Suffering of Indigenous Peoples Revealed

UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The world’s indigenous peoples face alarming rates of poverty, crime, health problems and human rights abuses, according to a new DESA report.

The first-ever United Nations publication to take a comprehensive examination of indigenous populations across the globe revealed a collection of worrying statistics.

The 238 page State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples found that:

  • In the United States, a Native American is 600 times more likely to contract tuberculosis and 62 per cent more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
  • In Australia, an indigenous child can expect to die 20 years earlier than his non-native compatriot. The life expectancy gap is also 20 years in Nepal, while in Guatemala it is 13 years and in New Zealand it is 11.
  • In parts of Ecuador, indigenous people have 30 times greater risk of throat cancer than the national average.
  • Globally, more than 50 per cent of indigenous adults suffer from Type 2 diabetes, a number predicted to rise.

The report said that such conditions came in the face of the tremendous contributions indigenous communities made to the world’s cultural diversity, languages and traditional knowledge.

It also detailed that indigenous peoples were far more likely to fall in the poverty trap than their non-indigenous counterparts.

“While indigenous peoples make up around 370 million of the world’s population, some 5 per cent, they constitute around one-third of the world’s 900 million extremely rural poor people,” it stated.

Myrna Cunningham, who contributed a chapter in the report, said one of the more shocking findings was just how many indigenous languages were under threat of disappearing.

“The report estimates that 90 percent of the world’s languages which are spoken by indigenous peoples may be extinct in the next 100 years,” Ms. Cunningham said.

She said that the report was “groundbreaking” as it was written entirely by indigenous authors.

Jeanette Armstrong of the Okanagan tribe in Canada, who was recently at the United Nations Headquarters for the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Expert Group Meeting said the biggest challenge faced by indigenous peoples today was maintaining their culture in a “rapidly-developing world”.

“There needs to be a change in the development paradigm… Indigenous peoples need to be able to have their say when it comes to development,” Ms. Armstrong said.

Sonia Smallacombe of DESA’s Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues said she thought current major issues for indigenous peoples included “ensuring territorial security, legal recognition and development with culture and identity”.

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