Cancer and Poverty in AustraliaThe nation of Australia suffers from the highest rates of cancer in the world, but, the disease takes a significant toll on the disadvantaged and rural residents in particular. Impoverished and disadvantaged Australians are 60% more likely to die from cancer due to a lack of finances for a timely diagnosis and proper treatment. The connection between cancer and poverty in Australia can be clearly seen.

The Link Between Cancer and Poverty

The cost of treatment is only one part of the problem. The importance of prevention cannot be overstated and because of a disadvantaged situation, many poor Australians are more likely to smoke cigarettes, be overweight and not get screened for cancers. This leads to more impoverished residents developing a range of cancers that reach later stages before they are diagnosed.

While the country has a decent healthcare system, the connection between cancer and poverty in Australia is significant. Poor citizens are more likely to develop cancer and are the least financially prepared for it. One out of every three Australian cancer patients has to pay out-of-pocket for treatment ranging from a few hundred dollars up to $50,000 AUD. Patients that have private health insurance rather than public medicare often pay far more out-of-pocket, sometimes double, in addition to their regular insurance payments.

Rural Residents in Remote Areas

Residents of Australia’s rural areas often face the worst financial obstacles as they must incur travel expenses and be far from home for extended periods. In 2008, only 6% of oncologists practiced in rural areas, leaving a third of Australians that live in remote regions without immediate access to decent treatment. There were 9,000 more cancer deaths in rural areas than in urban areas over a decade, a 7% higher death rate compared to city residents.

Due to the extensive travel time, many cancer patients from remote regions are forced to quit their jobs increasing the financial burden of treatment. Those that can keep their jobs, often force themselves to continue to work despite their illness and during treatments in order to pay the bills. In many instances, cancer patients must take loans from friends or family. creating further financial obligations.

Indigenous Australians

In addition to rural residents, indigenous citizens also disproportionately die from cancer compared to other residents. Indigenous Australians have a 45% higher death rate from cancer compared to non-indigenous patients. Cancer is extremely underreported by indigenous people in remote or rural areas resulting in a lack of proper data for the government to act on.

Addressing the Link Between Cancer and Poverty

To reduce the mortality rates of cancer patients, the government must address the correlation between cancer and poverty in Australia. As of 2017, only 1.3% of Australia’s health budget is allocated for cancer prevention, screening and treatment. The country must invest in prevention as well as rapid-access cancer aid for both patients and caretakers.

The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia and Cancer Council Australia are working to improve cancer treatment in rural areas of Australia. Solutions to diminish the connection between cancer and poverty in Australia include new methods of diagnosis and treatment. Telehealth and shared care, in which the patient’s primary physician works with an oncologist to limit travel for treatment, help cut down on costs for struggling patients.

Cancer organizations in Australia have worked with the government to set up the regional cancer center (RCC) initiative across the country to make cancer care more accessible for residents living in rural areas. Since 2010, 26 regional cancer centers have opened to help patients living in remote locations.

Prioritizing the Health of Rural Residents

For the mortality rates of impoverished or rural cancer patients to lessen, the government must invest in prevention as well as access for rural residents. Above all, for Australia to successfully provide aid for cancer patients there must be accurate data collection on cancer and poverty in Australia to properly allocate funds for all demographics.

— Veronica Booth
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous communities in Canada

The Canadian Constitution recognizes three Indigenous communities — First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. Here are five of the many Indigenous-led organizations in Canada, collectively working to create success and prosperity for Indigenous communities.

5 Canadian Organizations for Indigenous Prosperity

  1. First Nations Information Governance CentreThe First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC) is working to achieve data sovereignty. With support from regional partners and a special mandate from the Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs in Assembly (Resolution #48, December 2009), the FNIGC collects and uses data to “build culturally relevant portraits of the lives of First Nations people and the communities they live in.” Their motto, “our data, our stories, our future” reflects their vision of Indigenous stories being told by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people.
  2. IndspireIndspire is using the gift of learning to help provide academic success and long-term prosperity with support through financial aid, scholarships/bursaries, awards, mentoring and physical resources.
  3. Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada – Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada (AFOA) is creating a community of Indigenous professionals by supporting successful self-determination through “improving the management skills of those responsible for the stewardship of Indigenous resources.” This includes aid in management, finance and governance.
  4. Reconciliation CanadaReconciliation Canada facilitates the engagement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with meaningful conversations on reconciliation and the lived experiences of Indigenous people. They aim to inspire positive change and understanding. At present, the programs and initiatives offered by the charity are Reconciliation in Action: A National Engagement Strategy, Reconciliation Dialogue Workshops, interactive community outreach activities and Reconciliation Canada.
  5. First Nations Child and Family Caring SocietyThe Caring Society supports First Nations children, youth and families. The organization has been able to provide 250,000 services and products to Indigenous children by putting Indigenous children and families first.

These five organizations are just some of many who are working to support success and prosperity for Indigenous communities in Canada. Their work helps blaze a path for a brighter future for Indigenous people and the country alike.

– Jasmeen Bassi
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in NunavutAlthough Canada is an undeniably prosperous nation, some territories experience levels of poverty disproportionate to other areas. Poverty in Nunavut is deeper and more severe than in any other part of Canada and it affects First Nation, Inuit and Métis people at higher levels than any other group.

Poverty for Indigenous People

Overall, 25% of Inuit children live below the poverty line. As of 2010, 56% of the Inuit population was classified as food insecure, compared to the 14.7% that represents the Canadian average. This is not only due to the loss of historical lands and resources, but cultural heritage, traditional government and the impositions of colonization on traditional lifestyles and social structures. However, in recent years, local communities as well as government forces have worked to form innovative policy and poverty reduction techniques. This not only is creating important change in many communities but comes with a local catch-phrase: the Inuit principle, “Piliriqatigiingniq“, referring to people working together well, motivated by shared values, goals,and philosophies.

Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy

In 2016, the government of Canada instated a poverty reduction strategy, aimed to reduce Canada’s poverty rate by 50% by 2030. Importantly, this policy outlines initiatives that specifically reflect First Nations, Inuit and Métis perspectives on poverty and decision making. The priorities outlined included support for improved national housing, indigenous childcare and early learning as well as cooperation with local leaders.

Canada Child Benefit

The Canada Child Benefit works to reduce childhood poverty by helping financially support families that are experiencing poverty. Due to the marked success of the program, the number of children living in poverty decreased by 278,000 in just two years. Because Nunavut’s child poverty rate of 31.2% is well above the Canadian average of 18.6%, The Canada Child benefit directly impacts many Inuit, Métis and First Nation families.

Canada’s First National Housing Strategy

Over the course of 10 years, this initiative will invest $40 billion to fix broken housing, provide affordable housing and significantly reduce homelessness for Canadians in need. Additionally, the National Housing Strategy will be equitable with investments, ensuring 33% of the budget goes towards housing for First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples as well as programs for women and children. This type of investment is the first of its kind for Canada and promises real change for many. https://www.oecd.org/els/family/child-well-being/Bussiere.pd

The Makimaniq Plans

The Makimaniq Plan 2 expresses a shared approach, “Piliriqatigiingniq”, to overcome the challenges faced by native people. This includes more adaptation to Inuit ways and better collaboration with the government among other ways people can work together to reduce poverty. This also covers strengthening local economies, increased access and amplification of community voices and a greater emphasis and investment in health and well-being. These are all problems that have significantly affected native people for generations and need to be addressed in order to create real change. Through increased community and government teamwork, there is a tangible method and drive to change conditions for people living in poverty in Nunavut. This is an important step for the Inuit people, as Nunavut is the only territory in Canada with a poverty reduction strategy that specifically targets Inuit interests.

Working Together

For the issue of poverty in Nunavut, “Piliriqatigiingniq” is more than just working together to achieve a common goal. It means growing as a country and as people and working to develop within communities, the lasting bonds of respect and teamwork to foster a better present and more equitable future. Due to changes already implemented, thousands of people’s standards of living have increased in the region.

– Noelle Nelson
Photo: Flickr

How MUIXIL is Empowering Indigenous Guatemalan WomenAs the 1960 Guatemalan Civil War continued, military dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt targeted the indigenous populations of the country as part of his counterinsurgency tactics from March 1982 to August 1983. His “scorched earth” policy led to the brutalizing of Indigenous Mayans, specifically those in the Ixil region. As few as 10% of Ixil villages remained by the end of 1983, and over 5% of the Ixil population was killed. The effects of the civil war and the genocide continue to be felt by the Ixil people—especially women, which is why MUIXIL works to empower Indigenous Guatemalan women.

The Effects of the War on Ixil Women

The Ixil region of Guatemala was specifically targeted during the civil war because of the indigenous population. As a result of the destruction of their villages, 29,000 Ixil people are estimated to have been displaced by the war. This displacement and destruction caused many Ixil people to lose their birth certificates and other forms of identification that are necessary for political participation in the post-war country, making it nearly impossible for many to vote in elections and creating widespread indigenous disenfranchisement.

The mass murders of Ixil people during the war widowed many women, making them solely responsible for providing for their families. This struggle was significantly more difficult for Indigenous women in Guatemala as they were often denied access to jobs and resources that could benefit them financially. Widespread poverty, malnutrition and the highest infant mortality rate in Central America at 23 deaths per 1,000 births are associated with the financial troubles of Ixil people.

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, and in a two-year period ending in 2016, more than 2,000 women were murdered. Indigenous women are disproportionately affected by violence against women, which many researchers say is a result of the widespread violence against them and the lack of punishment for sexual and gender-based violence that occurred during the war.

The History of MUIXIL

MUIXIL was founded as Mujeres Sufridas de Area Ixil (Women Sufferers of Ixil) in 2003 to empower and support indigenous Ixil women, especially those who survived the civil war. The grassroots organization aims to promote the civil, political and economic rights of Indigenous Guatemalan women through the development of income-generating projects and a support system made up of other Ixil women.

The MUIXIL Weaving-Collective

MUIXIL partnered with MADRE, an international women’s empowerment nonprofit, to develop a weaving-collective for Ixil women. The project provides grants for women to purchase materials, such as yarn, that are needed to create products that can be sold at local markets. By selling their creations, these women earn additional income and learn entrepreneurial skills. The weaving-collective also preserve a culture that was nearly destroyed by the war as the women incorporate traditional designs into their creations. As of 2012, 45 women participate in the weaving-collective.

Also in partnership with MADRE, MUIXIL runs a sustainable chicken farming initiative. Indigenous women are given chickens to establish small-scale farms and grants to purchase the supplies needed for upkeep. At the end of 2010, 350 women participated in this project, supporting nearly 2,500 individuals. The initiative was later expanded in 2013 to three more communities with 50 additional women participating.

Like the weaving collective, the chicken farms provide Ixil women with income as they sell eggs at local markets. The chicken farming initiative also combats food insecurity in Indigenous communities as it provides access to protein-rich chickens and eggs.

Political Empowerment for Indigenous Guatemalan Women

MUIXIL also hosts workshops to show Ixil women the importance of and teach the skills needed for political participation at the local and national levels. The nonprofit organization also assists Indigenous women with the legal system, “including in trials to hold perpetrators accountable for human rights abuses against Indigenous Peoples.” Women seeking the recognition of their human rights by the government are accompanied by MUIXIL’s members for support.

During the 2012 session of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, MUIXIL advocated for the political rights of Indigenous women in Guatemala in the Report on Violations of Women’s Human Rights. In this report, the organization called out the national government for failing its constitutional duty to protect women and indigenous peoples by excluding them from the legal system. This exclusion takes on many forms, such as a lack of access to translators who are fluent in Indigenous languages, which effectively prevents many women from seeking justice. MUIXIL also provided recommendations in this report for how the government can better protect the rights of Indigenous women, including decreasing costs within the legal system, making courts more accessible by spreading them throughout the country and launching a program to document Indigenous peoples who were displaced or lost their forms of identification during the war to allow for more widespread political participation.

The Guatemalan Civil War witnessed genocide against the country’s Indigenous Ixil populations, leading to long-term consequences for these communities, especially women. MUIXIL combats the legacy of violence and discrimination against Ixil women by providing income-earning initiatives, political empowerment and a space where Indigenous Guatemalan women can find support and continue their cultural traditions.

—Sydney Leiter
Photo: Flickr

Native American reservationsLow qualities of life exist in developing countries as well as developed countries, including the United States. Within the 326 Native American reservations in the U.S., Indigenous peoples experience unequal life conditions. Those on reservations face discrimination, violence, poverty and inadequate education.

Here are 5 facts about the Native American population and reservations.

1. Native Americans are the poorest ethnic group in the United States.

According to a study done by Northwestern University, one-third of Native Americans live in poverty. The population has a median income of $23,000 per year, and 20% of households make under $5,000 a year.

Due to the oppression of Indigenous peoples, reservations cannot provide adequate economic opportunity. As a result, a majority of adults are unemployed. Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota has better numbers than most reservations — 43.2% of the population is under the poverty line. However, this rate still is nearly three times the national average

2. Native Americans have the highest risk for health complications.

Across the board, Native American health is disproportionately worse than other racial groups in the United States. This population is 177%  more likely to die of diabetes, 500% more likely to die from tuberculosis and have a 60% higher infant mortality rate when compared to Caucasians.

Most Native American reservations rely on the Indian Health Service. It is a severely underfunded federal program that can only provide for approximately 60% of the needs of the insured. That does not account for a majority of those on the reservations. Only about 36% of Native Americans have private health care, and one-third of the non-elderly remain uninsured.

3. Native Americans, especially women, are frequently victims of violence.

A study from the National Institute of Justice concluded nearly 84% of American Indian and Native Alaskan women have experienced violence in their lifetimes. These women more likely to be victim to interracial perpetrators and are significantly more likely to suffer at the hands of intimate partners. The numbers are similarly high for men of this population. Over 80% of men admit to experiencing violence in their lifetimes. Most victims report feeling the need to reach out to legal services, but many severely lack the tools to get the help they need.

A few law practicing organizations have dedicated their existence to ensure Native American voices are heard in the legal world. Native American Rights Fund (NARF), for example, is a non-profit organization that uses legal action to ensure the rights of Native Americans are being upheld. Since their inception in 1970, NARF has helped tens of thousands of Native Americans from over 250 tribes all over the country.

4. Native students hold the highest national dropout rate.

Conditions on reservations leave schools severely underfunded, and many children are unable to attend. This delay in education leaves early childhood skills undeveloped. According to Native Hope, “Simple skills that many five-year-olds possess like holding a crayon, looking at a book and counting to 10 have not been developed.” Inadequate education is highly reflective of Native American graduation rates. Native students have a 30% dropout rate before graduating high school, which is twice the rate of the national average. This number is worse in universities — 75% to 93% of Native American students drop out before completing their degrees.

Such disparity between Native American students and their colleagues has inspired the increase in scholarships for this community. Colorado University of Boulder, for example, offers a multitude of scholarships and campus tours specifically for those of Indigenous descent. Further, they founded the CU Upward Bound Program which is dedicated to inspiring and encouraging the success of their Native American students. Third party scholarships also come from a multitude of organizations such as the Native American College Fund and the Point Foundation.

5. Quality of Life on Reservations is Extremely Poor.

Federal programs dedicated to housing on Native Americans reservations are severely inadequate. Waiting lists for spaces are years long, and such a wait doesn’t guarantee adequate housing. Often, three generations of a single family live in one cramped dwelling space. The packed households frequently take in tribe members in need as well.  Additionally, most residences lack adequate plumbing, cooking facilities, and air conditioning. The state of these Native American reservations is receiving increased attention.

Some reservations are taking matters into their own hands. Native Hope is a volunteer-based organization working to address the injustices brought upon the Native American community. Their commitment to the tribes has not stopped during the pandemic. One woman from Illinois handmade over 2,500 face masks so Indigenous children could still go to school in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. The organization also provided 33 households with necessary groceries and personal hygiene supplies.

How to Help

The marginalization of the Native American population has recently gained traction through the internet and social media. New and established charities alike are getting more attention, which allows them to have increased beneficial impacts on the Native American population.

Native American tribes have been around for hundreds of years and only recently have been getting the help and attention they require. With continued attention and advocacy, Native Americans can one day receive the justice and equality they deserve.

Amanda J Godfrey
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in GuatemalaIn Guatemala, over 50% of the population live below the poverty line. Families of four or more live in small one or two-room huts if they have shelter at all. On average every four days a child, usually a newborn, is abandoned because families do not have or can not access the means to take care of another child. Homelessness in Guatemala harshly impacts children, families and indigenous women.

Street Children

Young children are considered lucky if they are not part of the large homeless population. Among the homeless population, 7,000 of them are children and adolescents left to survive on their own. Many of them turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, perpetuating the cycle of homelessness in Guatemala. Violence directed towards street children is not uncommon. The Guatemalan police force’s deathly violence towards these children had remained unchecked until the early 2000s but the threat of physical harm has not been abolished to this day.

Homelessness in Guatemala is a ripple that ends at the children of the impoverished. For example, they are needed for work and are often unable to go to school, if they can afford public schooling to begin with. The little income they make does not stretch far. A quarter of the population of children are actively involved in child labor out of necessity. In addition, one in four children under the age of fifteen are illiterate. Chronic malnutrition and hunger are a consistent part of life. Without access to proper education or nutrition children of the impoverished do not have the ability to move forward. As a result, they are trapped in a cycle of poverty and homelessness in Guatemala.

Inadequate Housing Plagues Families

Traditionally, Guatemalan culture revolves around family. It is a tight-knit community that is hindered by the lack of funds, nutritional food and educational opportunities. Those who are fortunate enough to have shelter are stuffed into small huts with a tin roof and dirt floors. Children, parents and grandparents often live together without running water or electricity. Diseases plague newborns and small children due to people’s inability to keep housing sanitary, leading to high infant death rates. Medical care is all but nonexistent.

Cooking is done over an open fire kept inside the home. This leaves the women and children of the families to breathe in smoke for hours at a time with no ventilation. Some houses are made from straw or wood both of which are extremely flammable and pose another risk to families inside. Respiratory illness affects a large portion of the poor population. Since most houses are one room, the idling soot from cooking fires becomes toxic for the entire family. Without running water, there is no way to properly clean the soot and without electricity, there is no other option for families to cook food.

The Plight of the Indigenous Woman

Half of the country is homeless and of that population, half of those people are indigenous women. Impoverished indigenous women not only suffer the fallout of poverty, they face racism and violence because of their sex. Compared to the rest of the country, including Guatemalan women, indigenous women have a higher chance at having multiple unplanned children, living in poverty and being illiterate. In addition, the birth mortality rate for women of native heritage is double and non-indigenous women have a greater life expectancy by an average of 13 years. They are malnourished and underpaid. The inequality trickles down to their children who face food insecurity, lack of education and if they are young girls the same fear of violence and racism their mothers endure.

Taking Action

Homelessness in Guatemala engulfs half of the 15 million people living in the country. Basic human necessities are not available and haven’t been for generations. The Guatemala Housing Alliance focuses on providing proper shelter to families. They work in tandem with other groups aiming to help education, food insecurity and sexual education for the poor of Guatemala.

The Guatemala Housing Alliance has built 47 homes with wood-receiving stoves that eliminate the danger of open fire cooking. They’ve put flooring in 138 homes that had been previously made of dirt. Also, the foundation offers counseling for young children and has hosted workshops for women for them to speak openly and learn about sanitation, nutrition and their legal rights.

For more information visit their website. 

Amanda Rogers
Photo: Pixabay

Indigenous People of Taiwan
Taiwan is an island nation off the coast of China that houses 560,000 indigenous peoples — around 2.7% of the entire population. In the 1940s, the Chinese Civil War forced the Republic of China (ROC) to relocate its base to Taiwan, causing 1.4 million people to migrate from the mainland. Prior to this incident, in 1895, Japan defeated the Qing empire for Taiwan in the First Sino-Japanese War. War has ravaged native families and brought thousands of colonists to the country. This decreased the number of aboriginal people and created a divide between the settlers and the indigenous people of Taiwan.

The Reasons Behind Poverty

Due to consistent colonization since the 1600s, the native people of Taiwan (originally Formosa) have faced persistent oppression. Under Dutch rule from 1624 to 1662, the indigenous people of Taiwan had to convert to Christianity. Colonists also recruited them for military services and placed them into strenuous jobs. Japanese soldiers in the early 1900s raped women, illegally took land and enslaved indigenous men. In 1914, the Japanese killed over 10,000 aboriginal inhabitants of the Taroko area, resulting in the major uprising the Wushe Rebellion of 1930.

Oppression and discrimination have quelled the process of native people integrating into modern society. Most of the indigenous people of Taiwan remain below the poverty line. Household incomes of aboriginal families are 40% lower than the national average. A study by an Academia Sinica sociologist surveyed Han people of Taiwan: only 40% of families would let their children marry an aboriginal person while 80% allowed their children to marry another Han person. This is shocking evidence of the prominence of societal discrimination. The Democratic Progressive Party leaders have been heard calling indigenous peoples racial slurs to suppress and insult aboriginal people. Many businesses still refuse to employ aborigines. The problem worsened when an influx of workers from southeast Asian countries came in and competed for traditionally aboriginal jobs.

Natural disasters that often rampage the island consistently annihilate sources of income for indigenous families. Typhoon Morakot, a fatal category 2 typhoon that hit Taiwan in August of 2009, killed 673 people, mostly from aboriginal villages. Landslides and heavy winds destroyed villages and small economies. An earthquake on September 21, 1999 killed over 2,400 people and sent 100,000 people into homelessness.

The Effects of Being in Poverty

Poverty in indigenous communities has hurt their access to education, insurance and healthcare and is exacerbating the inequality gap. In 2013, 10% of aboriginal students dropped out of college. Of those, 12% could not afford to continue their education. Although 90% of aboriginal college students receive a higher-level education at private universities, they tend to be more expensive causing many students to have financial burdens. Despite the 12-year compulsory education system, aboriginal students in rural areas receive a substandard education. Financial struggles prevent 3% of students from enrolling in school. Aboriginal parents often move to the city for work while their children provide for themselves. Sometimes, the oldest sibling drops out to take care of their younger siblings.

According to a survey that professors at the National Taiwan University conducted, 45% of indigenous participants believe that they are least likely to be hired and promoted compared to Han people. The study also found that the indigenous people of Taiwan lack access to social welfare services. This leads to the widening gap of inequality among the rich and poor, as well as between the Han and indigenous people. In 1985, the income gap between the indigenous people and the national average was $3,702 (USD), while in 2006 it increased to $20,006 (USD). Gradual increases in inequality build higher obstacles for indigenous people to conquer.

Combatting Poverty

The Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP) is a group of ethnically indigenous government individuals, working to improve the life of indigenous people of Taiwan. Recently, CIP initiated the Four-Year Plan to develop a proper social welfare system to protect aboriginal individuals. The government hopes to increase employment by providing internship opportunities to the indigenous youth and creating websites like “Indigenous Job Agency.” The CIP also guides aboriginal businesses, teaching companies how to market, package and sell their products in the metropolitan area. They aim to develop a “sustainable self-sufficient industrial model” in indigenous villages. A self-sufficient model will help businesses survive with the modern market economy and traditional manufacturing skills. CIP also plans to increase healthcare services and protect indigenous rights to bridge the inequality gap.

The Renewal Foundation, a nongovernmental organization devoted to children’s education, is helping bring people out of poverty. The Bunun Tribe’s official website, run by the Bunun Cultural and Educational Foundation and the Bunun Tribal Leisure Farm, aims to develop educational and financial sectors of their own communities.

Taiwanese indigenous communities are gradually rising out of poverty. Recent statistics have shown increasing education rates and income equality. With assistance from the government and other institutions, aboriginal people will preserve their cultural heritage and reintegrate back into society.

Zoe Chao
Photo: Flickr

Food InsecurityPeru is a country in South America home to some of the world’s natural wonders, such as the Amazon rainforest and the Andes mountains. Thanks to stable economic growth, social initiatives, and investments in health, education and infrastructure, poverty and hunger have significantly decreased in Peru over the last decade. However, according to World Food Program USA (WFP-USA), one in five Peruvians live in a district with high vulnerability to food insecurity. Rural Indigenous populations, representing 52% of Peruvians in poverty, face particular concerns over hunger. Inequalities in lack of access to water and education lead to chronic hunger and malnourishment in these populations. However, Indigenous populations are learning to adapt to food insecurity in the Andes.

Melting Glaciers and Food Insecurity in the Andes

The Andes hold 70% of the world’s tropical glaciers. However, as climate change progresses, many of Peru’s glaciers are melting. This is disastrous for many of the people living in the foothills. These citizens are losing access to clean water, which is essential for drinking and irrigating staple crops and pastures. As the glaciers melt, water cannot run through the cracks of the mountain downhill into the springs for the people to collect. This causes a decline in crop yields and crop diversification, which can lead to food insecurity in the Andes.

“If the snow disappears, the people will disappear too,” says Rev. Antonio Sánchez-Guardamino, a priest in the country’s southern Ocongate District. He continues, “if the snow disappears, we will be left without water. The pastures and the animals will disappear. Everything is interconnected. The problem of the melting of the glaciers is that the source of life is drying up.”

Food insecurity in the Andes is therefore a persistent and serious problem. Many smallholder farmers produce staple crops at a subsistence level, enough to feed themselves and their families. However, with less water, it has been difficult for them to uphold this, leading to the danger of food insecurity.

Adapting to these Changes

As water in the lower regions of the mountains grows scarce, farmers are adapting to keep up with these geographical changes. One way they have adapted is by moving uphill, where water is more abundant but land is more scarce. Moving crops uphill also prevents diseases such as late blight from killing off entire harvests. This helps farmers maintain a sufficient potato yield for their families.

Another way Peruvian farmers have adapted to water scarcity is by revamping ancient agricultural technologies and practices. The use of amunas, for example, is extremely resourceful. These stone-lined canals turn rainwater into drinking water by channeling the rainwater to springs downslope for use. Today, most of these once-widespread canals lie abandoned, but 11 of them still function. They feed 65 active springs and 14 small ponds.

Terracing is another ancient agricultural practice that makes farming on the highlands fruitful. It involves flattening out the rocky terrain into level terraces for plant roots to better grip. In the Andes, this is an increasingly common agricultural practice. Terracing has shown to create sustainable water-drainage systems and successfully produce high yields of crops.

Taking Further Action

From 2007 to 2011, The New Zealand Aid Programme along with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) initiated the FORSANDINO (Strengthening of High-Andean Indigenous Organizations and Recovery of their Traditional Products) project in Huancavelica, Peru. The project aimed to improve food management and development in Indigenous communities. In doing so, it hoped to alleviate food insecurity in the Andes.

Thanks to this initiative, the production of staple crops significantly increased. Indigenous communities produced 329% more quinoa and 100% more potatoes, oca and mashua. Consumption also dramatically increased by 73% for quinoa, 43% for mashua and 64% for oca. In addition, the net annual income per capita increased by 54% for families participating in the project. As a result, the proportion of families living below the poverty line decreased.

As climate change wreaks havoc on the livelihoods of Peruvians, especially farmers in the Andes, they are cultivating a culture of resistance. People are looking to their roots, resources, communities and innate abilities for answers. This restoration work is renewing old technologies that can still help today. Hopefully, the government will also focus more on on meeting the needs of farmers to support their fight against food insecurity in the Andes.

Sarah Uddin
Photo: Flickr

canada's indigenous populationDespite being one of the wealthiest and most productive countries in the world, Canada does not provide equally for all of its citizens. Specifically, Canada’s Indigenous population constitutes 4% of the nation’s population of about 34.7 million. Despite their name of “First Peoples,” Indigenous people in Canada receive less priority for public aid and infrastructure. Canada’s Indigenous population disproportionately lives in poverty. For example, 25% of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people live in poverty. Out of the population of First Peoples’ children, 40% live below the poverty line as well.

The Housing Crisis

Many indigenous residences are overcrowded, often in poor and unsafe conditions. Overall, 20% of Canada’s Indigenous population lives in overcrowded households, both on and off reserves. Additionally, 25% of First Nations people live in housing that is substandard. Among Canada’s homeless population, 22% are First Nations.

While high rates of poverty among First Nations people are one major contributor to the housing crisis, the limited number of homes available to them is another large problem. Estimates suggest that Canada’s Indigenous population living on reserves needs anywhere from 130,000 to 175,000 new homes. It is even more difficult to gauge the number of housing units needed to accommodate the off-reservation First Nations population. Information for off-reservation housing extends to other Indigenous populations like the Métis and Inuit.

Food Deserts

Approximately 48% of First Nation households struggle to meet their daily food needs. This rate is higher in Canada’s Alberta province, where 60% of First Nations people find it difficult to feed their families. Both of these numbers are much higher among Canada’s Indigenous population compared to the national rate of 8.4%.

Within Canada’s Indigenous population, food insecurity continues to climb. This is especially true in remote areas with little to no access to a service center. When available, these centers help the Indigenous population with food, water, housing, health and education services.

While getting food is a struggle in itself, not all meals are equally nutritious. First Nations people have an even harder time getting healthy foods due to high demand, few centers and high prices. Traditional foods, like game and fish, are also hard to come by due to pollution and industry in Canada. However, these traditional foods generally lack the preservatives and artificial sugars found in much other food. As a result, many Indigenous adults suffer dietary issues. About 82% are overweight, while 20% suffer from diabetes. Again, these rates are disproportionately high among Canada’s Indigenous population relative to the overall population.

Education and Employment

Education remains one of the most effective ways for members of impoverished communities to lift themselves out of poverty. However, under a system that treats the Indigenous population like second-class citizens, quality education is scarce. This makes it more difficult for Canada’s indigenous population to improve their quality of life.

Less than 50% of First Peoples have a high school diploma. Further, just 6% have any kind of college degree. Canada has a history of investing fewer resources into Indigenous education than in its public education. Specifically, the disparity may be as severe as investing $8,000 less per Indigenous student than per Canadian student.

This disparity between First Peoples and Canada’s population continues to affect employment trends. Unemployment rates among the Inuit, Métis and First Nations are more than double Canada’s rate. In some areas, 80% of the Indigenous population relies on welfare. Reducing the educational gap (and consequently, the employment gap) would infuse an additional $36 billion into Canada’s economy by 2026.

Employment and education disparities also exist between on-reserve and off-reserve Indigenous people. As of 2007, the high school graduation rate was up to 70% for off-reserve First Peoples. By contrast, on-reserve rates rest at about 45%. Among the Inuit population, the high school graduation rate has decreased, falling from 52% to 41%.

The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund

In a country that’s thriving, it can be hard to believe that there are populations so deprived of resources and opportunities. The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF) strives to build people’s awareness about the marginalization of First Peoples. It also seeks to mend the relationship between Canada and its Indigenous population through teaching their history and culture.

The donations the DWF receives go to the creation of legacy schools and spaces. For example, its Legacy School program is a partnership between the DWF and certain schools. These legacy schools educate students on the history and culture of First Peoples. The Legacy Spaces program is a similar program that partners with organizations and corporations who are passionate about mending the divide between Canada’s non-Indigenous and Indigenous populations.

In focusing on building mutual understanding, the DWF seeks a more supportive relationship between Canada’s two populations. This would serve to preserve the culture of the First Peoples. Importantly, it would also help the Canadian government to finally recognize its duty to its most marginalized population.

Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

cultural survivalThere are about 476 million Indigenous people in the world, just over 6% of the global population. Also known as First Peoples and Tribal Peoples, they are present on every continent except Antarctica. Indigenous people belong to about 5,000 distinct groups. Though the term “Indigenous” is not an exact science, it generally refers to groups of people who originally inhabited an area prior to colonial influence. Despite colonialism, they have achieved varying degrees of cultural survival by preserving the use of their languages, ancestral traditions and ways of knowing. Organizations like Cultural Survival also support this preservation.

Cultural Survival was founded in 1972. Its work now follows the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), adopted in 2007. Based in Massachusetts, this organization aims to streamline social justice efforts by connecting Indigenous people’s needs to resources. Indigenous people often have a hard time accessing resources due to isolation, linguistic barriers or lack of political representation. Here are five ways that Cultural Survival empowers Indigenous people.

5 Key Ways Cultural Survival Empowers Indigenous People

  1. Advocacy: When it comes to advocacy, Cultural Survival responds to real needs expressed by a particular community. According to the UNDRIP, “States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for … Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources.” An example of such dispossession might include state-sanctioned projects involving mining or deforestation, which threaten a community’s land. In these instances, the Indigenous community on its own may not have direct access to policymakers. Cultural Survival, on the other hand, has had the privilege of consultative status with the United Nations Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOC) for the past 15 years. It also has offices in North, Central and South America, as well as South Africa and Nepal. This wide reach provides quicker access to resources that can more effectively enforce the UNDRIP.
  2. Grants for community development: Cultural Survival also makes grants accessible for development-focused programs. These programs may relate to environmental justice, female empowerment, language preservation, Indigenous representation in policymaking and more. The Keepers of the Earth Fund makes these grants available in amounts between $500 and $5,000. In March 2020, the Keepers of the Earth Fund went exclusively toward the COVID-19 response in Indigenous communities. So far, it has been able to provide direct aid amounting to more than $81,000. This has reached Indigenous communities in 16 countries.
  3. Fair trade partnerships: Cultural Survival connects Indigenous artisans and creators directly to consumers through their annual “bazaars.” These bazaars showcase Indigenous music, jewelry, household items, art and other products. Usually, New England hosts the events. However, in 2020, Cultural Survival opted for a “virtual bazaar” to keep people safe from COVID-19. This allowed it to connect Indigenous makers to a wide audience of consumers.
  4. Media: Additionally, Cultural Survival publishes a magazine called Cultural Survival Quarterly (CSQ). This publication brings matters of concern of Indigenous communities to the attention of the public. The organization also nurtures expertise in radio journalism and broadcasting by connecting young Indigenous people with conferences. By training them, the organization prepares Indigenous youth with the skills they need for a career in media and advocacy. In particular, the Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship Project offers fellowships up to $2,500 for young people to learn about broadcast journalism. The Community Media Grants Project also makes funding available to bolster already-existing community radio projects. These projects benefit communities all over Latin America, East Africa, South Africa and South Asia
  5. Community Radio: Cultural Survival’s funding for COVID-19 includes community radio. This has recently made a difference in Indigenous communities of Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador and others. These programs are vital not only for language preservation but also to ensure that correct information about the pandemic reaches Indigenous communities. This is important, as these communities may not be proficient in the country’s official language or may have limited broadband connection. To complicate matters, Indigenous community radio has been outlawed in several places. In Guatemala, for example, the government claims there are not enough frequencies to accommodate Indigenous radio stations. Cultural Survival continues to fight to support community radio programs and policy changes in Guatemala. Importantly, it also offers legal representation to individuals when necessary. Indigenous leaders have officially requested that a law, Bill 4087, legalize an Indigenous-language radio station for each municipality. Cultural Survival continues to support this effort.

The Future of Cultural Survival

Cultural Survival requires continuous support to maintain its mission to defend the UNDRIP. Although every Indigenous group possesses the right to be both autonomous and involved in state affairs that affect them, political leaders do not always observe these rights. Cultural Survival is one-of-a-kind in its commitment to defending Indigenous ways of life. With support, it can continue to use its global reach to fast-track solutions to the unique needs of Indigenous people around the world.

Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr