Indigenous Communities around the World Face Unique Challenges of COVID-19
11 May 2020
As COVID-19 swept around the globe, it reached remote areas where indigenous peoples have peacefully coexisted with nature for centuries. It amplified the problems created by climate change and inequality, and as they have done for centuries, indigenous peoples continue to adapt to the changing ways of the world while holding onto their ancestral knowledge and their fight to live in harmony with nature. Showing once more they resilience, as peoples. We asked the indigenous leaders of the Slow Food Communities to share with us their situation.
The Povo Juruna peoples of the Community For the promotion of the Cassava of the Km 30 Juruna People in Brazil, are redirecting their agricultural efforts to support their community. Before the pandemic hit, they were selling their traditional products to schools through government support, giving kids culturally appropriate food. Now that schools are closed, they are delivering for free their products to the most vulnerable people in their community.
“We are launching a campaign for people at risk from COVID-19, we collect donations of the agricultural production to make 100 baskets containing: macaxeira, pumpkin, green Corn, gemon, orange, sweet potato, cassava derivatives (tapioca flour, tapioca gum and tucupi.),” Jose Amaury Machado Camizão told Slow Food.
The communities in the Sateré Mawé land, living in the state of Amazonas, were surprised by the arrival of the virus.
“We are so remote, and ships aren’t allowed to enter during this crisis that we didn’t see the force of the disease, which has now infected many and we had our first casualties,” noted Sérgio Garcia Sateré-Mawé.
Another indigenous community in Rio Negro, the region of the Northwest Amazon, feels the desperation of lack of governmental support and an invisible threat lurking, “We have no support from anyone and as an indigenous leadership, I cannot stand idly by waiting for the disease to arrive,” said Sandra Gomes Castro Baré.
Amazonas is one of the Brasilian States with more confirmed cases of Covid, but it is one of the poorest with less medical structures.
The pandemic caused significant losses to local communities in Kyrgyzstan, especially as the sowing season had started, and the lockdowns constricted farmers who couldn’t access the markets to exchange their livestock for seeds and other supplies. Further complications came after frost and snow arrived.
Communities in Issyk-Kul region, where international ecotourism is the main source of life, have lost their income, so they are adapting their services to attract local communities.
Bishekek Zher Ene Slow Food Community members are counseling their communities to be more resilient in terms of food security in the coming years, which is expected to be complicated due to economic recession and the consequences of this sowing season.
For the Sami people of Norway, Sweden, Finland, the harsh winters due to climate change are already posing a threat. Reindeer herders migrating over the mountains to the west of the Norwegian border, began their trek earlier this year due to worries about transportation problems caused by COVID-19. Even though reindeer herders are self-sufficient and don’t rely on grocery stores, they do rely on the distribution of cured reindeer meat, which might be difficult to sell in an economic crisis.
“I can assume that the COVID-19 might cause problems if we still have a closed society from August to February. That’s our slaughter time and we cure our meat for ourselves and for manufacturing. Reindeer meat is considered exclusive and a little more expensive than other meat and it will be hard to sell for the same price as before COVID-19, ” said Anneli Jonsson, Slow Food Sápmi.
The Sami are a tie-knit community working together through the season, especially during June and July when they gather their reindeer into corrals, a close connection where the virus could spread through the community; bringing up the worry of their remote location and distance to the nearest health center.
In the south of Colombia, in the department of Nariño, the Calicanto indigenous Association and the Inga community, focus on organizing their products to meet the needs. The Slow Food “Nariño Ancestral” community, despite the isolation, continues to look for alternatives for the development of these indigenous communities, and for opening paths to future projects focused on the food, medicinal and artisanal sustenance where culture is socialized and reproduced.
“It has been difficult, because trade, technological connectivity and means of transportation have been a failure; but it’s about providing and being able to work as a team. Each of the members of the association has worked on their small plots, and the harvests of the products are distributed to collaborate with the supply of families, not only from our shelter but other low-income families.”
Democratic Republic of Congo
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the fight against COVID-19 only adds to the struggles brought by the effects of Ebola and the social instability created by the recent surge of violence in the Ituri region.
“In our region of Ituri we’ve been fighting Ebola, now the monumental threat of coronavirus further reduces the conviviality space within our communities, plus the attacks from armed groups make the situation even more complicated, accentuating our communities’ vulnerability,” says Augustin Bedidjo, convivium leader in the DR Congo.
He explains that the road that supplies the region with basic necessities from Uganda is currently occupied by the militia. Every day more and more are displaced due to the attacks by the armed groups, which has caused more deaths than coronaviruses in the province of Ituri.
“Faced with this situation our communities tend to lose the meaning and the taste for life especially seeing the atrocities of these armed groups which threaten the peace of the population and imagine this during this period of confinement where humanitarian workers must also respect the measures of fight against the COVID-19,” says Bedidjo.
The Maasai peoples’ way to survive pandemics was isolating or cutting links with the rest of the world. They would go deeper, most of my tribesmen I know in the city are all currently upcountry, immediately it was announced that some people had tested positive for COVID-19. There is also a Maasai manyatta village where we used to get our milk from, the whole village moved with their cattle. The villages back home are scattered thus safer.” said Margaret Tunda Lepore.
Years of marginalization and socio-economic and development put the indigenous peoples of the region under greater risk than any other communities. inequalities However I believe IPS will be more affected than anyone else still. Many of them will be pushed further into extreme poverty. In Kenya, for example, the livestock economy has collapsed already because of restrictions on movements and livestock markets being closed.
Other communities are also affected, like the Endorois peoples, a pastoralist community living near Lake Bogoria.
“Our people are following what the authorities have instructed, which is hard to implement because the government may not support as much, also with other communities like my people, we’re hit by attacks from other tribes, a problem that was almost being eliminated through peaceful mechanisms, but now all of the efforts have gone to fighting COVID-19 forgetting other ills in the country.”
The impact of the pandemic in reservations around the United States is felt harder than other parts of the country due to the lack of healthcare facilities, clean running water, access to healthy food, infrastructure and resources to care for those who become ill, to protect the communities, and to raise awareness of the health risks from COVID-19.
“During this unforeseen and unfortunate time of COVID-19 in the Navajo Nation we have lost more lives than 13 states combined in the U.S. Many of the Diné and Indigenous people are vulnerable and are high-risk tribal citizens with pre-existing health conditions of heart diseases and diabetes.” Denisa Livingston, Diné Nation, Slow Food International Indigenous Councilor of the Global North
COVID-19 makes the already food insecure communities more vulnerable to hunger and disease. Most supermarkets are miles away, some as far as 2-hour drive. Local leaders in the Navajo and Hopi communities are encouraging the communities to use their ancestral knowledge, returning to their roots to grow and preserve healthy, wholesome food.
“At DCAA, we are mobilizing in safe ways to help influence the reduction and elimination of risks and exposure of COVID-19 in and around the Navajo Nation, leveraging our social and cultural capital, and further assisting and serving our Diné communities at this very critical time.” said Denisa
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