DISPOSSESSION OF THE COMMONS: The Case of Indigenous Communities

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As economic globalization continues to spread, the very existence of Indigenous people around the world is constantly under threat. The increasing need for natural resources: land, minerals, forest, water and a whole variety of other resources, Indigenous communities continue to lose control of their environment. This problem is worst in developed countries, wherein indigenous rights are not only denied, their voices have also been silenced. Governments do not only ignore such issues, but also prevent any open debate or discussion on them.

The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs’ (IWGIA) world report titled: ‘The Indigenous World 2006’, detailed the struggles of indigenous people around the world. . In many large countries, indigenous people are few and live in isolated areas, which give an indication of the global nature of the problem. The report mentioned that throughout the world indigenous people sit on the ‘frontline’ of global expansion. They live in the most remote places with abundant resources of forest, minerals, water and biodiversity. In their ferocious search for their resources, global corporations are pushing indigenous people off their land and dispossessing them of their very livelihood.

A 2008 Population distribution in the Arctic region shows that indigenous people remain a minority and their population is decreasing in proportion to the non-indigenous population.  This region is one of the most desolated and sparsely populated areas on the planet, with limited economic opportunities and very hostile climatic conditions.  Though they are a majority in their local communities,’ indigenous people are a tiny minority of the national population. This makes them particularly vulnerable to effect of migration by non-indigenous population into their communities as a result of economic expansion, industrial development and increase competition for resources.

The exploitation of natural resource such as forests for logging, dams, crude oil, mineral extraction and large-scale agriculture have been successful in generating vast revenues for multinational corporations across the globe. But the impact on minorities and indigenous peoples has been astronomical, especially when we consider the human cost. The annual publication, ‘State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012’, documents hundreds of case studies about marginalized groups who have been adversely affected by exploitation of the resources found on, or under, their ancestral lands. This publication also looked at the struggle for land rights by indigenous people around the world.

In both the global North and the global South, the poorest minorities and indigenous peoples live in some of the most resource-rich regions of the world. From the Oil and mineral rich Aboriginal Australian to, the lush African mines, coastal areas of Central America and the dense forests of India’s tribal peoples, minorities and indigenous peoples have lived in these areas for centuries and even millennia yet have been denied their rightful ownership. While the revenues of natural resource development are filtered out of these regions the minorities and indigenous peoples who live there are left dispossessed.  While the profit from these ventures is taken away the harms stay behind.

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