10 Photos That Celebrate The Resilience Of Indigenous Peoples Around The World

The second Monday in October, traditionally called Columbus Day, is now known in 14 states, the District of Columbia and more than 130 cities as Indigenous People’s Day. 

The name change is symbolic and important, emphasizing the need to recognize and honor the history and culture of Indigenous people — rather than celebrating the European explorer who brought colonialism, disease and violence to their communities.

The story of Indigenous people in America is one that echoes around the globe. “From the Amazon to the Kalahari, from the jungles of India to the Congo rainforest, … tribal peoples … suffer racism, land theft, forced development and genocidal violence,” reads the website of Survival International, an organization that fights for the rights of Indigenous people.

Native peoples have strong cultural ties to their lands and proud traditions of protecting natural resources. But they largely lack legal control of those lands, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by major industries such as fossil fuels, mining, logging and agriculture. Even today, they are being killed defending their ancestral homes. 

There are many stories of the strength and survival of Indigenous people that rarely get told. This series of photos, submitted to Survival International for its “We, The People” 2021 calendar, celebrates the resilience and pride of tribal people around the world as they fight to preserve their lives and their heritage. 

Above: Brazil, 2019 ― The Wauja are one of more than 300 distinct Indigenous peoples in Brazil.

Ecuador, 2020 ― Veronica, an Achuar midwife, in her garden, where she grows medicinal plants to treat her patients. The Achuar people have lived in the Amazon Basin for thousands of years, their lands straddling the border between Ecuador and Peru, but today they face threats from climate change and the timber and oil companies. Together with her people, Veronica is fighting against those who exploit and destroy the Amazon rainforest.

Bayan-Ölgii Province, Mongolia, 2018 ― Zamanbol, 14, with her eagle hunting partner. Zamanbol is a Kazakh nomad who lives in the Altai region of Mongolia. She lives in town during the week to attend school, but on the weekends returns to her family’s ger, or yurt. She is one of a number of young nomads who are embracing the traditional customs of their people, which stretch back centuries, in a bid to hold onto their identities and their connection to nature.

West-Central Brazil, 2017 ― Children from the Paiter-Suruí, an Indigenous group of around 1,400 people who live in the Brazilian Amazon on the border between the states of Rondônia and Mato Grosso. In 2012, they became the first tribe in the world to implement a carbon credit scheme ― preserving the rainforest and selling credits to companies keen to offset their own climate footprints. But the discovery of gold and diamonds on the land fueled deforestation and the scheme was formally suspended in 2018. Members of the tribe still work to protect their land. Where Indigenous people steward their own land, there is half as much deforestation and high levels of biodiversity, research shows.

Chukchi Sea, Alaska, U.S., 2018 ― Knowledge of the sea ice is paramount to the survival of the Iñupiat people, who have hunted whales in sealskin boats above the Arctic Circle for millennia. In recent years, melting ice has made hunting and fishing more difficult and traveling from one village to another more dangerous. Indigenous peoples are least responsible for climate change, yet they pay the greatest price.

Serra do Padeiro, Brazil, 2018 ― Tupinambá dancers. Indigenous communities around the world legally own only 10% of their lands. In Brazil, as in other parts of South America, industrial development drives Indigenous people such as the Tupinambá from their homes, threatens their lives and livelihoods, and fractures their cultural heritage, which is closely tied to the land.

Colombia, 2020 ― A leader of the Yagua community, whose land lies between Colombia and Peru. The rose-colored seeds of the achiote tree produce a pigment known as annatto. Now a common food colorant around the world, it was discovered by Amazonian Indians, who use it as to spice food, to dye fabric, and to paint their hair and bodies.

Peru, 2018 ― The Quechua live in the valleys, mountains and high barren plains of the Andes. Eking out a living at such altitudes is not easy, but the Quechua have developed ways to cope with the thin air. Quechua women are skilled weavers, making bright shawls that they wear to carry babies, firewood and maize.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia, 2020 ― To the Arhuaco people, their home, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, is the heart of the Earth and their role is to protect it. They call themselves the Hermanos Mayores — big brothers. 

Jharkhand, India, 2020 ― A Ho woman and her children enter a home decorated in bright colors, according to their custom. In India and around the world, many tribal children are being taught in so-called “factory schools” that try to strip them of their heritage and culture. 

To purchase Survival International’s 2021 calendar, click here. All proceeds from the calendar fund the group’s work for tribal peoples.

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