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PeyoteEver since Carlos Castaneda published “The Teachings of Don Juan,” tourists have been coming to Mexico and illegally harvesting the Lophophora Williamsii cactus, more commonly known as Peyote. The Wixárika, also known as Huichol Indians, ceremonially use Lophophora Williamsii in their religious rituals and depend on the Mexican government to protect the Peyote that grows along the trail that the Wixárika follow during their ritual trek.

Tourists in Mexico Are Putting Peyote At Risk

Since it is illegal in Mexico for anybody who is not part of the Wixárika tribe to harvest and use Peyote, many tour guides take people to places where the cactus grows to let them reap the crop without giving them any instructions on how to sustainably harvest the crop. Harvesting Lophophora Williamsii using unsustainable methods is the main reason why the plant is at risk of being over-harvested.

It takes Peyote over 30 years to grow. Removing it in a way that is not environmentally sustainable poses the risk of destroying the ability of the Wixárika to use the plant for decades.

Methods such as GPS tracking units, security guards and fences have been used to stop poachers from illegally harvesting Peyote. Illegally collecting Lophophora Williamsii carries a jail term of up to 25 years in prison but most police officers in Mexico tend to took the other way when tourists steal the plant.

Lophophora Williamsii in Wixárika Rituals

The use of Lophophora Williamsii is an integral part of the religious experience for the Wixárika or Huichol Indians. Tourists who are harvesting Peyote on the sacred sites used by the Wixárika for generations are putting the rights of the Wixárika to use Peyote during their religious rituals at risk.

Pedro Medellin, who is running a study on the risks that tourists who harvest Peyote are putting on the Wixárika or Huichol Indians, stressed the importance of the cactus in Wixárika rituals to NPR. Medellin stated, “If Peyote disappears, then their whole culture disappears.”

Furthermore, NIERKIA, the Multidisciplinary Association for the Preservation of the Indigenous Traditions of Sacred Plants, published a pamphlet detailing some of the steps that the Mexican government could take in the future to protect Peyote so that the Wixárika always have access to Peyote during their rituals.

Inconsistent Laws Create More Risk

A loophole in Mexican law allows people to come to San Luis Potosi to consume Lophophora Williamsii in the desert without risking jail time. It is only illegal to harvest and remove the plant from San Luis Potosi to use it in other places. The Mexican government must have more consistent laws about the harvesting and use of Peyote in order to better protect it on the lands that are sacred to the Wixárika.

Even though it is a balancing act to protect the rights of native peoples while also promoting tourism to the area, it is important to ensure that native groups that live in a specific region are not forced to give up their traditional identity in the pursuit of economic prosperity. The Mexican government is beginning to help protect the ancient rituals of the Wixárika.

– Michael Israel

Photo: Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in ParaguayA small country in Latin America with a population of approximately seven million people, Paraguay is located between Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil. Paraguay falls under the Latin American average when it comes to poverty and wellness. Furthermore, hunger in Paraguay is a large problem that needs to be addressed.

Paraguay is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. The poverty rate is around forty percent. U.N. Special Rapporteur, Hilal Elver, visited the country in 2016. She said, “Paraguay has struggled to address inequalities -higher than in most neighboring countries- and important segments of society are still excluded from the country’s economic development and suffer from food insecurity.”

Overall, ten percent of the population live in extreme poverty, while the number grows for people living in rural areas. Over fifty percent of indigenous peoples live in extreme poverty. The people in the rural areas suffering from poverty rely heavily on agriculture for their livelihood.

The inequalities between elite landholders and the rural poor only exacerbate the consequences of poverty. After conducting her report, the U.N. Special Rapporteur reported that 10 percent of people in Paraguay face hunger and malnutrition. This is despite the impressive economic growth and the fact that Paraguay produces food for almost nine times its population.

While other issues are to blame for the underlying causes of poverty and hunger, the outlook is a hopeful one. A lot is being done to counteract hunger in Paraguay. The country is on track to reach its goal of ending undernourishment by 2020.

Organizations such as the World Food Programme are instituting plans and projects to help fight hunger in Paraguay. Their current programs partner with other organizations, specifically those operating locally in Paraguay, to ensure food security.

Working with these vulnerable communities who not only suffer from economic inequality, but also hunger, will help the current situation in Paraguay. It is imperative that a country with vast food resources feed its people. Hunger in Paraguay should not be a problem, especially with its growing economy.

Emilia Beuger

Photo: Flickr

How the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Australia Helps Protect Aboriginal and and Torres Strait Islander PeoplesIn 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a new declaration sourced from existing international human rights law. This time, though, the organization focused on a specific marginalized group: indigenous peoples. The strong support of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was a major step toward increasing communication between indigenous peoples all over the world and the U.N. Member States.

Across the globe, indigenous peoples are often marginalized by the law and face harsh discrimination. A large contributor to the increased vulnerability of indigenous peoples to violence and human rights abuses comes from their displacement. Indigenous groups tend to share a common key value based on their land. When they are taken away from that land, many groups find it much more difficult to fully exercise their human rights.

The declaration, though legally nonbinding, is significant because of the participation of indigenous peoples in its drafting. The document recognizes that all of the human rights outlined in previous United Nations declarations apply to indigenous peoples. While the declaration was supported by most countries, Australia, New Zealand the United States and Canada voted against it.

However, two years later in 2009, Australia voiced its support for the law, signaling progression toward advancing human rights for all of its citizens, and closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. The country has already been considering constitutional changes based on the document.

Following the formal endorsement of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Australia, the government took crucial steps in implementing the core values outlined in the document. In order to educate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples about their rights, the Australian government distributed a comprehensive guide to the U.N. document.

The guide to understanding the declaration in Australia specifically addresses rights to country, resources and knowledge, as well as self-governance and more. The document has received a large degree of legitimacy, due to support from not only the Australian government but also countries all across the world, making it an important tool for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to invoke when addressing the human rights violations and discrimination to which they may be subjected.

The adoption of the declaration, after its initial rejection, does not create legal obligations for the countries that support it. What it does do, however, is allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to use the language of human rights to influence government policies. The Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples sends a clear message that governments cannot avoid international scrutiny for mistreatment of and violations against their indigenous groups.

Richa Bijlani

Photo: Flickr

Colombian Refugees

For over 50 years, guerilla soldiers, paramilitaries, drug cartels and the government’s armed forces have been fighting in Colombia creating waves of refugees. Though each group has different motivations, most are fighting to gain power and influence.

This internal fighting in Colombia has led to the displacement of many individuals across the country. Here are 10 facts about Colombian refugees.

  1. Colombia has the second highest number of internally displaced persons in the world. Colombia has a staggering population of over 6 million internally displaced persons. The Syrian Arab Republic is the only other country with a higher population with 7.6 million internally displaced persons.
  2. Children are at high risk for displacement and militant group recruitment. Unfortunately, the same laws that let Colombian refugees leave the country’s borders allow militant groups to do the same. Several of these groups are able to follow refugees out of the country and often take children as recruits for their cause.
  3. Indigenous populations and Afro-Colombians are also at-risk. Though they only make up a small proportion of the total Colombian population (3.4 percent), an estimated eight percent of Colombia’s internally displaced persons are of the indigenous population. Afro-Colombians and indigenous Colombians tend to live in the rural areas of Colombia where there is little assistance.
  4. About 250,000 Colombian refugees live in Ecuador. Though many Colombians traveled to Ecuador, only 15,000 have been recognized as refugees by the country. This means only 15,000 Colombians receive government assistance and legal residence permits. Colombian refugees are often discriminated against and struggle to compete for jobs in Ecuador.
  5. Colombian refugees often travel to Panama and Venezuela seeking asylum. In Panama, Colombian refugees are often forced to live in the jungle without basic provisions that would usually accompany refugees in such living environments, according to Refugee Counsel USA. In Venezuela, Colombian refugees tend to have trouble accessing the job market due to a poor refugee status determination system. They also have very limited access to schools and health systems.
  6. Refugee women tend to have trouble finding jobs once displaced. Due to an inability to access the job market, many Colombian refugee women are forced to work on the streets and in brothels. For many, this is the only way they can get money to support their children.
  7. Some refugees are receiving legal support. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Norweigan Refugee Council (NRC) have provided legal clinics which have helped 14,300 internally displaced persons.
  8. Long-term solutions are being established. The UNHCR has changed its focus from providing immediate service to creating long-term solutions for Colombian refugees. By doing so, the organization hopes to create lasting change for those who need it most.
  9. Their communities are being recognized. Recently, a long-standing refugee community was finally recognized by the city of Cúcuta, Colombia. In its recognition, the community gained access to many of the cities services.
  10. Action is being taken by some. The UNHCR recently established the Gender-Based Violence Information Management System (GBVIMS). In doing so, the organization is helping fight sexual and gender-based violence toward refugees in the countries it operates, including Columbia.

Though many of these facts about Colombian refugees may be discouraging, the refugees have not been forgotten. Organizations are working to help them in their length endeavor, unfortunately, when a crisis is so large, it takes a lot of time and resources in order to effect change.

Weston Northrop

Photo: Flickr

land_for_agricultural_development
The Land for Agricultural Development Project in Bolivia granted more than 150,000 hectares of land to poor farmers and indigenous people. Consequently, the average family income increased by 39%.

The program, which lasted seven years, initially focused on decentralizing the land market so that poor farmers and indigenous people were able to make purchases.

Over the course of the project, however, the changing market made land prices unaffordable, so the program expanded to include leasing, sharecropping and technical assistance in commercializing its products and investing in agriculture and livestock.

The U.S. $15 million program also promoted the involvement of women. Women participated in training programs focused on agricultural and administrative skills. By the closing date of the project, Sept. 15, 2014, women’s involvement had reached 38%.

The Land for Agricultural Development Project enabled 5,681 women to become direct individual beneficiaries, out of the 11,488 individual beneficiaries.

The 39% increase in the average family income is a result of 2,891 families becoming beneficiaries of the program, and also the investments they made in livestock, agriculture and agroforestry. This contributed to sustaining the livelihoods of families and, in the long run, ending the generational cycle of poverty.

The “Implementation Completion and Results Report,” released on March 12, 2015, revealed that the Bolivian government’s commitment to eradicating extreme poverty and empowering indigenous people was very instrumental in the success of the program.

When President Evo Morales came to power in 2006 he made the distribution of agricultural lands to poor and/or landless farmers and indigenous people one of his priorities. However, indigenous families were still struggling to sustain living because of the privatization of land markets.

Morales expressed gratitude for the partnership with the World Bank following the New 2012-2015 Country Partnership Strategy. He stated that “[it is time to] give power economic power to social movements, especially in rural areas where historically we have been abandoned.”

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: World Bank 1, World Bank 2, World Bank 3, New Agriculturalist
Photo: Google Images

poverty in chile
In late March, the U.N. Special Rapporteur reported that Chile, a state with one of the highest levels of inequality in the region, will have to confront its poverty problem in an effective way. Despite the global perception of Chile as a stable and progressive state, it still has much more progress to make.

The Special Rapporteur elucidates the importance of the national government to concentrate on the income gap and indigenous rights. In Santiago, the capital, the Special Rapporteur visited the Bajos de Mena social housing project where parts of the area rest on a former landfill. Many of the residents in these areas have disproportionately high health concerns. The residents are socially and politically neglected and ignored. Very few political leaders have visited the area despite it being a well-known region where poverty persists. Also, the official made a visit to the San Francisco slum, in the Santiago Metropolitan region where 676 homes do not have basic needs such as running water and modern heating.

The poverty rates for indigenous peoples are twice as high than non-indigenous peoples. Particularly for the Mapuche indigenous group, land rights remain a sensitive and contentious issue that has not been resolved. Indigenous peoples comprise ten percent of the population, but as a whole, lack the political power needed for equality. The Special Rapporteur announced, “Suffice it to say that no serious effort to eliminate extreme poverty in Chile can succeed without a concerted focus on the situation of indigenous peoples.”

Statistics in the Metropolitan Santiago region show a six percent level in unemployment that has not changed in a year.

In Santiago, the government has taken steps to combat poverty. For example, the Santiago Metropolitan region published the Regional Development Strategy report. This report elucidates that the region will strive to support an integrated, diverse, fair and safe area by the year 2021. The main objective beyond these areas is for citizenry inclusiveness. The report also exposes its knowledge of the segregation realities for its residents. This document stresses the aims for political participation as a means for including residents within the region.

Santiago’s goals, as highlighted in its report, have been implemented and received positive results. In the Casen report of 2013, an annual report on social development in Chile, from 2006 to 2013 poverty rates in the Santiago Metropolitan region significantly dropped from 20.6 percent to 9.2 percent. This figure is not specific to Santiago, but rather most of Chile.

While there are six years remaining for the goal to be reached, the U.N. Special Rapporteur’s announcements form as humbling reminders to strive to close income gaps and support indigenous peoples rights to land.

– Courteney Leinonen

Sources: El Espectador, Gobierno Santiago, LA Nacion 1, LA Nacion 2, Obervatorio, OHCHR
Photo: Flickr

land rights
Although indigenous groups claim long-stretching, tradition-based ownership of the lands and forests they live on, the possession is not legally recognized, leading to frequent clashes with governments and businesses. At next week’s United Nations climate summit, Sweden plans to announce funding to the tune of $14 million to help indigenous populations in securing legal rights to their land.

“The lack of clear rights to own and use land affects the livelihoods of millions of forest-dwellers and has also encouraged widespread illegal logging and forest loss,” said the director general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Charlotte Petri Gornitzka.

A prominent example of the struggle between indigenous communities and businesses is in Peru, where oil and gas enterprises have been granted over 60 percent of the Amazon forest. These distributions include the areas of five conservation reserves, four indigenous territorial reserves, and more than 70 percent of all Peruvian native communities.

“Establishing clear and secure community land rights will enable sustainable economic development, lessen the impacts of climate change and is a pre-requisite for much needed sustainable investments,” said Gornitzka.

Awaiting full operational status in 2016, the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility will support projects recommended by local people and their governments to improve land rights in developing countries. Helping indigenous populations secure their land also significantly reduces the risk of deforestation, becoming a vital tool in mitigating climate change.

The Rights and Resources Initiative is developing the facility to fund on-the-ground promotion of land tenure for indigenous communities, allowing them to sustainably manage the land. With an advisory board composed of World Bank officials, indigenous communities’ groups, and NGOs, the facility will be registered as a nonprofit and will formally launch by the end of 2015.

“Our estimates are that there’s at least two or maybe three times more land in forests out there that’s legitimately claimed, customarily managed – but not recognized in maps or in law,” said Rights and Resources Initiative coordinator Andy White. “We have lots of evidence that show that indigenous peoples in poorest communities, once their rights are recognized, they’re more effective at protecting it [from industrial use].”

The Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative is a global coalition that advocates land and forest policy reform in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Now that it has secured its first $14 million donation from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the coalition is looking to other potential donors like Finland, Norway and the United Kingdom.

The initial $14 million backing from the Swedish government will fund three or four test projects, which will likely take place next year in Cameroon, Colombia, Indonesia or Peru. The International Land and Forest Tenure Facility will be structured as an independent organization, being governed by indigenous peoples’ representatives, donors, civil society, community groups and businesses.

Annie Jung

Sources: Devex, Humanosphere, Reuters
Photo: Telegraph

Bolivian_Income_Gap
Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. It possesses the largest ratio of indigenous people, who make up 62 percent of the population. Most of these indigenous groups suffer from poverty—over 74 percent are poor. The indigenous groups also make up most of the rural areas, where the greatest amount of poverty in the region is found. The unemployment rate remains high, with 8 percent of the population without jobs, increasing poverty in rural areas.

Bolivia’s income distribution is one of the most uneven in the world, ranking second in unequal income distribution. The land is rich in minerals and resources, but the elite Spanish ancestry dominates the economic system. Most Bolivians are low income farmers and traders. There has been long running tension over the rich natural gas resources by exploitation and export, which continues to strengthen the Bolivian income gap.

Social unrest in Bolivia is growing with the tax reform. The inflation rate is controlled by the tax reform and causes more tension within Bolivia’s economy. These issues in the economic system are creating poverty that affects groups like the indigenous people. Poverty can lead to inequality, which limits human rights and mobility through different strata of class, causing a separation of income.

Throughout history, indigenous people have been the poorest and most excluded from social economic growth. Access to basic health care and necessities is limited due to isolation. The high fertility rate among the indigenous people of Bolivia has increased their population to over 5 million people. The increase is so drastic because of the lack of access to education and health care needs.

Bolivia sees the highest rate of child malnutrition, particularly among indigenous cultures. World Vision estimates that over a quarter of the children under the age of five are malnourished and do not have access to proper health care.

Recent organizations, like World Vision, have formed local centers in Bolivia to help monitor the well-being of these children. This includes the implementation of training for local health care workers to bring awareness to kids to stay safe from different forms of child maltreatment.

 

Causes of poverty.

 

Most of the women living in rural areas have limited education or training for employment. There is also a lack of health services and education in the health sector for women. This restricts the growth of the economy by preventing these women from bettering their futures and the economy.

The rural areas continue to suffer from poverty. With the deficiency of natural resource management and limited approach to technology in rural areas, infrastructures such as roads will be neglected. Without the proper road system, isolation of indigenous groups will increase, causing lack of job opportunities and access to education.

These regions of Bolivia are facing obstacles in the economic development in many of the indigenous groups. The advancement of these obstacles relies on policies to protect the economic growth in the rural regions, where indigenous groups reside, and to help increase labor productivity.

— Rachel Cannon

Sources: BBC, UNICEFGeorgetown University, World Vision
Photo: Next Starfish

aboriginal_children
The Aboriginals are classified as an indigenous group native to Australia and already face many issues in the country. A Counterpunch article argues welfare officials have been stealing children from Aboriginal families since the 1970s.

According to the author, John Pilger, the stolen children “were given to institutions as cheap or slave labour.” Though officially banned by the Australian constitution, the act of separating children from their mothers is an assimilation policy similar to the eugenics movement in Nazi Germany.

“Today, the theft of Aboriginal children – including babies taken form the birth table – is now more widespread than at any time during the last century,” Pilger said. “As of June last year, almost 14,000 Aboriginal children had been ‘removed’.”

Pilger said the “secretive” Children’s Court often exploits the indigenous mothers for not being aware of their own constitutional rights.

Moreover, Olga Havnen, once the Co-ordinator-General of Remote Services for the Northern Territory, told Pilger that she was fired when she disclosed that the cost for removing Aborigninal children for political reasons in 2012 exceeded the cost of helping the community fight poverty ($80 million versus $500,000.)

“The primary reasons for removing children are welfare issues directly related to poverty and inequality,” she told Pilger. “If South Africa was doing this, there’d be an international outcry.”

Having their children taken from the state is not the only issue affecting the Aboriginal population. Today, indigenous Australians fall victim to health problems and other human rights abuses as well.

“While some health and socioeconomic indicators are improving for indigenous Australians, they still on average live [10 years to 12 years] less than non-indigenous Australians, have an infant mortality rate almost two times higher, and continue to die at alarmingly high rates from treatable and preventable conditions such as diabetes and respiratory illnesses,” said Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its 2014 World Report.

This is strange for the organization, considering Australia is among the world’s richest nations yet still fails to provide many indigenous people with access to food, water, and healthcare.

Just recently, the Australian parliament passed legislation that recognizes indigenous Australians as the nation’s “first inhabitants of Australia,” said HRW. But as Pilger describes in the Counterpunch article, these constitutional rights mean nothing since the Australian officials systematically abuse the indigenous population.

Support networks in Australia proclaim that the aid given to the indigenous people living in poverty is a “smoke screen” for the bureaucracy’s true intention: to divide and control the natives of the land.

The world community might investigate whether the policies regarding the indigenous population in Australia are indeed discriminatory.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Counterpunch, Human Rights Watch
Photo: The Stringer