From Fri May 26 11:42:26 2000
Date: Thu, 25 May 2000 23:50:18 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: Indigenous Peoples Struggle to Protect Culture Under Globalization
Article: 96993
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Indigenous Peoples Struggle to Protect Culture Under Globalisation

By Ihsan Bouabid, InterPress Service, 24 May 2000

NEW YORK, May 24 (IPS)—Globalisation is threatening the essence of the cultural diversity of the world's indigenous peoples, representatives at the NGO Millennium Forum currently underway here say.

“The life and the genetics of indigenous people are violated every day despite the efforts and the agreements made by the United Nations to protect them,” says Santiago Obispo, General Co- ordinator of Red de Cooperacion Amazonia (REDCAM).

“Now that the attention of the Western pharmaceutical industry is focused on the human genome rather than people. We want to raise the voices of the people of Amazonia—Indigenous, Africans and Asians, because there are still Asian people in Amazonia—to urge the (UN) General Assembly to include them too, not only the member states,” Obispo said.

He demanded an halt to sampling in indigenous communities.

“Nurses and doctors take the blood, the nails and the hair of women and children for research purposes and give them small gadgets and presents like the conquerors of the 15th century did. This is unethical,” he said.

“Governments of our countries should refrain from giving a free laissez-passer to multinationals and act to preserve cultural diversity,” agreed Jorge Stanley Leaza of the Nacion Kuna in Panama.

“Nowadays, when someone dares to copy a software, he is called a hacker and may go to jail, but when entire cultures are ripped off, it's done in the name of progress and free market,” Leaza noted.

Obispo and Leaza acknowledged that there had been some progress toward indigenous peoples rights since the International Year of the World's Indigenous People was observed in 1993. Chief among these was the declaration of the International Decade of the Indigenous People (1994-2004) with its focus on strengthening international co-operation to address problems such as human rights, environment, development, education and health.

“Governments were encouraged to seek ways, through mechanisms of consultation with indigenous people, to give us greater responsibility in our own affairs and an effective voice in decisions on matters affecting us,” Tomas Alarcon, President of Comision Juridica de Autodesarrollo Andino (CAPAJ) said.

CAPAJ's mission is to advocate for the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples of the South Andean region and to promote their “right to self-determination.”

But despite the agreements signed by Latin American governments, indigenous peoples still do not have access to the political structures that will enable them to participate in the political, economic and social life of their respective countries.

Alarcon wants included in the final declaration of the Millennium Forum, the demand that the political lives of countries with indigenous peoples reflect the size of these populations.

“Too often, because they are illiterate and are not aware of their rights and voting power, they do not have access to the new means of information and communication. So they are manipulated during the elections,” Alarcon said.

He believes that it is important to train young indigenous people to use new information technologies.

For Fatma Alloo of the Tanzania Media Women's Association, the damage done to farmers by globalisation and access to technology has hurt the cultural identities of indigenous peoples.

Total control of the food system had been a major force of the colonial conquest, she said, so much so, that total control of the food system through the seed industry is in the hands of transnational corporations.

Alloo noted that “farmers are restricted to breeding and exchanging under various laws imposed” while organic farming is seen as a “threat to the powers that be.”

Cyber culture has presented an opportunity for the scattered communities of Zanzibar to be able to meet once again through web page and e-mail, but the technology has displaced traditional ways of being and doing.

Pointing to the gap between those who have access to technologies and those who do not, Alloo referred to “a sense of belonging which is a role grandparents used to perform now being performed by computers while sitting in the cold north.”

For this Tanzanian activist, the second effect of the information and communication technology culture is in the exposure to other cultures. “In the past this has been a privilege of the haves who could travel there. Exposure to other cultures makes you realise the value of what you have left at home,” she said.

The chance to interact is also an important tool offered by the electronic technologies, she added. “We can now directly call on the mainstream media and comment on their coverage of events instantly and cheaply. In other words, if we are vigilant, we can have our point of view put across the mass media.

According to Alloo, if this effort is consistently developed by civil society then “a nagging consciousness of an alternative point of view could come across. The questioning begins. This questioning becomes vital in sowing the seeds of change,” she concluded.