Chapter VII - Indigenous People and their Communities

   This document has been made available in electronic format
      by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA

  Contribution of Co-operative Enterprises and the International
     Co-operative Movement to Implementation of UN AGENDA 21:
       Programme of Action for Sustainable Development 

                     Prepared jointly by
             the International Co-operative Alliance
                      the United Nations
  Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development

                 Geneva and New York, April 1995

        For information purposes only. Not an official
   document of the United Nations and not officially edited.

                         CHAPTER VII

     In 1992 the United Nations estimated that there were
300,000,000 indigenous people living in more than 70 countries. 
Although in many countries considerable proportions - even the
majority - now live in urban areas, it is still the case that
most indigenous peoples live and work in rural regions, many in
the ecologically fragile areas where they originally lived, or
into which they were pushed by the expansion of other
populations. It is in respect to the role in sustainable
development of those still resident in rural regions that the
relevance of co-operative enterprise will be examined.

     Co-operative enterprises are a particularly well suited form
of empowerment for indigenous peoples, and an organizational form
usually well suited to the socio-cultural values and norms which
characterise most indigenous communities.  Because co-operatives
established by and for indigenous communities can group
themselves in larger federations of "indigenous co-operatives"
the empowerment process is strengthened. Finally, such
federations can become members of national and hence
international alliances of co-operative movements, thereby
securing not only a source of solidarity and practical support,
but a forum for addressing their concerns to wider society.

A.  Experience in fragile ecosystems subject to drought and

    At the time of writing there was no information on the use
of co-operative enterprises by indigenous peoples in regions at
risk of desertification in central and southern America, Africa,
or western Asia. In Australia the experience was not particularly
successful. In 1993 there were 25 active co-operative enterprises
whose members were drawn from the aboriginal population.   These
originated during the 1950s with very substantial external
promotion by cooperators, trade unionists and church leaders, and
increased in number during the late 1960s and 1970s with
substantial initiatives and support by State and Federal
Government departments. In the early 1980s the goals of these co-
operatives were described as being provision of housing and
employment, largely as a means to improve health, welfare and
education. In 1993 only one of the co-operatives was primarily
engaged in production: this was a wholesale fish marketing co-
operative (Jervis Bay Fishing Co-op Ltd.).  The Bunjum Co-op
Society, originally formed as a sugar-cane producer co-operative,
was mainly engaged in housing and welfare activities. The other
23 co-operatives were engaged primarily in housing, health,
education, welfare and child-care.  The Chief Advisory Officer
at the Registry of Co-operatives in New South Wales stated in 
1993 that these co-operatives had not been successful: they had
sustained financial losses; member participation had diminished;
there was little investment in equity capital by members. They
were characterized by inadequate management, financial and
commercial skills reflecting inadequate education and training
in co-operative operation.  Incompatibility between aboriginal
culture and co-operative principles was identified as a further
characteristic:  for example, decision-making by a Board was
perceived to be alien to that of the entire community dominated
by the elders.  Factionalism had arisen where members were drawn
from more than one tribe. 95/ 

B.  Experience in fragile ecosystems requiring sustainable
    mountain development

    In India large multi-purpose co-operatives have been
organized in indigenous ("tribal areas').  Early in 1994 there
were 2,646 indigenous co-operatives with 3,030,000 members.  
Most were forestry co-operatives.  In some areas these co-
operatives have formed district level federations.  At the
national level the Tribal Agricultural Co-operative Marketing
Federation (TRIFED) provides services to all indigenous co-
operatives. The National Co-operative Development Corporation,
a statutory parastatal organization set up to assist co-operative
development, supports co-operatives whose members are indigenous
peoples. 96/ 

C.  Experience in fragile tropical rainforest ecosystems

    In Mexico the National Indigenous Institute, with the
assistance of the World Food Programme,  helped in the formation
of a co-operative in Misol-Ha, in Chiapas State.  A tourist
centre would generate income, and the co-operative would serve
as a means to teach the importance of preserving forest resources
in an area of slash-and-burn agriculture where the forest had
been perceived as an obstacle rather than an asset. 97/

    The Regional Office of ICA for Central America and the
Caribbean has recently carried out a series of activities to
commemorate the International Year for the World's Indigenous
Peoples under the aegis of its Human Rights Programme.  A seminar
was organized in February 1993 at San Jose, Costa Rica, on
"Identity, Culture and the Mayan Perspective".  It was attended
by representatives of the Maya people, as well as co-operative
leaders from Costa Rica and Guatemala.  A training seminar on
"Women, Human Rights and Co-operatives" was held in March 1993
at Totonicapan, Guatemala. It was attended by more than fifty
women from indigenous communities and women's co-operatives. The
Regional Office had prepared a training module on the theme of
the human rights of indigenous peoples, indigenous common law,
cultural values and identity. In Ecuador in October 1993 a
seminar was held on co-operatives and indigenous peoples. 98/

D.  Experience in fragile arctic ecosystems

    In the United States the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement
Act gave 200 co-operatively structured village and regional
Aleut, Indian and Inuit native corporations (shareholder-owned
groups organized on a one-member, one-vote basis) control over
44 million acres of homeland and $ US one billion for economic
development projects controlled by the indigenous resident
population. 99/

    In northern Canada Inuit peoples have established their own
co-operatives, and subsequently their own regional federation,
linked to the national movement. 100/

E.  Support by intergovernmental organizations

    The International Labour Organisation has recently launched
an Inter-Regional Programme to Support Self-Reliance of
Indigenous and Tribal Communities through Co-operatives and other
Self-Help Organizations (INDISCO). It has begun projects in India
and the Philippines.

95/  Review of International Co-operation, vol.86, No. 1,
     (1993), pp. 59-64.
96/  Communication from ICA Regional Office for Asia and the
     Pacific, May 1994.
97/  ICA News, No. 5, 1994, p.6.
98/  Review of International Co-operation, vol. 86, No. 2,
     (1993), p. 44.
99/  National Cooperative Bank, op.cit., p. 29.
100/ Arctic Co-operatives Limited/NWT Cooperative Business Fund,
     The cooperative movement in the Northwest Territories: an
     overview, 1959-1989, n.p., n.d. (1990);  Aleksandrs
     Sprudzs, "Co-operatives in the Canadian Arctic", in Year
     Book of Agricultural Co-operation, 1984, (edited by J.
     Elise Bayley and Edgar Parnell), Oxford, Plunkett
     Foundation, 1985, pp. 165-185.