The Age of Exploration lasted from the early 15th century until the early 17th century. In this 200 year span the West not only conquered a fair portion of the Americas, but experienced rapid technological change. The advent of guns, tools to aid navigation, and frequent use of germ warfare enabled European explorers to decimate native populations they encountered in their lust for riches. After all, the ocean-crossing travel undertaken by several countries was motivated by the desire for new goods and trade routes to support Europe’s burgeoning capitalism. Unfortunately, the indigenous populations of “newly discovered” lands would pay the price for the next five centuries of expansion. Indigenous peoples have suffered from the effects of globalization for centuries, and without any meaningful efforts to safeguard their cultures, languages and territories or give these populations adequate voice in our political systems, these communities are in critical danger of being wiped out.
The consequences of globalization have particularly affected indigenous peoples even though they are not responsible for the degradation of their environments. This dissonance between actions and outcomes is highlighted by the two schools of thought that have separated indigenous peoples and their non-indigenous counterparts from the very beginning. Indigenous peoples usually share a belief that humans are a part of nature. They tend to respect their environment and attempt to live in sustainable ways. The nonindigenous perspective is the opposite, in which humans are separate from nature, and are therefore somewhat removed from the environmental consequences of globalization. In fact, they benefit from the degradation of their environments because it is the byproduct of resource consumption. The anthropocentric perspective of nonindigenous populations attempts to control and dominate nature.
This includes the people they encounter and the environments that they will eventually destroy (Pommersheim, 1995; Nader, 2002).In the present day indigenous peoples not only suffer from a lack of viable resources and political representation, but from the insulting national holidays that glorify their conquerors. In the United States, the most salient example of this is Christopher Columbus Day. To the uninformed person, this national holiday celebrates the “discovery” of the Americas. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of history will correct this assumption and point out Columbus never set foot on the contiguous U.S. and instead landed in the West Indies. Once there, he subjugated the Hispaniola people to slavery in search for gold.
He proceeded to murder thousands, committed acts of unimaginable atrocity against those who stood up to him, and triggered a tradition of native mistreatment that would be imitated by countless others, such as Andrew Jackson and his Trail of Tears. Native leaders have spoken out concerning the perverse celebration of genocidal explorers. Frank Wamsutta James, a Wampanoag leader, succinctly explains the disconnect between nonindigenous people and their indigenous counterparts on these days. “Today is a time for celebrating for you, but it is not a time of celebrating for me. It is a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People” (Kurtis & Adams & Bird, 2009).
Thankfully, the holiday has been rebranded in recent years to include crucial information regarding native genocide and mistreatment.Globalization, which involves economic, cultural, and political changes that increase the integration of people throughout the world, has resulted in overcrowding/overpopulation, water/air pollution, and global warming (Fenelon & James, 1970). These changes are often driven by international trade and investment and are aided by information technology, which enables communication over long distances.
Environmental protection has become a hot topic in the past several decades, but when set against economic development, issues concerning sustainable resource use are often put on the backburner. This inattentiveness by developed and developing countries puts them in conflict with aboriginal populations that demand their lands be respected. A recent example of this is the Keystone Pipeline XL debacle, which set the Trump administration against the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The Sioux protested a pipeline that would either directly border or simply cross into their reservation. On November 16th, 2017, only days before Nebraska officials were to announce the decision whether to move forward with the project, the Keystone Pipeline spilled 5000 barrels of crude oil (Cuevas & Almasy, 2017). This spill did not occur within Sioux territory, but foreshadows a probable scenario where the indigenous residents would have to deal with the environmental backlash of a government that does not respect their sovereignty. In her 2014 article on indigenous isolation and first contact, Dinah Shelton describes the scope of the environmental consequences that pose a threat to indigenous peoples, particularly when they actively shun or avoid contact with the majority population.
Shelton explains that indigenous peoples frequently live in resource rich environments, full of hydrocarbons, water, minerals, and valuable woods. Capitalism’s insatiable desire for cheap energy leads companies to misuse these resources, often through illegal or clandestine means. These resources may be economically valuable, but they are also intrinsically priceless to the indigenous people who need them to survive. Indigenous populations are also at much greater risk of being wiped out by epidemics introduced by the exploiters of their environments.
The Nahua community in Peru reported an epidemic that killed sixty percent of its population when introduced to a respiratory ailment in a short encounter with loggers. Indigenous peoples often have difficulty voicing their complaints, and are a historically marginalized group in the political process, but efforts by the Bolivian president to include them in political discourse are promising. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, has taken steps to move from Bolivia’s postcolonial society and integrate indigenous peoples into a new multi-ethnic society. A specific example of indigenous people’s new voice in Bolivia concerns land.
Bolivia’s new constitution gives natives the right of self-government in their lands, and transfers the ownership of natural resources within their territories to their inhabitants instead of multinational corporations. Including indigenous people in decisions that concern their homes and the welfare of their environments is an important step in integrating them within Bolivian society without trying to enculturate them. Morales’s political party, Movimiento Al Socialismo(MAS), has advocated the creation of a pluri-national state: a state in which the culture and identity of indigenous people is brought to the forefront of, as it was prior to colonization (Nilsson, 2013). This uses human rights and indigenous values as the foundations for inclusive political representation, such as designating all indigenous languages as official state languages (Brysk & Bennett, 2012).The integration of indigenous peoples into government is an important step to reducing or reversing the effects of globalization, but without the enthusiastic involvement of non-governmental associations, indigenous peoples will only have so much influence over their welfare. Thankfully, organizations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society are actively pursuing partnerships to aid indigenous people in reclaiming and conserving their land.
The WCS has entered into a partnership with the Guarani people of the Bolivian Chaco to pursue several projects in the interest of biological diversity. By balancing the perspectives and interests of the two groups, the partnership was successful in halting the use of heavy machinery for extraction within their territory. The Guarani people depend on the biodiversity of their environment to survive, and the WCS gave them the organizational efficacy and bargaining power to dictate their demands to the companies illegally exploiting their resources. Indigenous people were involved in making decisions concerning funding and implementation of programs, and gained valuable insight on how to address technical issues concerning implementation of projects.
This created a forum through which representatives of the hydrocarbon industry could communicate with indigenous organizations to find solutions to concrete problems (Arazimba & Painter, 2006)Indigenous peoples have been hard hit by globalization, and the consequences have come close to eradicating whole cultures. Fortunately, there have been several initiatives such as the President of Bolivia’s socioeconomic reforms and the Guarani’s partnership with the WCS to reverse these changes. Gaining a voice in the political process have allowed indigenous peoples to integrate themselves into the majority populations if they choose. A fine balance is struck between giving natives their voice in government and erasing their culture and right to self-determination by absorbing them fully. Although environmental consequences are perhaps the most current issue when discussing indigenous rights, these problems all circle back to the human rights inherently deserved by any and all people. To preserve the biodiversity of their environments and their culture, governmental and non-governmental organizations alike must continue to partner with indigenous populations and listen to their needs. Globalization can be a positive force, bringing together cultures, forming beneficial economic relationships, and spreading technologies to those who need them. But we must remember that globalization does not affect all peoples equally, and being cognizant of this inequity will allow us to preserve the rich cultures of the peoples who came before us.