March 14, 2014: "Indigenous well-being amid socioeconomic transformation"

Indigenous people (or native peoples, tribal peoples) number about 370 million in over 5,000 populations in 70 countries. Despite comprising only 5% of the world population, indigenous people constitute about 15% of the world’s poor. Many indigenous people continue to practice traditional subsistence practices, although the kinds and pace of lifestyle change vary widely among groups. In 2013, no group remains a pristine “isolate”; all are enmeshed to some extent in the politics, economics and culture of national and global society. Macro-level changes in socioeconomic conditions, market participation and acculturation (loosely combined into the term “modernization”) present new opportunities and challenges among indigenous people today. Despite the growing awareness and appreciation of indigeneity worldwide, even two decades after the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was declared by the United Nations in 1994, indigenous people often experience higher morbidity and mortality than other populations in their home countries, higher poverty and greater discrimination. The gaps in wealth and income between indigenous and non-indigenous people have remained the same in many nations, especially in Latin America.

The goal of this workshop is to highlight current and potentially future health risks of indigenous people, and to address the related question about what causes and perpetuates “poverty traps” that lead to further health inequities. We pose the same question raised in the title of a paper in Lancet in 2006: “Indigenous peoples health – why are they behind everyone, everywhere?”. The epidemiological transition from receding pandemics to “lifestyle” non-communicable diseases has been observed in industrialized societies over the course of centuries, but has been non-existent, recent and incomplete among many indigenous populations, where many may suffer from both common infections like malaria and chronic diseases such as heart disease. Important questions to address include: (1) Are indigenous people at greater risk of certain types of ailments than majority populations? (2) Are new health threats emerging (e.g. obesity, diabetes, alcoholism) at the same time that others are diminishing (e.g. tuberculosis)? (3) What are the obstacles to improving indigenous physical and mental well-being?  (4) How is the changing state of indigenous health and well-being impacted (and impacting) social networks and other traditional means of buffering risk? (5) How do indigenous people perceive and conceptualize their own health, wealth and status amid socioeconomic change? The assembled group of speakers from across the social sciences will address these and other related questions. 

Workshop Presentations:

Claudia Valeggia "Biosocial perspectives on current health status of Toba and Wichi populations in northern Argentina"

Josh Snodgrass "Health of indigenous circumpolar populations"

Flora Lu and Mark Sorensen "The Effects of Market Integration on Childhood Health and Well-Being in the Ecuadorean Amazon"