UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said that indigenous peoples are the best guardians of world’s biodiversity. In fact, from time immemorial, the indigenous peoples have inhabited the globe.
They lived their lives maintaining their livelihood banking mainly on the places where they lived, especially the forests.
Along with leading their lives with ease, they have lent sustainability to their lands. By so doing, they have done great favours to their surrounding and world climate as well. However, with the advent of intruders in the their lands in the shape of colonisation, globalisation and so on, things started to become painful for them as they were being robbed of their homesteads and means of livelihood.
This article encapsulates discussions on various issues of indigenous peoples as well as their long, strong and modern struggles against many odds. Nation States across the globe have hardly found it comfortable to accommodate the issues and concerns of indigenous peoples. Thus, there is a tendency to use the term ‘tribal’ in place of ‘indigenous’.
The author, however, prefers the word indigenous as preferred by the scholars and the activists of the modern age. In fact, the term indigenous represents the tribal peoples in a comprehensive fashion and lends true importance to the existence, unique customs and cultures of the peoples uprooted and being uprooted from their own territories by means of colonisation.
In this article, both the words, tribal and indigenous, have been used interchangeably for better understanding of the readers. Indigenous peoples are those peoples whose social, cultural, and economic milieus make them different from other sections of the national community and who are very keen to uphold their own institutions.
According to the Guardian, the world’s estimated 370 million indigenous people are spread across the world in more than 90 countries and speaking around 7,000 languages. Among them are the Indians of the Americas, the Inuit and Aleutians of the circumpolar region, the Saami of northern Europe, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia and the Maori of New Zealand.More than 60 per cent of Bolivia’s population is indigenous, and indigenous peoples make up roughly half the populations of Guatemala and Peru. China and India together have more than 150 million indigenous and tribal people. About 10 million indigenous people live in Myanmar.
In the words of Grimsley, the indigenous people’s movement is a political movement by indigenous groups seeking formal international recognition and legal protection. In fact, it is very natural on the part of the indigenous peoples being increasingly marginalised across the globe. An important feature of indigenous people is the group’s aspiration to sustain its distinct culture and legal existence as a social group separate from the dominant group.
As implied earlier, globalisation has intensified the threat to the integrity of indigenous peoples as outside cultures, politics, and economic activities dig into heretofore remote areas, such as the rainforests of Latin America and Southeast Asia. The indigenous groups have set very pragmatic goals for them. They have been sophisticated enough to come home to the fact that they cannot have lofty goals to be achieved as nation States will not accept their demands very willingly.
They may have to get their demands fulfilled after a turbulent and long journey. Their movements generally seek to obtain legal recognition of indigenous peoples as a distinct social group; protection of recognised indigenous land; and recognition of the right of indigenous peoples to practice their culture, traditions, and beliefs. For giving shape and strength to their movements, the groups have taken recourse to various strategies as well.
Strategies, as stated by Grimsley, that have been employed by the indigenous people’s movement include: bringing legal actions; running public awareness campaigns; and forming strategic partnerships with governments, intergovernmental organisations (such as the United Nations), nongovernmental organisations, and corporations to advance their cause. In fact, the strategy of forming partnerships with various bodies has turned out to be a significant factor in facilitation of their movements.
According to the First Peoples Worldwide organisation, as mentioned by Grimsley, the strategies have paid off with significant gains including: Acknowledgement of cultural rights, including access to sites sacred to indigenous peoples, such as tribal burial grounds; legal recognition as a people; economic development policies that are more favourable to the rights and claims of indigenous people; winning equal legal treatment of traditional real property ownership with registered land rights; obtaining the right to informed consent before any commercial actives are undertaken on recognised indigenous territories.
To be candid, for a pragmatic and humane human being concerned about the wellbeing of the globe, it is not at all difficult to gauge the essence of ensuring indigenous peoples’ rights. If indigenous peoples’ rights are not secured and protected, it will be next to impossible for the world to deliver on the promises of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Moreover, protected land rights for indigenous peoples is a confirmed climate change solution, and denying indigenous land rights and self-determination is a grave threat to the world’s remaining forests and biodiversity. It thus can be said with conviction that ensuring and upholding all types of rights of the indigenous peoples is essential for the sake of the globe, its natural resources, ecological equilibrium and sustainability.
If we want to maintain and ensure the liveability of the world, it becomes a bounden duty for every sane human being to stand and speak against interfering with the ancestral homes of the indigenous peoples. If their lives and livelihood are endangered, existence and eminence of humankind will also be in peril sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, however, many States still pretend not to comprehend this very fact.
The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, Chittagong
University. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org