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Over the last decades, tribal tourism has gained popularity, especially the last few years. With this vast development, several tribal communities around the world started relying on tourism as a major source of income – which came to a standstill due to the global travel suspension caused by Covid-19.

The consequences are severe: at risk are the indigenous ways of life, traditions, culture, and what many are not aware of: ultimately also the forests. Indigenous people make up only about 5% of the global population, at the same time they are responsible for the protection of 80% of the earth’s biodiversity, and, therefore, they help keeping the worst effects of climate change under control! Now, those communities are at risk, belonging to the most vulnerable ones in the world: 

  • Lack of medical care combined with geographical isolation & poverty
    Being many kilometres away from the next city, the chances of being exposed to the virus are reduced. However, once the virus arrives in the community and emergency medical assistance is needed, the remote location could mean disaster, as the necessary medical infrastructures is not provided on-site, and transport and treatment are expensive.
  • Pre-existing health conditions
    Medical conditions like diabetes and respiratory disease are often very high among indigenous people.
  • Little to no immunity to foreign diseases
    As most indigenous tribes have lived quite isolated, their immune system is not prepared to fight foreign diseases. Combined with the high rate of pre-existing medical conditions, they can become very prone to infections.

Without governmental support and the frequent discrimination they are facing, tribal people are left alone weighing the long-term impact of village lockdowns against the risk of the virus entering their circle. Some turn to faith for guidance, others try to obey strict quarantining for as long as they can, relying on help from each other. Many lost their biggest income source and struggle to feed their families, as no tourists are currently visiting and taking part in the service and activities provided by the tribal people anymore. For instance, among the Metis people in Canada, many community-owned tourism businesses are being shut down, which causes a tremendous decrease in jobs. Here, surviving the pandemic leaves many with an uncertain future, as, for now, their main source of income is snatched away from them. 

Another devastating loss caused by COVID-19 are some of the ancient traditions, that are beginning to slip away. In Araucanía region, Chile, the Mapuche’s cultural traditions are put on hold, such as  the Walung fair, an event commemorating the ancient practice of exchanging seeds, or their New Year celebration Wiñol Tripantu, which is one of the most important celebrations for this tribe. These are just some examples of cultural heritage, that might vanish completely. 

Next to those disastrous effects, COVID-19 may offer a possible chance for the future as well: while tribes can live at peace, without the fear of invasion or other external threats, for the first time in years, this moment of crisis offers the world a chance to realize their importance and value for all of us!

Check out the source of this information and pictures, and more detailed data about how specific tribes are affected by and dealing with COVID-19 via the links below, and have a look at Planeterra Foundation and their fund-raising #planeterratrek challenge to support local communities to rebuild and recover from the repercussion of the global travel halt.

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