In any part of the world, indigenous groups will always feel threatened when an outside group arrives to settle on their land. Many parts of the world have so far been opened up thanks to the colonization process in the course of so many years. Cultures and ways of life are affected when different cultures interact. There are ways of life that survive while others die due to the adaptation of other people’s way of doing things. However, there are cases where the indigenous groups resist attempts to affect their way of life especially when there are attempts to tamper with the land and environment they have lived in for years.
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The indigenous people in the Amazon area of South America are a perfect example of a people who have struggled against the tide of change and industrialization for the sake of the environment they live in. This paper examines the rise of indigenous groups in the Amazon and their relationship with environmentalists as well as these people’s demands for self-determination. It will also explore the extent to which these natives have managed to live according to the myth of primitive ecological wisdom.
Rise of Indigenous rights groups in the Amazon
The indigenous groups that live in the Amazon of the South Americas are generally referred to as the Amerindians. This term can be traced to Christopher Columbus who thought he had reached his destination during the journey in search of Asia. Only 10% of Amerindians survived the European entry with the majority of them being pushed further into the forest(Butler, 2010 par.2). This statistic bears evidence that the marauding visitors adversely affected these people’s way of life. Probably, the visitors destroyed the main source of livelihood of the Amerindians resulting in such a catastrophic level of population decline.
Today, these people still live in the forests but the settling groups from Europe have affected most of their original traditions. According to Butler, these people had an understanding of biodiversity thus had organized criteria of making sure the forest was well preserved(2010). They knew what was good for them and pursued it diligently for survival. Environmentalists refer to this kind of understanding by the uncivilized people as primitive ecological wisdom. This tradition of sustaining the natural environment is among those that are faced with danger.
Butler(2010 par. 5) notes that the Tageri group is endangered by those making forays into oil exploration in Ecuador. The same group had been declared untouchable by the Ecuadorian government and their wish to stay away from the civilized world was granted(Hajduko,2007 para.2). The Yanomami who live across Brazil and Venezuela are also a victim of direct invasion of their native land. With the advance of the modernized man in search of material and oil wealth, the Amerindians had to find a way to protect what is rightfully theirs. This spelled the beginning of the formation of protection groups that are monitoring activities by foreigners in the Amazon.
Presently, several groups advocate for the rights of indigenous Amerindians and they majorly operate from within the borders of the country they are in. In Brazil, the Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon(COIAB) is an amalgamation of other small rights groups in the large South American country. Ecuador indigenous groups have a similar outfit known as the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) with contemporary groupings in all the other Amazon countries.
These groups have been at loggerheads mostly with governments of their respective states. Many successful oil exploration ventures have been done in areas occupied by these indigenous groups. It has been up to these indigenous groups to come together in protest against companies that want such oil fields. The Peruvian groupings saw the death of 30 people during a protest against Hunt Oil Company, an American company, which had been allocated a huge chunk of oil-rich land(Gilman 2009) in the Amazon forest area. The unfortunate occurrence saw President Alan Garcia rescind some of the decrees he had issued(Gilman, 2009, para. 4). The authorities were feeling the impact of the rights groups. The rights groups seem to be brought together by antagonism against any of them across the borders as was witnessed during a protest against the killings across the Amazon.
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Brazil has seen the demarcation of thousands of acres set apart as parks and land for the native Amerindians. The government earmarked about 12 percent of the Brazilian land to assign to the over 450,000 indigenous people who account for just 0.25 percent of the total population(Butler, 2010, para. 8).
Ecuador’s CONAIE has taken governments to task on various matters that touch directly on their people. In 2005, Lucio Gutierrez lost the presidency of Ecuador after mass protests led by indigenous people’s groupings after falling out with their trust. Later, they have stood up to President Correa’s plan to partition the small country into seven administrative units. All these efforts are thought out to make sure it weakens the indigenous people’s unity by separating them(Saavedra, 2009). As much as the indigenous people are being pressed down in the Amazon area, they have discovered that when they stand together through rights groups, their voices become louder and stronger.
Their Relationship with Environmentalists
The relationship born between the environmentalists and the indigenous people stems from how the two groups view natural biodiversity. Rayner(cited in Milton, 1996 p. 109) notes the view held by the modern man that the uncivilized society, the kind that lives in the Amazon, possesses a type of primitive ecological wisdom. Environmentalists think that such wisdom has been presented as a dogma, thus taking the place of a myth(Milton, 1996). This kind of wisdom is believed to make the indigenous people preserve their environments.
People who live in the bush have to struggle to keep their biodiversity balanced if they want to survive for long periods. They have to maintain the forests and make them remain as natural as possible so as not to upset the ecosystem since they have that wisdom that when not well taken care of, any natural thing can be extinct. Environmentalists share this vision of preserving nature. The two groups must thus work together for the attainment of this particular goal among others.
The Nature Conservancy has a program to conserve areas threatened with deforestation and environmental degradation through human activity such as mining and oil drilling in conjunction with COIAB.
The Nature Conservancy, from 2003 has cooperated with COIAB to help the bid for indigenous lands found in the Amazon conservation. COIAB initiated the Ethno-environmental Department to tackle the environmental issues of the indigenous lands directly. The relationship Conservancy gives financial support to COIAB to see to it that the rights group fulfills its mandate in fighting for the indigenous communities. Policymakers have been influenced by scientific studies developed through the cooperation of the Conservancy and COIAB in formulating policies to conserve the indigenous lands.
Environmentalists have been at the forefront in championing oil and gas drilling in the Amazon to protect these indigenous people from toxic chemicals spilled into the ecosystem. Such was the basis of U.S oil company Chevron-Texado receiving stiff resistance from environmentalists and indigenous people. This is because it could be proved that the company was responsible for the high cancer cases and extinction of an indigenous group in the Ecuador Amazon(Pierce, 2009, para. 9). Environmentalists seem to regard these native people in high terms as the best suited to interact with natural forests without bringing a negative impact on them.
It is imperative to assert that the role played by natives of the greater Amazon rain forest cannot be gainsaid. Through their primitive ecological wisdom, these people have managed to keep the forests ecosystem intact and are determined to continue doing so by isolating themselves from the modern man and his destructive practices. However, it is going to be a difficult war to achieve self-determination in many of the countries that fall under the Amazon since industrialists are determined to get to the oil deposits that the forests sit on. Governments are after the much-sought revenue and a little lapse from even those guaranteed some lifeline in their traditional homes like those in Brazil will give room to all the capitalists who are waiting to pounce on the slightest opportunity.
Butler, R. 2010. People in the Amazon Rainforest. Web.
Gilman, E. 2009. Peru plans more Amazon oil auctions. Web.
Hajduko, S.2007. Ecuador Culture and Society, Ecuador. Web.
Milton, K.1996. Myth of Primitive Ecological Wisdom. Web.
Pierce, S. 2009. SOS Amazon – World Social Forum Lends Indigenous Leaders and Supporters Opportunity to Defend Amazon Rainforest. Web.
Saavedra, L. 2009. Amazon indigenous groups unite. Web.
The Nature Conservancy, 2010. Brazilian indigenous federation is key Conservancy ally in the Amazon rainforest. Web.
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