On June 15, 2023, the 28th IUF Congress in Geneva adopted a historic Resolution No. 24 on Fighting for the future of Indigenous and First Nation peoples. The resolution calls for unions to support recognition of the rights of indigenous and First Nation peoples including the restoration of their lands and heritage and the recovery of their language and traditional knowledge. It also calls for protecting and advancing the rights, interests and livelihoods of the indigenous and First Nation workers, farmers and fisherfolk and their communities and ensuring they are included in all aspects of just transitions and climate justice.
Sister Paulomee Mistry, General Secretary of Gujarat Agriculture Labour Union, moved the resolution by highlighting displacement of indigenous peoples from their land, destruction of their livelihood, forced migration and drawing attention to indigenous peoples deep-rooted cultural and traditional ties to nature and symbiotic relationship with forests.
Calling for fight for the future of Indigenous and First Nation peoples:
In the late 1950s roughly 30,000 families were displaced due to the construction of the Rihand dam in the Singrauli region of Central India. Many of them belonged to the Baiga Community, a particularly vulnerable Indigenous group in India. Hardly 20 years later, they would find themselves uprooted again to make way for a super thermal power project. Yet again, a few years later they were forced to move to make way for industry; and then again, a fourth time for more industrial development.
This is the story of India’s indigenous population, the Adivasis or First Inhabitants of the land – regularly displaced and exploited and pushed further into the web of multidimensional poverty in the name of development.
India is a home to the second largest Indigenous population in the world with a population of 104 million and about 702 Indigenous community. The indigenous communities of India are known for their distinct dialect, deep-rooted cultural, and traditions, such as worship nature, and symbiotic relationship with the forests. They had their autonomous sovereign framework prior to the colonial intervention.
Over time they have been alienated from their land with the imposition of unfair land ownership laws and the principle of eminent domain. In addition, there is an ongoing covert attempt to further alienate them from their legacy and rights as first settlers by using a newly coined phrase – “vanvasi” in place of “Adivasi” or First Dwellers. As a result, today, five out of six multidimensional poor people are from Indigenous communities in India.
About 93% of India’s Indigenous people live in rural area, dependent on subsistence agriculture. In addition, they also depend on collection and processing of forest produce and daily-wage labour to survive. There are problems in all three areas: Agriculture is affected by small land holding, poor soil quality, lack of irrigation, low productivity and climate change.
Further, because rights of ownership to Indigenous land in India generally do not exit, Indigenous cultivators, farming on land to which they have no legal title are subject to regular fines, harassment and exploitation by the forest department.
Mega developmental projects like industries, mining, dams, wild life sanctuaries, parks and conservation of nature, etc. have displaced and uprooted millions of indigenous people from their forest. Between 1951 to 1990, more than 8.5 million Indigenous peoples were displaced. Less than a quarter of them were rehabilitated.
Many Indigenous peoples have thus been pushed to seek and supplement their livelihood through wage labour. As per the estimates of the Ministry of Indigenous Welfare, between 2001 and 2011 alone, 3.5 million Indigenous left agriculture to join the informal labour market. Current estimates suggest that one in every five unorganized sector workers in India is Indigenous.
Therefore, I request all brothers and sisters to support the Resolution No. 24 on fighting for the future of indigenous and First Nation peoples