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UN Indigenous Chief Urges Kenya To Protect Indigenous Rights

A senior U.N. official concerned with the plight of indigenous communities around the world is in Kenya to assess the situation of pastoralist, hunter-gatherer, and other indigenous communities in the East African nation. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Among the most famous indigenous communities in Kenya is the Maasai, recognized by their red-and-blue-checkered robes, rows of bright beads worn around the necks of women, and many festivities that revolve around cattle.

Other equally distinctive people include the Pokot, Turkana, Borana, and Ogiek.

U.N. official Rodolfo Stavenhagen describes to VOA what he has witnessed since his arrival on December 4.

He said, "Indigenous peoples in Kenya face a number of problems of which the most important one appears to be the loss and degradation of their ancestral lands and their natural resources."

"Their territories - the ones that they occupied traditionally include a large number of important resources, such as forests, rangelands, water, fishing, and wildlife. Development policies at the national level have historically neglected the special needs of these communities," he continued.

Stavenhagen says many hunter-gatherers such as the Ogiek and pastoralists such as the Maasai have had their lands taken away from them largely through privatization of land and resources.

Indigenous people in Kenya, he says, are also much less likely to have access to education, water, political representation, and other resources.

The U.N. chief of indigenous issues says he is not yet in a position to make specific recommendations to the Kenyan government and others, since his Kenyan trip will end Thursday.

But he urges Kenyans to enshrine the rights of indigenous people in the country's next constitution, whenever that will take place.

Indigenous people are defined as those who have a long-standing attachment to specific land, have distinctive lifestyles that maintain their attachment to the land, and are largely excluded from mainstream culture and society.