Pope Francis: A voice for the rights of indigenous peoples

In July the Pope’s prayer intention was for Respect for Indigenous Peoples.

Aug 05, 2016

VATICAN CITY: At the beginning of every month Pope Francis makes known his prayer intention for the month to come.

In August it has to do with Sport and his desire that sports may build a culture of encounter among everyone for a world of peace.

In July the Pope’s prayer intention was for Respect for Indigenous Peoples.

In a video message he said that he prays that “indigenous peoples, whose identity and very existence are threatened, will be shown due respect”.

 Linda Bordoni looked into the question of the rights of Indigenous and Tribal peoples with Lewis Evans who works for Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights.

Pointing out that this is not the first time Pope Francis has called for respect for indigenous people’s rights, Lewis Evans says “it is great the Pope is putting the issue  at the heart of his agenda”.

Commenting on the Pope’s words when he says ‘I want to be a spokesperson for the deepest longings of indigenous peoples, who are threatened in their identity and in their existence’ Evans upholds this statement saying that  many tribal and indigenous peoples around the world are indeed facing annihilation: their land is being destroyed, their labour stolen.

“In all kinds of different parts of the world people face eviction from their ancestral lands, their basic rights as human beings are denied, people try to silence and brutalize them… so it’s fantastic to have people like Pope Francis on our side in the struggle for recognition of peoples’ rights” he says.

The Pope’s video message features a woman in traditional tribal attire asking to be listened to, but she is addressing an empty auditorium.  To the question whether rights campaigners do in fact feel they are not being listened to, Evans says that is often the case especially as for too many ‘powerful’ people these issues are a very low priority. This is something Survival, he says, is trying to change.

Evans explains that Survival International is an NGO that campaigns for the rights of tribal peoples and is supported entirely by donors.

“Basically we help tribal people to defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures” he says.

He says Survival works in partnership with tribal peoples, “gives them a platform from which to speak to the world, investigates atrocities, supports legal representation, funds medical self-help projects, educates the search campaign lobbies and protests on behalf of tribal peoples in support of their rights”.

Evans says tribal peoples are threatened across the globe. Many of them he says are in South America where there are still some un-contacted tribes while others are partially integrated into the mainstream of society – like the Guaranì in Brazil – whom, he points out, are facing extermination as their lands are systematically being stolen while they are subjected to genocidal violence, slavery and racism. 

Other reasons that see tribal populations across all five continents being threatened have to do with economic interests and even wildlife conservation as some governments claim to know how to look after peoples lands better than people who have lived on them for millennia.

“So it really is a global struggle and that’s why we try and get support on a global basis mobilizing supporters to campaign, lobby and protest all across the world” he says.

What with the Olympics about to kick off in Brazil, Evans also shines the spotlight on the situation of tribal populations in the Amazon in Brazil where there are many who risk being wiped out and who are being campaigned for by Survival and its supporters.

Evans also highlights the incredible wealth of diversity indigenous populations provide the planet with.

“They are part of our human diversity; people have the right to determine their own futures and to determine how they wish to live”.

Also he says: “tribal and indigenous peoples are the best guardians and conservationists of the natural world; they are better at looking after the environment than anyone else, they have a very sustainable relationship to their natural environment”.--Vatican Radio

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