worsening our climate crisis. Stop financing Amazon destruction!” Over 12,000 people have signed it thus far.

Encouraging People to Act

Amazon Watch is protecting the indigenous lands of the Amazon by educating others on how to take action for the Earth and for the indigenous people. Their website provides information on how to take action to help protect the Amazon through email and/or social media. 

The organization is also asking others to stand in solidarity with Brazil’s indigenous rights agency. Indigenous people in Brazil are suffering under the country’s agribusiness industry. The National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) is a key target of the Brazilian government, which has undermined its critical role in protecting indigenous territories and severely cut its budget.

In 2017, Amazon Watch began working with Brazilian allies and international communities in order to fight environmental and human rights threats from Brazil’s “ruralista government leaders. Amazon Watch started a petition to reject President Temer and the Attorney General’s attacks on the rights and advocates of the Amazon’s indigenous people. Over 16,000 people have signed the petition so far.

Amazon Watch is protecting the indigenous lands of the Amazon by encouraging the public to get involved with their events. Every year in San Francisco, Amazon Watch holds its annual gala called “Amplify! A Celebration of Voices from the Amazon”. The special guests this year will be Achuar leaders from the Peruvian Amazon.

The government leaders in Brazil must start doing their part to protect the Amazon as well as the indigenous population within. By partnering with indigenous and environmental organizations, Amazon Watch is protecting the indigenous lands of the Amazon while campaigning for human rights and preservation of the Amazon’s ecosystem before it is too late. Hopefully, their work, plus the voices of those signing petitions to strengthen protections and rights, will also inspire the government to take action.  

– Ariane Komyati
Photo: Flickr

Unrepresented nationsIn 1991, The Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization (UNPO) was founded in The Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. The UNPO is an international body with a membership comprised of “indigenous peoples, minorities, citizens of unrecognized States and occupied territories” who use The UNPO as a collective means of participating in the major international community. Over forty unrepresented groups currently make up The UNPO’s General Assembly with a few notable members such as Tibet, Taiwan and Washington D.C.

UNPO’s Mission

The communities joined together in The Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization are united in a shared mission guided by the five major principles of nonviolence, human rights, democracy, self-determination, environmental protection, and tolerance stated in The UNPO Covenant. The Covenant draws off of language used in ubiquitous international documents like The United Nations Charter, The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and others to validate the need for a forum such as The UNPO to exist.

Through its mission, The UNPO is also an ally in the fight to alleviate global poverty. According to estimates from the World Bank, indigenous peoples make up about 5 percent of the population and about 10 percent of those living in poverty around the world. These statistics reveal how indigenous groups are disproportionately affected by poverty. By empowering indigenous and other marginalized people through international representation, The UNPO is taking important steps to combat poverty.

How The UNPO Works

The main decision-making body of The UNPO is the General Assembly, made up of delegations from each of the member communities. The General Assembly convenes every 12-18 months so that UNPO members can discuss the pressing issues in their communities. In addition, the Assembly elects members of the eight members of the Presidency, including the President, two Vice-Presidents, General Secretary, and Treasurer for three-year terms.  

The Presidency has the duty of implementing the policy put forth by the General Assembly during a term. The current President is Mr. Nasser Boladai of West Balochistan. Under the direction of the General Assembly and the Presidency, The Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization acts as a key intermediary between the unrepresented communities it represents and international institutions such as The U.N. and E.U.

The UNPO approaches international forums in the role of an advocate for their members as well as a consultant about international decisions on issues relevant to UNPO members. For example, thanks to the work of  The UNPO, marginalized groups and minorities have been able to actively participate in various U.N. sessions of The Human Rights Council, The U.N. Forum on Minority Issues, and The U.N. Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues.

In addition, the UNPO has successfully lobbied for their inclusion in The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process launched in 2008 to review the human rights records of all UN Member States. As a result of the advocacy and lobbying done by The UNPO, many of the marginalized and unheard voices that The UNPO represents now have the chance to be heard by those who wield power amongst the international community.

Who is the in the UNPO?

The Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organization currently represents 43 Nations/ Peoples throughout the world. Each member community has its own set of specific aspirations and concerns that they hope The UNPO can help them verbalize. The UNPO compiles detailed profiles on each of its member communities and then uses this information to help advocate in their interest.

Tibet, or the Government of Tibet in Exile is a member of the UNPO and has a history that is familiar to many. In the 1950’s, Tibet became an occupied territory of The People’s Republic of China and lost its national autonomy and political rights. The Central Tibetan Administration or the Tibetan Government in Exile claims that the Chinese occupation is an illegitimate military campaign. Although the Chinese constitution grants political autonomy to the occupied areas of Tibet, the reality from the Tibetan point of view is that the Chinese preside over them with an authoritarian rule.

Through the influence of The UNPO, The Tibetan Delegation hopes to plead it’s case to the international community and address grievances (violations of political rights, environmental degradation, and suppression of freedom of expression and association) against the Chinese government.

Since 1991, The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization has helped promote the rights and freedoms of minority/marginalized groups throughout the world. As we strive towards shaping a world of equality and justice, The UNPO serves as a fine example of how we can give a voice to the voiceless.

Clarke Hallum

Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Peoples make up 15 percent of the world’s poor and one third of the world’s extremely rural poor. They are subject to land grabbing, intimidation, discrimination, displacement and violence, and children are particularly vulnerable. When it comes to Indigenous children and education, there are a plethora of struggles faced across the globe.

The list of barriers to educational attainment for Indigenous children includes the devaluation of their own teachings, knowledge and culture, the whitewashing of history and deeply entrenched institutional racism. Rural children often can’t reach schools because they are too far away, and supplies, textbooks and school fees can be too expensive for many families to afford. Even when Indigenous children do reach the classroom, their lessons are not typically taught in their language and their curriculum is not culturally sensitive. They face discrimination and harassment by fellow students and by their teachers.

Quechuan parents in Peru were surveyed regarding their children’s education, and many revealed that they wouldn’t even teach their children their mother tongue at home for fear of the ostracization they would face at school. This fear and disenfranchisement leads to disproportionately low enrollment rates and high dropout rates.

In Botswana, corporal punishment is acceptable in Tswana culture (one of the ethnic majorities) but not acceptable in Basarwa culture (one of the Indigenous ethnic minorities.) This has led to very high drop-out rates among the Basarwa, and today 77 percent of the Basarwa are illiterate.

In 2012, Indigenous students made up 4.8 percent of all students, which is double their relative proportion of the population. The Indigenous population is young and growing, leading to higher school enrollments. This comes with its own challenges. Connecting Indigenous children and education – quality, accessible education – requires teachers to work hard to respect Indigenous culture and incorporate it into their curriculum.

Schools must also provide other resources to Indigenous children. According to a report by The Conversation, “many (not all) Indigenous children are under stress (educationally, socially, emotionally) due to low income, family mobility, overcrowded homes, and poor health and disability.”

The Murri School in Queensland, Australia, partners with Aboriginal health services to provide family support and healthcare, as well as occupational therapy, to their Indigenous students. This holistic approach better meets the needs of Indigenous students and increases retention rates.

In 2006, Cambodia introduced bilingual education in five of its provinces, allowing Indigenous children to attend schools taught in their native language. This helped close the gap in the number of out-of-school Indigenous children. Also in 2006, Ethiopia introduced alternative educational programs (such as mobile schools, flexible learning environments, boarding schools and bilingual education) to its Afar and Somali regions. This also had a positive impact on Indigenous children and education.

In 2010, there were no Indigenous adolescents enrolled in university in Cameroon. At the primary and secondary level, birth registration cards were often required for enrollment, and Indigenous Peoples face many barriers to receiving identity cards and being properly registered. Additionally, the academic calendar did not align culturally with Indigenous Peoples such as the Baka. Children were kept out of school to work in the forests with their parents.

Indigenous Peoples developed a curriculum called ORA (Observe, Reflect, Act) tailored specifically toward young Baka children. It is culturally sensitive, hands-on and aligns with the agricultural calendar. It aims to teach Baka children to read, write and count.

While Indigenous children across the world face innumerable challenges in receiving a quality education, Indigenous-specific measures can remedy this. For Indigenous children around the globe, “the key to success is to nurture a positive sense of identity, to engage positive community leadership and to nurture high expectations relationships.”

Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr

The Importance of Native-Language InstructionIn schools across the world, students find themselves at an inherent disadvantage because their classes are not taught in their native language. Native-language instruction is crucial to optimize a student’s success, for many reasons.

Development of a student’s first language facilitates development in a second language. In other words, it is far easier to learn a second language when students already have a strong foundation in their first language. Knowledge and skills are also completely transferable from one language to another.

Native-language instruction also benefits a student’s overall well-being. Students enjoy school and are happier and more successful when they are taught in their own language. Conversely, students who are taught in a language other than their first language are more likely to fail early grades or drop out of school completely.

Girls are more likely to go to school and stay in school when the language of instruction is their first language, and parents are more likely to be involved in their children’s schooling. On a larger scale, native-language instruction emphasizes the importance of that language and its culture, and preserves the language for future generations.

Schools are typically taught in one of the national languages of a country. For example, Burundi recently declared that English was one of its national languages, so an increasing number of schools are now taught in English. This privileges urban students over rural ones. Urban students are more likely to already speak the national language or at least to have been exposed to it. Rural students are far more isolated and often enter school knowing only the language spoken at home.

In countries with large indigenous populations and a multitude of languages, the lack of resources is a barrier to adequate native-language instruction. It costs money to employ teachers who are fluent in each of the native languages, and to provide textbooks that are in those languages and are culturally appropriate.

In Mongolia, the Kazakhs are the largest minority. Until 2005, teachers were only given textbooks written in Mongolian, even when they were teaching in Kazakh. In Botswana, schools teach exclusively in English and Setswana, the national languages and the languages of the ethnic majorities. These languages are also core subjects in the national curriculum, and thus students are required to take and pass exams in those languages. This disadvantages indigenous children who enter school with no prior knowledge of English or Setswana.

There are many programs targeted at addressing bilingual students and bridging language gaps. In the Bronx, there are schools which alternate teaching in English and Spanish every other week, meeting the needs of students who are fluent in both languages and enhancing their bilingualism.

In the U.S. alone, 175 indigenous languages are still spoken. All but 50 of these are projected to be extinct by 2024. Project SEED (Scholarships for Economic and Educational Development) and AILDI (American Indian Language Development Institute) develop curriculum in, teach and work to preserve native languages. In Cameroon, indigenous peoples have created a culturally sensitive education policy called ORA (Observe, Reflect, Act) which is tailored specifically toward young Baka children.

For curriculum to be most effective, especially for disadvantaged and marginalized students, it should be in their language, culturally sensitive and incorporate indigenous culture and traditions.

Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr