Magazine article The Futurist

Indigenous Cultures Face Extinction

Magazine article The Futurist

Indigenous Cultures Face Extinction

Article excerpt

Few of the indigenous cultures now in existence "have a strong chance of surviving even another 50 years," warns jason W. Clay, co-director of Rights and Resources.

These culturally defined "nations"--as distinguished from the political entities called "states"--consistently lose when their people's interests come into conflict with the interests of ruling powers, Clay argues in a new book, State of the Peoples, prepared by Cultural Survival, Inc. As a result of the growing conflicts between nations and states, indigenous peoples have lost land, language, and liberty.

Clay notes that the proliferation of states since World War II has coincided with the accelerating disappearance of indigenous cultures.

"There are now more than 190 states in the world, up from only 50 before World War II and 170 as recently as 1989. More than 200 states will exist by the year 2000," he predicts. Many indigenous groups, in contrast, have existed for millennia; at present, there are about 6,000 indigenous nations in the world, comprising some 600 million persons, or about 10%-15% of the world's total population.

"Every state contains more than one nation," says Clay. In the interest of maintaining power over multinational citizenries, states try to eliminate or assimilate the different cultures, often by passing laws prohibiting the teaching or speaking of native languages or practice of traditional religions.

States are putting even more pressure on these nations as the world's resources dwindle, says Clay. Governments invade more-remote areas of the world to seize untapped resources, passing laws to justify their acts. For instance, oil has been taken from the Kurds in Iraq because the state said the people had no "subsoil rights" to the land they occupied. "No single issue affects the survival of indigenous peoples as much as the state appropriation of the resources, in particular land, that indigenous peoples require if they are to survive as recognizable societies," according to Clay. "It is the global appetite for resources that fuels the threats to indigenous peoples."

When the indigenous groups attempt to fight back, states may become even more violent in their abuse of human rights. The Iraqis used poison gas against the Kurds; in Brazil, blankets infected with measles were used to destroy Indians, according to Clay Other states merely relocate native peoples, and others resort to starvation and genocide. …

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