On every continent, from the green depths of the Amazon basin to the icy reaches of the Arctic tundra, children raised in tribal communities are taught the skills and values that have ensured the survival of their peoples for generations.
Tribal children are the inheritors of their territories, languages and unique ways of seeing the world; human repositories of their ancestors’ knowledge. As they are typically brought up in communities where the solidarity of the group is crucial to survival, children are taught that life is about ‘we’, not ‘I’, and balance with nature, not destruction.
Over recent decades, however, many tribal children have witnessed – and experienced – dispossession, disease and despair due to land theft, forced assimilation into mainstream societies and ‘development’ schemes. If their homelands continue to be threatened by destructive external forces; if their values and ways of life are not granted greater respect, the the future of tribal children will be as precarious as their childhoods have often been traumatic.
In Malaysia, Penan children help to build homes from tree saplings and giant palm leaves; beneath the blue-green surface of the the Andaman Sea, Moken children learn to catch dugong, crab and sea-cucumber with long harpoons; in Mongolia, Tsaatan children are taught the ancient herding skills of their parents by corralling reindeer on the grasslands.
Most tribal peoples have a long-term view of life; they take into account in their daily decision-making the future health of the environment and the wellbeing of successive generations.
If the lives of today’s tribal children are to be uncorrupted by oppression, exploitation and racism, the governments and corporations that currently violate their rights must adopt similarly sustainable thinking, and look far beyond immediate political or commercial gain.
Recent successes – such as the reopening of the Bushman water hole in Botswana and the Dongria Kondh’s victory over Vedanta in India – show that tribal issues are being increasingly pushed into political and cultural arenas. But there is a long way to go. Tribes are still vulnerable, largely because their lands are still coveted. Their urgent need is for people worldwide to join Survival’s movement and help in its unflinching fight for them to be seen as equals.
A world where tribal children are free to live on their own lands in the way they choose is their prerogative. And it starts with the recognition of two basic human rights: to land and to self-determination.
Think not forever of yourselves, o Chiefs,
Nor of your own generation
Think of continuing generations of our families,
Think of our grandchildren
And those yet unborn,
Whose faces are coming from
beneath the ground.
(Quote by Peacemaker, Iroquois Confederacy, USA)