After centuries of either physical annihilation or assimilation into the world's dominant cultures, we are beginning to see cultural diversity to be as important as biological diversity. We are beginning to cultivate a respect for indigenous peoples' wisdom and integrity, and the realization that sustaining a culture is as tantamount as preserving a species.
Often, these values are subsumed by the industrial nations' penchant for extractive resources. Whereas in the past, marauding armies wiped out entire cultures, today it is done via mining, logging, and drilling. Native peoples are coerced into believing that this 'development' is good for them, and that profits realized from their land will be channeled back to the tribe. Thus, the rape is underway.
A perfect example is the plight of the Dine' [Navajo] of the Black Mesa area of northeastern Arizona. They are an unrepresented Native American Nation who are being harassed and threatened because of the coal lying underneath their ancestral lands. They are being forcibly removed from these lands, made to fight amongst themselves, harassed until they have no choice but to leave or fight back against an insurmountable adversary. This is but one sad chapter in a long saga.
The practical aspect of protecting cultural diversity is to ensure that indigenous peoples' land rights are intact and respected. As sovereign nations, indigenous people are free to negotiate their own deals, under their own terms. And these deals will be honored in perpetuity, regardless of what is found on or under the lands in subsequent years.
The United States has wiped out languages, destroyed cultures, and broken treaties with Native Americans from our first days on this continent. Other 'minorities' are equally ignored and exploited. Incidents of 'ethnic cleansing' and religious repression elsewhere in the world are shouted down as being the work of heathens. It is time we looked at our own behavior with open eyes. We are not above those nations who abuse their own in the name of greed and ignorance. We are fond of saying that America is the greatest country in the world. Let us start acting like the greatest nation in the world before we proclaim it so.