Indigenous Peoples Are Key To Ending Poverty

Ending poverty globally can only be accomplished if you are in conversation with the people who live in poverty.

The new World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, is doing a commendable job creating global dialogue on how to “end extreme poverty” and “promote shared prosperity.”  However, we at the Indian Law Resource Center see a fundamental flaw in the effort: there’s been no mention of indigenous peoples.

Poverty in indigenous communities is more severe than any other population in the Bank’s borrowing countries. The lack of recognition of indigenous peoples is reflected in a number of past World Bank funded projects that have violated indigenous peoples’ rights and caused great harm to their communities. The Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam in Guatemala is just one example.  More than 30 years ago, thousands of Maya Achi were massacred to clear the way for the dam.  The recently passed U.S. Appropriations Act of 2014 includes a provision requiring the U.S. Executive Director to the World Bank to report on the steps being taken to support implementation of the Reparations Plan to the Chixoy communities. Meanwhile, the Maya Achi continue to live in extreme poverty due to the loss of their lands and livelihoods.

Indigenous peoples have the most to gain and lose from development.  Projects based on the same old development model rationale have in many cases ignored indigenous peoples’ needs, or worse, exacerbated indigenous peoples’ poverty.

We encourage the Bank to work alongside indigenous peoples as equal partners for development. This would help the Bank not only better identify communities’ development needs, but actually “do good” for indigenous peoples instead of merely striving to “do no harm.”

Indigenous leaders must be brought to the table and their rights to collective ownership of their lands and resources must be recognized and protected.  Indigenous peoples have a special attachment to their lands and resources that goes beyond possession and production.  They are tied to their lands culturally and spiritually. They would know best how to help support a development process that also protects the sacredness of their communities.

Please do not ignore, forget, overlook, bypass, or omit indigenous communities.  We encourage you to not only add indigenous peoples to your vocabulary, policies, and strategies, but also begin to appreciate the value indigenous peoples provide as development partners.