Discrimination 'daily routine' for world's indigenous communities

Amazon rainforest saw worst level of deforestation ever this January, with around 360 square kilometers of forest lost

Burak Bir  | 21.03.2022 - Update : 23.03.2022
Discrimination 'daily routine' for world's indigenous communities Indigenous people and slave descendants, or Quilombolas take part in a protest for recognition and support of Indigenous people to education and against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's Government in Brasilia, Brazil October 7, 2021. ( FILE PHOTO - Anadolu Agency )


Although discrimination is generally referred to as treating a certain group of people unfavorably due to differences in race or color, the world's indigenous communities, especially Amazonian people, are also facing various unfair treatment over threats to their lands.

On March 21, 1960, sixty people were killed and 180 others injured in Sharpeville, South Africa, when police opened fire at a peaceful demonstration.

Six years later, March 21 was declared International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, as the UN General Assembly called on the international community to boost efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

To honor the lives of those who died to fight for equal human rights for all in South Africa during apartheid, an institutionally racist system built upon racial discrimination, March 21 is a public holiday celebrated annually.

The UN announced that this year's theme for the international day is "voices for action against racism".

"This edition aims, in particular, at highlighting the importance of strengthening meaningful and safe public participation and representation in all areas of decision-making to prevent and combat racial discrimination," according to the UN.

However, today indigenous people have become one of the communities that face discrimination the most, not only legally or economically but also environmentally as lands of indigenous communities that also play key roles in environmental health are targeted by governments or companies for the sake of reaping profits.

Indigenous communities are defined as having distinct social, economic, or political systems, as well as language, culture, or beliefs.

They are also seen as marginalized and discriminated against by states while they maintain their ancestral environments and systems as distinct peoples.

According to UN data, there are more than 476 million indigenous peoples living in 90 countries across the world, adding up to some 6.2% of the world population.

"Indigenous peoples are the holders of a vast diversity of unique cultures, traditions, languages, and knowledge systems. They have a special relationship with their lands and hold diverse concepts of development based on their own worldviews and priorities," according to the UN.

However, during times of crisis like COVID-19 or devastating fires, the rights of indigenous peoples can be at greater risk.

As the UN also said in a statement released on the occasion of Aug. 9, International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, COVID-19 "has exposed and exacerbated many existing inequalities, disproportionately affecting populations all over the world that were already suffering from poverty, illness, discrimination, institutional instability or financial insecurity."

According to Amnesty International, discrimination is the reason why indigenous peoples make up 15% of the world's extreme poor, and globally, they also suffer higher rates of landlessness, malnutrition, and internal displacement than other groups.

Threats to indigenous communities in Amazon

In the environmental context, Amazonian indigenous peoples are often in the media spotlight on the deforestation issue, which directly affects thousands of lives in Latin America.

For thousands of years, the Amazon has been home to at least 400 distinct indigenous peoples from eight different South American countries whose lives are intrinsically connected to the land, water, and spirits for daily and cultural survival.

This connection is also seen as what protects the rich biodiversity of life and our global climate for all life and future generations.

According to Amazon Watch, an environmental NGO that focuses on rainforests and indigenous peoples living in these areas, indigenous people, who are on the frontlines of conservation battles, now need more support than ever.

Along with huge fires, land grabs, and illegal loggers, the main drivers of deforestation in the Amazon include industrial mining, oil and gas projects, and hydroelectric dams.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency in 2020, Eloy Terena, an indigenous leader and legal counsel of the Articulation of the Indigenous People of Brazil (APIB), said that although indigenous lands are demarcated, registered, and controlled by their own people in Brazil, environmental destruction continues.

"The forest is our mother, is our home, where we live, fish, hunt, and plant. Without our territory, we cannot grow our food or have water to drink,” he said. “We cannot raise our children. We cannot maintain our existence. We were born with a deep connection to the land, which is our greatest patrimony.”

Additionally, the smoke caused by fires in the Amazon rainforest can also pose significant health risks to indigenous people as it often results in premature deaths, according to the Rainforest Alliance group.

Great risks for indigenous people, seen as guardians of forests and the environment, continue to rise, as the Amazon rainforest saw its worst level of deforestation ever this January, with around 360 square kilometers (139 square miles) of forest lost, according to data from Brazil's national space research institute, the INPE.

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