Beware the 'Hunger' to Access Indigenous Peoples' Land and Resources for Post-COVID-19 Recovery

A dated photo of indigenous women in Chiquimula in Guatemala making rope out of maguey (Agave americana) fibre. Experts say there is concern about whether there will be the protection and respect of indigenous peoples’ right to land and national resources as there will be huge interest in those resources during the post-COVID-19 recovery. Credit: Danilo Valladares/IPS
A dated photo of indigenous women in Chiquimula in Guatemala making rope out of maguey (Agave americana) fibre. Experts say there is concern about whether there will be the protection and respect of indigenous peoples’ right to land and national resources as there will be huge interest in those resources during the post-COVID-19 recovery. Credit: Danilo Valladares/IPS
  • by Samira Sadeque (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

"The fear is the economic recovery is based on access to land and natural resources," Lola García-Alix, senior advisor on Global Governance at the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), told IPS.

"Indigenous people also live in areas with the most biological diversity. So of course they are the last frontier where the many governments meet in a situation of economic recovery. It's an economic asset for them to have access there," she said.

García-Alix moderated a panel on Jul. 7 about the impact of COVID-19 on indigenous communities around the world and key factors that states must keep in mind during the recovery process. 

The panel, "Delivering Results For Not Leaving Indigenous Peoples Behind: COVID-19 Responses and Beyond" was organised as part of the United Nations' High Level Political Forum (HLPF). 

"One of the main threats that indigenous people are facing today is land grabbing," García-Alix added. "So, it's not so much the issue of financial support but the issue of where will be the protection and respect of indigenous peoples' right to land and national resources in a context where there will be huge interest in those resources." 

She was responding to concerns posed by other indigenous leaders about different factors affecting the impact of COVID-19 on their communities. 

At the Jul. 7 talk, Antonia Urrejola, vice president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, warned of "external actors" coming into territories of indigenous peoples that are exacerbating the pandemic's impacts. 

"External actors are coming into these territories now more than ever so there's more contagion and this is why they're putting at risk not only the individual people but as a collective group as well," she said. 

These "actors" include members of security forces, drug traffickers as well as miners. García-Alix said that there's been an increase in illegal logging, entering of different actors, as well as an increase in killing of indigenous community members under the pandemic. 

"It's a hunger to access their resources in their lands. And this hunger is in the part of states' as well as other actors - from cartels to illegal logging, or companies," she told IPS. "Many of these illegal actors don't stop because there's quarantine. It's even better because there's no police."

Urrejola added other concerns that are currently exacerbated because of the pandemic, such as lack of access to health services.

"Hospitals are very far away in general from indigenous areas, and sometimes have to travel even for a day, and they cannot receive medical treatment," she said. "We know that they don't have basic needs, many times they can't even get tested." 

García-Alix pointed out how language and accessibility can play a role in this lack of services for the indigenous community. 

"In most cases, the problem is that indigenous people haven't had the information in their own language and have not had the access to the medical services," she said. 

Kamla Thapa, executive director of National Indigenous Women's Federation in Nepal, also brought up this issue during a panel talk about indigenous women in COVID-19 responses and impacts on Jul. 8. 

"Indigenous women are not in decision-making positions, and they are ignored," she said, adding that many of these women are being denied their fundamental right to access information because the information is not being disseminated in indigenous languages. This is especially crucial as indigenous women hold a key role as caretakers in many of their communities. 

Thapa expressed hope going forward, citing the example of a group of indigenous women in India who developed a herbal sanitiser, as well as the Santal community from India and Nepal who are making sure outsiders aren't allowed into the community so as to protect members from contracting COVID-19.

"We indigenous women are the knowledge holders, we have hope; we are knowledgeable, and changemakers," she said. "We have the power to transform the pandemic into an opportunity, to derive a new normal by applying our knowledge, our skills."

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service