A photo of the “growing memorial” is seen as another BC Indigenous community claims ground-penetrating radar found human remains near a former residential school in Cranbrook, Canada on 30 June 2021. / Getty

A photo of the “growing memorial” is seen as another BC Indigenous community claims ground-penetrating radar found human remains near a former residential school in Cranbrook, Canada on 30 June 2021. / Getty

Editor’s Note: Stephen Ndegwa is Senior Lecturer at United States International University-Africa in Nairobi. He is also an expert in communication, author and columnist in international affairs. The article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of CGTN.

May will be remembered around the world as the month more anonymous graves of Indigenous children were discovered at the site of what was once Canada’s largest residential school for them, compulsory, government-funded and operated by the church.

At last count, there were over 1,100 such graves in several such schools in Canada. The shocking findings led indigenous groups to demand a nationwide search to see if there were more graves. These residential schools were established as part of a policy to “assimilate” Aboriginal children by destroying their cultures and languages.

The backlash was swift, with several Catholic churches built on native land bearing the brunt of the anger that followed. Most of these institutions were run by the Roman Catholic Church. This time, the Western media did not try to whitewash the truth and called the saga, essentially the murder of innocent people, a “cultural genocide”.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. History is replete with horror stories about the original residents of the United States and Europe decimated to make way for the New World. Historians say that European colonialism in the mid-20th century typically involved genocidal violence against indigenous groups in the Americas, Australia, Africa, and Asia.

It was a two-step process. First came the physical extermination of indigenous peoples and their ways of life. The surviving population was then forced to undergo a complete “cultural assimilation” which destroyed its identity and replaced it with that of its subjugators.

The United Nations (UN) defines indigenous peoples as those who were inhabiting a country or geographic region when people from different cultures or ethnicities arrived. The newcomers later became dominant through conquest, occupation, colonization or other means.

Besides these historical injustices, it is still a difficult world for the “original” peoples. Overwhelming and constant socio-economic and technological changes have made their plight worse. In addition to dealing with the normal challenges that everyone faces, the indigenous peoples of the world face harsher realities due to their inadequate social and economic status, which makes them more vulnerable.

A cemetery in Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada, June 30, 2021. / Getty

A cemetery in Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada, June 30, 2021. / Getty

This has become more evident since the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Marking the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9, the UN declared that “centuries-old marginalization and a set of different vulnerabilities expose indigenous peoples to the severe effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to UNESCO, “Indigenous peoples live in all regions of the world and own, occupy or use some 22 percent of the world’s land area. With an estimated population of between 370 and 500 million, they represent most of the world’s cultural diversity, and have created and speak most of the world’s nearly 7,000 languages. “

Basically the world will be worse if they go away. They have a special relationship with their land and have different conceptions of development. As the United Nations has recognized, they are the custodians of a great diversity of cultures, traditions, languages ​​and unique knowledge systems. These are invaluable in addressing challenges such as climate change and pandemics.

Guaranteeing their rights is a human rights imperative. While Western governments have a facade of progressive laws that protect and promote the rights of indigenous people, the story on the ground is different.

Ironically, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwest China, much maligned by the West, is a benchmark not only for the protection, but also for the empowerment of indigenous people.

Home to around 25 million people and with a documented history of at least 2,500 years, it has seen governments at various levels involved in efforts to ensure rapid development in the region over the past 20 years. The program has seen China’s most developed regions partner with cities in Xinjiang to promote agriculture, industry, technology, education, and health services.

Today, Xinjiang is a major producer of solar panel components. In 2020, it represented 45% of the global production of solar-grade polysilicon. China supplies 26 percent of world cotton exports and Xinjiang produces 84 percent, making it the world’s largest cotton exporter. It’s easy to see why the West envies the region.

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