The Fourth World is a term used to describe people living in communities whose economic and social activities differ from capitalist, socialist, and communist ideals, in that they take from the earth just enough to live on. Fourth World communities exist around the world and are called different names by society such as aboriginal, native, tribal, primitive, indigenous, hunter-gatherers, subsistence, and often suffer political under-representation, sometimes political persecution. They are often invisible to the rest of society.
Traditional ecological knowledge is a term used to describe the intimate knowledge that a Fourth World community has about natural resources and the environment where they live. This type of knowledge is passed from one generation to the next, unwritten, untaught, but rather transfered. Younger generations follow their parents, learning as they go. People fish with knowledge of where, when, and that if they take too much now, there wont be fish later. In this way they can sustain the fishery. Food is grown in the riverbed during dry season (called flood-recession agriculture), no need to irrigate, use fertilizers, or chemicals for a crop yield. Local farmers did this in the Nile Valley of Egypt for generations before the advent of the Aswan Dam. People pan for gold or harvest resources from the forest to trade in a cash economy for things they want that they cannot get from the river. Fourth World cultures are counter to globalized culture, and because they are perceived to have little to no impact on greater economies, are often left out of consideration for rights to land or resources. People barter, sell bumper crops, buy what they need that moment, eat what they grow, gather, fish, or hunt. However, since 2008 artisanal gold mining, an activity relegated to subsistence or remote communities of the Fourth World, constituted close to 25% of all gold produced worldwide.
Even though the global community is aware of the risks to people involved in displacement, the need for food, water, and energy and the land and resources that provide more, keep perpetuating displacement. Fourth World communities often lack the power to push back, the platform on which to voice concerns, and they are often living and using resources that other communities want for other purposes, like rivers for hydropower generation. In the United States we witnessed what relocation, displacement, and assimilation of Fourth World communities for hydropower generation along the Columbia, Mississippi, and countless other rivers resulted in, as in Canada with the First Nations, as in Australia with the Aboriginal People. Missing generations, lost traditions, damaged cultures, broken spirits.
My research on dam development exposed me to people as they live in their homes, trade in markets, and congregate in the villages who I label Fourth World. People I spoke with want a better tomorrow for their children, to be free of disease, to have access to education and choice of the type of life that they want to have. They also want their children to have the choice to continue the traditional ways. However, government programs, with encouragement from the international community, often does not leave room for traditional ways or traditional teachings. The knowledge and people that possess it are at risk to disappear as has much of Fourth World communities have around the world. People said, "Without this river, we will cease to exist."