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Indigenous Communities, Forests and Wildlife: A Sacrosanct Relationship of Co-existence

This overarching natural ecosystem has existed since time immemorial and supported the sustenance of the livelihoods of millions around the world while also cultivating a deeply entrenched historical link between the communities of indigenous, tribal and local peoples and the forest areas.  

This year on March 3rd, World Wildlife Day is being celebrated globally with a focus on the theme “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet”, to pay homage to the relationship between forests and the communities and wildlife that live in them.

For these indigenous people, the forest is more than just a source of just livelihood or food- it is an intrinsic part of their cultural identity. The trees that feed them and heal them through medicine are also the trees they worship; their livelihood is also their shelter.

This relationship isn’t one way, however- the forest ecosystem benefits from them as much as they do from it. The forest is conserved, protected and maintained by the traditions and taboos of these indigenous people, who are at the heart of the world’s most untainted symbiotic relationship with nature.

But in the last few decades, the global climate change crisis, the rapid loss of biodiversity as well as a dearth of preventive measures against resource extraction have threatened the existence of this symbiotic relationship.

Most of the world is protected by the indigenous, as almost eighty per cent of the land area is sustained by them. They conserve forests in an organic, grassroots level way with a fraction of the money and resources available to government-run protected areas, and achieve the same results, priding themselves on their innate ability to thrive and conserve them at the same time.

These beliefs and norms contradict the very essentially capitalist tenet of no consumption without exploitation, a belief that has destroyed more than it has safeguarded. 

The efforts of these communities require better representation in the media, and they must be emboldened by the global community so that they can withstand the threats to their way of life and the well being of their land.

As populist ring-wing leaders in many parts of the world gain support and come to power, they pass legislation that exploits these areas till what is left is unfit for survival, and breaks the natural cycle of coexistence. 

The indigenous tribes of the Amazon; cr. dazeddigital.com

The rights and land of indigenous people are frequently under assault, with the most infamous violation of late being Jair Bolsonaro’s allowance of loggers and miners in illegally seizing indigenous lands as President of Brazil, which set off a domino effect leading to the Amazon fires that engulfed all of the forest areas, leaving the area charred and unfit for survival and killing many trapped in the heart of the inferno. In this way, pressures on the world’s forest ecosystem and the wildlife living in them continue to build. 

In India, reallocation of forested land to the industry has affected wildlife- specifically the endangered tiger population and forced forest-dwellers out of their homeland. Indigenous communities have been seen as encroachers in these areas, as governments used force to evict people from these lands and forests. 

We have seen this happen all around the world: in Brazil, in India, in Kenya, in Indonesia. Politicians allow for corporate extraction from these resource-rich areas, through intrusive processes like timber logging, cattle grazing and mineral mining, and these hurt the natural ecosystem of these areas. Agribusiness and mining companies and laws that allow them to intrude take away from the indigenous natural process of land conservation and regeneration. At the same time, these indigenous communities are blacklisted for intrusion, labelled poachers, and evicted from lands that their ancestors have lived in for centuries.

The lush forests of Maldenad; cr. Wikimedia Commons

In these turning tides of climate change as the world inches closer and closer to large scale environmental disaster, the impact of these communities is huge. The indigenous way of life is thread binding together all the different elements of the forest and preserving it from adversity.

Read also: The Journey of Corona from Wildlife to Humans

Image Credits: Jungle Headhunters

Riddhi Mukherjee

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