Globally, there are approximately 40 million indigenous individuals today. Indigenous communities are found in 90 countries and constitute around 5% of the globe’s population but also make up for 20% of impoverished people worldwide. They occupy more than a quarter of the land in the earth and waters which translates into roughly 90% of the earth’s biodiversity. However, scholars have discovered that indigenous people are equally urban and rural. These communities face significant challenges wherever they live, including being marginalized and the poorest in their distinct societies. 10% of indigenous communities are in Latin America, while more than 80% are in South Asia, China, and Southeast Asia. There is no single definition of indigenous, although the United States gave some guidelines regarding the same. Social workers recognize indigenous people as having certain rights attributed to their historical roots, specific territories, and historical and cultural differences from other communities usually considered politically dominant. This paper will assess the issue of poverty among indigenous populations around the world.
Indigenous people are poor in every country around the world. The percentage of indigenous individuals living below the poverty line is higher than that of indigenous individuals, and the poverty gap is also more prominent than the national average. It suggests that the number of poor and indigenous people is more significant than that of non-indigenous people, and their poverty level is also worse. It can be seen in different ways, such as discrimination, insecure land, vulnerability to climate change, and lack of access to healthcare and education (Blackstock 30). Indigenous people also register high levels of socio-economic disparities. Going back in history, one will discover that the rate of poverty among indigenous populations falls more slowly compared to that of non-indigenous people suggesting an increase in inequality among these communities. Social workers have recently reported no sign of closing the poverty gap between indigenous and non-indigenous communities, but it is growing. Although China can be excluded from this worldwide trend, data obtained from China is limited compared to other countries, rendering the results less robust.
Poverty has been more severe among the indigenous communities, and it has been hard to overcome the challenge. Various factors contribute to the rigidity of the indigenous poverty gap, including political and geographic exclusion, limited infrastructure, historical oppression, and increased exposure to risk. Colonial practices led to the development of factors that contribute to the high prevalence of poverty among indigenous communities in Canada. The poverty that indigenous peoples are experiencing today is the direct result of the dispossession of their livelihoods and lands. They were forced to depend on their colonial rulers, which dehumanized them because it stripped them of the right to earn an income. The link between colonization and poverty can be described as the intentional destitution of indigenous people in Canada (Ives et al., 20). Some of the colonial practices that contributed to poverty among indigenous Canada include the displacement of the communities from their fertile lands, which interfered with their economies, and made them economically dependent on their government. The Indian Act reinforced this economic dependency as it made it hard for indigenous communities to engage in profitable activities such as farming. Secondly, the school system was assimilationist, which had a detrimental impact. Those who survived the school system were often traumatized and often turned to drug and substance abuse as a way of coping. Due to this, family functions were significantly affected by this cycle of abuse, which created significant economic, cultural, and social issues.
In the contemporary world, coupled with the cumulative impact of colonialism, lack of investment and chronic underfunding enhance poverty among indigenous peoples. Also, these communities are more likely to have poverty-related risk factors, such as a lack of clean drinking water and inadequate housing. Barriers to education achievement also negatively affect employment outcomes, including a lack of culturally competent curriculum, low teaching quality, and financial and geographic challenges in school attendance. Other barriers include stereotypes, discrimination, and bias which prevent indigenous communities from achieving academic excellence, finding adequate housing, or even being promoted at work. Indigenous people are the poorest because they lack support from the only international law that protects their rights, i.e., Convention No. 169. Since its adoption three decades ago, only 23 countries have shared their signatures regarding the preservation of the rights of indigenous people. Additionally, there is a lack of international policies and laws designed to fight poverty and inequality among indigenous people.
As aforementioned, the poverty rate among indigenous communities is a cause for concern. The concerns of indigenous people need to be addressed to develop sustainable policies that champion the protection of their rights. These strategies will help handle the issues that these communities face, such as poverty, conflict, and inequality, among the rest. Nonetheless, although various countries have formed organizations for handling indigenous affairs and have made notable progress, there is still room for improvement in engaging with minority peoples.
- Blackstock, Cindy. “The occasional evil of angels: Learning from the experiences of Aboriginal peoples and social work.” First Peoples Child & Family Review: A Journal on Innovation and Best Practices in Aboriginal Child Welfare Administration, Research, Policy & Practice 4.1 (2009): 28-37.
- Ives, Nicole, Denov, Myriam and Sussman, Tamara. Chapter 1: Historical foundations of addressing need: Indigenous, French and English Traditions. In Ives, Nicole, Denov, Myriam and Sussman, Tamara (Eds.) Introduction to Social Work in Canada (2nd ed, pp.3-29) Toronto: Oxford University Press.