MRG Podcast: April 2011
Welcome to Minority Rights Group International’s April 2011 podcast. This month we investigate the situation for minorities in troubled Pakistan, take a step back into history to hear about how the assimilation of indigenous people into mainstream society in Canada in the 19th Century has left a legacy of social damage, and travel to the Sahara desert to listen to the mesmeric sounds of the Tuareg.
According to official figures 96 per cent of Pakistan’s population follows the Islamic faith. Christians, Hindus, Ahamaddiyas, scheduled castes and others, including Sikhs and Parsis, are officially recognized as religious minorities, and make up the remaining 4 per cent of the total population.
Attacks against religious minorities are on the rise. At the beginning of March, Shahbaz Bhatti, one of Pakistan’s only vociferous champions for marginalised communities and a staunch opponent of the country’s blasphemy laws, was tragically gunned down in Islamabad. Jared Ferrie, author of MRG’s briefing paper, Pakistan: Minorities at risk in the North West, travelled to the country to find out more.
Some 1.3 million indigenous people, also known as First Nations or Aboriginals, inhabit Canada today, around 3.3 per cent of the population. When European explorers first arrived in the territory that is now Canada, they encountered indigenous peoples who had established numerous distinct societies thousands of years before. Yet by some estimates, two times more First Nations people lived in Canada when the Europeans arrived than do today. Only one-quarter of First Nations people still live in their own original territories.
In the 19th Century the government employed assimilation of First Nations people as a key method of freeing up land for development. A vital element of the assimilation policy was compulsory schooling in church-run institutions established by missionaries during the mid-1800s. The stated goal was to ‘civilize' the Natives and mould them into God-fearing Canadian citizens, preferably nowhere near their ancestral lands.
These schools also intended to fulfil the government's obligation under the Indian Act to provide education for Aboriginal children. The government operated most schools in partnership with religious institutions until 1969, when the state assumed full responsibility for the school system. In these ‘residential schools', the last of which closed in 1996, an estimated 100,000 First Nations children endured difficult conditions, including for many sexual, physical and emotional abuse, deprivation and loneliness.
MRG’s Maurice Bryan, spoke to Chief Wilton Littlechild, Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Our music this week comes from the group Tinariwen, Tuareg musicians from the Sahara Desert region of northern Mali who formed the band in 1979.
The Tuareg are semi-nomadic herders and traders living in Northern Mali and across its borders in Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya. They are descended from Berbers of North Africa and speak a Berber language: Tamasheq. The name Tinariwen in Tamashek translates as "The People of the Deserts" or "The Desert Boys."
Tinariwen was founded by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, who at age 4 witnessed the execution of his father, a Tuareg rebel, during a 1963 uprising in Mali.
Legend has it that Ag Alhabib saw a western film as a child, in which a cowboy played a guitar. He was inspired to build his own guitar out of a tin can, a stick and bicycle brake wire, and used it to play a blend of old Tuareg and modern Arabic pop tunes.
In the late 1970s Ag Alhabib joined with other musicians in the Tuareg rebel community and acquired their first real acoustic guitar in 1979. They lived in refugee camps and with other Tuareg exiles in Libya and Algeria before finally returning to settle in Mali in the late 1980s. The band has a sizeable and avid following in both Africa and the rest of the world.