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New Report on Indigenous People Says Progress Can Kill

A new report on indigenous people around the world says forced relocation and loss of land can lead to disease, suicide and addiction. VOA’s Joe De Capua reports.

Survival International director Stephen Corey says the new report is called “Progress Can Kill.” He says it catalogues the mental and physical breakdown of tribal peoples due to what’s commonly called progress or development.

“This is usually imposed progress and development. And more often than not it actually ends up killing tribal peoples. It tends to get away from this idea that there’s something romantic about asserting tribal peoples’ rights and the fact that what we refer to as the modern era actually brings them catastrophe,” he says

Corey says development creates cycles that often hit indigenous people like “tidal waves.”

“The first we would characterize as diseases of contact. This is what strikes people first. These are things like measles and flu, diseases common to us, but to which they have no natural immunity. They will commonly kill 50 to 100 percent of a tribe. And there are two other tidal waves. The next one is mental disease. Common examples of those are suicides and addictions,” he says.

He describes the third wave as diseases of affluence, such as obesity and diabetes.

The Survival International report looks at conditions of the Gana and Gwi Bushmen in Botswana, the Aborigines of Australia, the Innu of Canada, as well as indigenous peoples in Malaysia, India and South America. Corey says adapting to change is key to survival.

“If the people are moved off their land, which they commonly are, or their land is reduced or their land is invaded by outsiders. If they are disassociated from any sense of ownership of the process of change, if they are made to feel completely alien from being in control of this process, then no, progress brings no benefits at all,” he says.

However, he says that if indigenous people maintain a “sense of control or ownership of the change process” – and retain their land – adapting is much easier. Corey says it’s a matter of consent, as international law states.

“If states, companies and so on and so forth want to do projects on tribal peoples’ lands, they have to get their prior, free and informed consent,” he says.

Corey says time is running out for many indigenous people and governments must better understand the meaning and importance of traditional homelands.