Indigenous Peoples’ Rights: Globalized System’s Wrong

(Steve Rushton)   Corporations, development and neoliberalism violently destroy the lives, livelihoods and lands of groups who offer globalized society an alternative. These groups of people genuinely strive for communal well-being and true ecological sustainability: yet they face ethnic cleansing. Their annihilation will prevent them from disseminating their wisdom. These are the original occupy movement: these are indigenous tribal peoples. Their ancestors have overseen the creation of some of the richest, diverse ecosystems in the world, not yet plundered on behalf of the power elite.

Academic Markus Colchester estimates 85% of the remaining rainforests are tribal lands. I will argue that it is in all humans’ interest to protect their rights and halt their destruction. Beyond this, I hope to show that, their values might enrich the dialogue of the occupy movement intended to engender a coherent alternative based on equality, social-justice and universal sustainability.

Since time immemorial indigenous peoples have faced persecution. From the Native Americans and Aborigines, their many societies now greatly wiped out. Others groups, who survived the earlier onslaughts of colonialism face a similar decimation; these include the Wichí in Argentina; Chagos Islanders from Diego Garcia; the ‘un-contacted peoples of Peru’, the Innu in Northern Canada; the Maasia in Tanzania and Kenya and a reported one billion hectares in Cambodia, all of who’s lands have been illegally stolen. The Bushmen in Botswana were evicted from the land only after Diamonds were discovered.

Once an indigenous community is destroyed, the diverse ecosystems are transformed by military bases; multinational cash crops, and industry, such as mining, fossil fuel extraction or ‘development’ projects. For instance, the recently built Bakun Hydroelectric Dam has flooded people out of their forests. In Nigeria, the land, water and air has been devastated from pollution caused by oil companies, including Shell. Some areas are marketed as game reserves for fee-paying tourists; meanwhile the native populations who have been hunting sustainably for centuries are denied access on the pretense that they pose a threat to their own land.

Indigenous peoples also face violence from settlers, the military and the governments that subject people to arbitrary borders, devised without their consent. In 2010, the Jumma of Bangladesh were attacked with state backing. The Gujjar Nomadic People can no longer cross the Indian-Pakistan border. Similarly, the ‘Bujau sea people’ were detained in Indonesia; these people are without documentation because they live entirely in sea-going boats. Indigenous people are worst affected by the destruction of the global economy. In the South Pacific alone, 9.5 million indigenous islanders face rising sea levels and global warming, a problem that stretches worldwide up to the Innu of the Arctic Circle.

The scale of the threat to native peoples may seem overwhelming; however there is an international law that could provide hope. UN Convention 169 was passed in 1989, although to date only twenty-two countries have ratified it. If countries enshrined this in law it would protect indigenous peoples rights to decide what happens to their lands. Like many issues facing the exploited of the world, this is also about challenging attitudes and decisions: not least boycotting their exploiters, rejecting consumerism and standing up against those who try to make them ‘develop’ and become like the West. As these people live sustainable lives: perhaps we should start thinking more like them.

An ongoing study has revealed key ‘tensions’ between globalized lifestyles and those of indigenous communities, in this case in Vietnam. These include whether communal well-being or economic growth is valued as a panacea; whether ecology is respected or subservient, whether land should be communal or owned; whether resources are used with sustainable utilization in mind or consumed extensively with high levels of waste; whether work is considered necessary part of live or a way to accumulate money; whether children should learn or be assimilated within mainstream education and whether there should be low impact buildings that are conserved or whether there should be a continual starting from scratch – otherwise known as ‘infrastructural development’.

The globalized world and its problems of injustice, inequality and ecological destruction are interdependent. The elites hold the greatest responsibilities for these problems and market the system with terms such as ‘neoliberalism’, ‘development’, ‘free-markets’ and ‘economic progress’; this justifies the unequal distribution and over-consumption of the commons, backed by militaries and corrupt governments.

The occupy movement should broaden and engender an inclusive dialogue to create a coherent alternative that is sustainable, just and equitable. Although many indigenous peoples cannot speak the globalized languages, I believe their example, their communal values and their symbiotic relationship with nature has a great deal to offer to this: the zenith of human conversation.

By Steve Rushton

The author of 2020 VISION

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