Consider this stunning statistic: almost 7,000 languages exist globally, and the majority of these are spoken by indigenous peoples. Sadly, indigenous languages are disappearing rapidly - at a rate of one language every two weeks! (1)
Indigenous peoples include the Cherokee of the United States, the Maasai of Tanzania, and the Tupi of Brazil. They are sometimes referred to as first peoples, aboriginal peoples, native peoples and autochthonous peoples. Though seemingly distinct groups of people with unique languages, they share many commonalities. They are descendants of and continue to identify with their land’s original inhabitants, maintaining the traditions that have been handed down to them through the years and taking pride in their identities. Sometimes viewing themselves as “spiritual landlords,” (3) they also have a strong connection to the land they inhabit.
Photo Credit: Ichio/Unsplash
Aside from their disappearing languages, they share common problems, too. Though they represent 5% of the world’s population, they account for 15% of the poorest. (1) They struggle to protect their identities, way of life, and right to maintain their traditional land and natural resources.
Photo Credit: Ruth Hazlewood/Unsplash
It is because of these struggles that the United Nations adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. The declaration creates minimum standards for the “survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.” (3)
Although Tanzania was among the countries that voted in favor of adopting this declaration, it doesn’t recognize the rights of indigenous peoples in its own country. In recent years, groups of indigenous peoples have been evicted from their ancestral lands. (5)
Four Tanzanian groups identify as indigenous peoples, the Akie and the Hadzbe, both of which are hunter-gatherers, and the Barabaig and Maasai, which are pastoralists. The hunter-gatherers dwell in or near forests, gathering wild fruits, honey and roots. The pastoralists dwell in arid and semi-arid environments where the availability of resources fluctuates. They tend to livestock, are mostly nomadic, and maintain long-term social networks. (4)
The means of production and existence for Tanzania’s indigenous peoples are not seen as viable by the government or the rest of society, which has led to their marginalization. (5)
Photo Credit: Ian Macharia/Unsplash
This opinion is not shared by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, which states that indigenous peoples manage 28% of the world’s land using traditional methods that have proven sustainable. They also maintain 80% of the world’s biodiversity. (2)
In his article “No Sustainable Development Without Indigenous Peoples,” Jeffrey Y. Campbell said, “Indigenous knowledge systems and languages contribute directly to biological and cultural diversity, poverty eradication, conflict resolution, food security and ecosystem health, and serve as the foundation of the resilience of indigenous communities to the impact of climate change. “ (2)
Clearly, the disappearance of languages is but one of many assets the world stands to lose without protections in place for indigenous peoples.
4.https://www.iwgia.org/en/tanzania/654-indigenous-peoples-in-tanzania5. Shadow Report Concerning the Situation of Economic Social and Cultural Rights of Indigenous Pastoralists and Hunter Gatherers of the United Republic of Tanzania, Submitted by the Coalition of Indigenous Pastoralist and Hunter Gatherer Organizations