Save the (Native) Humans

Last Saturday marked the U.N. International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples — and international media took little notice.

Yet a few stories emerged from advocacy sources that tell of threatened natives cultures around the globe.

The Pan American Health Organization, in a statement on its Web site, chided mass media for its extensive coverage of endangered animals such as the polar bear, while continuing to neglect the stories of indigenous people, such as the Zapara of Ecuador and Peru.

That said, the World Wildlife Fund, better known for working to help endangered animals, put out a call last week for “Saving Sumatra’s Endangered Peoples.”

On the WWF’s Web site, the organization called attention to the plight of the Orang Rimba people, a nomadic culture that has lived for centuries in the Indonesian island’s forests.

While the Orang Rimba live mostly in protected state lands, illegal logging has threatened the forests they depend on for their survival.

The WWF quoted an Orang Rimba man as saying that a logging company had kicked them out of their traditional home.

“We can no longer live in our own forest because the (company) forbids us to use or plant it,” Bujang Rancak told the organization.

Yet advocacy on behalf of embattled native peoples can be hazardous.

In Guatemala, an indigenous people’s leader in was reportedly slain in the town of Colotenango, according to Free Speech Radio News.

Antonio Morales, an activist with both Mayan and labor groups, was beaten and hacked to death after fighting against large-scale mining operations in his community.

And the threats to indigenous people do not all involve the developing world.

An advocacy group called the Underrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization reminded visitors to its Web site that the United States and Canada have both been found guilty by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of failing to safeguard the human rights of their own indigenous peoples.

–Will Crain/


“Saving Sumatra’s Endangered Peoples”
World Wildlife Fund, August 7, 2008

“PAHO: We can avoid the extinction of another endangered heritage”
Pan American Health Organization, August 7, 2008

“Indigenous Peoples: US and Canada Guilty of Human Rights Abuses”
Underrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, August 11, 2008

“Indigenous Leader Murdered In Guatemala Ahead of International Day of the World’s Indigenous People”
Free Speech Radio News, August 8, 2008

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