Forcing 'development' or 'progress' on tribal people does not make them happier or healthier. In fact, the effects are disastrous. The most important factor by far for tribal peoples' well-being is whether their land rights are respected.
‘Progress’ is questioned less today than ever before; it is simply thought to be
good for all. Current notions of progress date from the colonial era, when the taking of resources and labour was supposedly justified by the giving of ‘civilisation’.
So what is progress? For the poor citizens of the poorer nations, its main pillars are schooling, which they hope leads to more money, and healthcare, which they pray
brings longer life. Progress can kill does not challenge this: some do see their dreams fulfilled, though others just get poorer. It is different for tribal peoples, particularly those with less contact with outsiders.
Forcing ‘progress’ on them never brings a longer, happier life, but a shorter, bleaker existence only escaped in death. It has destroyed many peoples and threatens many more. There are tribes who are aware of this and choose to remain isolated. Others have a closer relationship with outsiders – some of these receive healthcare intended to mitigate the devastation they face. But in a deadly catch-22, the ‘modern’ healthcare available to tribal peoples – even in the richest nations – is never enough to counter the effects of introduced diseases and the devastation caused by losing their land.
This study does not deny the genius and achievements of science, or support a romantic view that harks back to a mythic golden age. Nor is it a rejection of change – all societies change always.
The truth is that tribes who live on their own land – controlling their own adaptation to a changing world – are poor in monetary terms, but their quality of life and health is often visibly better than their compatriots. Indices show that when tribal peoples are forced off their land, their health and well-being plummet, while rates of depression, addiction and suicide soar. These are provable facts.
Recent attempts to measure ‘happiness’ indifferent populations bring no surprises to
those familiar with tribes still in control of their own lives: the world’s richest billionaires are no happier than the average Maasai herder.
Projects which remove tribes from their land and impose ‘progress’ cause untold misery. This is not surprising: ‘progress’ – the conviction that ‘we’ know best – shares with colonialism the effect of taking over native lands and resources. Tribal peoples do not survive it. On the other hand, when on their own land choosing their own development, they simply thrive.