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International Day of the Indigenous Peoples (9th August)

Native peoples all over the world pushed to the point of extinction

Bolzano/Bozen, Göttingen, 7. August 2006

Hmong WomenOn all continents the indigenous communities are increasingly being pushed to the point of their extinction. This balance has been drawn up by the Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) on the occasion of the International Day of the Indigenous Peoples - as the United Nations call the native peoples - which will be celebrated on Wednesday (9th August). Even in inhospitable areas of retreat, which are often ecologically sensitive and sometimes also protected, the indigenous communities are at the mercy of mining and energy companies, oil concerns or timber companies, which have no other interest than the ruthless exploitation of the resources on their land. In the course of this they not only take the irreparable ruin of the environment in their stride, but also the destruction of the means of life and so of the culture of the indigenous communities.

The cycle of ruin begins in many countries with the cutting down of the forests in which many native peoples live. This is illustrated by the GfbV with many examples in the new 45-page human rights report on the situation of the indigenous peoples. The wood from the trees and the mining of mineral oil and natural gas on the cleared land promise high profits, which cannot be realised by the sustainable economy of the indigenous people. Examples of the acute threat from the mining of mineral oil and natural gas are provided by the Lubicon Lake Cree Indians in Canada or the Gwich'in in Alaska in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, the Huaorani in Ecuador in the Yasuni National Park, which has been given the status of world heritage by the UNESCO, or the indigenous peoples in Siberia. The forests of indigenous peoples are also being felled for coffee plantations in Vietnam, for eucalyptus plantations of the cellulose industry in Brazil and Chile or for the cellulose and plywood production in the territory of the Sámi in Finland.

In many cases indigenous peoples are exposed to extreme discrimination like the pygmies in the Central African states, in which they are seen as "sub-humans" by the dominant majority and are excluded from adequate medical care and education. Or they are neglected in emergencies like the isolated inhabitants of some Andaman Islands on the outbreak of an epidemic of measles or the Tuareg and Peulh nomads during a drought which lasted a long time in Niger and Mali. It is not seldom that indigenous people lose again the rights they have painstakingly worked for. Thus the conservative government in Australia has abolished the parastatal self-government of the aborigines and replaced it with government institutions.

At the international level however the representatives of the indigenous peoples have been able to win their first victories in the fight for their rights, reports the GfbV. At all events the UN Human Rights Council, which replaced the Human Rights Commission at its first meeting in June 2006, after a decisive vote with the vote of Germany sent on a Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to be finally passed by the UN plenary body.

Indigenous peoples are the guardians of the cultural diversity of the earth. Their wealth consists in the many languages and cultures, the wisdom of their religions and their dealings with nature. It is estimated that there are 350 to 400 million people belonging to about 5,000 indigenous groupings in 75 states. The 9th August was chosen by the United Nations in 1994 as the International Day of the Indigenous Peoples. Twelve years previously the UN working party on Indigenous Populations met for the first time in Geneva on that day and it now meets annually. Among the native peoples are the approximately 70 million Adivasi in India, the Sámi in Northern Europe, the Indians in North, Central and South America, the aborigines in Australia, the San in Southern Africa and many others.

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