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Globalization And Indigenous Peoples

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Brief description of indigenous people

There is no universal definition of indigenous people, but generally indigenous people are those that have historically belonged to a particular region or country, before its colonization or transformation into a nation state. They often have distinct cultural, linguistic, traditional, and other characteristics to those of the dominant culture of that region or state. There are approximately 370 million indigenous people among 70 countries, worldwide. It is about 6% of the world population. These indigenous people are predominantly subsistence-based (i.e. pastoral, horticultural and/or hunting and gathering techniques), and non-urbanized.

The impact of globalization on indigenous people

What makes indigenous people special is that they are located in the places where the world’s scarce resources located as well. Thus, with a desire to gain the access to these resources, indigenous people are always the disadvantaged group. In this section, I will focus on several issues caused by globalization that impose undesirable impact on indigenous people.

To facilitate world trades, countries signed different multilateral economic and trade agreements to lower the trade barriers. These legally enforceable agreements protect and enhance the rights of investors over the rights of citizens, over indigenous peoples’ rights to their natural resources, etc. International organizations like WTO also facilitate the signing of more and more trade agreements which aim to open up the market.

In addition, some third world countries are forced to open their market by the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP). The SAP opens up the local economy to foreign investments and MNCs, while eliminating subsidies and protection to local industries. For countries seeking financial assistance, the IMF and World Bank provide it but apply a neoliberal economic ideology or agenda as the preconditions to receiving the money. They prescribe cut backs, �liberalization’ of the economy and resource extraction/export-oriented open markets as part of their structural adjustment. The role of state is minimized. Privatization is encouraged as well as reduced protection of domestic industries. To be attractive to foreign investors various regulations and standards are reduced or removed. As a result, the indigenous lands and natural resources are being targeted for development.


As indigenous land is usually rich of natural resources, it is often used for exploitation. The oil industry destroyed the Colombia’s forests. Some indigenous people, such as Yariguies, have been exterminated due to these oil-related activities. Others, like the Motilones, the Cofanes and the Guahibos, have been decimated. The U’wa people also find their ancestral lands threatened by oil exploitation that could destroy their forests, their lives and their culture. Another example of oil exploitation is that occurred in the Amazon basin of Ecuador. The Amazon basin of Ecuador consists of more than 100,000 km2 of tropical rain forest. It is also the home of 500,000 people, including 8 groups of indigenous people as well as peasants. The oil exploitation there caused serious environmental pollution which affects the living of the residents.

Deforestation in tropical rain forests all over the world destroys the habitats of various groups of indigenous people, example is the deforestation in Brazilian rainforests. In addition, the Arctic, an enormous territory with gigantic natural resources and homeland to groups of indigenous people, is now a place where large scale of oil and gas exploitation takes place.


In some parts of the world, such as India, Brazil, Thailand and Malaysia, multinational companies have been accused of participating in �biopiracy’ - illegal collection of indigenous plants by corporations who patent them for their own use.

Intellectual property rights are supposed to help protect investments into research and development and stimulate innovation by providing incentives and rewards. Yet, in the area of biotechnology, there are criticisms on the right to patent living organisms, especially resources and seeds that have been developed or passed on as traditional and public knowledge. This privatization of public knowledge often has conflicts with indigenous knowledge and the rights of indigenous people. Large multinational corporations like Monsanto, DuPont and others have been investing into biotechnology and patents have been taken out on indigenous plants which have been used for generations by the indigenous people. After the indigenous plants are being patented, the only way these people can use them is to buy them back from the MNCs. In Brazil, which has some of the richest biodiversity in the world, large MNCs have already patented more than half the known plant species.

An example of biopiracy is the patent granted to Cromak Research Inc., based in New Jersey. The anti-diabetic properties of вЂ?karela’, вЂ?jamun’, and brinjal are indigenous biodiversity-related knowledge used for generations by local people. This example spots the problem of biopiracy вЂ" the patenting of indigenous knowledge.

While MNCs or other foreign entities are patenting the indigenous knowledge, indigenous people can do nothing on that. It is true that they have the right to patent the knowledge before the knowledge being patented by others. The indigenous people, however, would not be able to do so due to the high cost of patenting and their cultural values. To their point of view, this kind of knowledge is a shared resource, and should not be privatized. Together with the unwillingness shown by governments due to the high revenue on granting patents, indigenous peoples can just see more and more biopiracy cases infringing their indigenous knowledge.

Impact of Tourism

Tourism seemed to have weak connection with the indigenous people. But since the promotion of ecotourism, a type of tourism described as environmental friendly, sustainable and nature-based, indigenous people are closely related to tourism. The idea of ecotourism is thought to be a perfect mix of promoting tourism as well as preserving the environment.

The truth does not seem to be like this. To nation-states, ecotourism may bring great economic benefits for them. But to indigenous people, tourism is destructive. The environmental pollution and enormous waste management problems are



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