The News That's Not Fit to Print (and what we intend to do about it)


Unreported News of 1987

Each day, hundreds of critical events shape the future of indigenous peoples around the world, few of which are reported in the Western press. For example, how many articles have appeared in the last year on the tribal and ethnic roots of ongoing wars? The last two issues of CSQ have been devoted to this topic because militarization - and such spinoffs as arms purchases, resettlement. Third World debt, cash crop production, nuclear testing, waste disposal, and uranium and strategic minerals mining - is perhaps the single most important and least understood factor threatening the future of indigenous peoples.

Cultural Survival Quarterly reports on events that dramatically affect tribal or ethnic groups. It provides an appropriate context for understanding the importance of the specific event not only for the group involved but for other groups as well. The Quarterly also demonstrates how Western governments affect these events and how the events ultimately affect our own lives and the future of our children. As a quarterly publication, however, it cannot cover news-breaking events in a timely manner. This drawback is compounded by an incomplete world network for collecting and reporting information on indigenous peoples.

In 1988 we still step up our efforts to contact previously isolated groups and to bring their situations to your attention. In addition, we will redouble our efforts to bring the plight of such groups to the attention of Western media. You can help us in these efforts. Those of you who have contacts with indigenous peoples can put us in touch with them, or you can put us in touch with people you know working with newspapers or television and radio stations in your area who might be interested in news stories or public service announcements about indigenous peoples.

In 1987 a number of stories went unreported in the media. Some of the stories involved chronic problems, others more urgent ones. A few of these stories, outlined below, underscore the need for public awareness of the plight of indigenous peoples.

Yanomamo in Brazil Clash with Miners

On 15 August 1987, four Yanomamo were killed in a dispute with gold miners who were working the Indians' land illegally. After a miner was killed in the dispute, the bodies of the four Yanomamo were mutilated by angry miners. The National Indian Agency expelled the miners from the area five days later, but only after honoring the miners' request to expel local missionaries who the miners falsely accused of mining gold. Brazilian troops forced the missionaries to evacuate, using machine guns to threaten angry Yanomamo who wanted the missionaries to stay. Without the missionary presence in the area, future conflicts over land and resources might go unreported, allowing miners to gradually reestablish themselves on Yanomamo lands.

Marshall Islanders Face Worsening Health Problems

Marshall Islanders have the worst health and nutritional problems in the Pacific, according to UNICEF-funded Australian researcher Pamela Thomas. Out of a population of 35,000 only 200 people benefited from an allotted US $3 million health budget. Instead of using the money for preventive health care for the islanders as a whole, officials refer surgical cases to Hawaii, where most of the money is then spent. According to Thomas, the problem started with the growing dependence on imported "welfare" foods provided by the US: "No one is working to achieve self-sufficiency in food production."

Batak in the Philippines Lose Lands

For the last 40 years, Philippine colonists have settled the coastal area of Palawan, usurping the lands of the Batak. The Batak, who will not fight, have moved into the hills and jungles, where they have changed their way of life. Their coconut trees and other crops planted along the coast have been taken by the colonists. In the 1970s missionaries and additional colonists forced Batak to retreat into the remotest areas of the island. As a result of their deteriorating diet, most Batak children die from malaria and most adults suffer from tuberculosis. In 20 years the population has dropped from 600 to 200 people. The Aquino government has initiated the final assault: indiscriminate corporate logging on land presently occupied by Batak.

Tribal Peoples Expelled from Thailand

Since late September more than 2,000 Akka and Lahu tribal people have been forced from their homes in Thailand and taken to Burma. Thai officials claim that the tribal people entered the country after 1976 and therefore are not citizens. Witnesses report, however, that those who burned houses and forced individuals to flee did not check identity cards. In addition to taking most of their valuables, local officials also accepted bribes from some tribal people so that they could avoid being evicted. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), responsible for stateless people and refugees, did not intercede on behalf of the tribal people. The UNHCR made no attempt to determine how many tribals were Thai citizens or to ensure an orderly move in which the possessions of tribals were secure.

Tribals Displaced in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Bangladesh

Bangladesh is the home of about 700,000 tribal people 80 percent of whom live in the CHT. During the last 12 years tribal people living in the CHT have suffered from considerable violence at the hands of government officials and colonists who are attempting to take their land. As a result, tens of thousands have sought refuge in neighboring countries. At this time, deforestation and a proposed hydroelectric dam threaten further the resource base of the dozen tribal groups who live in the CHT.

Hadzabe in Tanzania Face Extinction

The tiny nomadic hunting-and-gathering Hadzabe tribe of the Rift Valley in Tanzania is in danger of extinction. In the 1960s the group numbered some 2,000; today only about 250 remain. The Hadzabe's success in avoiding Tanzania's forced villagization program has now left them excluded from government health services. Deforestation associated with tsetse fly eradication, pasture creation and agriculture has reduced the Hadzabe's hunting-and-gathering area. Government officials stated recently that "we have no immediate plans to solve the rood, water and shelter problems facing the Hadzabe until we thoroughly understand them and find a proper approach to tackle their problems." Yet, no conclusions have been drawn from government-sponsored research with the group in 1979-1981.

Famine in Ethiopia Continues

Government and international officials indicate that some 5 million Ethiopians are or will be suffering from food shortages in 1987-1988. Once again the major cause is, officially, drought. However, glimpses of different issues arise even in official reports. Half a million people are starving in the recently villagized area of Hararghe in eastern Ethiopia alone. Additional food supplies are needed in resettlement sites that are still not self-sufficient. Likewise, recently villagized areas throughout the central and most productive part of the country have lowered food crop productions: normally, these areas produce surpluses for the rest of the country. Once again, government policies are not cited as contributing factors to the famine.

None of these issues, or the thousands like them, were deemed "newsworthy" in 1987 by the Western press. Cultural Survival will work to change this situation in the coming year, but your donations and suggestions, as always, will be critical to our efforts.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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