HomeCommentaryStanding for the rights of indigenous people

Standing for the rights of indigenous people

This month, the world marks 500 years since the Aztec civilization in South America was wiped out by the Spanish conquistadors

Indigenous peoples are under threat as never before, and need the international community to stand with them as they demand justice, their ancestral land rights, and an end to the exploitation and abuse they suffer.

They suffer discrimination, stigmatization and racism. How disingenuous that is. All people in the world today descended from some indigenous tribal people through the ages. In fact, DNA tests show that everyone in the world is descended from one common ancestor in Africa.

Real science does not lie. The human species emerged in the Makgadikgadi-Okavango wetland. It was not just any home, but the ancestral “homeland” for all modern humans.



Today, there are more than 476 million indigenous peoples who live in 90 nations around the world. According to the United Nations, they make up 6.2 percent of the world population. They have their own unique languages, culture, customs and traditions, and have ancestral rights to their lands having possessed these from time immemorial.

They are people that are capable of self-governance and have survived for many thousands of years before nations emerged in history. In the last 500 years, colonialism spread across the world and foreign nations invaded the lands of indigenous people, killed millions and stole and occupied their lands.

The indigenous people were infected with western diseases against which they had no defense. Millions died, others were massacred and driven to the edge of extinction.

This month, the world marks 500 years since the Aztec civilization in South America was wiped out by the Spanish conquistadors. In the Philippines, 500 years ago the Spanish invasion began a war of extermination against the Moro people in Mindanao that eventually failed. The aggression and land-grabbing and the attempted extermination of groups of indigenous people is still going on.

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The murder and attacks against indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest are ongoing as miners, loggers, and agro-farming planters have once again continued to invade ancestral lands in search of gold and plantations. They burn and devastate the environment and drive away the indigenous peoples.

The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 declared a cultural genocide was inflicted against the Canadian indigenous people. As many as 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly abducted from their natural families and locked up in residential schools. Hundreds of children died from hunger, neglect malnutrition, disease, physical and sexual abuse.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lays flowers at a vigil outside the London Muslim Mosque organized after four members of a Canadian Muslim family were killed in what police describe as a hate-motivated attack in London, Ontario, Canada, June 8, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

The schools, to their eternal shame, were run by religious groups of several denominations. The Catholic Church had the most schools. The children’s human dignity was taken, their language forbidden, their family ties erased.

“These measures were part of a coherent policy to eliminate aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will,” the Commission’s final report declared.

“The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources.”

The greatest moral scandal was the government agents coopting churches into running these schools when it fact what the churches did was against the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth himself. He taught that the rights and dignity of every human being is of eternal value. Children are the most important in the Kingdom, he said, and whoever accepts a child accepts him. Anyone who hurts a child or drives a child from him or abuses a child ought to be held seriously accountable, according to His millstone statement. (Matt.18:1-7)

In Mindanao, there are many indigenous groups that are aboriginal people of the island inhabiting their ancestral lands for thousands of years.

I mention their names to give them their identity, recognition, and respect. They are the Subanen, B’laan, Mandaya, Higaonon, Banwaon, Talaandig, Ubo, Manobo, T’boli, Tiruray, Bagobo, Tagakaolo, Dibabawon, Manguangan and Mansaka.

They are collectively known as the People of the Earth, or Lumad. Although a few Philippine officials object to them being called Lumad because some think that the word is the same as “communist.”

Students from an indigenous school in Mindanao hold a demonstration in Manila on February 3 to call for a stop to what they described as attacks to their tribes and educational institutions. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

“’Lumad’ is a word associated with the communist party and its armed wing the New People’s Army,” said the government’s National Commission on Indigenous Peoples on March 4, 2021.

Archbishop Jose Cabantan of Cagayan de Oro, however, disputed this. “The [NCIP’s] order only reveals its members’ ignorance as to how the struggles of the Lumad have unfolded in Mindanao over the last sixty years …. It arose without an ideological agenda, let alone that of the Communist movement.”

“It arose out of a united people’s concern to defend the rights of the Lumad from the perspective of a Christian faith that is concerned with the least of our brothers and sisters, victimized by both a repressive state and businesses interested in usurping the Lumads’ ancestral domains for profit,” he said.

All in all, the indigenous people are estimated to comprise fifteen percent of the country’s total population of about 100 million.

As many as 71 indigenous leaders have been killed by paramilitary groups who are tasked to drive the people from their ancestral lands so that mining corporations and palm-oil plantations owned by agri-corporations can continue to move in and take the land.

All this is against Philippine laws. The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997 is supposed to protect the rights of the indigenous people. However, like many laws in the Philippines, they don’t apply to the rich and powerful politicians and their business cronies. Some big business corporations supported by their “elected” cronies and puppets in government work to grab the forests, minerals, water, land and resources of the indigenous people and grow incredibly rich.

Indigenous peoples need honest rulers of integrity who believe in the rule of law and are supported by an enlightened public that support and live the values of goodness, justice, and the their rights.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse. The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.

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