Posts Tagged ‘San’


Social and Emotional Well-Being of First Peoples: How it’s different, why it’s important, and what’s being done about it

By Elizabeth Gunggoll

Is there a half life on historical trauma?

Or in other words, as Mike Myers discussed this question in an Indian Country Today article, will 500 years suffice for North America’s First Peoples to surpass countless murders, the loss of Indigenous civilizations, languages and cultures, as well as Indigenous agricultural economies that began in 1493? The thought is that maybe they will be able to return to a model of Indigenous nationhood founded on their original principles and teachings that will endure into future generations by the year 2500. However, musings such as these do little to speak to solutions for Indigenous mental health practiced today.

Instances of colonization, genocide, alienation and other historical traumas posed on entire Indigenous communities have had severe repercussions on mental health, and often Western Psychology practices are not fully suited, or trusted by Indigenous communities, to offer aid. Research is now being done in a new field of mental health, working to combine traditional healing and modern scientific technologies in order to offer a culturally-tailored method of care to First Peoples.


Historical context

The harrowing effects of European colonization, spanning from the 1500s onward, are well known. Encounters with European explorers fast-tracked Indigenous communities for cultural change, and the introduction of foreign diseases and stressors lead to a suppression of Indigenous cultures tantamount to genocide (The Mental Health of Aboriginal Peoples). Children in colonized countries were often taken from their parents and enrolled in boarding schools created to enforce “proper” European values on Indigenous children so that they were “deemed fit to participate in local government.” This continued in North America until the 1970s, however it is still an active example of trauma in Indigenous groups around the world.

Even after coming to terms with what Westerners historically put Indigenous peoples through, colonization did not actually stop there. Even in the past decade, the Canadian government has imposed restrictions on First Nations, distancing them from their land and therefore their sense of identity. A recent example would be the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would once again displace Indigenous communities from land that historically serves a spiritual purpose in their daily lives. Consequently, this continuous colonization causes negative effects on well-being to pervade present generations.


The issues at hand

Social and emotional well-being is often confused with “mental health”, however well-being encompasses much more than observing how someone thinks and feels. The term acknowledges a person’s social, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and cultural welfare. A connection to land, family history, relationships with family and friends, and engagement with community are all important factors contributing to social and emotional well-being in Indigenous communities.

However well-being can be difficult to measure considering most data come from self-reported surveys and interviews, which can be biased when individuals are hesitant to admit they need help. Additionally, Indigenous peoples globally might not seek medical assistance due to language barriers, and many live in rural communities where hospitals and psychologists are simply out of their reach. However, enough information has been gathered over the years to show that Indigenous peoples show higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide than non-Indigenous peoples.

The effects of colonization continue to permeate present generations of the San peoples in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve: children are still sent to boarding schools for Western education, so they inadvertently lose their language and connection to the land that comes with being raised in their native culture. Forcefully taking children away from their parents expectedly has hugely negative effects on both ends. The children feel torn from their culture and lose their sense of identity, while parents are constantly worrying where their children might be and wondering when they might see them again.

“It is so painful leaving or being separated from our children, we have a lot of depression. Kids being taken away… divides the family. It teaches them a different kind of life.” – San individual, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

Additionally, San people have expressed their sadness, pain, and worry regarding the stressors the government causes on a daily basis. They feel helpless under the control of the local police, and feel that little can be done to create self-sufficiency in their environment. Moreover, there is a “pervasive lack of hope and motivation” which stem from the restrictions imposed on their own livelihood.

The mental well-being of the San peoples is severely compromised due to the factors under which they are forced to conduct their lives. There is a constant need to prioritize food, water, mobility, and physical health, which understandably makes mental well-being a secondary issue. On top of these factors, it is nearly impossible to get help because their rural settlement is a multi-day journey from the nearest hospital. San peoples are hopeful that countries aware of their situation will offer help – but whoever comes their way needs to be cognizant of their needs as identified by the San people, and mold an approach to aid their well-being that is specific to the context of the situation in which they live.


Working toward an “Indigenous Psychology”

We have seen that the stressors stemming out of marginalization from the government cause Indigenous peoples to lose sight of hope and motivation. Communities are further hindered by needing to consistently place basic human needs for food and physical health before attending to personal well-being, and even when the opportunity arises to reach out for help, the journey to recovery is miles out of reach.

A number of individuals working in medical and psychological fields have taken notice of the need for an Indigenous-tailored approach to well-being. What they found to be most important is the ability to mesh the best of both realms: culture-specific healing methods alongside modern psychology.

“As Indigenous communities are individually governed and culturally diverse, there exists a need for community-specific language and approaches based on language, traditional knowledge, and cultural practices.”

Elicia Goodsoldier is one such example. Elicia Goodsoldier, Dine’/Spirit Lake Dakota, has jumpstarted a number of programs and councils to provide more culturally aware and responsive forms of outreach in multicultural communities. Through her work, she acknowledges the severity of the effects historical and intergenerational traumas have on mental health, and works to educate mainstream behavioral health care providers about both native issues and mental health care issues on a national scale. By bringing awareness to the significance and potential efficacy of traditional and spiritual healing alongside modern neuroscience, she makes the journey to healing more accessible and attainable to Native communities.

Many Indigenous peoples are reluctant to reach out for help because it is frowned upon within their communities. This is particularly true for Indigenous youth, who are at times discouraged from bringing up thoughts of suicide to adults in their community. A support system of similarly-minded youth that share the same perspective is a valuable resource: The Center for Native American Youth in Tucson, Arizona holds bi-weekly meetings where youth representatives from each district are able to discuss the issues facing their peers. Concerns such as suicide are openly discussed, and this program has helped a number of youth take steps to escape such debilitating stages of depression. The center takes an innovative approach by directly asking the teens what would be most helpful and where they would feel most safe to express their needs. Youth are more comfortable opening up to their peers when there is an environment of mutual respect, and the adults involved in this program feel that in order to be the best resource possible, they need to be able to better understand and relate to the youth. Additionally, they work to make the environment as all-encompassing as possible since so many different Indigenous communities exist in the area.

The integration of traditional remedies and cutting edge science alongside direct efforts to openly offer aid to apprehensive Indigenous youth is a step in the right direction in decreasing the disparity of care between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. But more can be done to increase well-being among Indigenous peoples.


Marginalization from the state has detrimental effects on the self-efficacy and self-worth of First Peoples, and simply allowing participation in their local politics improves mental well-being for many individuals. It is critical to reinforce a sense of community and empowerment by increasing participation in developing self-governance, meaning less is being asked for from the “outside” and Indigenous communities rely more on themselves.

As Indigenous mental health solutions continue to develop, we continue to see a discrepancy in the number of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and suicide, between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. What is clear is that a balance needs to be created in Western Psychology, using both traditional remedies and modern science to advance services for the mental well-being of Indigenous peoples. The increasing availability of such services are showing improvement within local communities, but the largest changes will come when Indigenous communities can address mental well-being with their own solutions.



  • Kirmayer, Laurence J, Gregory M Brass, and Caroline L Tait. “The Mental Health Of Aboriginal Peoples: Transformations Of Identity And Community.” Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry 45.7 (2000): 607-616.Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.
  • Executive Summary, “FPW Needs Assessment and Community Engagement in Botswana”, First Peoples Worldwide, 2012


14 Grantees to Celebrate in 2014!

Happy Holidays from First Peoples Worldwide! As 2014 comes to a close, we are honored to share just a few of the Indigenous organizations that our Keepers of the Earth Fund supported this year. Totaling $220,059, our grants reached 43 organizations in 29 countries. Every year we are more amazed and thankful for the amazing things Indigenous communities are doing across the globe.

CKGR village of Molapo

CKGR village of Molapo

Ditshwanelo (Botswana) –The Basarwa/San peoples who inhabit the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) in Botswana have faced forcible relocations to designated re-settlement areas, and as a result, their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle is at risk. Ditshwanelo, the Botswana Centre for Human Rights, has teamed up with the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) NGO Coalition to develop a program that would help ease tensions between the Basarwa/San tribes and the CKGR authorities. KOEF provided funding to support this initiative, which maps land use in the CKGR and would allow the Basarwa/San peoples to actively take part in the preservation and environmentally-responsible use of the CKGR’s delicate ecosystem. Two drafts of the mapping program have already been presented to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), and KOEF’s funding will allow Ditshwanelo to continue its work in land use mapping.


AWISH Community Brushing for IVS Rice Project

AWISH Community Brushing for IVS Rice Project

A World Institute for a Sustainable Humanity (AWISH) and the Coalition for Community Transformation and Development (Sierra Leone) – Although AWISH continues to strive to reestablish the Inland Valley Swamp Rice network in Sierra Leone after a decade of civil war, it has been severely hampered by the Ebola epidemic. Working alongside the CCTD, the coalition deployed Ebola prevention and protection measures through provision of food, water, medicines and disinfectants along with training for mass groups of community peoples on how they can protect themselves against contracting the virus. In this instance, First Peoples Worldwide loosened its usually rigid granting parameters and provided two small grants from Keepers of the Earth Fund in response to an international crisis for humanity.


Grand Houroumi Initiative (Algeria/Niger/Nigeria) – Twice per year, the nomadic Farfarou Peoples, along with their life-supporting herds of animals, traverse the Grand Houroumi, a 2,000-kilometer stretch of land through Algeria, Niger, and Nigeria. The Farfarou experience mounting pressures to sedentarize by governments that do not understand the ecological and cultural importance of their lifestyles. With support from KOEF and the ICCA Consortium, the Farfarou are using participatory mapping and modern GPS technologies to delineate the Grand Houroumi. The project is a crucial step towards acquiring recognition of the Farfarou’s collective rights to use and conserve the Grand Houroumi, and will be guided by pulaaku, a code of conduct that emphasizes patience, self-control, discipline, prudence, modesty, respect for others, wisdom, forethought, personal responsibility, hospitality, courage, and hard work.


Mission Shalom International (Senegal) – This project serves the Diola Peoples that inhabit the coastal plain between the Gambia and Sao Domingo rivers of Senegambia and Guinea-Bissau. These wet-rice farmers, predominantly women, have a long-established tradition of farming together, growing food to feed their families. Five rural Indigenous women networks in five villages in the Casamance region, supported by Shalom International, conducted community building workshops to rebuild the Diola values system in improving food production, and adapting knowledge and local contexts to conform to Diola values and beliefs.


“Sain Tus Center” Business Management Training Course, May 23-24, 2013 – Khuvd, Mongolia

“Sain Tus Center” Business Management Training Course, May 23-24, 2013 – Khuvd, Mongolia


Sain Tus Center (Mongolia)Sain Tus Center is located in Mongolia, the country with the largest share of Indigenous peoples in the world. They had a long history of development funding for their community, but wanted to work on a project that focused on the preservation of their traditions. Specifically, they wished to preserve the Uriankhai Tuuli, which is a traditional epic, or story told through song, and has been declared “a tradition in urgent need of protection” by UNESCO. With their KOEF grant, Sain Tus will be able to create a documentary about the Uriankhai Tuuli, teach several school children how to deliver the Tuuli, and film a television program to raise local awareness about their traditions.


cordilleralogoCordillera Peoples Alliance (Philippines) – The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) represents the Igorot Peoples of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The CPA believes that music, dancing, theater, and other forms of cultural exchange are the best methods of preserving traditional knowledge, educating their youth and disseminating information about unwanted development in Igorot territories. KOEF funded the CPA to form a cultural youth group that will prepare and perform cultural productions in eight communities threatened with development aggression throughout the CAR. The final performance will be held on Cordillera Day, which is an annual celebration commemorating the death of Macliing Dulag, who was murdered in 1980 for his opposition to the Chico River Dam Project.


Tribes Defenders 2Tribes and Natures Defenders (Philippines) – The project is located at the Higa-onon and Manobo tribal communities. Previously, this community received a grant to support its Hilltop Tribal School project that enabled Filipino children to attend school. With its second grant, TRINAD will implement its sustainable economic development project to reestablish farms destroyed by typhoon Yolanda (internationally known as Haiyan) in order to recover from hunger created by this natural disaster. The basis of this project is recovering the food system based on traditional Higa-onon values and beliefs and capacity-building for community people in implementing a tribal farming system.


Centro de Mujeres Aymaras (Bolivia) – Although traditional laws and customs emphasize respect for women in Aymara communities, Aymara women in La Paz, Bolivia frequently experience inequality, discrimination, and abuse. With support from KOEF, the Centro de Mujeres Aymaras will facilitate the written documentation of traditional laws regarding women. They will then spread awareness of these laws to traditional and legal authorities, and to Aymara communities throughout the region, through a combination of seminars, conferences, radio programs, and days of reflection.


Fundacion Mujeres del Agua (Venezuela) – In southeastern Venezuela’s Gran Sabana (Great Savannah), the traditional lifestyles of the Pemon Peoples are rapidly transforming due to the influx of mining to the region. As young men go to work in the mining industry and become increasingly influenced by mainstream culture and the cash economy, women are left as the primary guardians of Pemon traditional values, which emphasize peace, self-sufficiency, and respect for the earth. KOEF supported Fundacion Mujeres del Agua to convene gender-focused and culturally-oriented leadership trainings aimed at enhancing the presence of Pemon women in traditional and contemporary political forums throughout the Gran Sabana.


img_1883Cultural Survival (Guatemala) – Cultural Survival’s community radio program is designed to unify and strengthen communication among Mayan communities in Guatemala, many of which live in remote and rural areas of the country. KOEF supported Cultural Survival to produce and broadcast radio programs on Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). The programs, which are developed by community members and aired in Indigenous languages on more than fifty radio stations, informed Mayan communities about their government’s granting of concessions on their traditional territories, alerted them to the potential consequences, and offered strategies for asserting their right to FPIC.


downloadIndigenous Lafkenche Community of Llaguepulli (Chile)The Lafkenche-Mapuche peoples of Llaguepulli were already working towards Indigenous autonomy and preservation of their heritage when they began to develop a microfinance institution with the help of Maple Microfinance. With a small school run by the community which teaches students their native Mapudungun language, as well as a history of successful self-managed development, starting their own community financial institution seemed like the next step for the Lafkenche-Mapuche peoples. The community received generous support from several funders, in addition to the funds received from First Peoples. Their KOEF funds will specifically support a stipend for two female community managers to work on the microfinance institution.


FamiliaAwUnidad Indigena de Pueblo Awa (Colombia) – The Awa Peoples of southwestern Colombia experience massive and systematic violations of their rights due to the presence of various armed groups in their katza su (territories). KOEF supported the Unidad Indigena de Pueblo Awa to organize a forum of leaders from various Awa reservations to exchange traditional seeds and discuss the history and mythology behind them. The leaders then began the process of planning and creating a self-sustaining Awa farm, which will infuse their traditional farming practices with contemporary permaculture techniques. The farm will serve as a model for other farms in Awa territories, and as a means of combating poor nutrition, environmental degradation, and cultural deprivation in Awa communities.


Chickee Completed! [Photo Credit: Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative]

Chickee Completed! [Photo Credit: Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative]

Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative (United States) The Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative (SSPI) is a community organization located in Oklahoma that strives to support the local Native peoples, which include the Seminole and Muscogee Creek tribes. KOEF provided funding for the SSPI to participate in the rebuilding of a Seminole chickee—a structure used for housing, cooking, and eating—that had been damaged by a lightning strike. The financial assistance provided by KOEP allowed for the transportation of traditional cypress and palm fronds that were used to rebuild the chickee in time for the 2nd Annual Corn Conference and the 40th anniversary celebration of the International Indian Treaty Council Conference (IITC).


Hui Malama I Na Kupuna o Hawai’I Nei (United States)The “Hui” is a Native Hawaiian organization working to identify and repatriate the remains of Native Hawaiian ancestors. The people are ‘Oiwi, which literally means “of the bone” and refers to one’s parents, their parents, and their parents, ad infinitum (ancestry). They believe in an interdependent relationship between themselves and their relatives, and the responsibility of care and protection between the living and deceased. The organization received a second grant to continue its work in identifying Hawaiian skeletal remains, specifically in the collections at Oxford University, Museum of Natural History in England. The organization waited four years for a determination from the University as to whether or not four skulls thought to be Native Hawaiian were indeed Native Hawaiian. Three of the skulls were determined to be Native Hawaiian and two of these were repatriated with funds awarded in the first KOE grant. One of the remaining two was found to be Native Hawaiian and one Egyptian. The second grant was used to repatriate the third skull. By returning the ancestors home for reburial, the Hui restored and strengthened the Native Hawaiian ancestral foundation.

 Stay tuned for more news from FPW in January 2015!




Fracking Licenses Issued in Botswana

In November 2013, the government of Botswana confirmed that hydraulic fracturing is taking place in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).  The concessions were issued to companies, including Tamboran Resources and Debswana (a joint venture between the government and De Beers), without the knowledge or consent of the San (also known as the Bushmen), who have inhabited the CKGR for thousands of years.

For more than two decades, the government of Botswana has attempted to evict the San from the CKGR, in order to make way for conservation, tourism, mining, and other industries.  Although court rulings have upheld the San’s right to remain in the CKGR, they continue to face routine discrimination and harassment, and are under pressure to abandon their hunter/gatherer lifestyles.  Because of the government of Botswana’s disregard for the rights of the San, companies entering the CKGR are at extremely high risk of encountering community opposition and drawing attention from activist groups.

Sources: The Guardian, Botswana Gazette


In Our Modern World, Traditional Indigenous Knowledge is More Important Than Ever


By Britnae Purdy

Clearly the way we’re running things on earth is not headed in a good direction – the climate is changing, we’re nearing a drinking water crisis, and our food system is not sustainable. Juxtaposed with extreme poverty in much of the world, we see that the world’s three richest men have more wealth than the world’s 47 poorest countries combined.

But we haven’t given up hope yet. There’s a solution to many of our biggest problems. It may require a new way of thinking for most of us, but really, it’s a system of knowledge that is thousands of years old. We believe that traditional Indigenous knowledge has a lot to teach us, that an economy of ENOUGHNESS is not a relic, but is the best way to preserve the world for future generations. Does that sound a little too abstract for you? Allow us to provide some specific examples of how traditional Indigenous knowledge is being applied in very modern ways.

Health – Despite often being mischaracterized as “witchcraft” or “sorcery” and even banned from official practice in some countries, traditional medicine has survived for thousands of years. Traditional medicine is more than just a medical system – it is a holistic doctrine that places physical illness in a larger network of mental and emotional wellbeing and community health.  Today, many doctors realize that even the symbolic aspects of certain healing ceremonies and practices can have an important psychological impact on patients that contributes to healing. In Peru, one in three people still use traditional medicine, and in Africa, 7% of the average household budget goes towards traditional medicine. Today, traditional medicine is becoming more popular for a very practical reason – it is infinitely less expensive than the Western medicine system. According to the World Health Organization, 30% of the world’s population does not have regular access to basic medicines, and in the poorest countries of Africa and Asia this number is often greater than 50%. In Ghana and Zambia, there is one Western-trained doctor for every 20,000 people, whereas there is one traditional healer for every 200 people.

Many common cures and medicines that we use today were initially discovered by Indigenous peoples long ago. Examples include:

– The cinconcha tree produces quinine, which was used by the Quecha of Peru and Bolivia to treat fevers and muscle spasms. Quinine was one of the first known antidotes to malaria, and was widely used in treating malaria from the 1600s until the 1940s. Quinine is also used to treat arthritis and lupus.

– Long before it became a trendy weight loss pill, the San of southern Africa used the hoodia cactus to stave off hunger in times of low food

– Tumeric, whose active ingredient curcumin is used to treat a variety of chronic illness including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and arthritics, has been used for healing wounds in India as part of the Ayurvedic traditional health system, dating back thousands of years.

– Argoyapacha, which can be used to increase energy, has been used by the Kaani people of southern India for centuries to suppress fatigue and stress. It is also an Ayurvedic treatment for snake bites.

– The Uyghur people of Western China effectively treat kidney stones with fennel seed, watermelon seeds, maize style, and chicory seeds.


Agriculture – Indigenous practices of agriculture focus on growing necessary crops in a holistic and sustainable manner – far different from the capitalist system that emphasizes profit above health and sustainability. Many such systems focus on agricultural diversity – planting more than one variety of crop on the same land – which reduces risks associated with natural variability and weather, unlike monoculture farming. According to the UN Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Some examples of successful traditional agricultural practices that continue today include:

– Rice-fish co-culturing has been used in south China for over 1,200 years. Recently designated a “globally-important agricultural heritage system’ by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, this practice comingles fish with rice paddies. While the fish eat and remove harmful rice pests, the rice helps to regulate the fish’s environment. This results in both healthier rice and fish populations, and has been shown to reduce the need for pesticides by 68% and chemical fertilizer by 24%.

– Traditional farmers in Tanzania plant their maize, beans, and wheat around pits surrounded by ridges. During the rainy season, these pits act as reservoirs to prevent surface runoff, thus protecting the crops and also preserving the quality of the soil for future planting.

– Farmers in Northern Thailand employ a complex system of landscaping that includes home gardens, grazing land for cattle, sacred areas, rice paddies, and a tree line that serves as a forest break and wildlife path. In this way, communities are able to provide for all of their needs without destructing the land or disturbing local wildlife.

– Rainwater harvesting, a traditional practice which is thought to be at least 6,500 years old, was revived in the Rajasthan state of India in 1970 as a response to severe drought and depletion of drinking water, and has been improving agriculture ever since.


Conservation – Indigenous peoples have an invested interest in protecting wildlife populations. Modern conservation methods often call for removing Indigenous peoples from their lands to create spaces free of human occupation to protect the wildlife population – resulting in over 20 million people being displayed in the name of conservation! However, Indigenous peoples have been living in harmony with their animal neighbors since time immemorial, and studies have shown that areas under traditional Indigenous stewardship have healthier wildlife populations than those under modern conservation. As the world’s ecosystems are facing the harms of climate change, paying attention to these time-proven methods is more important than ever. Some examples of how Indigenous practices can improve wildlife conservation include:

– Traditional fire management has been practice by Indigenous peoples cross Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Venezuela, and Mexico. This practice involves periodically sparking controlled burns to create a patchwork of burnt sections across a forest or plains. This prevents the massive, rolling wildfires that we now often hear about in the news, and also promotes new forest growth and soil improvement, as ash from the controlled burns enhances soil quality and facilitates regeneration. Now, in Australia, Aboriginals can even use controlled burning to earn carbon credits, both enhancing the ecosystem and providing new employment opportunities

– Locally-managed marine areas (LMMAs) have proven to be one of the most effective ways of combat ecosystem destruction in the Pacific islands. In an LMMA, coastal communities are able to enact policies and guideline to protect marine animals and reefs. Because the Indigenous communities are the ones who interact with the seas on a daily basis and have a shared history of the area, they are able to decide on the most effective protective measures. These measures often include species-specific prohibitions on hunting, seasonal and area closures to create networks of wildlife refuges, gear restrictions, and behavioral prohibitions. These are often complemented by a community’s own totemic food restrictions and also allows the community to maintain sacred sites and tabu areas.

– An amazing example of the possible cooperation between modern technology and traditional knowledge is the use of animal herd management currently underway in the Arctic. While scientists are using remote satellite sensing, and modeling to track the patterns and movements of herd animals, they are also consulting with Sami and Nenet reindeer herders, who are more observant on complex changes in the environment and within herds.

Cultural and LinguisticThis one is a little less quantitative, but just as important. Indigenous peoples have rich, deep cultures and traditions, and allowing these to degenerate is doing a great disservice to our collective humanity. As Gaston Donnat Bappa, a chief from the Bambini region of Cameroon, explains, the world is “enriched by its Indigenous peoples, its oral culture perpetuated by the storytellers, its proverbs, myths and legends, its totems, sorcerers and patriarchs, and by its connections with the dead through funerary ceremonies and funerals. It is enriched by its animism at the source of its specific spirituality…by its unalterable, inexhaustible arts and crafts, its folklore, songs, dances, its communitarianism, and by the communicative ‘joie de vivre’ which characterises its people.” Indigenous languages play an integral part in facilitating all of the above-mentioned issues, and Indigenous languages are often able to convey subtleties and nuances about nature, the weather, healing properties of plants, and human behavior that dominant languages do not. Still looking for some hard facts? How about this – a 2007 study showed that among Indigenous communities in British Columbia, communities where a majority of members had conversational knowledge of the Indigenous language had low youth suicide rates, whereas communities where less than half of the members spoke the native language had youth suicide rates up to six times higher.

Convinced yet? Join us in our ENOUGHNESS campaign. First Peoples works directly with Indigenous communities around the world. Your donation will provide grants to support sustainable development projects that can make the world a better place for us all.

(Photo credit:


Who Are the Indigenous Peoples of Africa?


By Britnae Purdy

Ask someone to name an Indigenous People and they will likely say the Maori of New Zealand, the American Indians of North America, or the Aboriginals of Australia. These groups were the First Peoples that were colonized, marginalized, and all too often demonized. For better or for worse, membership to these groups is now government-regulated and they are widely recognized culturally and politically by the surrounding society.

However, who are the Indigenous Peoples in Africa? The term “First Peoples” is unhelpful since it applies to most Africans. It is important to identify Indigenous Peoples in Africa not to call them out as different, but to call attention to the marginalization and discrimination these people suffer, and recognize their unique cultural heritage that they want to maintain.

Therefore, in Africa, the term “Indigenous” is defined by a collection of shared characteristics among certain communities. These characteristics, as outlined by the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC) and expanded upon by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) include:

Political and economic marginalization rooted in colonialism – Indigenous peoples’ cultures and ways of life differ considerably from the dominant society and are often under threat, with some to the point of extinction.

Particularities of culture, identity, economy, and territoriality that link hunting and herding peoples to their home environments in deserts and forests – Most indigenous groups in Africa today maintain a living through hunting and gathering, transhumant pastoralism, and traditional drylands horticulture. These groups are often geographically isolated or live in inaccessible regions. Survival of the indigenous  way of life depends on access and rights to traditional lands and the natural resources on them.

De facto discrimination based often on the dominance of agricultural peoples in the state system , and institutionalized or blatant societal discrimination, domination, and marginalization – These groups are vulnerable to domination and exploitation by national political and economic structures designed to reflect the interests and activities of the national majority. These forces violate indigenous peoples’ human rights, threaten the continuation of their cultures and ways of life, and prevent them from being able to genuinely participate in decisions regarding their own future and ways of life. This discrimination has a variety of effects on the indigenous communities:

– Some groups, such as the San and Pygmy, are physically distinct, which makes them subject to specific forms of discrimination.

– Indigenous peoples are often regarded as less developed and less advanced than the dominant sectors of society. They may be stereotyped as backward, primitive, uncultured, or embarrassing to national identity, and these stereotypes help legitimize official discrimination.

– Indigenous peoples are routinely victims of dispossession and eviction from land, which aggravates poverty levels and disrupts traditional knowledge systems,

– They are more likely to be denied the right to justice due to arbitrary arrests, unjust punishment, beatings, and harassment, suffer a lack of representation and legislation as few countries recognize the existence of indigenous peoples or include protection for them in their constitution.

– These groups also often face a lack of access to health and education due to lack of infrastructure, services, and the unsuitability of mainstream curriculum. Indigenous communities in Africa have low literacy rates and school attendance often 50 percent below the national level. These communities may suffer from high rates of domestic violence, crime, and depression as a result of the above-mentioned factors.

Though many characteristics overlap with those assigned to minority groups, it is important to note that referring to indigenous peoples as “minorities” is inadequate, as minority rights are formulated as individual rights, whereas indigenous rights focus on collective rights, e.g. a group’s right to their land, culture, language, religion, and resources.

The most common misconception when discussing the indigenous movement in Africa is that indigenous groups are seeking special rights. This is not true – groups that label themselves as “indigenous” adopt the term to bring attention to the fact that they have been routinely marginalized and discriminated against as a people. The modern usage of “indigenous” does not carry the patriarchal connotations that it was ascribed when used by settlers or the government, nor does it seek to establish hierarchy based on “who was here first.” Rather, according to IWGIA, “indigenous” today refers to a “global movement fighting for rights and justice for those particular groups who have been left on the margins of development paradigms and whose cultures and lives are subject to discrimination and contempt.” Self-identifying as indigenous “is a way for those groups to try to address their situation, analyze the specific forms of inequalities and repression they suffer from, and overcome the human rights violations by also invoking the protection of international law.”

The indigenous movement in Africa, in general, is still weak, with minimal capacity, though the movement is clearly growing. East Africa, in particular Kenya, has the strongest indigenous network with groups such as the Pastoralist Development Network of Kenya, the Pastoralists and Hunter Gatherers Ethnic Minorities Network, the PINGOS Forum, and the Tanzania Pastoralist and Hunter Gatherer Organization. The movement is weak in central Africa with some success in Rwanda and Burundi. The San of southern Africa are weak but mobilizing under the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in South Africa, while the indigenous movement is basically non-existent in West Africa. IPACC is currently the only pan-African indigenous organization.

Some fear that identifying groups as indigenous will lead to increased tribalism and ethnic conflict within Africa, but in fact the opposite is usually true – recognizing all groups, respecting their differences, and supporting their goals only enhances the democratization and stability of the region. Though the state of indigenous peoples in Africa remains tenuous, establishing a clear understanding of who is indigenous and the commonalities between indigenous groups is crucial to these groups gaining recognition, protection, and status from their governments.

(Photo: Cabell Brand Photos 2006)


My Deepest Gratitude to San Community in Botswana

Katie Cheney, our Communications Associate, has recently returned from a trip to Botswana to visit with the San peoples living in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). Below is her letter to the San, thanking them for hosting her and sharing their homes, time, and stories. We will be publishing more about Katie’s trip. Join First Peoples’s mailing list to receive future posts on the San and First Peoples around the world. 

I am still in a state of disbelief that I was so lucky to spend time with all of you in Botswana this past October and November. I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity visit you and learn more about your community.

With each San settlement that I visited, from Molapo to Gugamma, I was graciously welcomed. While this particular community has every right to be skeptical of visitors, due to past dealings with government officials, academics, and other NGOs, they were happy to have me there nonetheless.

On top of wonderful hospitality from this community, I feel incredibly privileged to have sat down with various San people to discuss their lives. We talked about various aspects of life in the CKGR, and discussed many of the hardships they face. I was incredibly saddened to hear about pervasive depression, fear, and hopelessness throughout the CKGR, yet was grateful for community members’ openness and willingness to share their problems with me.

I came away from this trip having learned so many things about the San – such as how much the lack of water can affect a community, how San traditional knowledge is still practiced and has much to offer, and even how to build a campfire with minimal wood. I realized that as much as the community discussed the difficulties they faced, they possess as much in a wealth of solutions and untapped capacity. Most of all, I realized how much hope I have for the CKGR San and a better future.

I look forward to First Peoples Worldwide’s next step and future work with the CKGR San community of Botswana. After a fundraising period throughout the next year, First Peoples will plan to have a field person on the ground in Botswana for at least one year to continue their fieldwork with the San community.

With my deepest gratitude,

Katie Cheney


San Leave Homes in Search for Water

by Nick Pelosi

Minority Voices published an article about a severe water shortage in a San community in the Tsholotsho district of Zimbabwe.  Community spokesperson Christopher Dube said the water shortage has reached peak levels and that approximately 1,000 community members are making preparations to resettle closer to the Manzamnyama River.  According to Dube, “currently the San people were drinking dirty water from the dams and sharing that water with domestic and wild animals alike. However, due to the continuing drought situation in Matabeleland, the dams we used to rely on are totally dried up and we have no option but to leave our homes.”

Most regions of Zimbabwe are encountering water shortages caused by drought, and officials claim that 100 boreholes must be drilled to alleviate the shortage in the Tsholotsho district alone.  The San have been especially affected by the drought because the Zimbabwean government has neglected to drill enough boreholes and wells to sustain their communities.

The San are indigenous to southern Africa.  Once nomadic hunter-gatherers, most San have been resettled in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, and their rights are frequently violated by discriminatory government practices.  The Tsoro-o-tso San Development Trust, a San community-based organization, is engaging with authorities and civil society to remedy the situation, as the dispersion of San communities will further damage their cultural heritage, access to health and education, and general security.  In November 2012, the trust organized a meeting between 180 San elders from Tsholotsho and a senior government official, to discuss the San’s lack of access to clean water and other issues.  The meeting of San elders face-to-face is a rarity for the Zimbabwean government, which frequently excludes San interests from its policymaking agenda.

Click here to read about First Peoples Worldwide’s work with San communities in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana.

San community members dig for water in Botswana (source: First Peoples Worldwide)

What other ways can the Zimbabwean government’s accountability to the San be improved? Let us know in the comments section.


FPW Field Associate Katie Cheney returns from Botswana

First Peoples Worldwide Field Associate Katie Cheney recently traveled to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKRG) in Botswana to work with San communities. First Peoples has  been working with the San since 1997, and in 2006 helped them win a landmark court case helping secure their land rights. While in Botswana, Katie visited the communities in the CKGR and spoke with various other stakeholders to determine how FPW might work in Botswana in the future.

Stay tuned for more information about Katie’s work!


First Peoples in Botswana: NGOs of Ghanzi and D’Kar

By Katie Cheney

This is the final in a series of blogs about Field Associate Katie Cheney’s trip to Botswana.

On Monday, I met with the Dqae Qare Lodge and Game Farm, which is owned by the local village of D’Kar and is a member of the Kuru Family of Organizations. Most of the people in D’Kar are San, and the lodge employs people from the village and supports cultural activities on the Game Farm.

Tuesday, I met with several other organizations from the Kuru Family of Organizations. The Custodian Unit is conducting a project on San values and they’ve visited numerous San settlements throughout Southern Africa, compiling cultural practices and traditional values into a brochure. In addition, I met with Gantsi Craft, a non-profit which buys crafts made by San and re-sells them for the producers. Gantsi Craft provides producers with supplies and trainings on business, markets, and social issues such as gender equality. Kuru Art commissions paintings from about 50 artists and craftspeople in D’Kar, and provides a central place for visitors to buy the art.

After numerous meetings this week and a couple long-distance drives from Gaborone to Ghanzi and back, my work in Botswana has come to a close. I can’t wait for the First Peoples Worldwide team to decide on what our next step will be—we will keep you posted!



From Gope to Gugamma: Week Three in the CKGR

By Katie Cheney

This is the third in a series of blogs from Field Associate Katie Cheney’s research in Botswana.

After a little bit of difficulty exiting the Maswere Gate of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) on the first part of our trip, we went back to the CKGR last Sunday with no entrance problems. On Sunday, our guide, Jumanda, and I headed to Gope, a settlement just three kilometers from the Ghagoo Diamond Mine which is operated by Gem Diamonds. We spent most of Monday with the community of Gope, then toured the mine that evening.

From there, we headed to Mothomelo, by way of Metsiamonong. We were surprised to find only two small groups of people in Metsiamonong, since many had moved to Mothomelo because of it’s borehole. We reached Mothomelo Tuesday evening. One of the elders predicted our arrival by “playing the bones” – hitting two handfuls of small, decorated bones together and throwing them into the sand to read them. And he was right!

After a long, hot, but fruitful day full of interviews and meetings in Mothomelo, we arrived in Gugamma on Thursday. Again, we were surprised to find only three people in the camp—the rest had gone to Mothomelo for water, or traveled to Kaudwane, a re-settlement camp, because one of the women needed to visit the clinic. The CKGR does not have health facilities and families must travel outside the reserve to get medical help.

From interviews and community meetings to stargazing and dancing around a fire, I feel incredibly lucky to have been welcomed into this community for just a few days. I’m looking forward to my last week in Botswana, but at the same time, I don’t want to leave.

An elder in Mothomelo playing bones (photo credit Katie Cheney)

Stay tuned for more about Katie’s trip to Botswana.