Sophie Grig, senior campaigner at Survival International.
Sophie Grig has been with Survival since 1995 and has campaigned against the annihilation of tribal peoples in Bangladesh, India, Siberia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, West Papua and Indonesia. She has visited tribal communities in South America, Asia and Melanesia.
Sophie has also campaigned on uncontacted peoples in India and Melanesia; issues of tribal health and displacement; the dangers of imposing ‘development’ on self-sufficient tribal peoples; forcible evictions from tiger reserves and challenging prejudice against tribal people in India, where they are often portrayed as backward and primitive.
Survival International is the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights. We help them defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures.
Respect, Understanding & Hope for the Tribal People with Sophie Grig #isharehope Episode 116
Summary: Sophie’s answer to the five questions! Listen to the full conversation on the player above; also available on iTunes and Stitcher.
Question 1: How do you define hope or what is your favorite quote about hope?
“I think of the conditions in which we live – abject poverty, those little houses. We have nothing to eat and yet our people still sing with such joy, with such hope, always in search of the land without evil, a place of freedom and without violence. We Indians don’t want money or riches. Do you know what we want? We just want enough land to live on how we like.” ~Marta Silva, Guarani woman.
I think they give everyone hope that whatever life throws at you, you can still just, with the sense of community and the determination to have your land back and your life and your sense of who you are, you can get through everything and stay together united and sing with such joy. I can’t find anything more inspiring than that really.
Question 2: Who has shared the most hope with you?
I’ve been thinking of another tribe, the Dongria Kondhs who live in India. There’s about 8000 of them and they live in the mountains and their mountain is sacred to them. They call it Niyam Raja. They live on an enormous mountain of Bauxite and Vedanta Resources which is a UK-Indian international company, they wanted to mine on the Dongria’s sacred land. The Dongria fought it and resisted. It was incredibly strong and it was such a David and Goliath battle and they won. Survival worked with them.
With their courage and speaking out, we were helping to share their message around the world and in the end the Supreme Court in India ordered that they must be questioned and asked and if the Dongria said they didn’t want the mine, then it shouldn’t go ahead. This was absolutely revolutionary in India. It happened and the security guards and the people watching them, it was such intimidation for remote people who don’t have a lot of contact with the outside world and they unanimously voted against the mine and the mine was not allowed to go ahead.
Question 3: How have you used hope to make it through a difficult time in your life?
I think I am probably optimistic – you have to be when you are working with the sorts of things that I work with because obviously although I am talking about a lot of the positive things, there’s a lot of negative sides. I wrote a report and I spent about a year researching a paper that we produced called Progress Can Kill which is all about the terrible things that have happened to tribal people – the high suicide rates, the poverty when people are thrown off their land, the addictions, that was incredibly hard because everyday I was just reading the saddest, most tragic stories. It is difficult to just read that again and again and then just get back up off my chair and go do something work related or cook my kids their supper or whatever. It’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed sometimes by the negative and the sad things that happen. I think with stories like the Dongrias, knowing that there’s a solution and the solution is actually very simple, you can see there are communities there that are working and bringing their own solutions to these terrible things that have happened to them. Those things are really heartwarming and inspiring and I suppose those are the things that get me through when I was just spending day after day reading suicide statistics and those terrible things.
Question 4: How are you sharing hope today?
Today, I phoned up a hospital in India where a 7-year-old boy is being treated after being shot in the legs by armed guards in a national park where the guards are allowed to shoot to kill with impunity against poachers. That also means that tribal people living on the edges often get caught up in it and this was a 7-year-old boy walking to the shops and somehow an armed guard shot him in the legs. I was contacted by people from his community who said they don’t feel like he’s getting proper treatment, so I phoned up the hospital to say what’s happening to hope that they could feel some pressure of international concern about what’s happening with the boy to make sure his treatment is done properly. We’re doing a lot of work on that sort of thing and challenging the violence.
Statistics show that where tribal people’s land rights are recognized, those are the bits of forest that are best protected and you can see these amazing satellite images of the Amazon where you can see where the land is intact, those are the areas where indigenous people have their lands. Getting that message across, the sort of positives as well as the negatives, the challenging, where things are going wrong and also just celebrating and encouraging people to get involved and take action for the rights of tribal people and the rights of all humanity.
Question 5: How should I (the listener) begin to grow in hope or share hope today?
(1) Go and find out about tribal people because their stories are so inspiring.
(2) Get involved and make a massive difference with very little energy – you can send an email, sign a petition, write a letter, donate some money, hold a tea party. To be part of a massive difference is a wonderful thing that can keep you going through the day.