Switch headers Switch to TIGweb.org

Are you an TIG Member?
Click here to switch to TIGweb.org

HomeHomeExpress YourselfPanoramaDevelopment and Tribal Peoples
a TakingITGlobal online publication

(Advanced Search)

Panorama Home
Issue Archive
Current Issue
Next Issue
Featured Writer
TIG Magazine
Short Story
My Content
Development and Tribal Peoples Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Cal, Ireland Dec 30, 2008
Culture , Human Rights   Opinions
 1 2   Next page »


Development and Tribal Peoples The blinding winter sun beats down upon the windswept snowy landscape. The faces of the people are warmly coloured, but their expressions downtrodden. These people have learned to bear the harsh weather, but not the harsh life they have been forced into. Alcoholism is rife among the adults, petrol-sniffing among the children. Graffiti scrawled on the front of a building poignantly reflects the reality of this icy land: “Once we were warriors. Now we are lost.”

These people are Canada’s Innu. The indigenous people of this sub-arctic land were once nomadic hunters who were self sufficient, until a plan was initiated to forcibly assimilate this ‘backward’ minority into mainstream society. During the 1950’s and 60’s they were pressured into settling in fixed communities by the Canadian government and Catholic Church. The transition from a nomadic lifestyle to settled communities was deeply traumatic, as their land and traditional way of life was forcibly taken from them. The settlements were marked by many social problems. A former Innu chief described the situation in his community as a suicide ‘epidemic’. In 1999 the UN condemned Canada for ‘extinguishing’ the Innu’s rights. The fact that all this took place in Canada, a developed country, serves to clarify the fact that something is drastically amiss about the common perception of development.

Tribal and indigenous peoples serve to perfectly illustrate just how devastating the effects of misguided development can be. Their traditional ways of life are seen all too often as primitive, anachronistic, uncivilised and ultimately non-viable in today’s technological world. Some might say that their demise is inevitable, or that they have two choices - die out or assimilate and develop. Convinced that we know what is best for them, their ancestral lands are taken from them and set aside for ‘development’. This ‘progress’ is usually the very thing that destroys them. Atrocities are routinely perpetrated against these vulnerable peoples in the name of economic and social development.

The Bushmen of Botswana are a tribe who face ongoing struggles. They are the indigenous people of southern Africa who have hunted on their lands for tens of thousands of years. The Botswana government has however, stripped them of their right to hunt and evicted them from their ancestral lands. The government is now pressing ahead with their plans to develop the land – by mining diamonds and developing tourism. Botswana’s President Ian Khama has said recently ‘the notion… that [the Bushmen wish] to subsist today on the basis of a hunter-gathering lifestyle is an archaic fantasy.’

If happiness is a measure of how truly developed and civilised a society is maybe we should look to the Piraha, a tribe from the Amazon rainforest. Worrying about the future is unheard of, as is suicide. Friendly and receptive to outsiders, they jovially take each day as it comes. Yet like all tribal peoples they are all too often viewed as ‘primitive’ and ‘uncivilised’. It’s true they have no televisions, no modern technology, but perhaps they have something even more important. They appear to have achieved levels of happiness and contentment which elude supposedly developed and sophisticated societies. They raise timely questions about where exactly the future of development should lie.

We should constantly be on the lookout for the point where desirable development becomes pointless, unsuitable or damaging. Failing to do so can have disastrous consequences.

The sad fact is that we are destroying tribal cultures at a time when we need them most. They remind us that there are alternative ways of living, given the growing environmental and social crises that our world seems to be now faced with. After all, tribal peoples have maintained their identity, lands and way of live for often over thousands of years; what are they if not sustainable?

Stephen Corry, the director of Survival International – an international organization supporting tribal peoples worldwide - put things simply and clearly when he said: “The ‘development’ of tribal peoples against their wishes…is rooted in 19th century colonialism (‘we know best’) dressed up in 20th century ‘politically correct’ euphemism. Tribal peoples are not backward: they are independent societies which, like all of us always, are constantly adapting to a changing world. The main difference between tribal peoples and us is that we take their land and resources, and believe the dishonest, even racist claim that it’s for their own good. It’s conquest, not development.”

In this era of rapid change and multi-culturalism, perhaps the time has come to redefine our idea of development. It is also time enough for respect for cultures and ways of life different from our own. Let us not seek to push our views, our values, our way of life upon those who do not agree with us. Throughout history, the world has been marred by conflict between civilisations, each believing that their way of life was righteous. Yet the exchange of ideas and goods between civilisations has always been a catalyst for development. Instead of dominance of a single culture through the pretence of ‘development’, we should be promoting cultural exchange and innovative ways of development and progress. Let us not seek to destroy or conquer our neighbours, but let us learn from them and offer them ideas of our own. It is not the place of any one society to define ‘development’, to have the final say on whom and what is ‘right’ and the ‘best’, or to arrogantly presume they know what’s best, especially for those whose voices are all too often silent when it comes to politics. Everyone should surely have the right to decide their own future, to develop their own world in whatever way they see fit.

 1 2   Next page »   


You must be logged in to add tags.

Writer Profile


Blended or Shared Learning
Ned Hamson | Feb 3rd, 2009
An Irish colleague of mine, Tom Lyons of Dublin, developed a process to facilitate development or change that enabled people with "differences" to share learning and incorporate what was useful for them. One of his earliest successes was in pairing up rural communities from the North, South, Coast and Inland of Ireland. It was very practical, successful and democratic. It's the type of learning that would benefit indigenous people from around the globe to work on projects of their choosing and to share their learning with partners in urban or rural development in other societies.

You must be a TakingITGlobal member to post a comment. Sign up for free or login.