Overview - Indigenous People

An estimated 250 million people worldwide are classified as Indigenous—people who live on the same land and in much the same way as their ancestors. They are divided into nearly 5,000 unique racial and/or cultural groups, and though they comprise only 4 percent of the world's population, they account for over 70 percent of it's cultural diversity. They, and their ways of life, are also under increasing threat from an ever expanding developed industrial world. For the most part, these people live in isolated wilderness regions that are increasingly being consumed by growing developed populations, industrial and extractive activity, and the expansion of agricultural and rangeland. Roughly 50 million indigenous people live in the Amazon.

According to some estimates, this region is disappearing at a rate of nearly 11 million hectares a year—an area equal in size to the nation of Guatemala. At these rates, if nothing changes, it will be gone by the end of this century. Yet the 50 million indigenous peoples who live here depend exclusively on this rainforest for their livelihoods, their food, medicine, and their cultural identity and community—things that seldom matter much to the timber companies, industries, and various governmental agencies that seek to profit from these regions and their First World apologists.

To some, these people are mere curios—primitive natives or folk oddities. They may be interesting for their quirky charm and “strange” ideas, but they certainly do not have anything to teach us and if their cultures cross our interests in any way, they’re expendable. But these peoples have rich and sustaining cultures. Though technologically inferior to ours in many respects, most are considerably more advanced spiritually. There are exceptions of course, but typically these cultures display far less violence, social angst, self-centeredness, and emotional illness than their Western counterparts, and have a far stronger sense of community. In an age like ours, where murder, rape, domestic violence, racism, religious intolerance, and countless other spiritual plagues are daily occurrences, it is ludicrous to think that these people have nothing to teach us.

In addition, a growing body of research suggests that such cultures, particularly those from rainforest regions such as the Amazon, contain a significant knowledge base regarding foods and medicines from forest plants and animals. It is thought that the flora of the Amazon region may contain plant extracts which will be the basis for the next generation of anti-cancer drugs, and even a possible cure for HIV/AIDS. The indigenous people of these regions have been depending on these forests for their medicines for centuries, and today, anthropologists and medical professionals are suggesting that we can learn a great deal from them.

In the end, these people want only what we all want—to be accepted for who they are, to be treated thoughtfully and respectfully, to learn from us and likewise be allowed to teach us also, and simply to be allowed to continue living the life they have always known and loved—things that the United States and other wealthy First World nations consider to be inalienable rights to their own citizens and would never consent to their being denied to them or their children. The question of whether or not industrial profits, lower First World prices, growth and development, or personally held ideas of "progress" are grounds for denying these people such things demands to be asked.


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