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The Indigenous Rights Report

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Indigenous Rights Report #18

Indigenous Rights Report #18

Issue #18 / October 19 - 25, 2019
Photo: John Duffy on flickr (CC)

This is the Indigenous Rights Report for the week of October 19, 2019. In this week’s report:

  • California city returns island to Native American tribe after more than 150 years
  • Indigenous communities react to certification of Kaliwa Dam project
  • Superior Court of California protects West Berkeley Shellmound, held sacred by the Ohlone
  • Two bills filed for Indigenous peoples in the Philippines
  • Indigenous groups to sue Ecuador for human rights abuse
  • B.C. makes history with legislation to implement UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights
  • Native Flower Rebellion comes to a close, but Indigenous women say the fight’s not over
  • Pact of Autonomy declared by Five Indigenous Nations of the Middle East
  • Indigenous Peruvians protest mining pollution
  • Remains of Trinidad and Tobago’s First Peoples returned to resting place
  • Enbridge throws its Indigenous Peoples Policy to the fire over pipeline
  • All Pueblo Council of Governors opposes largest nuclear waste transport campaign in nation’s history
  • South Dakota, ACLU settle lawsuit over ‘riot-boosting’ laws
  • Northern Territory backflips on bill which could outlaw traditional Aboriginal burials
  • Italian luxury clothing brand accused of plagiarizing indigenous designs
  • New partnership in Canada aims to combat poor cultural awareness in health care services
  • Pope asks forgiveness for theft of controversial Amazon statues
  • Traditional Inuit tattoos are making a comeback

Photo: John Duffy on flickr (CC)

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A sacred island off the coast of Northern California was officially returned to the Wiyot Tribe, after more than 150 years. The signing of the deed gives the tribe almost the entirety of the island — roughly 200 acres — at no cost. “It’s a really good example of resilience because Wiyot people never gave up the dream,” tribal administrator Michelle Vassel said. The now-600 member tribe has revered the island for decades after it was decimated following a raid by settlers in 1860. The tribe has made small efforts to reclaim the lost land since then, with the city of Eureka giving the tribe more land in more recent years. The city has no use for the island, which can become submerged during high tides. The tribe’s reservation is located in Loleta, which at times can take hours to reach by boat.

The land transfer comes as Indigenous tribes and communities across the country have lost millions of acres of land through treaties broken by the U.S. government, by force and other reasons, with the land rarely given back to the original holders.

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The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the Philippines issued the Kaliwa Dam project with an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC). This is despite strong opposition from the Agta-Dumagat-Remontado tribes in Quezon and Rizal due to threats of displacement and alleged violations in procedural requirements for ECC application both by its project proponent, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), and the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB). Octavio Pranada, representative of Indigenous Political Structure of Dumagat-Remontado tribes in Tanay, Rizal, said they are disappointed because the process for Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) was not yet completed.

The lack of specific rehabilitation and activities to address the negative impacts on biodiversity, property, culture, health, and livelihood – which can be worsened by the changing climate and effects of forced displacement – is causing fear among affected residents.

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An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the city of Berkeley in a case about whether a developer should have been given streamlined approval to build a mixed-use housing complex on land protected by the city as a landmark due to its historic significance to the Ohlone peoples. The city had denied the application, which was the first in the state, in part because the property is a city landmark.

Native American community members of the Ohlone tribe, along with their supporters, have pushed hard to stop development on the Fourth Street parcel, saying the sacred site was home to their ancestors.

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Two bills that seek to address the plight of 14 million to 17 million Indigenous peoples (IPs) and Indigenous cultural communities (ICCs) in the Philippines have been filed in the Senate by Senators Juan Edgardo Angara and Ramon Revilla Jr. The measures pushed for the establishment of resource centers to improve the delivery of essential services to IPs and ICCs. Angara said despite the enactment in 1997 of Republic Act 8371, or the “Indigenous Peoples Rights Act,” and the various international aids given to them, IPs and ICCs remain the poorest in the country. He cited the 2010 Report on the State of the World by the United Nations, which revealed that ICCs and IPs “make up one-third of the world’s poorest peoples, suffer disproportionately in areas like health, education and human rights and regularly face systemic discrimination and exclusion.”

A group of indigenous Pala’wan planting upland rice in the Municipality of Brooke’s Point.

Of the millions of IPs in the country, 61 percent could be found in Mindanao while 33 percent were in Northern Luzon.

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CONAIE, The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador announced it would file a legal complaint against Ecuador for violating human rights during the recent protests that rocked the country. The Confederation accused the Ecuadorian government of using excessive police force against protesters that began on October 3, causing multiple deaths and severe injuries.

The group demanded the release of those arrested during the protests and compensation for the victims. The government and protestors led by Indigenous organizations reached a deal to cancel an IMF package to put an end to demonstrations on October 13.

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The Province of British Colombia made history as the first province in Canada to introduce legislation aimed at adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The legislation, introduced by Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser, mandates that government bring its laws and policies into harmony with the aims of the Declaration. The legislation doesn’t set out a timeline for completion, but Fraser said it “is about ending discrimination and conflict in our province, and instead ensuring more economic justice and fairness.”

UNDRIP requires governments to obtain “free and informed consent” from Indigenous groups before approving any project affecting their lands or resources, but Fraser said that doesn’t equate to a veto over development.

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The Native Flower Rebellion has come to a close. After occupying Argentina’s Ministry of the Interior on 0ctober 9, the “self-convoked” group of Mapuche, Guaraní, Qom and other Indigenous women met with several officials to discuss their most urgent demands. Satisfied that their concerns were finally heard, the women declared victory and agreed to leave the Ministry, which they say is the focal point of much of the racist, violent and environmentally devastating government policy in their territories.

Mapuche weychafe, activist and author Moira Millan gives a talk in the street in front of the Interior Ministry. Photo: Movement of Indigenous Women for Good Living

The women later said that this was just the first step in a larger campaign. “We will launch a campaign for a #Plurinational event on May 1, 2020, and we will call an encampment against climate change in February 2020 at the Lof Mapuche Pillan Mahuiza community,” the women said in a statement. “We will not cease in our fight against terricide.”

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Representatives of the Yezidi, Zoroastrian, Mandaean, Romani, and Shabak communities announced in a joint proclamation the formation of the Alliance of Indigenous Nations of the Middle East and their commitment to formalize their political autonomy distinct from the states of Syria, Turkey, and Iraq. Twelve national delegates met in a general assembly on October 6 during the Jamayi Session of the Ezidikhan government’s conference held in Shingal, Ezidikhan (Iraq) to negotiate and sign the Proclamation of the Alliance of Indigenous Nations of the Middle East. The Alliance members affirmed that their peoples have taken actions to pursue internationally sanctioned judicial efforts to hold Iraq, the Kurdish Regional Government (Iraq), Turkey, Syria, Russia, and the United States accountable for their actions. “We denounce the military actions by these nations and will work to hold them accountable,” said Barjis Khalaf, Prime Minister of the Yezidi Government of Ezidikhan. “An international tribunal will be convened to bring these nations and their actions to justice.”

The Alliance will work collectively to address the reconstruction and security needs of its member nations. Alliance members will be reasserting control over lands and resources that have served as the Indigenous homelands for the alliance members.

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A Lima court ruled, in response to a habeas corpus motion filed by the Institute for Legal Defense (IDL), Human Rights Without Borders – Cusco (DHSF), the Association for Life and Human Dignity (APORVIDHA), and Cooperacción, that sharing information about the negative impacts of mining does not threaten public order, nor does it violate migratory law in Peru; rather, it is part of exercising one’s rights. The ruling is subject to appeal, but it’s a good first step for journalists, filmmakers, academics, public interest researchers, or independent technical consultants who might seek to share critical views about the negative impacts of extractive projects with communities in Peru.

Certain Laws–like the one that allows police to have contracts with mining companies–are just one example of how the legislative system has been turned against Indigenous peoples and mining-affected communities in Peru and elsewhere, making fighting mega-projects an ever more dangerous vocation. While the recent court decision is an important moment in the fight against putting police in the pay of corporations, it’s only a small step in a much bigger struggle against the ever greater dangers facing those defending their territories against devastating mega-projects.

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When the restoration of Trinidad and Tobago’s Red House — the seat of the country’s parliament before the building fell into disrepair — began in 2013, construction workers found the bones of as many as 60 Tainos, Indigenous islanders. In a long-awaited reinterment ceremony on October 19, 2019, their remains were finally laid to rest once more.  Investigations — which included radiocarbon dating — revealed that these ancestors had lived on the island between the estimated dates of 125 and 1395 AD. The discovery confirmed that life and settlements had been thriving in the country’s current capital, Port of Spain, for over 1,000 years. The discovery was significant not just because it allowed the remains to be put back where they were found, but because it acted as a moment to shine a light on the struggles of the First Peoples community, which has not always been afforded the recognition and respect that it is due.

Local members of the First Peoples community, as well as Taino representatives from other Caribbean, South and Central American territories, including Dominica, Guatemala, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela, were present for the reinterment.

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The White Earth tribe’s legal counsel and police issued a cease-and-desist order against Enbridge, a Canadian multinational energy transportation company, for conducting an illegal training within the borders of the White Earth Reservation. Tribal resolutions have barred Enbridge from conducting business on the northwestern Minnesota reservation without approval of the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and Tribal officials. Now Enbridge, seeing more and more pressure to complete a highly contested pipeline, seems to be taking off the gloves and going on the offense against tribes. Between October 7 and October 11, Enbridge attempted to complete a “Para Archeology Certification Training for Cultural Monitors” without tribal approval. Most certifications would require years, but Enbridge remains hopeful that it can complete a new assessment in time for a summer push to secure final approvals, as the company projects completion of the project by the end of 2020.

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The All Pueblo Council of Governors, representing the collective voice of the member 20 sovereign Pueblo nations of New Mexico and Texas, affirmed their commitment to protect Pueblo natural and cultural resources from risks associated with transport of the nation’s growing inventory of high level nuclear waste from sites across the country to proposed semi-permanent sites in southeastern New Mexico and mid western Texas. The Council adopted a resolution expressing opposition to the license applications by private companies, Holtec International and Interim Storage Partners LLC, authorizing transport nuclear material, construction, and operation of a proposed multi-billion dollar consolidated interim storage facilities in Lea County, New Mexico and Andrews County, Texas.

The project proposes the transport of nuclear material stored at 80 commercial reactors in 35 states across the country

Concerns from the Council include the lack of federal tribal consultation regarding determination of transport routes and availability of resources, training, and infrastructure for tribal emergency preparedness, response, and risk management in potential incidences of accidental radiological release during shipment. The resolution urges a requirement for meaningful government-to-government consultation with Pueblos by federal regulators on transport concerns, and calls upon the leadership of New Mexico’s Congressional Delegation to take proactive steps in support of Pueblos.

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South Dakota’s governor said that the state has agreed not to enforce aspects of laws that critics say were meant to suppress expected protests against the Keystone XL pipeline, under a settlement with a group that challenged the laws as unconstitutional. Republican Gov. Kristi Noem said in a statement that as part of the state’s settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union, she agreed not to enforce the parts of the laws that made it a crime to direct or encourage others to “riot.”

As construction plans for the Keystone XL pipeline by the Canadian company move forward, environmental and Native American groups have pledged to protest and challenge the construction in court.

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The Northern Territory government has scrapped a bill after Indigenous groups warned that Aboriginal people could be jailed for performing traditional burials. The Labor government said the penalties would only have applied where burials occurred without a death certificate or permission from the next of kin and landowner.

The backflip comes after warnings from the Northern Land Council CEO, Marion Scrymgour, that the bill failed to recognize “contemporary Aboriginal culture in a way that we would expect in 2019”.

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The Italian luxury clothing brand Max Mara has been accused of plagiarizing the traditional designs of the Oma people (a small Indigenous community in Laos) in one of their collections without acknowledging their authorship.

Current international frameworks do not protect the claims of the Oma or other Indigenous groups. As Monica Boța Moisin, a lawyer specializing in Indigenous fashion and property law explains, intellectual property laws are based on a 17th century model of individual copyright that excludes protection for community production, including for Indigenous communities, because “[specific] authors cannot be recognized.”

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In Canada, Inuit and academic health care researchers have teamed up to combat poor cultural awareness in mainstream health care services which discourages Indigenous people from seeking care and engaging with health services. It increases the risk that Indigenous people will encounter racism when seeking care. There are many documented instances of Canada’s health care system’s failure to provide appropriate health care to Indigenous people, because of unfair assumptions and demeaning and dehumanizing societal stereotypes. Shared decision-making is an important evidence-informed strategy that holds the potential to promote patient participation in health decisions. Shared decision-making has also been found to promote culturally safe care, and has the potential to foster greater engagement of Inuit with their health care providers in decision-making. The results are outcomes that Inuit are more likely to identify as useful and relevant and that respect and promote Inuit ways, within mainstream health care systems.

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Pope Francis asked for forgiveness from Amazon bishops and others at a Church assembly after conservative Catholic militants stole statues they considered pagan idols from a church and dumped them in the Tiber river. Hard-line conservative media said the statue was of a pagan goddess known as Pachamama. The Vatican said it was an Indigenous traditional symbol of life.

The synod is discussing the future of the Church in the Amazon and threats to its environment.

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Inuit tattoos are making a roaring comeback. A brand-new Member of Parliament for Nunavut, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, has traditional-looking tattoos on her cheeks and chin. Qaqqaq, 25, was elected October 22. The nonprofit Revitalization Project, led by Hovak Johnston, an Inuit tattoo artist, has raised money to travel to tiny communities across Canada’s north and give Inuit women traditional tattoos with the traditional poke method. In return, the women give her a gift — anything from homemade earrings to a parka — just like their ancestors would’ve done.

During colonization, authorities in locations across North America banned different Indigenous peoples from their cultural practices, including tattoos. Some of those people, such as many in the Pacific Northwest, created jewelry with the same symbols and patterns to cover their markings while still expressing their culture. And these days, Indigenous people who are getting tattoos from Nunavut to New Zealand are inking in a whole other layer of significance. “The reality is that we have lived through a period of genocide and the markings themselves are a declaration of our resilience, our independence and our pride,” Dion Kaszas, a tattoo artist in Nova Scotia of Métis, Salish and Hungarian heritage, states.

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