08/09/2010

Ruthless exploitation of nature endangers indigenous peoples worldwide

International Day of Indigenous Peoples (August 9th)

Die Yanomami leben im amazonischen Regenwald an der Grenze von Brasilien zu Venezuela (Foto: Christina Haverkamp)

Today more than ever, indigenous peoples around the world are standing with their backs to the proverbial wall. The Society for Threatened Peoples is drawing attention to this situation with its release of a four-page Memorandum on the UN International Day of indigenous Peoples (August 9th). "In many cases, their drinking water is contaminated by mining projects or they don’t have enough land in order for the community to survive on hunting, fishing and land cultivation,” criticizes the STP. "All they want is to be able to live undisturbed on their ancestral land in their traditional ways.”

Using examples from Asia, Africa and Latin America, the STP documents that greed for copper and gold, crude oil, natural gas and uranium, as well as the exploitation of the rainforest and the damming of rivers for hydroelectric projects is putting the indigenous peoples of the world into serious danger. Climate change also has serious consequences. This is all too clear to the 32,000 Kuna Indians who live on the San-Blas islands off the northern coast of Panama. The Kuna are seriously considering moving to the mainland because their islands, many of which stick out less than a meter above the water, are being flooded more and more by the rising water levels.

The situation for the approximately 25,000 Indians living along the banks of the Xingu River is particularly dramatic, as the construction of the Belo Monte Dam in the Brazilian state of Pará will dramatically change the water balance and in doing so, depirve them of their way of life. They have planned a protest for August 9th at the construction site in Altamira. The plight of the Yanomami in the Amazon River Basin (Amazonasgebiet) in Brazil has once again become more serious. The government intends to pass a new mining law to pave the way for the construction of a uranium mine on the Yanomami land. Furthermore, illegal gold prospectors are returning to the area. In the 1980s, gold prospectors using quicksilver poisoned large areas of ground and rivers and in doing so killed approximately 1,500 Indians.

In Central Africa, the Baganga Pygmies of Gabun are also in great distress. Their forests are being destroyed by a booming lumber industry and the demand for "meat from the bush” in central African cities is fueling the overhunting of wild animals. Without the forest and the animals to hunt, the Baganga cannot survive. The situation facing them in the near future is unfortunately already bitter reality for the Penan living in the Malaysian province of Sarawak. They have to cope with the culture shock of being forced to live as settled farmers instead of nomads, as their forest no longer exists. Meanwhile, the Papua Indians of West Papua live with the fear of becoming a minority in their own land, as Indonesia plans to settle 600,000 Indonesians in the area to work on a future plantation for oil palm plants, rice, corn, soy and sugarcane.

Since the beginning of the first "UN Decade for Indigenous Peoples” in 1994, certain things have improved for Indigenous peoples on paper, but as long as indigenous peoples are not included equally and fairly in all decisions that affect their living conditions, their situation remains serious. Their rights may not be ignored by governments or from nations.

Translated by Sophia Chambers