RESPECT ABORIGINAL PEOPLES, CULTURE,
AND ANCESTRAL LANDS
LEARN ON THEM AND DEFEND THEIR RIGHTS
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES & THE RAINFOREST - (scroll
The Summer Institute of Linguistics in the
that there are 171 different languages in the Philippines.
Of these, 168 are living languages and 3 are extinct (ouch!).
The same numbers also represent the different cultural
entities that speak these languages.
Read a legislation on
Indigenous Peoples' Rights
Indigenous Peoples of the Rainforest
Written by Susan Silber,
William Velton, 7/96
Q: Who are indigenous people?
A: Tropical rainforests are bursting with life. Not only do millions of
species of plants and animals live in rainforests, but many people also
call the rainforest home. In fact, indigenous, or native, peoples have
lived in rainforests for
thousands of years. Today, thousands of distinct indigenous groups with
their own languages and cultures still live in tropical rainforests
around the world.
Q: In general, how do they live?
A: Although some indigenous people live much as we do, others still live
much as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. In many cases
indigenous peoples rely on the rainforest for food, medicine, and
Q: Do the children go to school?
A: Most tribal children don’t go to schools like ours. Instead, they
learn about the forest from their parents and other people in their
community. They are taught how to survive in the forest. They learn how
to hunt and fish, and which plants are useful as medicines or food. Some
of these children know more about rainforests than scientists who have
studied rainforests for many years!
Q: What do they find to eat?
A: Besides hunting, gathering wild fruits and nuts, and fishing, some
indigenous people also plant small gardens, using a sustainable farming
method called shifting cultivation. First they clear a small area of
land and burn it. Then they plant
many types of plants to be used for food and medicines. After a while,
the soil becomes too poor to allow for more crops to grow. The farmers
then move to a
nearby uncleared area to farm. Cleared land is allowed to regrow for
before it is farmed again. Shifting cultivation is still practiced by
those indigenous groups that have access to largeamounts of land.
However, with the growing
number of non-indigenous farmers in the rainforest and the shrinking
size of the rainforest, some people are now forced to farm in one area
instead of moving around. Because the land cleared for farming does not
have time to regrow, it eventually becomes a wasteland and can no longer
be used for farming.
Q:Why is the forest so important to indigenous people?
A: Indigenous people rely on the rainforest for food, medicine, shelter,
and clothing. They live what is called a sustainable existence, meaning
they use the
land without doing harm to the plants and animals that also call the
home. As a wise indigenous man once said, “The earth is our historian,
our educator, the provider of food, medicine, clothing and protection.
She is the mother of our races.”
Q:Why are indigenous peoples in danger?
A: When the first European explorers arrived in Latin America, they
them diseases such as small-pox, measles, and even the common cold.
Europeans were used to these illnesses so they didn’t get sick, but
indigenous peoples had never been exposed to these diseases before so
many of them became sick and died. This disaster was repeated in many
other parts of the world. Since then many indigenous groups have been
killed or driven off on their land by settlers or by large companies
that want the indigenous people’s land. However, untilabout forty years
ago, the lack of roads in rainforests prevented most outsiders from
entering the rainforest and indigenous territories. Now, roads
constructed for timber and oil companies have opened up vast rainforest
areas to outsiders. Although indigenous people have lived on their lands
for thousands of years, in most cases they do not legally own it because
they have not filed the necessary papers. Therefore governments and
other outsiders do not recognize their rights to the land.
Sometimes indigenous peoples are forced to move to different areas,
sometimes even to the crowded cities. This is difficult for them because
they have no skills useful for a city lifestyle and little knowledge
about the urban culture. For example, they know more about gathering
food from the forest than buying food from a store. Imagine being forced
to move to a different country, where you know
nothing about the culture or language!
Q: What are indigenous people doing to save their territory?
A: Indigenous groups are beginning to fight for their land, most often
peaceful demonstrations. Such actions may put them in danger, but they
know that if they take no action their land and culture could be lost
forever. Many people living outside of rainforests want to help protect
the indigenous people’s culture. They understand that indigenous people
have much to teach us about rainforests. By working with these
groups, we can learn important information about rainforests—its
medicinal plants, foods, and rainforest ecology (see glossary)
Q:Why should we care about the fate of indigenous peoples?
A: Indigenous peoples have a right to practice their own lifestyle, and
to live upon
the land where their ancestors have lived before them. In addition,
indigenous peoples possess an enormous body of almost irreplaceable
information and skills about the rainforest, and about living in the
rainforest without destroying it.
In the 19th Century, miners used to carry canaries into the mines with
them because the birds were highly sensitive to toxic gases. If the
birds died, it warned the miners that they too would die unless they
fled. The rainforests and their inhabitants have been compared to the
miner’s canary. If the rainforests and all the animals and people living
the rainforests die, then we will be in danger too. That is one of the
many reasons why it is important for us to respect indigenous cultures
and to do whatever we can to help preserve the rainforests.
Culture: the total aspects of a group of people’s lives, such as art,
music and food,
that make this group unique.
Ecology: the study of the relationships between living things and their
Exploit: to use something, especially for profit, without considering
the consequences or damaging results
Indigenous: the first, or original living things (people, animals,
plants) of a certain
area, prior to its transformation by civilization.
Sustainable: using products of the forest in a way that does not
permanently destroy them, so that people in the future can also use
Despite international recognition and acceptance of
Declaration of Human Rights,which guarantees the fundamental rights
of all human beings, in practical fact Indigenous Peoples’ human rights
remain without specifically designated safeguards. To this day,
Indigenous Peoples continue to face serious threats to their basic
existence due to systematic government policies. In many countries,
Indigenous Peoples rank highest on such underdevelopment indicators as
the proportion of people in jail, the illiteracy rate, unemployment
rate, etc. They face discrimination in schools and are exploited in the
workplace. In many countries, they are not even allowed to study their
own languages in schools. Sacred lands and objects are plundered from
them through unjust treaties. National governments continue to deny
Indigenous Peoples the right to live in and manage their traditional
lands; often implementing policies to exploit the lands that have
sustained them for centuries. In some cases, governments have even
enforced policies of forced assimilation in efforts to eradicate
Indigenous Peoples, cultures, and traditions. Over and over, governments
around the world have displayed an utter lack of respect for Indigenous
values, traditions and human rights.
In international discussions on the protection and promotion of
Indigenous Peoples' human rights, some States have argued that a more
conscientious application of human rights standards would resolve the
issue. On the other hand, Indigenous Peoples argue that such
international human rights standards have consistently failed to protect
them thus far. What is needed, they argue, is the development of new
international documents addressing the specific needs of the world’s
Indigenous Peoples. Although the
Declaration of Human Rights is designed to protect the human rights
of all individual human beings, international law concerning
collective human rights remains vague and can
fail to protect the group rights of Indigenous