Honduran Garifuna
The Honduran Garifuna are an Indigenous group and descendants of the African Caribs, an Indigenous community from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. In the 18th century, they were exiled from the Central American region and dispersed along the coast and rural areas. Due to miscounts and failure of recognition by the Honduran government, there is no Honduran Garifuna census, but according to the UN’s most recent findings (2021), the population is at about 300,000.

Of the 6.5% African and Indigenous population in the nation of Honduras, 71% are Indigenous and living in extreme poverty. The Garifuna primarily comprise that statistic – along with the other Indigenous groups – which ultimately concludes that they face a high discrepancy in inequality and income in the nation. Here are a myriad of detrimental factors contributing to the poverty among the Honduran Garifuna.

Inadequate Infrastructure

With poor housing comes a deficit in electricity, running water and sanitation services. At Honduras’ national level, about 73% have access to an adequate home, yet this access is unavailable to 30% of their counterparts — those residing in rural areas. More than 40% of the rural population depends on rivers or wells for water, and the Honduran Garifuna account for 17% of them. The Garifuna account for 18% out of 50% that have little to no access to an installed sanitation facility — this includes an outhouse, toilet, potable water and sewer system.

Lack of Basic Needs

Studies find that the illiteracy and malnutrition rates among Honduras’ Indigenous, rural population are at an all-time high and found little to no access to the basic needs for education and food. More than 40% of rural people are not enrolled in grade school resulting in a 46% illiteracy rate because they are geographically isolated. 


The Honduran Garifuna are isolated and excluded across the spectrum — geographically, economically, socially and politically. Additionally, others do not recognize them as a people in the country. This perpetuates disputes between them and the Honduran government over human and land rights. Even the urban Garifuna that are economically active in the tourism industry regularly experience discrimination and human rights violations. They, and their rural counterparts, face challenges within their own lands over decision-making processes and injustices that further sustain the poverty found among the Honduran Garifuna. 

Two grassroots NGOs working with and representing the Honduran Garifuna in legal cases today are the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) and the Ethnic Community Development Organization (ODECO). Both OFRANEH and ODECO have similar goals and visions when working with the Garifuna community. They both prioritize the Garifuna culture and language to educate them about their designated human and land rights and apply them to protect themselves. 

The Honduran Garifuna community still stands in solidarity today and holistically tackles the structural challenges of poverty, discrimination and marginalization. It has faced these obstacles by prioritizing its Indigenous culture and traditions and will continue to do so until reconciled.

The Garifuna community is matrifocal. Women are the head of the household and take the leadership roles. Here is a group of Honduran Garifuna women launching a Land Recovery Campaign to fight for their ancestral territories.  

Amy Contreras
Photo: Flickr

urban migrationRecent reports have documented that over a span of 20 years, Brazil’s Indigenous communities have undergone an urban migration — a rural exodus. About 3,100 Indigenous people in the Javari Valley are reported to have migrated to cities, including around 300 Matis — one of several Indigenous groups in the region. Studies reveal that Brazil’s Indigenous population is around 896,000, of whom 36.2% live in urban areas and 63.8% in rural areas. Additionally, 31.5% are considered living below the poverty line. The ratio of how many rural and urban Indigenous account for this poverty rate goes unreported, but the main drivers maneuvering Brazil’s Indigenous communities toward urban migration are well known. Urban migration among the Indigenous has its pros and cons.


According to one of the Matis, the quality of education is better in the city than in their village. Tumi — of the Matis tribe — is trying to make a living in the city of Atalaia Do Norte in hopes of pursuing an education in medicine or journalism. Economic opportunities are also urging a rise of urban migration among Brazil’s Indigenous population, particularly a federal welfare benefit called the Bolsa Familia Program which provides cash to families who immunize and keep their children in school. Indigenous families are putting this cash benefit toward their studies, since they recall experiencing poorly maintained and overlooked academic institutions and programs in their villages.


As Indigenous communities flee from their villages, there rises a concern over their role as effective guardians of the tropical rainforests and of their lands diminishing. This concern was found to bear truth. According to US News, President Jair Bolsonaro favored development and established illegal mining and drilling on empty Amazonian and Indigenous territories, causing deforestation over a span of 15 years. Many Indigenous people who did not partake in the urban migration journey fear losing their native tongue, breaking traditions and exposure to substance use.

Additionally, they worry about potential “cuts in health and education programs” in remote areas since the majority of those undergoing urban migration are Indigenous youth. Urban Indigenous communities state having trouble handling money and being robbed. The Bolsa Familia program is not enough to cover the costs they bear in the city. As a result of these insufficient funds impacting urban Indigenous families comes hunger, precarious living conditions and job competition — many are fighting over low-paying jobs such as custodial work.

Brazil’s Effort To Safeguard Its Indigenous Communities

Univaja, an association for Indigenous Peoples in the Javari Valley, is run by Bushe Matis, part of the Matis tribe. Univaja has established a surveillance team to guard the villages against illegal activities that may lead to further deforestation, easing the concerns of his tribe and other Indigenous communities.

The Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, established by current President Lula da Silva, serves as a safety measure for Brazil’s Indigenous communities. Today, the department is fighting to reduce the incentives of urban migration by improving tribal villages’ education programs and reworking the Bolsa Familia program to make it remotely accessible and extend the withdrawal dates.


The numbers of urban and rural poverty among Brazil’s Indigenous communities are scarce and overly generalized. Current President Lula da Silva is addressing this lack of recognition and committing to acknowledge, comprehend and engage with Brazil’s Indigenous peoples — and meet the unmet needs that come with them — which can further influence his cabinet and the nation in doing the same.

– Amy Contreras
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous Australians“A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity,” said former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd in a 2008 speech where he apologized to Australia’s Indigenous people for the human rights abuses committed against them by former governments. In particular, the apology was directed at the “Stolen Generations” of Indigenous Australian children forcibly taken from their families between 1910 and 1970. Despite historical discrimination against Indigenous Australians occurring decades back, the effects persist in their marginalization today. Nevertheless, ongoing efforts seek to empower Indigenous communities and address historical injustices. 

The Marginalization of Indigenous Australians

A 1999 publication of the Australian Bureau of Statistics still rings true today: “As a group, Indigenous people are disadvantaged… several socioeconomic factors” and “these disadvantages place them at greater risk of ill health and reduced well-being.”

Amnesty International argues that “the loss of customary land, discrimination and marginalization has left Indigenous communities with disproportionately high rates for poverty, imprisonment and overall ill-health.”

As per the National Indigenous Australians Agency, life expectancy at birth was around 71.6 years for Indigenous males and 75.6 years for Indigenous females during 2015–2017. There exists a life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, estimated at 8.6 years for males and 7.8 years for females.

Indigenous Australians also face barriers in the area of education. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2021, the school attendance rate of Indigenous students (1 to 10 years old) stood at 79% compared to 92% for non-indigenous students.

Renee Blackman, who owns a health service called Gidgee Healing for Aboriginal communities in northwest Queensland, told the Guardian in 2019 that poverty among the Indigenous is “magnified in remote locations.” Blackman provides health care services to around 7,000 Indigenous Australians in remote communities in these areas.

In rural areas, the lack of opportunities impacts many lives. Discrimination against Indigenous citizens further compounds these challenges. Blackman, a member of the Gubbi Gubbi tribe in South East Queensland, notes that Australian Indigenous people often struggle to afford healthy foods, maintain housing, access necessary medications or travel to regional centers for essential surgeries. These difficulties significantly affect their overall well-being and that of their children. 

Tackling the social determinants of health is critical to address health inequities, which arise because people with the least social and economic power tend to have the worst health, live in unhealthier environments and have worse access to health care,” The Guardian reports.

Closing the Gap

The government is however taking positive steps to empower Indigenous citizens living in Australia. As 2023 marked the 15th anniversary of the Australian government’s historic apology speech to Australia’s Stolen Generations, the government announced a $492 million plan titled the “Closing the Gap Implementation Plan” to address the food and water insecurity, housing crisis and education limits that the Indigenous community deal with. This funding extends to the rural areas of Australia to support the First Nations peoples there. 

The 2023 Voice to Parliament

The Australian government announced a vote allowing for a greater representation of Indigenous leaders. In 2023, the government cast votes to include a ‘Voice to Parliament,’ titled the ‘2023 Australian Indigenous Voice Referendum.’ 

With a ‘yes’ vote, Indigenous citizens could serve in the Australian Parliament and have equal representation alongside their counterparts. This would provide them with a stronger voice in the governance of Australia, enabling the implementation of strategies to support and preserve Indigenous cultures.

The Guardian reports that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese reflected on ‘The Voice’ vote, stating: “Many times when I’ve spoken about this change I’ve asked: ‘If not now, when?’ This is it. October 14 is our time…For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people this has been a marathon. For all of us, it is now a sprint. And across the finish line is a more unified, more reconciled Australia, with greater opportunities for all.”

Yet, on October 14, 2023, the referendum was overturned to a majority of ‘no’ votes. Though financial assistance exists, it does not solve the separation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The vote itself is still a hopeful step forward to have all Australians on equal footing. In the referendum, 74% in the Northern Territory’s remote areas of electorate Lingiari voted yes. The Tiwi Islands off of the Northern Territory voted 84% in favor of the referendum. 

Moving Forward

The Aboriginal flag was placed permanently upon the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 2022. This is only a recent movement and one that is symbolic of hope for equal representation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Australian media outlets like ABC now partake in an acknowledgment to First Nations persons before their television program showings.

By practicing what it preaches and acknowledging through actions and not just words, Australia looks to strengthen its ties and honor the country as a whole. 

– Anastasia Brown
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous languagesLosing a language means losing a part of an identity. Currently, only 6% of the world’s population are indigenous people, and they speak 4,000 of the 6,700 languages used in the world. According to UNESCO’s Atlas of Languages in Danger, 40% of these languages are at risk of disappearing. This poses a serious threat to indigenous communities, as these languages not only serve as a means of communication but also hold valuable knowledge and experiences of culture and values passed down for generations. With the rapid pace of digitalization and technology, it’s crucial to preserve these languages from being lost forever.


Numerous organizations are dedicated to preserving indigenous languages by devising action plans to promote their use on modern technology platforms. This includes allowing people to communicate in their native languages on cyberspace platforms and social media applications like Facebook.

However, there are several challenges to integrating these languages into these platforms:

  1. The disappearance of languages is heavily influenced by urbanization, as people lose connection to their native tongue when they move to urban areas and start using more common languages.
  2. One of the reasons for this loss is the lack of funding to preserve the language. Many communities don’t have the necessary resources to convert their language to digital scripts, monologues and audiobooks.
  3. Another challenge is the limited digital resources available, such as fonts and keyboards, to represent these languages on digital platforms.
  4. Furthermore, only a handful of languages have standardized grammar, writing rules and spelling.
  5. Lack of awareness and user engagement in indigenous communities about the use of digital resources, which can hamper the digitalization of these languages.

Partnerships To Promote Indigenous Languages Through Cyberspace Digitalization

In 2022, a partnership established between Meta and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated to preserve Indigenous languages through digitalization is a significant step towards achieving this goal. With the inclusion of the Inuktitut language in Facebook’s language settings, native speakers can now use their language with ease on a global platform.

This development has been received with great satisfaction by the Inuit community, who view it as a crucial move towards revitalizing their language. The Inuktitut language, which has more complex and longer words compared to English, is an integral part of the Inuit culture. By promoting its daily use, this feature on Facebook is a powerful tool for preserving and promoting the Inuit cultural heritage.

With over 25,000 people from Inuit homelands and other communities across Nunavut, Canada, this feature on Facebook has the potential to benefit a vast number of individuals. It is a remarkable achievement in the effort to preserve Indigenous languages in cyberspace and a testament to the power of technology in promoting cultural diversity.

To promote linguistic diversity and inclusivity, Motorola launched the Language Revitalization Initiative in 2021. This initiative aims to provide access to various indigenous languages, such as Kaingang from Brazil, Nheengatu from the Amazon and Cherokee from the United States, via smartphones. With smartphones offering up to 80 languages, including these native languages, users can easily access and communicate in their preferred language.

This is a significant development for indigenous communities, enabling them to connect with cyberspace and use social media platforms in their native language. By doing so, they can share their culture and traditions with others and preserve their language for future generations. The Language Revitalization Initiative is a commendable step toward promoting linguistic diversity and inclusivity, and it is heartening to see corporations take an active interest in preserving and promoting indigenous languages.

UNESCO is facilitating partnerships between tech companies and native language speakers to preserve endangered languages for future generations. This initiative is based on UNESCO’s commitment to providing equal rights and access to information to all individuals. By empowering native speakers to use their own language in cyberspace, UNESCO is working towards preserving linguistic diversity.

Gurjot Kaur
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy ProjectsSandia National Laboratories, a multimission research facility based in New Mexico, has been researching ways to incorporate renewable energy projects onto tribal lands to create dependable energy and boost the economy of several Native tribes.

Energy Poverty in Reservations

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about a third of U.S. Natives are forced to live on reservations. These are located in extremely remote locations set aside by the Treaty of 1868. Many U.S. Natives are denied basic necessities as a result, including electricity and running water. Such a separation can lead to extreme poverty and unemployment. In the Navajo Nation alone, 35.8% of households live below the poverty threshold. This is extremely high when compared to the national average of 12.7%. 

To address this issue, Sandia National Labs has led a number of renewable energy projects on Native lands. The successful projects have created solutions to resolve both energy poverty and the economic needs of Native tribes. Listed are five benefits of such projects, taking the Aqua Caliente Solar Installation in Arizona and the Campo Kumeyaay Wind Farm in California as great examples of successful projects.

5 Benefits of The Ongoing Projects

  1. The team communicates with locals to find the most informed solutions. These projects involve plenty of communication with locals in order to be as effective as possible. The Sandia National Labs team and interns work closely with indigenous leaders and local experts to find the most advantageous energy solutions for the tribe based on their current needs. The plans for these projects are therefore methodical and organized before they are implemented. The team and interns are able to learn about the significance of proper communication and important considerations that must go into such projects.
  2. The projects have provided financial benefits for many impoverished households in the Navajo Nation. Setting up running electricity cables can cost up to $25,000 per mile, and it could be especially expensive for tribes located in remote reservations. In these cases, renewable energy sources are the better option. The upfront cost of renewable energy may be high as well. Still, it has great potential to save money later as it offers energy independence, saving households from dealing with rising electricity costs. Additionally, these projects have been funded by the Department of Energy for their ability to provide substantial amounts of power to both Native tribes as well as the nearest cities and energy companies.
  3. These projects have been proven to be reliable sources of energy. In the early 2000s, Aqua Caliente was powered by a propane generator, which was functional but extremely inefficient. Its replacement with solar energy panels was a logical solution for a location in Arizona that receives plenty of sun. The solar energy panels of Aqua Caliente were made even more efficient with the development of new inverter technologies. The new inverter system allows operation during larger voltage variations than traditional inverters and improves delivery to the utility grid. The energy stored by the new inverters can be used by the tribe even during cloudy days.
  4. It is an economically valuable resource for Native tribes. As well as providing clean and valuable energy, Aqua Caliente Solar Panels and the Campo Kumeyaay Wind Farm have been economically valuable resources to the tribes that utilize them. To make the Campo Kumeyaay Wind Farm a reality, the Kumeyaay tribe put in land leases with Kinetech Windpower. From this agreement, the tribe continues to receive royalties from the Power Purchase Agreement to sell their energy to power 30,000 San Diego homes. This project has continued to provide funds for the tribe even during difficult economic times, such as the Recession. The tribe is considering building 60 more windmills due to these successes. The Cahuilla tribe of Aqua Caliente sells the extra energy generated by the Wind Farm to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. The energy that is generated by the Wind Farm is able to provide electricity for more than 225,000 homes, producing 559,000 MWh of energy annually. Additionally, the process of implementing these solar panels has created 400 new construction jobs and 10 permanent jobs.
  5. Sandia National Labs provides internship positions to prospective future Native leaders of renewable energy projects. Sandia National Labs provides two internships for students wishing to pursue careers in sustainable energy. These include The Department of Energy’s Indian Energy (DOE IE) Internship and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Minority Serving Institute Partnership Program for Tribal Colleges and Universities (MSIPP TCU). The former internship is open to anyone interested in the development of renewable energy on tribal lands and finding solutions to energy poverty, and the latter provides positions for Indigenous students from all over the U.S. This allows Native students to build up their experience and become critical leaders in renewable energy projects in their communities. 

Some Remaining Hurdles and Future Plans

Some hurdles still need to be overcome when it comes to renewable energy projects. Although they are a great source of renewable energy, wind farms are known to harm wildlife, especially migrating birds. Many locals have raised concerns about this problem. The Campo Kumeyaay Nation has stated that their experts are currently working on ways to make their wind farms as safe as possible for wildlife. 

At present, Sandia National Labs Indigenous Energy Experts are considering a number of new projects, such as renewable energy storage and nuclear power. Many hurdles had to be overcome to implement both the Aqua Caliente Solar Panels and the Campo Kumeyaay Wind Farm, but as a result of both, people from tribes of the Aqua Caliente and Campo Kumeyaay regions have begun to overcome poverty while becoming key leaders of renewable energy projects.

– Sophia Holub
Photo: Unsplash

Indigenous Ugandans
Uganda is an especially impoverished nation,
with 41% of the population living in poverty. Although the country receives aid and help from other countries, it is also home to many nonprofits that seek to provide additional help to the country’s citizens. Many of the county’s nonprofits are located in more urban areas of the country, such as Kampala. The Butakoola Village Association for Development (BUVAD) is one of the few nonprofits aiming to specifically help one of the country’s most struggling populations — Indigenous Ugandans. BUVAD is a volunteer-run and Indigenous-founded nonprofit started in 2000 that aims to help all Ugandans — and especially Indigenous Ugandans — improve their overall quality of life. One of the most unique parts about BUVAD as a nonprofit is its variety of approaches to achieving its goals. 

Women’s Economic Empowerment

One of the most unique groups that BUVAD is helping is female entrepreneurs. To do this, they started a microloan program for women with small businesses to receive money intended to go towards anything to help their business grow. Since the start of the program, 20 more women have joined and are currently receiving microloans for their businesses. Some businesses that BUVAD says these microloans have gone towards are mat-making, basket-weaving and beer-brewing businesses owned by women in Uganda. This program also creates a network for women receiving the loan, which has resulted in these women regularly holding meetings and helping each other with their businesses. 

These microloans have helped women business owners, which is especially important in Uganda. In Uganda, nearly 40% of all businesses are owned by women, but women entrepreneurs earn 30% less profit compared to male entrepreneurs. By continuing to support women-owned businesses, perhaps the stigma surrounding businesses owned by women in Uganda will become less severe and profits will begin to become equal between genders. 

HIV/AIDS Prevention and Support

BUVAD is helping lower Uganda’s HIV/AIDS infection rate as well. The nonprofit takes the approach of normalizing Ugandans to HIV/AIDS prevention methods by integrating the information into workshops about other topics. For example, in a workshop about bottle brick technology, BUVAD includes information about HIV/AIDS prevention, normalizing discussion about the disease in Uganda. This is especially needed in Uganda, with the HIV/AIDS infection rate in some areas of the country reaching as high as 8%, and the highest-infected areas also being the most impoverished. By normalizing discussion of HIV/AIDS and ways to prevent it, BUVAD hopes to reduce the disease’s infection rate in Uganda and get more of those who are infected on preventative medication. 

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Support

BUVAD’s most comprehensive program is one that focuses on water, sanitation and hygiene support for Ugandans, which the program aims to do by executing six main approaches to the issue. These are to promote regular handwashing, safeguard vulnerable communities against preventable water-spread diseases, improve water and toilet coverage levels, improve water sanitation and hygiene levels, improve awareness of government water programs and ensure the safety and consistent maintenance of safe water sources. 

Water safety is an especially prominent issue in Uganda, with more than 20 children being admitted to the hospital per week in Kayunga, a district in Uganda, due to water safety-related issues. BUVAD helps these children directly by creating 10,000-liter tanks out of recyclable plastic for primary schools in Kayunga to store safe water. Water safety in Uganda is considered a crisis, with 83% of the country’s population lacking access to clean water. By creating direct approaches to providing clean water like BUVAD is doing, the water safety crisis will slowly become less of an issue over time. 

BUVAD’s Multifaceted Work in Uganda

Although most nonprofits tend to approach one main issue out of fear of spreading resources thin, BUVAD has managed to address a multitude of issues effectively while still being able to consistently create new initiatives and approaches to issues. By continuing to do this, BUVAD will continue to help lift Ugandans out of poverty and help the country improve in both health and economy. 

– Aidan Johnstone
Photo: Flickr

Australian Women
At the 2000 Olympics, Cathy Freeman ran once more around the track, after winning gold in the Women’s 400 m, draped in the Australian and Aboriginal flags — a historic moment for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Cathy Freeman’s legacy is a notable and influential athletic career, breaking barriers for Australian women and Indigenous peoples. Since retiring in 2003, her inspiring work as an Aboriginal athlete has continued through her philanthropic endeavors to help Australian women and those in the Indigenous community. 

Freeman’s Inspiring Athletic Career

Cathy Freeman’s athletic portfolio exhibits numerous outstanding performances in track and field. She has won multiple World Championships, gold and silver Olympic medals and four Commonwealth Games gold medals. In recognition of these performances, she earned the titles Young Australian of the Year (1990) and Australian of the Year (1998), is forever inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and wears the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).

Advocating for Indigenous Peoples

Post-athletic career, Cathy Freeman dedicates her efforts to the education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Her foundation, the Community Spirit Foundation, established in 2007, aims “to support children and their families recognize the power of education in achieving their dreams.” When the foundation began “more than 90% of Year 7 students living in Palm Island could not read or write at the minimum national standard, truancy rates were as high as 55% and less than 10% of students graduated high school.”

The foundation plays a key role in the lives of thousands of Indigenous children across four remote First Nation communities. In collaboration with local leaders, the foundation provides a suite of education programs for students at each grade level. These programs build confidence, teach goal-setting, increase resilience through education and provide positive role models appropriate to each community context. 

Since its inception, the foundation has been integral to improving access to education, inspiring a newfound sense of confidence as figures consistently reveal annual increases in year 12 graduation across all four partner communities. Of note, between 2017 to 2018 there was a 50% jump in Year 12 graduations. Furthermore, the organization is regarded highly as a recipient of the St. George Foundation Inspire Grant (2020), an investment in support of bridging the education gap in Indigenous communities. 

In addition, for several years, Cathy was an ambassador of the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, as well as for the Victorian children’s charity, Cottage by the Sea. 

Freeman’s Legacy Continues

For more than a decade, the Community Spirit Foundation has extended its reach in providing access to quality, sustainable educational opportunities in rural Indigenous communities. In 2021, UNICEF Australia partnered with the Foundation, empowering Freeman’s vision and passion to “implement community-led, long-term partnerships with Indigenous communities, employing local people and working in a sustainable way.” The partnership bases efforts in the Aboriginal community of Woorabinda, where young people (under the age of 20) make up almost half the population and work to create sustainable educational and life opportunities.

Cathy Freeman continues breaking barriers for Australian Women and Indigenous peoples. As her work continues in her community, recognition of women in athletics and Indigenous communities expands to greater heights, creating opportunities in education, work and life.

Emmalyn Meyer
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Indigenous Poverty in CanadaIndigenous poverty in Canada is a generational problem that has lowered living standards and created wide gaps in financial security and literacy. Indigenous populations still experience disproportionately high rates of poverty, despite multiple initiatives and legislation designed to reduce such gaps. In the Canadian Constitution, three distinct groups of Indigenous peoples are officially recognized: First Nations, Inuit and Métis. The poorest Canadians are those of Indigenous descent. In Canada, one in four Indigenous people and four in 10 Indigenous children face poverty.

Intergenerational Trauma within Indigenous Communities

Indigenous communities in Canada have long been victims of colonial policies that suppress their cultural identity and assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Western culture through the residential school system. The accumulation of profound intergenerational distress and trauma has persisted and compounded over time, transmitting across successive generations within kinship groups and becoming entrenched within Indigenous families across Canada. Intergenerational trauma faced by the Indigenous population in Canada has resulted in the manifestation of various symptoms, including anxiety, depression and substance abuse. Addressing these challenges has proven to be a challenging task for mental health professionals in Canada. At the community level, there is a need to recognize the impact of colonization, allocate resources to community-based initiatives in Indigenous reserves and continue promoting reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

The Remoteness of Indigenous Communities

The responsibility over Indigenous reserves lies with the federal government of Canada. Indigenous reserves are mostly in isolated northern Canadian provinces and territories. Due to their distance, these communities have difficulties acquiring basic resources, including food, shelter and education, which are more expensive than in southern communities. In some communities, employment opportunities are few.

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) works to enhance First Nations, Inuit and Métis services. The mission of the ISC is to facilitate the self-sufficiency of Indigenous communities in delivering essential services and addressing socio-economic circumstances within their respective communities. At present, the federal government endeavors to formulate measures aimed at promoting the provision of clean water on reserves. It also established helplines for mental health services and implements non-insured health benefits.

Systemic Discrimination and Institutional Racism

Institutional racism and prejudice increase Indigenous poverty in Canada. Justice, health care and job discrimination restrict resources and opportunities. The 2017 to 2018 Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator revealed a concerning surge in Indigenous imprisonment. The proportion of Indigenous federal prisoners rose from 20% in 2008 to 2009 to 28% in 2017 to 2018. Despite experiencing higher victimization rates, Indigenous individuals are not inherently more prone to committing crimes compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts. The 2019 GSS reported that Indigenous people faced 33% higher discrimination than non-Indigenous and non-visible minority individuals.

The government initiative Budget 2021 allocated $126.7 million over 3 years to combat anti-Indigenous racism in Canada’s health systems. Among the initiatives is the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations First Nations Health Ombudsperson Office. Advocates from this agency work with patients and families to address systemic concerns with federal and provincial health institutions. They also assist in identifying solutions to address conflicts and concerns, ultimately leading to improvements in the overall system.

Educational Barriers

Indigenous peoples suffer lifelong educational hurdles. Colonialism, marginalization, poor education in reserves and limited finance create these impediments. Indigenous peoples struggle with regard to education due to little educational financing, especially in rural locations with few schools and programs. Nearly half of Indigenous reserve residents in Ontario lack a high school diploma. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada currently conducts youth employment, job experience and skills development programs. These initiatives finance First Nations and Inuit post-secondary students. These programs try to overcome educational inequities and improve employability for Indigenous students, yet weak educational systems in Indigenous communities perpetuate economic instability and poverty.

The Long-Term Consequences of Residential Schools

From the 17th century through the late 1990s, Canada ran Indigenous residential schools. These Christian-run institutions aimed to eradicate Indigenous culture and incorporate children into Euro-Western civilization. Survivors and their descendants continue to suffer from emotional trauma and loss of language, culture and mental well-being after the closure of residential schools. The Canadian government has often apologized to Indigenous people for residential school abuse and Pope Benedict apologized to the Assembly of First Nations’ National Chief in 2009 for Indigenous people’s suffering in residential schools. Additionally, many Indigenous people suffer from substance abuse to deal with mental health issues caused by the residential school system. The 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement created the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program to assist Indigenous communities in coping with emotional trauma. Former students of residential schools may seek cultural and emotional assistance through the program’s crisis hotlines fostering a positive outlet.

Looking Ahead

Indigenous poverty in Canada persists due to a variety of circumstances, including residential institutions, educational challenges, isolation on Indigenous reservations, racial conflicts and the long-term repercussions of intergenerational trauma. Nonetheless, there are positive indicators (due to ongoing effort) of improvement in these communities in terms of reconciliation, empowerment and inclusion.

– Valentina Ornelas
Photo: Flickr

Afro-Colombian WomenAs a marginalized group, Afro-Colombian women are more vulnerable to experiencing racism, discrimination, violence and poverty. For decades, these issues have led to the disempowerment and marginalization of these women. Afro-Colombian women are especially vulnerable to experiencing human rights violations, particularly sexual violence, due to multiple forms of discrimination based on their race, gender and low social ranking. Government estimates indicate that “72% of the Afro-Colombian population is in the country’s two lowest socio-economic strata.”

Poverty and Inequalities Impacting Afro-Colombian Women

According to a 2020 report issued by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Afro-Colombians, in general, inordinately lack access to food, health care, education, economic opportunities and other resources necessary to escape poverty and live an improved quality of life. Factors including civil armed conflict and gender inequality have compounded with racism to exacerbate the injustices that Afro-Colombian women, specifically, face.

Between 1958 and 2015, Colombia’s ongoing conflict internally displaced more than 5.8 million people, with women accounting for about 58% of these displacements. Women, in general, not only face higher risks of displacement and poverty but also of abuse and exploitation. These risks increase among Afro-Colombian women and women belonging to other marginalized groups.

Colombia is one of the most monetarily unequal countries in the world and 19.6 million people in Colombia (about 39% of the population) lived in poverty at $6.85 or less per day in 2021. While the overall rate of poverty in Colombia has fluctuated throughout the years and the country has noted poverty declines, marginalized groups did not experience this relief and some faced an increase in poverty. Rural populations, which consist of many Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities, had an increase in poverty from 2020 to 2021 (42.9% to 44.6%) while an estimated 1.4 million people “working in urban services and commerce” rose out of poverty in 2021 due to Colombia’s economic recovery.

In 2015, approximately 41% of the Afro-Colombian population lived in poverty in comparison to 27% of non-Afro-Colombian or non-Indigenous Colombians.

Lack of Access to Resources and Services

Certain factors, such as gender and racial discrimination, contribute to a greater risk of poverty among Afro-Colombians and exacerbate existing conditions of poverty. The racism that Afro-Colombian women face impacts every aspect of their lives and keeps them from accessing resources that would place them in positions of economic and social advancement. Research shows that nations can raise their GDP by US$2.1 trillion annually by dissolving racial income gaps.

When speaking with the United Nations Rapporteur in 2001, groups of Afro-Colombian women stated that they had little access to many basic resources, such as work and income, as a result of racism.

“Groups of women in Quibdó, where 85% of the population is Afro-descendent, indicated that most of the population lives in extreme poverty. Quibdó is the locality with the least water supply coverage in the country, 81% of homes have no sewage, illiteracy is up to 19% and maternal mortality rates are high,” according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

This lack of accessibility that is caused by internal national racism leads to the perpetual disenfranchisement of this community and causes them to live in the most impoverished cities. For example, the Choco region of Colombia is the most impoverished area of the country and approximately 85% of its population is Afro-Colombian.

Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Colombian Empowerment Activity (IPACE)

Several organizations and activist movements work toward empowering and helping Afro-Colombian communities. Among these is the United States Agency for International Development through its most recent plan: Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Colombian Empowerment Activity (IPACE).

Beginning in 2011, USAID has worked closely with Colombia’s Afro-Colombian population to promote inclusion and empowerment. In December 2021, USAID implemented IPACE, which is a $60 million initiative that connects with locally-led organizations to further their goals and elevate their voices on the national scale. IPACE’s mission is to help implement and uphold the 2016 Peace Accord in Colombia, specifically focusing on peacebuilding and inclusivity.

IPACE also aims to sustainably help economic development by providing training and job placements, risk management through emergency preparedness and services and diversity and inclusion support through acknowledging ancestral practices and building awareness of cultural differences. What sets IPACE apart from other initiatives is the commitment to a locally-led approach through an alliance of 10 partner organizations, all of which are either indigenous or Afro-Colombian. These organizations help IPACE lead and make decisions that are in the best interest of these populations.

Looking Ahead

Afro-Colombian women face multiple vulnerabilities as a result of marginalization and discrimination, which keeps them stuck in the depths of impoverishment. The intersection of racism, poverty and violence creates a cycle of inequality that the government and organizations must address at the root. Fortunately, organizations such as USAID and other locally-led groups are committed to changing the narrative and upholding the rights of Afro-Colombian women.

– Kellyjohana Ahumada
Photo: Unsplash

Poverty in Southeastern Mexico
In Mexico, a 900-plus-mile rail project called El Tren Maya (the Mayan Train) brings hope for reduced poverty in the country. The railway, estimated to cost $6.5 billion at the time of the announcement of the project in 2019, will run through five states in Southeastern Mexico and connect everything between Cancún and the Mayan archaeological site at Palenque. Since 2019, the project has been met with both support and concern: while many praise its ability to create jobs, increase tourism and alleviate poverty in Southeastern Mexico, others have questioned its potential impacts on the region’s rural and Indigenous communities.

The Mayan Train Project

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador proposed the Mayan Train project shortly after his inauguration in 2018, stating that it would be “an act of justice” for the country’s poverty-stricken southeastern states. In 2020, the World Bank reported that almost 44% of the country lived under the national poverty line.

Mexico’s poorest states are located in the south of the country. According to the London School of Economics and Political Science, Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca stand as the poorest states — official 2016 poverty data from CONEVAL indicates that about 71% of people across these three states endured poverty, which is significantly higher than the national average of 44%.

López Obrador is not the first Mexican President to take an interest in improving the country’s railroad infrastructure. In 2012, former President Enrique Peña Nieto aimed to construct a railway connecting Cancún to Mérida, but budget cuts halted the project.

Initial funding for the Mayan Train project came from Mexico’s National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism (FONATUR), which issued a €1 billion contract to a consortium of companies in 2021. The project consists of several phases, with plans to both incorporate existing tracks and build new ones. FONATUR has pledged to use federal land for all new construction. In a November 2019 public referendum, 89.9% of the Mexican voters who participated voted in favor of the project.

Project Positives

Those working on the project have estimated that the train will serve 8,000 passengers a day and will attract 3 million people in its initial years of operation. Alstom Transport Mexico, one of the companies involved in the construction, anticipates that the project will immediately generate more than 11,000 jobs and “boost economic growth in the southeast.”

A U.N.-Habitat analysis of the Mayan Train’s larger potential impact concluded that the project would ultimately generate some 945,000 new jobs in the region while enhancing access to education and the labor market. This would help to reduce poverty in Southeastern Mexico and Mexico as a whole, where the unemployment rate stood at 2.9% (more than a million people) in January 2023 and nearly 4 million people lived in poverty in 2020.

Concerns among Indigenous Communities

Despite the project’s projected ability to alleviate unemployment and poverty in Southeastern Mexico, there are some concerns, specifically among Mexico’s Indigenous communities. In 2020, 69.5% of Mexico’s Indigenous population lived in poverty, mainly in the country’s southern states. In 2020, the Mayan communities of Campeche issued a petition, signed by 268,000 people, to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources requesting the suspension of the Mayan Train project.

Members of the Regional Indigenous Council of Xpujil stated that the communities did not receive “timely and sufficient information to give their consent” to the construction. Their concerns centered on the environmental impact of the Mayan Train project and its potential threat to the conservation of sacred lands. Indigenous communities have also expressed concern that the project will only benefit tourists and the wealthy.

Looking Ahead

Addressing these concerns, the U.N. estimates that 46% of the nearly 1 million jobs generated by the Mayan Train will benefit Indigenous peoples. FONATUR and U.N.-Habitat have also collaborated to develop a set of urban planning and design guidelines aimed at ensuring environmental responsibility, social inclusion and equitable benefit across the region’s communities.

A sign of progress and hope for Southeastern Mexico, construction of the Mayan Train resumed in late 2022, with plans for the first segment of the railroad to begin operating in December 2023.

Audrey Gaines
Photo: Flickr