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Impact of Colonialism on Indigenous People

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Human Rights
Wordcount: 1044 words Published: 6th Sep 2017

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In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Observed on the second Monday of October every year, the federally recognized holiday celebrates the achievements of the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus. But because his arrival brought murder and slavery to indigenous peoples in the Americas, activists have attempted to rename this holiday to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

Though Indigenous Peoples’ Day aims to reframe the heritage narrative in the United States, many indigenous people around the world are forgotten, including the people of K’iche’ in Guatemala who are on the verge of being pushed out of their homeland.

With roots as far back as 2000 BC, the K’iche’ were among the few Maya groups who survived after the decline of the great Mayan Empire. After the conquest by the Spaniards and Kaqchikel neighbors, who allied almost immediately with the Spaniards, in 800 AD, the fortunes of the K’iche’ changed virtually overnight. Their lands were seized and they were relegated to the status of laborers for their new, colonial landowners. Little has changed since that time.

In a country where, Mayan descents constitute roughly 51% of the national population, ethnic diversity makes Guatemala a nation of immense human richness having its own cultural identity. However, discrimination against indigenous population is undeniable in Guatemala.

As of today, 10% of total land is in Indigenous hands, which is not surprising where 85% of the nation’s land is owned by less than 2% of the population. In response, the Guatemalan government did provide about 5.2 million acres of concession areas for indigenous communities like the K’iche’ to take care of. However, areas controlled by the government undergo the most deforestation.

Nearly 40% of Guatemala is covered by forests, making illegal logging a widespread issue that threatens the livelihood of people who rely on forests for survival. Critics blame uneducated campesinos clearing land for agriculture as one of the prime culprits. Though this does represent a threat, there are bigger threats, including lumber companies, and organized crime. Nevertheless, the government does not seem to have the political will to eradicate the dilemma.

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Some K’iche’ members, living in the highland Ixil Maya municipality of Nebaj, are actively protesting logging companies exploiting lumber on private lands. While the Indigenous Authorities of Nebaj issued a statement asking the government to take action, they declined to act and simply issued a statement that they are planting new trees for every one that is cut down. Eliseo Gálvez, the deputy executive secretary of the government’s National Council of Protected Areas, testified that for years, judges and the forestry police, have failed to coordinate this complication. Or perhaps, this very reason could very well be that the Guatemalan Ministry of the Economy actively promotes the investment of companies interested in exploiting the country’s nearly 2 million acres of forests.

Timber companies aren’t the only ones contributing to the deforestation efforts. Drug traffickers have cleared large swaths of forests to lay down clandestine airplane landing strips and roads to haul through drugs. Galvez added, “Now it is even more complex because of the influence of illegal actors” who are using the park to move migrants and drugs north. In some parts of Guatemala, the narco-led deforestation annual rate was reported to be about 10 percent.

“In response to the crackdown in Mexico, drug traffickers began moving south into Central America around 2007 to find new routes through remote areas to move their drugs from South America and get them to the United States,” said Kendra McSweeney, an associate professor of geography at the Ohio State University.

But while bribes keep government officials looking the other way when it comes to deforestation activities, local activists and indigenous people pay the consequence when they speak up. As one of the highest homicide rates in Central America, kidnappings and extortion are not uncommon to indigenous people who may not have the economic ability to pay up, leaving parents to instead pay human smugglers to get their children to the United States, away from the crime. That in part helps to explain why large numbers of unaccompanied children began arriving in the United States starting in late 2013.


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