2009: Indigenous struggles, tragedies and triumphs
During the 2009 calendar year, we have been witness to some of the most courageous, provocative and gut-wrenching struggles in recent memory: some of them triumphs so great that they set the standard for the rest of us ; and others, tragedies so vile we can’t bare to look at them—even though we must.
Of course, you wouldn’t know it either way if you rely on corporate news outlets like the Globe and Mail, social networking sites like Digg, and the incredible array of blogs and non-governmental organizations—all carrying their own take on what matters most.
Instead, you would have to be spending your time on websites like Censored News; Upside Down World; the Dominion Paper and the WW4 Report, among others. You would also have to be turning to the people themselves.
To highlight this fact, and mark the end of 2009, I would like to present you with a list of what I consider to be this year’s most under-reported struggles, tragedies and triumphs.
There are, of course, hundreds of stories that could be listed here, especially given the long trend of silence surrounding indigenous People (a trend that refuses to give way to necessity). However, for one reason or another, these stories stood out to me more than the others.
I hope you find it useful.
You may also want to have a look at Project Censored’s Top 25 Most Censored Stories for 2009/2010 and Julia Good Fox’s Top 10 Native News Stories of 2009.
2009: Indigenous struggles, tragedies, and triumphs
1. Researchers in India discovered “the highest levels of pharmaceuticals ever detected in the environment” — a veritable toxic stew of pharmaceutical ingredients used in ailments that range from heart disease to depression, gonorrhea, ulcers, and bacterial infections. If you haven’t already guessed: it’s in the water.
2. Indigenous people in Peru celebrated a major victory in their long-time struggle to protect the land from outsiders hoping to exploit it. On January 14, the Regional Government of Cusco enacted a law that bans the practice of biopiracy, or “the appropriation and monopolization of traditional population’s knowledge and biological resources.” The move was heralded “a leading example” for the rest of the world.
3. Members of the indigenous Awa in southwestern Colombia reported that as many as 20 people were killed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This would not be the last massacre of Awa in 2009.
4. Forty three Lepchas were arrested in connection to an ‘agitation’ carried out on the controversial Panan hydel power project in the Dzongu region of Sikkim, India. Most, if not all of the Lepchas arrested had nothing to do with the action.
5. In central Brazil, the Yanomami community of Paapiu began calling for the immediate expulsion of illegal gold miners occupying their land. Survival International reported, “[the Yanomami] say they are prepared to use bows and arrows to expel the invaders themselves if the authorities do not take immediate action.”
6. Russia’s state-controlled Hydro company, RusHydro, began pushing ahead with a renewed plan to construct a massive hydropower station on the Lower Tunguska river in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. The project means death to the Evenk’s culture and way of life.
7. A research team from COPAE confirmed that Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in Guatemala is poisoning local water supplies. The local Mayan community suffers from numerous health problems as a result of contaminants. However, Goldcorp claims it’s all the result of “bad hygiene”, a lack of water, and “fleas”.
8. The Toronto-based mining company, Uranium One—who’s “operations have been made possible with backing from the Canadian Embassy and CIDA”—was accused of human rights abuses and the systemic violation of workers rights at their Uranium mine in South Africa.
9. The Hadzabe People are considered by scientists to have the oldest genetic heritage of any other people on earth. However, today they find themselves on the edge of extinction, with no land rights, and a food supply that’s being “aimlessly” shot away by poachers.
10. The Kenyan government began a brutal campaign of violence against the indigenous Samburu people in north central Kenya–which is still ongoing.
11. More than 2,000 indigenous Embera people fled from their territory in Colombia to escape increasing violence from “a newly formed irregular armed group.” A total of 25 villages were left abandoned.
12. As many as 260 police officers tried to evict 500 Mayan families from a 6-acre lot of land they occupied in March. However, the eviction failed—though not before twelve Mayans and fifteen police were injured and about 100 homes were destroyed.
13. After years of conflict and tension, the few remaining non-indigenous rice farmers finally left Raposa-Serra do Sol, an indigenous reserve in northern Brazil. The government had ordered them to do so far in the past, but the farmers resisted, repeatedly by terrorizing Indigenous People.
14. Hundreds of villagers in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of western China faced off against armed security forces at the site of a planned gold mine—on what the Tibetans consider to be a sacred mountain. Amazingly enough, several days later the Chinese government reportedly conceded to the Tibetans..
15. The Colombian House of Representatives approved a controversial program to convince Colombian Women to submit to sterilization. News of the bill arrived just as Peru’s right-wing government announced it would shelve an investigation into its own former sterilization program, in which thousands of indigenous women were sterilized against their will in the 1990s, with help from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
16. Over 70 human rights and environmental groups from around the world expressed outrage at the planned launch of the World Wildlife Fund’s Aquaculture Stewardship Council last month. Influenced by the aquaculture industry, the WWF is completely ignoring indigenous people in six separate locations around the world.
17. Representatives from 360 Mískito communities declared the secession of the entire Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, also known as the Mosquito Coast. They announced that the area, which accounts for 46% of Nicaragua’s territory and an estimated 11% of the population, would form the independent Nation of Moskitia.
18. A group of Maya Mam villagers set fire to a pickup truck and an exploration drill rig, after the Canadian company Goldcorp repeatedly failed to remove the equipment off the community’s land.
19. The government of Ontario, Canada, returned Ipperwash Provincial Park to the Kettle and Stony Point First Nations, bringing a welcomed end to a saga that goes back to the 1930s. Sam George—the brother of Dudley George, who was slain by police in 1995 for defending his land—passed away just days after the announcement.
20. In a first-of-its-kind action in the Christian world, the national Episcopal Church passed a landmark resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery and urging the U.S. government to endorse the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
21. A group of 30 indigenous elders and leaders from Ampilatwatja, in Australia’s Northern Territory, abandoned their community rather than live under the oppressive foot of the government’s so-called “intervention.”
22. Eight Maasai villages in Tanzania were burnt to the ground to make way for new a game hunting area. 3,000 people were left without any food, water or shelter.
23. A Russian-backed mining project in Burma’s war-torn Shan State was singled out for risking the homes and farmlands of 7,000 Pa-O villagers.
24. The government of the Malaysian state of Sarawak decided to ignore a landmark court ruling that recognized the rights of the Penan and other tribes to their land.
25. A major Indian travel company, “Barefoot India”, won a high court case allowing them to build an eco-resort close to the designated Jarawa reserve. Once the resort is built, the Jarawa People, who have lived in voluntarily isolation for centuries, will become their own personal tourist attraction.
26. Several Mapuche communities began to reclaim lands in Araucania, central Chile, which they say were stolen from them. At least 5 Roadblocks were set up—marking the beginning of an effort that continues even now.
27. Throughout India, tens of thousands of Indigenous People mobilized in an effort to demand an end to the brutal and repressive laws surrounding India’s forests. More than 2 dozen protests were organized.
27. The Guarani Kaiowá community of Apyka´y in Brazil was attacked by ten gunmen, who fired shots in to their camp, wounding one person. The gunmen also beat up and injured others with knives and then set fire to thier village. This was the second village torched in less than a week.
28. A US. federal ruling permitted a gold mining company to dump toxic waste into a pristine mountain lake in Alaska.
29. The Saami people came forward with major concerns that a mining project in Northeastern Sweden, proposed by a Canadian company, threatens their traditional way of life and violates their basic human rights as recognized by the United Nations.
30. Under an historic settlement, PacifiCorp announced it will remove four dams on the Klamath River under a tentative agreement with tribes and other parties.
31. The biggest environmental demonstration in Turkey’s history, an estimated 20,000 people took to the streets to protest the 100m high Uzuncayir dam on the Munzur River.
32. As many as 300 troops from Panama’s National Police demolished a Naso village in Bocas del Toro–for the second time. No injuries were reported, however, some 150 adults and 65 children were left with no shelter and limited access to food and water.
33. In Canada, Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl sent notice to the Algonquins of Barriere Lake that he will not recognize their legitimate leadership, but instead impose elections on the community in April, 2010 by invoking a section of the Indian Act that would abolish the customary method they use to select their leaders.
34. Following an overturned eviction, an Ava Guarani indigenous community in Paraguay’s Itakyry district was sprayed with toxic chemicals, most likely pesticide, resulting in nearly the entire village needing medical treatment.
35. The Awajun and Wampis people—who were violently confronted by police in Bagua, Peru in early June—detained a group of employees from the Canadian mining company IAMGOLD. According to statements from the indigenous organization AIDESEP, the company did not have any authorization to enter the territory. The employees, five in total, were arrested in protest of the fact. The company denies that anyone was arrested.
36. In a major ruling , the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked construction of the largest open pit gold mine in the United States: Barrick Gold’s Cortez Hills gold mine. However, just one day after the ruling, the company announced that it would ignore the ruling and continue construction.
37. In the face of mounting protests, Anglo Platinum destroyed the Sekuruwe’s last remaining farmland—what little they had left since their land rights were handed over to the company in 2008.
38. A suprising turn of events, the Ontario government reached an agreement with Platinex to abandon their mining concessions on the traditional territory of Big Trout Lake.
39. On June 19, Peru’s Congress overwhelmingly revoked two of the controversial laws that triggered this year’s biggest and most widely known mobilization—the mobilization of Peru—which culminated in the violent police-led confrontation of June 5, 2009.
40. Also on June 19, the Ngobe of Western Panama won a major victory of their own. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called for the suspension of all activities connected to the Chan-75 Dam, which is being built on Ngobe land.
41.Over the course of 5 weeks, thousands of Indigenous Penan mobilized to protect their forest lands in Malaysian state of Sarawak. The mobilization began in late July. Unfortunately, the effort did not end with success.
42. Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, was re-elected in a landslide victory on December 6. He won more that 63% of the votes. Bolivia’s landmark constitution, which supports indigenous self-government, was also passed this year.
43. In early September, the Indonesian military burned down a Village in West Papua, and terrorized its residents with random bursts of gunfire. Most of the villagers, defenseless and peaceful, sought refuge in a nearby forest.
44. Since January 18, 2009, when Israel declared its unilateral ceasefire in Gaza, numerous Palestinian civilians have been attacked, abducted, killed, and injured by Israeli forces. Among them, more than 150 farmers and fishermen.
45. A hunger strike aimed at the Norwegian mining company Intex Resources, came to a welcomed end in November, with the Philippine government suspending the company’s permit. Hopefully, the victory, like all others list here, will echo far into the future.