Canadian natives help isolated tribe in India

March 19, 2002

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A Canadian chief is today calling on an Indian court to prevent the recently contacted Jarawa tribe from being brought out of their forest home. Local authorities in the Andaman Islands, Indian territories in the Bay of Bengal, planned to remove the nomads to a government settlement in order to 'civilise' them. Learning of this plan, Simeon Tshakapesh, Chief of the Mushuau Innu in eastern Canada, has warned the Andaman administration of his own people's horrific experiences of forced resettlement.

The Mushuau Innu were the last Indians in Canada to be settled by the authorities. Formerly nomadic hunters, in the 1960s and 1970s they were coerced into living in villages by the Canadian government and Catholic Church. The result was a disaster.

Since relocation they suffer the highest suicide rate in the world, their infant mortality rate is seven times higher than the national average, 80% of adults have alcohol or drug problems and nearly 100% of their teenagers are engaged in 'self destructive behaviour'. This is the grim future that the Innu want to help the Jarawa avoid.

Chief Simeon and other experts have made 'expert witness testimonies' to India's High Court of Calcutta regarding the Jarawa's case. Survival is submitting the testimonies today. The fate of the 250-300 Jarawa lies with the court, which will decide whether or not the Jarawa should be allowed to continue to live in peace on their own land. If the Jarawa are forcibly settled, they will almost certainly die out.

Chief Simeon explains in his testimony that resettlement can become 'a death sentence for a self-sufficient and unique people. I implore you to learn from our situation before making any decisions which will drastically impact the lives of the Jarawa people.'

Survival's Director, Stephen Corry, said, 'The Indian authorities must listen to the Innu, who have lived through a resettlement such as that proposed for the Jarawa – and suffered terribly as a consequence.'

Photos available to the press: contact Miriam Ross (+44) (0)20 7687 8700 or email [email protected]