Nature and Environmental Book Reviews

Short List of Best Nature and Environmental Books



Cultural Survival of Indigenous People

by David Yarian, Ph.D.

Globalization, population growth and the triumph of capitalism are threatening almost every indigenous, non-industrial culture with extinction. Of the six to seven thousand languages spoken on the Earth today, almost half are spoken by fewer than three thousand native speakers. Some tongues are known by only one or two living persons.

Indigenous peoples are being crowded off their lands which may hold mineral and oil deposits, valuable timber, plants for pharmaceuticals, and fish and wildlife for exploitation – or be valuable for development purposes. The displaced people drift to urban shantytowns, losing their ability to maintain their millennia–old community and way of life.

Saving the Earth means that it is important to preserve and protect all the rich diversity of life on this planet: that includes not only species that are endangered and on the verge of extinction, but cultures and peoples as well.

While English may be on its way to becoming the lingua franca of the world, thus easing global communication, there are tradeoffs. Any language brings with it tacit, structural assumptions embedded in its grammar and vocabulary. So whatever language rules supreme, whether English or Mandarin or Esperanto, the culture of that language takes root everywhere, pushing aside the diverse worldviews contained and expressed by the world’s languages.

This Earth is the richer for the vast variety and abundance of all forms of life, and the proliferation of unique worldviews and cultures that are attuned to a particular place.

The books listed in the section on Indigenous People - Cultural Survival are passionate and articulate descriptions of the crisis facing indigenous peoples today, and describe particular examples of cultures struggling for survival. They tell of kinship systems, worldviews, art and craft and custom, languages and writing systems that add to the amazing diversity of human culture.

Innovative programs that are finding new ways to integrate growth and the survival of indigenous peoples are described, as well as the crucial role these groups have to play in ecosystem conservation.