Covid-19 Pandemic Another Threat to Indigenous Communities

Credit: Sarawak Biodiversity Centre

By Angel Mendoza
PARIS, Aug 25 2020 (IPS)

The voices of indigenous people worldwide are being silenced and
their lives made invisible. Stewards of the earth, they are left at
the fringes of public discourse in countries around the globe.
Indigenous people are not “extinct”, they exist, and they are
building innovative networks and solutions, that could be the key
to many of our world’s problems.

From the Chepang indigenous peoples in Nepal being evicted from
their ancestral lands, to the killing of indigenous leaders in
Colombia, native communities continue to be victims of attacks, yet
they are also building powerful movements, fighting for access to
land, education and autonomy.

“There’s no democracy in the world without the respect and
defence of indigenous people. The diversity of human beings and
nature is our wealth,” says Iara Pietricovsky, Chair of Forus
International, a global network of civil society organisations.

According to the World
Bank
, there are approximately 476 million Indigenous Peoples
worldwide, in over 90 countries. They represent over 6% of the
global population, yet their voices in state’s decision making
and the media remain silenced. The Covid-19 pandemic has become a
further threat that indigenous communities are facing as it spreads
in their vulnerable regions, infecting thousands.

New challenges in times of pandemic

British writer Damian Barr explained it clearly: “We are not
all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on
super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.”

The death on August 5 from Covid-19 of the Brazilian Chief
Aritana Yawalapiti, confirms the vulnerability of the indigenous
peoples in the face of the pandemic. He was one of the most
influential leaders who helped create the Xingu indigenous park,
located in the southern Amazon. Nearly 6,000 indigenous people from
16 different ethnic groups live in this protected area in the state
of Mato Grosso.

“In Brazil, right now, there is a deliberated policy of
destruction of the lives and culture of indigenous communities,
using the old genocidal strategy: invading their lands and
providing no support in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic,”
Pietricovsky explained.

According to the
Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation (APIB)
there are now
23,000 indigenous people infected with Covid-19 and 639 have
already died across the country. In particular, the indigenous
communities of the Amazon have already seen their homelands
devastated by illegal deforestation, industrial farming, mining and
oil exploration.

Now, the coronavirus pandemic has magnified their struggle, just
as the forest fires are rampant once more, affecting the livelihood
of around three million indigenous people – members of 400
tribes.

Indigenous communities: valuing their diverse
identities

We must make sure indigenous peoples are visible, by valuing
their identities, knowledge and community-building approach –
ending centuries of exploitation and oppression.

Peruvian sociologist, Anibal Quijano, explains how the ideas of
“race” and “naturalization” are linked to colonial
relations of domination that are still affecting indigenous
communities today. The conquered and dominated, were placed in a
natural position of inferiority.

This social structure located indigenous communities at the
bottom of the social ladder. The colonial era might seem over, but
indigenous communities continue to seek recognition in a
“horizontal society”, in which one can form relationships on a
plane of equality.

In the Covid-19 context, indigenous communities find themselves
with little access to health care and prevention. José Luis Caal,
project coordinator of CONGCOOP, a platform of civil society
organisations in Guatemala, explains how the
Covid-19 pandemic
has generated a health, economic and cultural crisis, where
indigenous peoples are one of the most affected groups, due to the
historical structural inequalities in which they live.

“The crisis has only highlighted the violation of rights they
suffer, especially women, who have had to face an enormous workload
as they are the main caregivers in the family and community,”
Caal says.

The absence of adequate health services, economic subsidies and
food support, as well as the continuation of extractive activities
and the expansion of the agricultural frontier in many places, have
had a great impact on indigenous people. They are vulnerable to the
risk of contagion, Caal says, without their demands and complaints
being heard.

In response to the health crisis in Guatemala and worldwide, a
series of policies, projects, and subsidies are being implemented
to alleviate the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Government
support, however, has not reached rural and indigenous communities.
As a result, several communities have taken this issue and many
more, in their own hands.

Indigenous Communities and Innovation – the Way
Forward

In Peru, a complex country with different social realities,
local non-government organizations such as ANC, a national platform of civil
society organisations, are listening and understanding the
innovative knowledge inherent in indigenous communities.

They constantly organise on-site studies and use an inclusive,
ethnological and participatory approach. They don’t teach or
import an idea of development; they exchange and learn from
indigenous communities. In this way, for over 50 years, civil
society organisations in Peru have contributed to the development
of social sciences and influenced government policies, by bring
indigenous voices forward.

“The first thing that must be understood and valued are
indigenous communities’ concepts around nature and their
environment. This is essential in order to respect their rights and
above all, to ensure that policies do not disrupt their
livelihoods. We sometimes think that the western vision is
“natural”, and therefore their ideas of family, property, land,
and their relationship with nature is trivialised,” says Pina
Huamán of the Peruvian platform ANC.

Education, the type of knowledge one absorbs, is a priority for
indigenous communities across Latin America. Guatemala for
instance, has 22 Mayan languages, yet indigenous young people
cannot find educational resources in their native language.

The Guatemalan platform, CONGCOOP, with support from Forus
International
, has launched a Virtual Training Centre this
year, to offer its members, notably young indigenous people,
“localised” expertise that will support new leadership in the
country.

For indigenous people around the globe, the way forward is to
guarantee that their existence, language and culture is respected.
We must ensure a meaningful exchange and build bridges of
solidarity instead of walls of ignorance.

�

The post
Covid-19 Pandemic Another Threat to Indigenous Communities

appeared first on Inter Press
Service
.

Excerpt:

Angel Mendoza is a Communication Assistant at
FORUS, a global network of civil society organisations, previously
known as the International Forum of National NGO Platforms
(IFP/FIP).

The post
Covid-19 Pandemic Another Threat to Indigenous Communities

appeared first on Inter Press
Service
.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Covid-19 Pandemic Another Threat to Indigenous
Communities