In this month’s Underreported Struggles: Winnemem challenge U.S. Forest Service to protect indigenous women during sacred ceremony; Canada withdraws third-party manager from Attawapiskat; India’s environment minister rejects Vedanta’s plan to expand controversial mine.
Underreported Struggles, April 2012
A Canadian mining company is trying to obtain permits for a controversial mining project that threatens O’odham water resources and sacred sites in southern Arizona. The Vancouver-based company, Curis Resources, wants to establish an In-Situ copper mine in Florence, AZ, which borders the southern edge of the O’odham Gila River Indian community. The mine would pump roughly 10 billion pounds of toxic sulfuric acid into the ground over the course of 20 years. The flow of the water surrounding the mine site heads for the eastern side of Gila River community.
The Chilean Supreme Court ratified a lower court ruling that rendered Goldcorp’s environmental assessment for the El Morro mine null, due to a number of irregularities including the company’s failure to properly consult the Diaguita Huascoaltinos Indigenous and Agricultural Community, whose lands would be destroyed if the mine is built. Goldcorp has since stated that they will not stop working until they receive an order declaring the Resolution of Environmental Quality, a kind of environmental permit, to be without effect.
An oil spill in northern Russia has damaged fragile reindeer pastures in yet another blow to the indigenous Nenets people. Vladimir Bezumov, chief of the local office of the Russian Environmental Agency, estimated that some 2,000 tons of oil recently gushed out of an exploratory well in the oil field damaging as much as 14,000 square meters of land. The indigenous communities say their traditional way of life has been devastated by the oil industry. “There is no future for us. People are dying. If oil companies behaved correctly, they would ask us, where drilling is possible and where not, which river is spawning, where fish comes for winter cabin. Fish comes to this bog in the autumn. And now all the rivers are blocked here, and fish has nowhere to go.”
India’s environment minister shot down a proposal by UK-listed Vedanta to expand its Orissa alumina refinery. The welcome decision will likely put the highly-controversial Nyamgiri mine project on indefinite hold. However, a regional peoples’ organization issued a stark warning: “..Vedanta might try all other tricks to accomplish its dirty agenda…[It] might find a back door [by coming] up with a joint venture project with L&T to mine Kutru Mali and Silji Mali near Kashipur to feed its Lanjigarh plant…”
The Hitorangi clan of the indigenous Rapa Nui people carried out a peaceful protest in response to an esoteric conference that was being held at Hanga Roa Hotel, a building that sits on the Hitorangi clan’s ancestral land. Two years ago, the Rapa Nui occupied the hotel–along with 17 government buildings–in an effort to reclaim their ancestral land rights on the island of Rapanui (also known as “Easter Island” and “Te Pito te Henua”, the Navel of the World).
A delegation of Winnemem from northern California challenged the U.S. Forest Service to protect indigenous women from racial slurs and physical harm during coming of age ceremonies planned for this summer. In a recent interview, Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Chief and Spiritual Leader explained that the Tribe’s past two Coming of Age Ceremonies have been disrupted by racial slurs, alcohol use, and indecent exposure from passersby in motorboats who refused to honor a voluntary closure. These boaters also endanger the physical safety of young tribal members who swim across the river as part of the ceremony.
The Amazon Defense Coalition condemned shocking claims by a lawyer representing Chevron. Speaking before a panel of international investment arbitrators, the lawyer asserted that all 30,000 people affected by Chevron’s 16 billion gallons of oil pollution in Ecuador are and have always been “irrelevant”. The lawyer also asserted that no Ecuadorians had been harmed or were in danger of being harmed.
Human-rights groups are turning to Canada’s highest court in an effort to sue a Canadian mining company on behalf of the victims of a massacre in Congo. The groups allege that Anvil Mining Limited provided logistical support to the Congolese military who raped and murdered people as it crushed a rebel uprising in 2004, killing as many as 100 people in the port city of Kilwa.
The Philippine government’s House Committee on National Cultural Communities (NCC) is going to investigate reported rights violations of thousands of indigenous peoples who have been forcibly removed from their ancestral lands to make way for the military. War games, weapon testing, and various military operations on ancestral domains is also disrupting the lives of indigenous peoples and preventing from exercising their rights.
Several prominent indigenous organizations across India are campaigning to pressure mainstream political leaders to nominate a tribal leader for the country’s next President. As noted in a memorandum by one of the campaigning organizations, “In India’s 65 years of independence, we have had Muslim, Sikh and Scheduled Caste President from the minority section of society, but the people of India have never had a President, Vice-President or Prime Minister from the Adivasis (Indigenous and Tribal Peoples) of this country”. During that same time frame, 65 years, Indigenous Peoples have been continuously “neglected, suppressed, oppressed, marginalized and exploited.”
In a major turn-around for the opponents of the Chinese-owned Ramu Nickel Mine in Papua New Guinea, the Minister of Environment and Conservation ordered the company, MCC, to halt work while he undertakes further studies on the environmental impacts of the mining project’s tailings pipeline. The Ramu nickel cobalt mine has been widely opposed because of the environmental risks associated with it.
A mining company was accused of deliberately desecrating a sacred site in central Australia. According to a new lawsuit by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, OM Mining was fully aware that the site known as “Two Women Sitting Down” was unstable an could be damaged if mining activities in the area continued. The company however, did not stop their work or take any serious measures to ensure the site’s security. The rock formation, which carried enormous spiritual and cultural meaning and significance for the Warramungu people, was split in half.
The Pit River Tribe in northern California has affirmed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is the third Nation in the United States to do so (others being Gila River in 2008 and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma in 2010). In the resolution, Pit River also affirmed its inherent right to self-determination and the full recognition and effective implementation of the rights identified in the Declaration which will enhance relations between the Pit River Tribe and the United States Government.
In northern Ontario, Attawapiskat First Nation finally got some news worth celebrating. Aboriginal Affairs (AANDC) Minister John Duncan announced the withdrawal of the third-party manager that was imposed on the northern community last year in response to a widely-publicized housing crisis. Attawapiskat welcomed the move, but not without criticizing claims by AANDC as to the ‘effectiveness’ of the third-party manager. The First Nation also says it won’t back down from the lawsuit against the government for imposing third-party management in the first place.
Indigenous leaders in Peru came out against the government’s newly-enacted Prior Consultation Law that many groups have applauded around the world. The leaders’ greatest concern is that the piece of legislation–”intended to prevent social conflicts by improving dialogue with communities”–is not legally binding. The Legal Defense Institute also points out that several ambiguities are present in the law, which could provide loopholes and lead to arbitrary interpretations that favour industry. Peru’s largest indigenous organization, AIDESEP, said it intends to have the law repealed.
Two people died and three others were injured following a confrontation between indigenous peoples and loggers in Panama. Leading up to the confrontation, a group of Wounaan had attempted to destroy logging equipment that was being used to cut down Cocobolo trees (a type of rosewood that’s prized around the world). The loggers, employees of Maderera company, were supposed to suspend their activities as per an order by the government. Following the confrontation, Police carried out a raid to evict the loggers.
Videos of the Month
The Connections – Indigenous Resistance (IR), the revolutionary musical collective that brought us ‘Dancing on John Wayne’s Head’, has produced a follow up to their informative documentary film, entitled, The Connections.
The Politics of Genocide – In this eye-opening presentation, veteran war correspondent Keith Harmon Snow examines ‘White Supremacy Ideology, Corporate Control, and the Plunder and Depopulation of Central Africa’.
People of a Feather – An award winning documentary film about a unique Inuit culture that relies on birds for food and clothing, and the challenges they share adapting to changing sea ice ecosystems.