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Survival International

Progress can kill

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> How imposed development destroys the health of tribal peoples

Across the world, from the poorest to the richest countries, indigenous peoples today experience chronic ill health. They endure the worst of the diseases that accompany poverty and, simultaneously, many suffer from ‘diseases of affluence’ - such as cancers and obesity - despite often receiving few of the benefits of ‘development’. Diabetes alone threatens the very survival of many indigenous communities in rich countries. Indigenous peoples also experience serious mental health problems and have high levels of substance abuse and suicide. The Pikangikum Indians of Ontario, for example, have a suicide rate nearly 40 times the national Canadian average.

But indigenous peoples have not always been so unwell, and those who live independent lives on their own lands, eating traditional foods, continue to be healthy and strong. These groups may be poor in monetary terms, but are rich in many other ways. They typically have many of the characteristics that have been found to raise happiness, including strong social relationships, stable political systems, high levels of trust and support, and religious or spiritual beliefs, which give their lives meaning. A study exploring happiness and ‘life satisfaction’ found a high score among a traditional group of Maasai who had resisted colonial attempts to change their way of life and who had largely avoided the market economy. The Maasai had a similar life satisfaction rating to those on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans.

(The full length, in-depth report for those wanting to know more.43 pages, PDF)

date of on-line publication : 16 October 2007

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