According to the United Nations, there are approximately 400 million Indigenous people worldwide, constituting about 5,000 various tribes, in total representing only about six percent of the world’s population. Indigenous peoples make up the smallest minority population on earth, generally owning their own territory, speaking their own languages and practicing their own cultural values, separate from those that constitute the majority population of a certain region. Despite the fact that the Indigenous population represents such a small percentage of the overall global population, these groups still face severe human rights injustices.
On September 13, 2007, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly. According to the Office of the Higher Commissioner for Human Rights, the Declaration was created to establish “a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of the world’s indigenous peoples” (ohchr.org). Although this declaration was nearly universally supported, Indigenous populations have since continued to face varying degrees of marginalization, discrimination, and violence.
The Guatemalan Genocide case that we have studied in depth throughout the course of this semester is a rather poignant example of the injustices that Indigenous peoples face. In Guatemala, the Mayan population, the native population of the country, were the victims of a violent, targeted genocide by the Guatemalan government: 83% of those murdered or disappeared during this time period were Mayan. While this example clearly represents the violence and discrimination that these groups face, there are several other instances of injustice affecting Indigenous groups.
Beginning in the 1960s, the Texaco oil company began drilling for an oil reserve positioned underneath the land located in Lago Agrio, located in the Sucumbió province of northeastern Ecuador and acting as a home for numerous indigenous tribes. Leaking pipelines and abandoned oil pits resulted in major environmental contamination and health issues for the Lago Agrio, including increased cancer rates. A lawsuit was brought against Texaco (and later Chevron, after they took over Texaco) to receive justice for the damages caused by the drilling. The lawsuit resulted in a ruling by the Ecuadorian court in 2011, ordering Chevron to pay $8.9 billion and issue a public apology. The court included an apology clause, which called for Chevron to pay $18 billion if no apology was issued. Chevron has yet to pay what was ordered due to continuous appeals, and have also completely ignored the apology clause.
On top of these specific cases, Indigenous populations worldwide face disparities in income, education attainment, and life expectancy. They suffer higher rates of poverty and malnutrition, and experience lower literacy levels as well as less access to health care services. As with all instances of discrimination, the simplest way to fight these injustices is education. A better understanding of the cultural practices, histories and traditions of various Indigenous groups will cause for those who view these groups as being “lesser” to recognize their true value. Proper and consistent implementation of the rights listed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is likely the most beneficial action that can be taken, but it is also the hardest to enact due to the scope of what the Declaration calls for. However, there is also action that can be taken on an individual level. There are various organizations targeted toward supporting and upholding the rights of indigenous populations across the globe: the Pachamama Alliance, Amnesty International, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are all organizations that would benefit from donations.