Saving indigenous people from themselves

I met someone recently who is working to “save” an African tribe that has been determined to have the oldest genes in the world. That is, genetically, they are closest to our common, prehistoric ancestors than any other people in the world. I put “save” in quotations because I’m a little confused about the foundation’s goals.  I may have things all wrong here so, if you have better information, tell me, and if I get more accurate information in future, I’ll tell you.

The deal, as I understand it, is that this someone set up a foundation to preserve this tribe’s traditional way of life. The tribe lives pretty much as it did in prehistoric times:  it’s nomadic, hunting food on a daily basis, birthing babies in trees (away from predators), and sleeping on the ground.

There are currently two big problems for tribal cohesion. (Again, this is what I came away understanding from my conversation.  I am open to corrections.)  One threat is that others are encroaching on the tribal range, which has a severe impact on the tribe’s hunting. The other is that the tribes people are leaving. It was when I heard this last point that I said, very nicely, “Well, I can understand that. I wouldn’t like sleeping on the ground or having babies in trees either. I bet some of them are thinking, ‘Yeah, I have really old genes, but I’d rather have a Jacuzzi.'” In other words, it seems perfectly reasonable to me that people might prefer comfort and plenty to historical authenticity.

And this is really the core point to this post:  A lot of people in America spend an inordinate amount of time and money keeping indigenous people “down on the farm,” so to speak.  But are we really doing them a favor ensuring that they get to enjoy the same marginal subsistence life they’ve had for centuries (or more), rather than giving them a passport to the modern world?  Do they really deserve to be forced to be living archeological museum pieces to protect them from the poison of Western civilization?

Again, I may be framing this question wrong, because I’m unclear on the facts, but I think it’s a broader question than this one tribe.  It seems to me that there are many instances of Americans feeling that the best that they can do for lost tribes is to keep them locked in the past.  It’s certainly true that modern urban living can be terribly destructive for these people, but I have my doubts about the benefits of stone age living for them either.