Five Important Indigenous People's Issues for the Week of November 26 - December 2, 2008
Over 10,000 indigenous people from hundreds of Ecuador's Northern Sierra (highlands) communities gathered to present the native movement's proposed Water Law. Protesters chanted, "Water is not for sale, it is to be defended," as speakers excoriated President Rafael Correa's draft Water Law, saying that it could lead to privatization and pollution by mining companies.
The protest was organized by the Confederation of Peoples of the Kichwa Nationality (Ecuaranari), the Sierra regional block of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). Marches left from the North, South and West to converge on the Pan-American Highway, blocking the country's central artery for over six hours.
The march also showed the indigenous movement's capacity to mobilize large numbers of people, a sign that the CONAIE is recovering from past internal divisions and political defeats. Correa has regularly insulted indigenous leaders and anti-mining activists, claiming that they do not represent a real political base. But indigenous people at Wednesday's protest were passionate about defending their access to clean water.
Maria came to the march from the community of Santa Anita, in the Central Sierra province of Chimborazo: "We are here to defend the water. We take care of the páramos (Andean wetlands) to get our water. We don't get our water for free. They say they're going to take away our water, and we're not going to let them."
The protest came two days after thousands of campesinos and coastal fishers staged nationwide protests and road blockades against Correa's draft Mining Law and support for large-scale shrimp farms. Activists contend that the law would allow companies to undertake damaging large-scale and open pit mining in ecologically sensitive areas, contaminating the water supply with heavy metals. Fishers demanded that Correa overturn Decree 1391, passed on October 15th, which handed thousands of marine hectares over to large-scale shrimp farmers. This will lead to the further destruction of mangrove forests, critical habitat for the area's fish, crabs and conchs. Participants in all of this week's marches have emphasized the importance of natural resources to their communities. Read more about indigenous protests in Ecuador here....
Latin America: Indigenous And Latin American Leaders Optimistic About Obama
Latin American reaction to the presidential election victory of Barack Obama has been overwhelmingly positive. Indigenous leaders as well as presidents of countries with activist native communities sent notes of congratulations to the president elect; they have also expressed optimism for improved relations between Latin America and the U.S.
For Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose historic victory as an indigenous man winning the presidency in a country with a long and violently racist past, the Obama victory was a “historic triumph.”
“… on behalf of the national government, congratulations,” President Morales said at a press conference Nov. 5. “He [Obama] is a man who comes from one of the sectors most discriminated against, from people who were enslaved; it is historic certainly.
“I am sure he will continue to make history,” Morales continued. “I am also sure that the relations between the Bolivian and U.S. governments will improve.”
The Aymaran leader repeated his assertion that “… who could have been better, … a person who represents the most marginalized people, the African Americans.” President Morales went on to encourage the president-elect to lift the blockade against Cuba (as would the presidents of Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela) and to retire U.S. troops from “… some countries.” Read more about Obama and Latin American perspectives here....
Africa: Mobile Finance: Indigenous, Ingenious Or Both?
In Ghana, it's popularly known as susu. In Cameroon, tontines or chilembe. And in South Africa, stokfel. Today, you'd most likely call it plain-old microfinance, the nearest term we have for it. Age-old indigenous credit schemes have run perfectly well without much outside intervention for generations. Although, in our excitement to implement new technologies and solutions, we sometimes fail to recognize them. Innovations such as mobile banking -- great as they may be -- are hailed as revolutionary without much consideration for what may have come before or who the original innovators may have been.
The image of traditional African societies as predominantly "simple hunter-gatherer" is more myth than truth. The belief that Africa had little by way of economic institutions and processes before the arrival of the Europeans is another. As Niti Bhan pointed out during her fascinating "Life is Hard" presentation at the Better World By Design Conference earlier this month, many rural communities today are familiar with concepts such as loans, barter, swap, trade, credit and interest rates, yet the majority remain excluded from the mainstream modern banking system and have never heard of things like ATMs, banks, mortgages or credit cards. It's not that people don't understand banking concepts; it's just that, for them, things go by a different name.
In Kenya, as few as one in 10 people may have a bank account, but that doesn't stop many of them from using a number of trading instruments or running successful businesses. Technology can certainly help strengthen traditional trading practices, and we know this because when technology is made available, the users are often the first to figure out how to best make it work for them. Mobile technology is today showcasing African grassroots innovation at its finest. Read more about indigenous economics in Africa here....
Canada: A World Leader – In Inuit Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis rates among Inuit in Canada may be 90 times higher than in Canada overall, Dr. David Butler-Jones, head of the Public Health Agency of Canada, told delegates to an international gathering in Toronto last week on tuberculosis and indigenous peoples.
Those rates are among the highest in the world in places where reliable statistics are available. Butler-Jones said poverty and overcrowded housing are mainly to blame.
"We have a tragic history when it comes to tuberculosis, and unfortunately for many Inuit communities, it continues to be today's reality," national Inuit leader Mary Simon said on the eve of the international forum.
The Toronto meeting, sponsored by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Assembly of First Nations, brought together representatives of indigenous organizations from over 60 countries.
Around the world, indigenous people suffer from much higher rates of tuberculosis than other populations, Gail Turner, director of health services for Nunatsiavut in Labrador, said after attending the global gathering.
It may be even higher among the Masai of Africa, or in indigenous groups in the Himalayas than among the Inuit, Turner said, but accurate statistics are not available for those areas. Read more about Inuit tuberculosis in Canada here....
Philippines: Bukidnon Tribe's Children Get Another Chance To Go Back To School
Argielyn clutched the strap of her backpack containing notebooks, pens and other school supplies. Her groomed hair matched her spanking black shoes and lily-white socks as she entered the Bukidnon National High School here. She beamed as she joined the sea of students who rushed inside the gate as the school bell rang to announce the start of classes for the day.
This was not Argielyn’s routine during school days a few years back. Her world was confined to their shanty where she would do house chores and attend to her younger siblings while her parents worked in their farm. Dire poverty forced her parents, both belonging to the Bukidnon tribe in barangay Dalwangan here, to stop sending her to school after she had finished grade four. She thought she would not get another chance to continue her studies and had resigned to the thought of following her parents’ fate of marrying early and spending the rest of her life in their secluded village near the forest.
Argielyn’s story is common among children of the Bukidnon tribe, many of whom rarely get to finish grade six. Those who manage to complete the elementary level – and only a few of them do – find it harder to enter high school much less college. Luckily for Argielyn and some others like her, a non-government organization has been able to generate assistance for their studies. Since 2006, the Kitanglad Integrated NGOs has received modest amounts and school supplies from individuals, private institutions as well as, from the city government of Malaybalay for this purpose. Read more about the Bukidnon tribe and school here....
Last weeks Five Key Indigenous People's Issues can be found here.