Societies in Danger

1. ANISHINABE

The Anishinabe, who inhabit a region often called "the wild rice bowl," face two threats to their cultural and economical relationship with wild rice. The first is the degradation by industrial society of the balanced ecosystem of marshes, lakes, and streams that has supported their culture for centuries. Pollution is reducing yields and destroying natural rice beds.

The second threat is the theft of Anishinabe "intellectual property." Conventionally farmed "wild" rice now dominates the market and has pushed the price of real wild rice so low that many lakes go unharvested, severely eroding the Anishinabe economic base. 2. TAWAHKA

In Honduras, an advancing colonization front - driven by expanding population and declining resources in nearby regions - threatens the ability of the 1,000 remaining Tawahka Sumu to maintain their identity as a distinct society. The Tawahka, living in lush rain forests along the Patuca River, have played a key role in conserving Central America's forests. Given legal backing, they can keep outsiders out of one of the most biologically diverse areas in Honduras.

The Tawahka have proposed the creation of a biosphere reserve and are vocal advocates for protecting their forests. However, Tawahka land rights even in a reserve bearing their name are far from assured, especially since Honduras has no clearly defined indigenous policy. 3. BUSHMEN

In Mamibia, only 2,000 out of some 35,000 Bushmen still possess some of their ancestral territory. Gaining secure land tenure for these former foraging peoples is literally a matter of life and death.

Except for the Ju/'hoan, who are well organized to defend their rights, the few Bushmen who can find jobs are unpaid pastoral serfs or poorly paid agricultural laborers. Most Bushman peoples live as squatters around towns or on farms belonging to both black and white communal and commercial farmers. 4. BURMA

In a flimsy boat, a 13-year-old Rohingya girl flees with her family from western Burma to storm-swept Bangladesh. Her family makes the journey because they fear that soldiers of Burma's military regime will rape her.

A young woman of Mon-Karen parentage leaves Burma to seek refuge in Thailand and ends up in a Thai jail. A brothel called the "Peace 1 Hotel" bails her out and forces her, at gunpoint, into prostitution.

Two Karen grandmothers run away from an army camp where they had been kept as slaves.

Such reports of abuse strongly indicate that ethnic minority women are the targeted victims of systematic repression in Burma. 5. BOSNIA

A people are at risk in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Out of a population of 4.3 million, some 170,000 people have died, 1.7 million have been displaced or have become refugees, and perhaps 20,000 women have been raped. The violence, systematically directed against a people as a group, amounts to genocide.

The nationality under siege, which might be called Bosnian, consists mainly of Muslims but includes as well Serbs, Croats, and others who reject ethnic exclusion. The consciousness that the chauvinist regimes of Serbia and Croatia must destroy, for political as well as territorial reasons, is "Bosnian-ness," an ethos of coexistence and a living contradiction to claims that the people of the Balkans can't live together. 6. PENEN

The sago and rattan, the palms, lianas, and fruit trees lie crushed on forest floors throughout the state of Sarawak in Malaysia. As the trees fall in the forest, a unique way of life, pursued for centuries, is collapsing in a single generation. Of an estimated 100,000 indigenous people who roamed the forests of Sarawak at the turn of this century, only the nomadic Penan remain.

The Penan of northeast Sarawak now number about 7,600 in all, of whom 25 percent are settled. The remainder are semi-settled or nomadic and depend on the rain forest for most of their needs. If the government of Sarawak continues to have its way, Penan land will be laid waste within a year and the people will be forced from the land. 7. ETHIOPIA

After years of war and turmoil, Ethiopians are unlikely to accept the sort of system they had before - being ordered around by outsiders, denied their honor and their rights, and shortchanged on services and opportunities. They want peace, stability, and a chance to rebuild, and they are also aware of the rewards for staying together. Yet they will require evidence that their needs will be dealt with fairly.

As dozens of organizations representing different ethnic groups seek to reconstruct Ethiopia, attempts to downplay ethnic distinctiveness and grievances ignore the realities of life. Ethiopia's ethnic politics differ little from those elsewhere in the world.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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