Indigenous peoples and environmental security

Dhaka,  Thu,  21 September 2017
Published : 09 Aug 2017, 18:35:25

Indigenous peoples and environmental security

Shishir Reza
More than 400 million indigenous peoples live in 90 countries around the world. They belong to 5000 distinct groups and languages. They live in jungles and protect the nature; they live in hills and protect the biodiversity; they live along the major water resources and protect water, living organisms; and they live in deserts and devote all their efforts to maintain much needed ecology of desert (Barkat, 2016). The places where they live have high geo-strategic values and at the same time, they are rich in valuable natural resources - oil, gas, minerals like gold, diamond, fresh water, plants and various living species. 

Most of the local people, native and indigenous tribes possess a cherished knowledge of nature, wildlife and their environment. Millions of the so-called backward people in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world hardly need any environmental education. Taboos, traditions and religious beliefs, deeply rooted in native populations, have been an effective instrument of conserving nature and wildlife since times immemorial. 

In south and South-east Asia, traditions have honoured sacred grooves, believed to be the homes of almighty deities which also serve as wildlife conservatories. Ancient traditions protect a number of plants and animals species such as peepal (ficus religiosa), bargad (ficus bengalencis), many birds, snakes and monkeys. 

The kuna and emero Chaco Indians of Panama leave patches of forest untouched as refugee for spirits and wildlife. The taboos of Tukano Indians of Brazil have guarded more than 60 per cent of their neighbouring streams as fish sanctuaries. The traditions of local Iban people in the upper reaches of Batang Ai River have preserved the only orangutan population now left in the state of Sarawak. 

In Rajasthan, India, indigenous tribes predict crop potential through wing direction, cloud type and cloud formation. In Canada, Inuit people of the arctic northern territory of Nunavut have a rich lexicon for describing changes in snow and sea ice conditions. Indigenous women of Peru have ancestral farming capacities to grow weather-resilient crops. 

In Bangladesh, there are 45 indigenous groups. Here is a list of 44 groups: Khiyang, Khumi, Chak, Chakma, Tripura, Tanchyanga, Pangkhoya, Bwam, Marma, Mrow, Rakhayin, Oraow, Nunia, Polia, Pahan, Vhuimali, Mahato, Mahali, Munda, Mushor, Robidas, Rajoar, Rajbanshi, Rana Kormokar, Lohora, Saotal, Kondo, Kurmi, Koch, Kharya, Khasia, Garo, Dalu, Nayek, Panyong, Patro, Bormon, Bin, Bonaj, Bhumij, Monipuri, Shobor, Hajong and Halam. They constitute 1.10 per cent of the population of Bangladesh. The size of the indigenous peoples is not that significant but what vitally matters is that they have centuries-old special knowledge about trees, wild animals, cultivation, treatment of diseases through medical plants, and conservation of water, forest and ecological settings. 

These healthy traditions, taboos, capacities and beliefs are fading away in many parts of the world. The same is the case in Bangladesh. 

Indigenous peoples are becoming un-people day by day as they are victims of political engineering, demographic engineering, statistical politics, corporatocracy, marginalisation, exploitation, distress, destitution, deprivation, inequality and alienation. 

Their natural resources are encroached - it is a development game rule of an exploitative mode of production dominated by the rent seekers and land grabbers who never create wealth but take away wealth created by others. With these tribes gone, their taboos and traditions forgotten and beliefs abandoned, we would lose an effective means of conservation of natural ecosystems and wildlife. 

It is the responsibility of the state to create an enabling environment to reduce inequality, deprivation and discrimination of the indigenous communities. In Bangladesh, it is high time to implement the 'CHT Accord 1997'. 

The writer, an associate member of the Bangladesh Economic Association, is an environment analyst.

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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