How to be a responsible tourist with aboriginal people

The New York Times deplored the state of tourism in Brazil in an article last week. Author, Vanessa Barbara denounced among other things: Amazon’s riverside dwellers forcefully training animals for selfies, tour guides encouraging visitors to feed wildlife frozen fish, and tourists punching dolphins (no joke); concluding that the country had a long way to go when it comes to ecotourism.

As though the cruelty of man towards wildlife wasn’t enough, Barbara also decried the arguably more disturbing, yet banal, cruelty of man towards man: The touristic exploitation of Amazon’s indigenous population, a community formed by five ethnic groups (Dessana, Tukana, Tuyuca, Wanana and Tatuia).

Since the 1900s these populations have been expelled from their territories and are today perhaps the most impoverished population in the country.

“For five years, 34 Tariano people [for example] worked for a jungle lodge in exchange for only leftover food and a collective paycheck of $30 per performance. Others are not even paid and instead rely on selling handicrafts and jewelry to the visitors. There is no industry standard agreement on the fair share of revenues for indigenous groups, and again, no federal regulation. It seems nothing will change until indigenous people themselves have the means to control all aspects of the experience they offer to tourists — and also reap the profits,” Barbara explains.

Also known as first peoples, aboriginal tribes worldwide have been around for millenaries... There presence dates back to pre-Columbian times at the very least. According to Survival International (one of True Tribe’s valued partners) they are the best at sustaining land with 80% of the most bio-diverse areas on Earth home to indigenous and tribal peoples. We could perhaps learn from them instead of expelling them from their lands and exploiting them for the sake of touristic entertainment.

Here are a few guidelines to responsible tourism when it comes to the cause of aboriginal people. It’s not enough but it’s a good start:

1-If you’re visiting a national park make sure that aboriginal populations have not been expelled from it for the sake of ‘conservation’. That’s just a contradiction in terms as aboriginal population are the most qualified people to conserve their own habitat. By visiting the specific reserves from which they have been expelled you are supporting the wrong type of wildlife conservation, by denying to them what they are inherently a part of.

2-Do your Homework. If it is your wish to meet a tribe do it responsibly. Look up thoroughly the ethics and partnerships of the company you are soliciting. Boycott those you are not sure about. 

3-Beware especially of guides or tour companies proposing visits to, or worse: from aboriginal people. You should be especially skeptical if these advertise the ‘primitive’ aspects of such tribes such as their nudity or folkloric rituals as it is usually in these instances that you will step into ‘human safaris’ in which these people are asked to perform their sacred traditions for your personal enjoyment, like dancing for bonbons.

4-Do not visit uncontacted aboriginal tribes that are not accustomed to foreign contact. These isolated societies have particular health sensitivities as they are not immune to the flu or measles. Half of a tribe may extinct in the first year of contact with such viruses.



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