Of the Far West, the ‘Good Cowboys’… and the ‘Bad Indians’


Baher Kamal | Human Wrongs Watch - TRANSCEND Media Service

8 Aug 2022 – Nothing–or too little–has changed since Hollywood started producing its spectacular western movies. Rough men, ranchers, mercenary killers, saloons, cowboys, guns, gold fever, the ‘good sheriff’… and the ‘bad indians”. Those movies were anything but fiction–they were real history.

Add to this mix the deeply-rooted, widely dominating culture of the so-called “white supremacy.”

The female guardians of Venezuela’s Imataca Forest Reserve | An FAO-GEF project, which also aims to increase gender equality in the forestry sector, has continued supporting the Kariña women in actively leading the development of their territories and the conservation of the area’s biodiversity. Credit: FAO

The female guardians of Venezuela’s Imataca Forest Reserve | An FAO-GEF project, which also aims to increase gender equality in the forestry sector, has continued supporting the Kariña women in actively leading the development of their territories and the conservation of the area’s biodiversity. Credit: FAO

Consequently, the hollywoodian production has constantly depicted the “indians” as savage and ruthless, uncivilised people who devastate the lands of well-intentioned colonisers, burn their homes, steal their horses, kill them, and hang their skulls as trophies.

The show goes on. And the victims are the same ones: the Indigenous Peoples.

Century after century, the indigenous peoples have been living in their lands in a perfect harmony with Nature, on which their life depends. They know how to guard precious natural resources and are the custodians of 80% of biodiversity.

But, tragically, the very richness in natural resources which the original people of Planet Earth have been keen to conserve and preserve, soon stood behind their dramatic fate.

The modern cowboys

Exactly like in those movies, the world’s biggest modern, intrepid cowboys–the giant private corporations, have been systematically depleting those natural resources for the sake of making profits.

The current world ranchers and their cowboys appear to be the big business of timber, livestock, intensive agriculture, mono-culture, mining, carbon, oil, dams, land grabbing, luxurious resorts, golf camps, wild urbanisation, and a long etcetera.

The consequences of such depletion are, among many others:

  • While humanity used to cultivate more than 6.000 plant species for food, now instead fewer than 200 of these species make major contributions to food production, now only 9% account for 66% of total crop production. Once depleted, big business supplants Nature with synthetic food.
  • Over the last 50 years, the global economy has grown nearly five-fold, due largely to a tripling in extraction of natural resources and energy that has fuelled growth in production and consumption.
  • Three quarters of the land and two thirds of the oceans are now impacted by humans. One million of the world’s estimated 8 million species of plants and animals are threatened with extinction, and many of the ecosystem services essential for human well- being are eroding.
  • Around one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction.
  • The Planet is losing 4.7 million hectares of forests every year – an area larger than Denmark.

They are the ancestors

The number of indigenous peoples is estimated at nearly 500 million, similar to the combined population of the European Union’s 27 member countries, or the total inhabitants of two of the world’s biggest nuclear powers–the United States and the Russian Federation.

The figure refers to those who identify themselves as being indigenous or indegenous descendents. Many others opt for no admitting themselves as such, due to worldwide growing wave of xenophobia.

According to the United Nations, Indigenous Peoples consider 22% of the world’s land surface their home. They live in areas where around 80% of the Planet’s biodiversity is found on not-commercially-exploited land.

And at least 40% of the 7,000 languages used worldwide are at some level of endangerment. Indigenous languages are particularly vulnerable because many of them are not taught at school or used in the public sphere.

Key facts:

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that:

  • There are in fact more than 476 million Indigenous Peoples in the seven socio-cultural regions of the world, in 90 countries, belonging to more than 5,000 different groups.
  • Asia has the largest concentration of Indigenous Peoples with 70.5 %, followed by Africa with 16.3 %, and Latin America with 11.5 %. In Canada and the United States of America, Indigenous Peoples represent 6.7 % of the total population.
  • Indigenous Peoples make up 6.2% of the global population with the majority living in middle-income countries.
  • Indigenous Peoples represent more than 19% of the extreme poor.
  • Indigenous Peoples’ territories encompass 28% of the surface of the globe and contain 11% of the world’s forests.
  • Indigenous Peoples’ food systems have high levels of self-sufficiency ranging from 50 % to 80% in food and resources generation.

Abused also by job markets

Meanwhile, Indigenous Peoples are considerably abused also by the job markets. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO):

  • Globally, 47% of all Indigenous Peoples in employment have no education, compared to 17% of their non-indigenous counterparts. This gap is even wider for women.
  • More than 86% of Indigenous Peoples globally work in the informal economy, compared to 66% for their non-indigenous counterparts.
  • Indigenous Peoples are nearly three times as likely to be living in extreme poverty compared to their non-indigenous counterparts.

Indigenous women

Indigenous women are the backbone of Indigenous Peoples’ communities and play a crucial role in the preservation and transmission of traditional ancestral knowledge, states the 2022 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (9 August)

They have an integral collective and community role as carers of natural resources and keepers of scientific knowledge. And many indigenous women are also taking the lead in the defence of Indigenous Peoples’ lands and territories and advocating for their collective rights worldwide, the UN further explains.

“However, despite the crucial role indigenous women play in their communities as breadwinners, caretakers, knowledge keepers, leaders and human rights defenders, they often suffer from intersecting levels of discrimination on the basis of gender, class, ethnicity and socio-economic status.”

Poverty, illiteracy, no sanitation, no health services, no jobs…

Indigenous women particularly suffer high levels of poverty; low levels of education and illiteracy; limitations in the access to health, basic sanitation, credit and employment; limited participation in political life; and domestic and sexual violence, reports the World Day.

Besides, their right to self-determination, self-governance and control of resources and ancestral lands have been violated over centuries.

Small but significant progress has been made by indigenous women in decision-making processes in some communities, achieving leadership in communal and national roles, and standing on the protest frontlines to defend their lands and the planet’s decreasing biodiversity.

“The reality, however, remains that indigenous women are widely under-represented, disproportionately negatively affected by decisions made on their behalf, and are too frequently the victims of multiple expressions of discrimination and violence.”

In short, the world’s human ancestors have systematically fallen defenseless victims to subjugation, marginalisation, dispossession, exclusion, stigmatisation and discrimination.

Simply, claiming their due rights implies losing business profits.


Baher Kamal, a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, is an Egyptian-born, Spanish national, secular journalist, with over 45 years of professional experience — from reporter to special envoy to chief editor of national dailies and an international news agency. Baher is former Senior Advisor to the Director General of the international news agency IPS (Inter Press Service) and he also contributed to prestigious magazines such as TRANSCEND Media Service, GEO, Muy Interesante, and Natura, Spain. He is also publisher and editor of Human Wrongs Watch.

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