With a population numbering approximately 45 million people, one could be led to believe that the indigenous peoples of the Americas are actively thriving. But these statistics fail to include the continent’s large Mestizo population or underline the ever-present spectre of Native culture within Latin society.

Festivals such as Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), Bumba Meu Boi and Inti Raymi all have their origins in indigenous beliefs, alongside the long-standing amalgamations of European and Pre-Columbian traditions that still permeate the cultural fabric of Latin American societies. Reality, however, is far from pleasant.

…pages of unbridled and damning stories…

In the first half of the 20th century, roughly one hundred indigenous groups in Brazil were systematically destroyed during campaigns of illegal encroachment and unsuccessful attempts to integrate Native culture into mainstream Brazilian society. Deforestation, agricultural expansion and the incessant exploitation of other natural resources have proven to be a deciding factor in a modern day genocide of the country’s forgotten citizens; a harsh reality that was summed up in the 1967 Figueiredo report.

The 5,000 pages of unbridled and damning stories pertaining to the persistent enslavement, massacre and abuse of Brazilian Natives uncovered an unspoken truth.

…the multitude of harrowing sagas that has befallen Latin America for generations.

It is estimated that civilizations existed for over ten thousand years in Brazil before the arrival of European colonizers. An area of the Americas that was once home to over two thousand distinct ethnic groups with a variety of diverging languages and dialects. Yet the suffering of Brazil’s indigenous ethnic groups is only one part in the multitude of harrowing sagas that has befallen Latin America for generations.

Recent studies, for example, have unequivocally ascertained that after the arrival of Columbus in 1492, the entire indigenous American population experienced a contraction of up to 50%. Falling victim to a myriad of different troubles that ranged from the rampant spread of European diseases such as Smallpox to the systematic killing of thousands, history has proven to be a cruel mistress for the Native inhabitants of the Americas.

…false reports of mass suicide…

Now, amidst recent news reports regarding the plight of Mexico’s Tarahumara, the unashamed betrayal of Latin American Natives is once again being thrust into the spotlight. Drought, famine and the worrying prevalence of substance abuse have consistently marginalised the Tarahumara in previous years, resulting in increasingly high mortality rates and the wide-scale destruction of a way of life that has survived for millennia.

Only due to false reports of mass suicide did the Mexican government finally act, prompting a much needed aid effort that has highlighted the suffering of over 200,000 tribe members.

…lest we are to witness the crimes of the past…

Such wanton hardship, however, has also been disquietingly prevalent in Peru during recent years, as highlighted by an Amnesty International report that documented. Irrespective of attempts to force Natives to adhere to Western standards of modernity, therefore, it is evident that such efforts have made little, if any progress.

Thus, it is of pressing importance that an atmosphere of egalitarianism between the descendents of the continent’s colonizers and its original inhabitants is promptly fostered, lest we are to witness the crimes of the past effortlessly transcend into the 21st century.


About The Author

Modern Languages student at UCL with an interest in Current Affairs and Sport.

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