Indigenous Agricultural Practices
Agriculture involves land, plant and livestock cultivation. Through agriculture, people are able to use available natural resources for sustenance and income. In fact, agriculture takes up about 50% “of the world’s habitable land, “an established statistic despite 821 million people experiencing food insecurity, according to 2020 data. The link between agriculture and poverty is as direct as it comes, whether in correlation to the people who do not have access to food or the people who are economically dependent on farming as their primary source of income. The more impoverished a country is, the higher the percentage of people working in the agricultural sector. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) notes that 73% of the people in East Africa and 47% of the people in South Asia work in the agriculture sector. Yet, interestingly enough, experts consider agriculture as one of the most effective occupations in bringing people out of poverty. By incorporating Indigenous agricultural practices into modern-day agriculture, impoverished farmers can increase yields and productivity.

The Problems of Modern Agricultural Practices

A significant portion of the challenges modern agriculture faces stem from how people utilize the land. One of the main issues is monoculture, which involves crop specialization or growing a single crop on a large portion of land. While this practice reduces costs and caters to large-scale demand, it also, unfortunately, brings with it a high risk of crop failure because there are no other crops or wildlife to properly maintain the ecosystem. Additionally, pests are more common in the soil where one crop is grown and this, in turn, calls for higher pesticide use, which disrupts the natural balance of the soil.

While monoculture as an agricultural practice is more prolific in the developed world, developing countries still have remnants of this practice. In Indonesia, in 2020, about 14.6 million hectares of land were dedicated solely to palm oil plantations. Crop specialization often appeals to agricultural sectors because of high efficiency, reduced costs and more profits. However, these increased profits do not always translate to higher incomes for the farmers performing the work. Cocoa farming in Côte d’Ivoire provides an example, where “the household incomes of cocoa farmers” average about $2,707 annually despite the nation producing 2 million tonnes of cocoa crops per year.

Advantages of Indigenous Agricultural Practices

Considering the challenges of modern agriculture, two particular Indigenous agricultural practices may offer benefits to improve agricultural productivity and output in developing countries, improving food insecurity and the incomes of farmers with more produce to sell.

  1. Crop Rotation: Expertly practiced by the Mayan farmers of Mesoamerica, crop rotation involves “growing different crops on the same land so that no bed or plot sees the same crop in successive seasons.” Crop rotation provides a host of benefits such as “[preserving] the productive capacity of the soil,” eliminating risks of both pests and crop diseases, reducing the need for pesticides and maintaining nutritional requirements for the crops and soil to thrive. This practice enables farmers to maximize their yields. The Center for Integral Small Farmer Development in the Mixteca (CEDICAM) operates mainly “in the Mixteca region of Mexico, a region categorized by its high level of environmental degradation and desertification.” CEDICAM teaches farmers agricultural practices such as crop rotation and polyculture to increase agricultural success and simultaneously address food insecurity.
  2. Agroforestry: According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “agroforestry is the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems to create environmental, economic and social benefits.” Dating back to centuries ago, Indigenous Americans utilized agroforestry for its vast range of benefits. Practicing agroforestry ensures the rejuvenation of the soil, protects crops from severe temperatures and creates a system that provides diverse resources for medicines, firewood and food.

Drawing Wisdom From Indigenous Agriculture

All over the world, Indigenous agricultural practices involve an acute knowledge of the land, working to ensure that the sustenance of human needs and the rejuvenation of land occur simultaneously. These practices can teach people how to live in harmony with the land and use natural resources in a sustainable way, safeguarding resources for generations to come.

– Owen Mutiganda
Photo: Flickr

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

The Te Whāriki Takapou Report

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

The Findings

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

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

Future Policy and Initiatives

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

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

– Karuna Lakhiani
Photo: Flickr

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

About the Jarawa Tribe

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

The Threats the Jarawa Tribe Faces

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

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

The Latest Threat: Human Safaris

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

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

Larger Problem of Tribal Discrimination

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

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

Tribal Army as a Solution

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

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

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

– Iris Anne Lobo
Photo: Flickr

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

A History of Hardship

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

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

Support for the Ainu​

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

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

Pushing for Progress

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

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

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

Safira Schiowitz
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous fashionFast fashion is fashion that producers make cheaply and price low to catch up with current trends. However, indigenous people are trying to change this. With their unique patterns and colorful designs, many indigenous people are using their culture and skills to allow indigenous culture to live forever, especially in the fashion world. More importantly, indigenous people are investing their skills and resources into creating sustainable fashion to combat poverty. Indigenous communities, while representing roughly 5% of the world’s population, also represent much of the world’s impoverished. Through indigenous fashion, the number of indigenous people in poverty may soon decrease.

History Behind the Pattern

Indigenous people, specifically the indigenous people of Guatemala, have a specific reason for choosing their patterns and distinctive colors. Color and design are deeply integrated into their everlasting culture and history. According to an ancient Mayan myth, the Mayan goddess Ixchel first developed this type of design, called loom weaving. People know her as the goddess of love, the moon, medicine and textile arts. Loom weavers utilize her practices to create fashionable crossbody bags. Whether they work with a company or by themselves, weavers are benefitting from the popularity of their culture’s patterns.

Weaving has henceforth become more than just a means for indigenous women to provide for their families. These women have important roles in their communities and these skills are teaching them to push for more self-reliance within themselves.

Mama Tierra

Indigenous Guatemalans are not the only ones taking advantage of this development in indigenous fashion. A nonprofit organization called Mama Tierra (which translates to “Mother Earth” in Spanish) is helping advance self-reliance in the Wayuu community through fashion. Founded in 2014, Mama Tierra assists the Wayuu community of La Guajira in several ways. It works to:

  • Make sure that women making bags (which comprise sustainable materials such as organic cotton, recycled bottles and pineapple leaves) receive proper pay.
  • Teach women how to make soap to keep their families healthier.
  • Provide Wayuu people with accessible solar energy and nutrition programs.
  • Promote indigenous women’s commercial activities around Colombia.

The Wayuu community greatly needs and appreciates Mama Tierra’s work. Consisting of 600,000 people, many in the Wayuu community do not have electricity or running water. Environmental changes make their land less suitable for growing food. Additionally, 50 Wayuu children younger than 5 die each month in La Guajira due to malnutrition and related causes. These families display their humanity through the bags they produce: each bag comes with a tag with a picture of the maker and their children. With the help of organizations like Mama Tierra, the Wayuu people are improving their lives and changing their futures.

Moving Forward

Indigenous women are now turning their skills and culture into something that will pay off in the long run. Apart from providing for their families, the women are making something of themselves, putting their names on something that they created. Organizations like Mama Tierra have also created trading routes for this community, displaying their artistic skills to the fashion world. By doing this, indigenous communities’ work is becoming commercialized for a broader market to see. With skillful weaving and vivid colors, the women make their own indigenous fashion and show the larger industry they are here to stay.

– Maria Garcia
Photo: Flickr

Indian Reservations
In the United States, indigenous people have the highest rates of alcoholism compared to any other minority group. This is due to factors such as unemployment, lack of political rights, cultural loss and minimal education. As a result, poverty has become common on Indian reservations, making these issues highly pressing. Progress in legislation, education, employment and treatment have been on the horizon. Thus, by reducing alcoholism on Indian reservations, poverty can decrease and prosperity can rise.

Recent Political Progress

The year 2021 brought attention to poverty on Indian reservations through legislation. One example highlights Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-WA) who proposed making May 5 a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. Congressman Joe Neguse (D-CO) has also issued a bill that would provide clean water for reservations. Other proposed bills are working to address mental health awareness for veterans. They also aim to provide child support, internet access, accessible healthcare and resource centers. On April 19, 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Protecting Indian Tribes from Scams Act. This bill was able to protect and give a voice to those living in Indian reservations. Through this exposure, Indian reservations have been able to make progress tackling poverty. 

Improvements in Education

To improve education in Indian reservations, tribal leaders have been teaching children, rather than the government. The Native Culture, Language and Access for Success Act (CLASS) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) were bills that allowed this to happen. Reservations saw much success due to this initiative, however, Congress has recently put the reauthorization of these bills on the back burner. The National Council of American Indians is currently fighting for giving tribal leaders control of student records, state and tribal cooperation. The council hopes to honor native languages and preserve tradition, as they believe it is necessary for students to feel connected to their heritage. The initiative hopes to lower dropout rates and create more job opportunities, helping to eliminate poverty in the reservations.

Solutions for Employment Opportunities 

In order to diversify tribes, the U.S. government has received encouragement to build more tribal sovereignty and industry. Many tribes want to move towards climate diaspora and renewable resources. This would mean expanding reservation land previously stolen, leading to industry growth and job creation. Restoring Native American land would give reservations a stronger sense of independence, granting mobility and freedom to these reservations.

Another issue present on reservations is equal access to capital. Many Native Americans are unable to legally own their land or houses. Solutions to possession of land include legislation and government recognition. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently had a victory concerning housing. The department created the Indian Home Loan Guarantee Program, which showed immense progress and hope for the future.

Treatment Options

Unfair treatment is a major cause of alcoholism in Indian reservations. To improve equality for these reservations, tackling poverty needs to be the first priority. Treatment plans such as professional help, medication and counseling are the first step for Indian reservations to receive the help they need. Improvements in education and community activities can also decrease poverty in these reservations. With recent exposure, passed legislation has made a major change for Indian reservations. Overall, by eliminating alcoholism, poverty can reduce, as equality and economic improvement will lead to a healthier, safer community.

– Selena Soto
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Effect of Residential Schools

For over 150 years, Indigenous children across Canada were forced out of their homes and into Indian Residential Schools. These schools stripped them of their culture, language, and community to assimilate them to Canadian culture. These schools aimed to “kill the Indian, save the man,” as Richard H. Pratt put it.

Despite the terrible conditions and the rampant abuse in these schools, the government and churches could not erase the culture. They were unable to break the spirit of the Indigenous people they sought to “civilize.” While Indigenous People can still feel the effect of residential schools, their strength leaves room for hope.

History

The first Indian Residential School in Canada opened in 1831. Christian Missionaries ran early schools to convert Indigenous people to Catholicism. However, in the 1870s, the government stepped in and began to include treaties regarding these schools. In 1894, attendance became compulsory. Children as young as three years old forcibly removed from their homes and sent to the schools.

Over the next 100 years, more than 130 Indian Residential Schools existed in Canada under state sponsorship. Churches ran the vast majority of these schools; Catholic churches operated three-fifths, the Anglican Church operated one-quarter, and the United and Presbyterian Churches operated the rest.

Over 150,000 children attended these schools. At one point, 75% of children between 7 and 15 years old were attending or had attended Indian Residential Schools. These children faced terrible conditions due to underfunding and physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

Lasting Effect of Residential Schools

The effects of the abuse and mistreatment in the schools have a lasting impact on the Indigenous population. Studies have shown that survivors of the schools have poorer mental and physical health. There are higher rates of suicide attempts as well as chronic illnesses such as diabetes among these individuals.

There is also evidence to suggest that historical trauma has led to negative health impacts for subsequent generations. Historical trauma is when historical events are endured by whole communities and negatively affect the individuals who experience them and the whole group in ways that result in problems for future generations. There are three main characteristics of a historical trauma event including that it was widespread among a specific group, an outgroup perpetrated it with an intentionally destructive purpose and it generates a high level of collective distress.

This historical trauma has led to “enduring links between familial Indian Residential School attendance and a range of health and social outcomes among the descendants of those who attended.” These negative outcomes include higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, drug and alcohol abuse and food insecurity as well as                                  lower educational outcomes and income levels. All of these outcomes show that the effect of residential schools is still with us today.

Moving Forward

As more people become aware of the lasting effect of residential schools, now is the time to face these issues and take action to deal with them. One of the first and most basic steps toward healing is for full acknowledgment of the trauma and effect these schools had from the government and the churches. While the Canadian government has issued apologies, the Catholic Church, which operated most of the schools, has not yet come out with a formal apology. They have also refused to release records from the residential schools, which could provide more accurate information on the effect of residential schools.

Steps have been taken to right this wrong. In 2007, a settlement from The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action suit in Canadian history, implemented the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Between 2007 and its conclusion in 2015, over 6,500 witnesses gave their stories to engage and educate the public. The commission also put out a full report on the Indian Residential Schools, which included 94 calls to action.

Beyond acknowledgment, apology and education, other movements are growing in response to the effect of residential schools. One significant movement, the Land Back Movement, pushes the government to return the land that initially belonged to Indigenous people. This transfer of land back to Indigenous people is already happening in some places. The land returned to the Squamish Nation is now being developed into housing in Vancouver on the Senakw project.

Despite the historical trauma and the lasting effect of residential schools, Indigenous people have used their strength to prevent the complete erasure of their culture. While we are still dealing with the negative effects, there is hope for a better future.

– Taryn Steckler-Houle
Photo: Flickr

Uru People
For many years, Lake Poopo, Bolivia’s second-largest lake, has supported the Uru people, also known as the “people of the lake.” Large in size, the lake has always fluctuated, from a mere 1,000 square kilometers to over 3,500 square kilometers in its peak in the late 80s. With such a sizable resource, the Uru people were able to create a unique culture that enabled them to dominate the lakeshore and surrounding regions. In their culture, when two Uru would decide to marry, traditional customs called for the building of a “family of reeds” on Lake Poopo, surviving off what they could forage along the lakeshore. Fish, eggs and hunted birds supported the local populace, keeping the environment in a rich, harmonic relationship that the Uru people thought would last for their entire lifetimes.

This thought is now little more than a memory to Luis Valero, a local Uru community leader who remembers when his grandfather saw the Lake as sustaining him and his people for all of their lives. The memory is now slowly draining away as Lake Poopo suffers from human-accelerated pollution. It is leaving the waters dried up and the Uru people are floundering and grasping for anything to sustain them.

How Poverty Began

For generations, the Uru people lived off the bounty of the Lake, but after Lake Poopo dried up in 2015, things took a turn for the worse, forcing the Uru people to settle on what remains of a lakeshore. The Uru people survived largely from an independent lifestyle tin which they did not need to generate extraneous products for trade. The men would support their families through hunting and fishing while the women largely worked in small crafts and trades. Now, with Lake Poopo suffering from human-accelerated pollution, many of the local men, unable to sustain their families or entertain the possibility of one, leave and look for work elsewhere. The results of water diversion projects for farming have drained Lake Poopo of its vitality and accelerated the Uru people to poverty as more continue to face a new reality they did not anticipate.

Effects of a Global Pandemic

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have only strained community bonds as the Uru people strive to replenish their cultural identity in the midst of deterioration. One of the consequences of the Lake’s accelerated pollution is the migration of cultural identity in the form of language. Speakers of the Uru-Cholo language have become less plentiful as young men, unable to find work around the lake as it dries up, explore opportunities outside the community in the mines and surrounding towns. This slow migration dissipates the community structure, leaving many women and men fighting to stay out of poverty. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed, though, as the Bolivian government has teamed up with local organizations in an effort to keep the Uru people’s language alive.

The Good News

Bolivia’s industrialization has created more wealth for the country and its workers. However, as more Bolivians have moved to the cities for opportunities working in salt and mineral mines, more pollution emerged. The level of pollution has deeply affected Lake Poopo and the surrounding shoreline communities of the Uru people, so when a severe drought in 2016 deeply depleted Lake Poopo of water, local volunteers banded together with one goal in mind: clean up the surviving lakes.

The humanitarian effort to clean the lakes drew hundreds of diligent volunteers from around the world, even attracting a French social media personality. Many people are hopeful the Lake can be improved, with some like local volunteer Magali Huarachi saying, “I think that if we all do our little bit, by picking up our garbage or coming to help here, then we are going to make this place beautiful in a while.” The Bolivian government is on their side, taking steps along with local organizations to continue preserving the community’s language to the Uru children through local teachers.

Alex Pinamang
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Inequalities
Indigenous inequalities are very evident in health. Unfortunately, Indigenous Australians suffer from much worse health problems than the non-Indigenous Australian population. Here are a few key figures to demonstrate the stark inequalities. In 2017, Indigenous children experienced 1.7 times higher levels of malnutrition than non-Indigenous children. Additionally, three in 10 indigenous people who needed to go to a health provider did not go. Indigenous people’s barriers to healthcare frequently include high costs, unavailability of services, the distance from healthcare services and long waiting times.

Another inequality is that 45% of Indigenous people, aged 15 years or over, said they experienced disability, compared to just 18.5% in the non-Indigenous population. Between 2014-2016, Indigenous children aged 0-4 were more than twice as likely to die as non-Indigenous children. In the Northern Territory, Indigenous infant mortality was four times higher than the national rate. Lastly, Indigenous people had to wait 50 days on average for elective surgery compared to 40 days for non-Indigenous people. All this evidence highlights the stark Indigenous inequalities in health, demonstrating the gap that exists in access to key services and educational tools.

Original Closing the Gap Framework

In 2008, the Australian government made a promise to address Indigenous inequalities in a strategy called Closing the Gap. “The Gap” refers to the vast health and life-expectancy inequalities that exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The framework involved seven targets aimed at reducing socio-economic Indigenous inequalities, including many health targets. However, when the government began evaluating the success of the framework, it became clear that there is still a long way to go.

Five of the seven targets remain unmet, with very little evidence of progress in those target areas. The two targets that the Australian government has met were early education and Year 12 completion rates, but the other targets including child mortality, school attendance, literacy and numeracy and employment and life expectancy, have shown little or no improvements. A lot of the discussions around the failure of the framework have surrounded the issue of the lack of Indigenous voices. The Australian government established the framework with no engagement of the local Indigenous people it was seeking to help. It ignored their individual experiences and their local solutions, and instead came up with a one size fits all solution that failed to understand the Indigenous community.

2020 Programme Refresh

Because of the failure of the original Closing the Gap framework to address Indigenous inequalities in health, in July 2020, the government met and agreed upon a new approach. The government believed a refresh and shift in the Closing the Gap framework was necessary. This refresh involved a partnership between all Australian governments and the Coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peak organizations. This represents a huge advancement and the first time that an agreement with an aim to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has actually involved Indigenous people in its localized solutions.

This newly designed framework will embed the cultural determinants and social determinants of health to provide a single, overarching policy framework for Indigenous health. The vision is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will be able to enjoy long, healthy lives that are centered in culture, with access to services that are prevention-focused, responsive, culturally safe and free of racism and inequity. The framework ensures that Indigenous people are at the center of creating solutions that work for them in their cultures. Alongside this nationwide government framework, other progress is occurring including the implementation of more healthcare services with healthcare officials that actually represent the population. In fact, healthcare services are involving more Indigenous workers and the government is implementing Indigenous-specific healthcare facilities to better cater to Indigenous people’s specific needs.

New Progress

Evidence is beginning to mount showing the positive effects of reducing Indigenous inequalities in health. For example, from 2013 to 2019, the number of Indigenous medical practitioners employed across Australia increased from 234 to 488. Additionally, Indigenous-specific primary healthcare organizations provided 3.7 million episodes of care in 2018-19. Though progress has been slow so far, there are some promising statistics and a renewed government focus that will hopefully start to reduce Indigenous inequalities in health.

– Lizzie Alexander
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Communities Respond to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected indigenous populations around the world. This led to initiatives creating opportunities to translate critical information about the coronavirus into indigenous languages. As a result, they were able to aid in countering the spread of misinformation and save lives in an attempt to help indigenous communities respond to COVID-19.

International Year of Indigenous Languages

The United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 71/178 in 2016. It declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The International Year is an important mechanism in the United Nations system for raising awareness about and mobilizing action toward global issues, such as helping indigenous communities respond to COVID-19. The goal of the International Year of Indigenous Languages was to promote and protect indigenous languages at risk of disappearing. This includes recognizing indigenous knowledge and communication as assets that make the world a richer place.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Communities

Pandemics affected indigenous communities disproportionately since the beginning of history. Spanish influenza and H1N1 influenza pandemics infected and killed indigenous peoples in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States at high rates. The rates were higher than their non-indigenous counterparts. The same is true for the COVID-19 pandemic. Indigenous peoples’ increased vulnerability to infectious diseases stems from the legacy of colonialism, including poverty, poor physical and mental health, lack of access to housing, higher rates of domestic abuse and lower life expectancies. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic limits the ability of indigenous peoples to practice traditional customs, from formal greetings that involve touching to large gatherings marking important rites of passage, that are often the source of their resilience.

The rampant spread of misinformation and disinformation, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has called an “infodemic,” poses yet another challenge for indigenous communities fighting COVID-19. The same technology and social media enable the dissemination of false information about the coronavirus. This undermines the global response to the pandemic. People are then less willing to observe public health measures, such as mask-wearing and physical distancing. This makes public health information very important. WHO plans to make such information available in local indigenous languages in a culturally sensitive manner.

UNESCO

Utilizing feedback from indigenous peoples’ organizations and partners from the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, UNESCO has implemented multi-language initiatives to fight the infodemic in indigenous communities. One example is a community radio project in Ecuador that UNESCO created in collaboration with indigenous associations, the Ecuadorian government, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and Community Radios Network (CORAPE). Radio is a particularly useful platform to share important information about the coronavirus with indigenous communities because many lack access to the internet. This community radio project secured 20 radio spots. It also produced and distributed a booklet of  COVID-19 information. The booklet also includes preventative measures in indigenous languages for the target populations of Afro-descendant and Montubio (mestizo coastal) communities.

Additionally, the website for the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages has a page dedicated to the importance of Indigenous languages during the COVID-19 pandemic that includes a collection of useful resources from United Nations agencies and other organizations about the coronavirus and its impacts in hundreds of different languages.

Cultural Survival

Noting the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on indigenous peoples and the strength they draw from their ancestors who lived through past pandemics, Cultural Survival acted quickly to provide resources. The nonprofit developed, distributed and translated critical information about COVID-19 prevention and response. Due to its multi-language initiative, it translated 417 public service announcements into 130 indigenous languages for preventative measures against COVID-19. It also helped distribute more than 1,200 radio stations around the world in addition to a prevention manual and emergency response toolkit, also available in many indigenous languages, to further support the activities of radio stations.

Cultural Survival is also using Google Maps technology to create the first global monitoring system for COVID-19 for indigenous communities. There are also programs through Cultural Survival to distribute financial resources to community-centered projects that help indigenous partners and local radio stations respond to the COVID-19 crisis in their local communities.

Indigenous Youth Bring COVID-19 Information to their Communities

Indigenous youth are mobilizing to protect their elders from COVID-19 through multi-language initiatives. In Brazil, many tribal elders have died from COVID-19. This is highly concerning for indigenous youth because the elders pass down important traditions and knowledge. Indigenous youth have noticed that the elders they lost to COVID-19 did not have enough information about the virus. They translated informative content only available in Portuguese into indigenous languages. They communicated the original meaning of technical words accurately.

For example, the Network of Young Communicators from the Upper Rio Negro uses WhatsApp to produce and broadcast podcast episodes in indigenous languages, in addition to circulating a written bulletin to residents in the region. Meanwhile, the group Mídia India created quarentenaindigena.info, which contains news and data about the spread of COVID-19 in Brazil’s indigenous communities.

Resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic has had many negative impacts on indigenous communities around the world. Multi-language initiatives created with the goal of sharing critical information about the coronavirus reflect the unshakeable resilience of Indigenous peoples.

Sydney Thiroux
Photo: Flickr