The Indigenous Rights Report

The Indigenous Rights Report is a weekly crash course on everything in the indigenous world.

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Indigenous Rights Report #19

Indigenous Rights Report #19

Oct 26 – Nov 1, 2019
Havasupai Tribe Councilman Richard Watahomigie speaks about the cultural and environmental benefits of preventing mining around the Grand Canyon. (Photo by Harrison Mantas/Cronkite News)

This is the Indigenous Rights Report for the week of October 26, 2019. In this week’s report:

  • Uluru climb closure ends decades of disrespect
  • ‘Unprecedented’ murder charges for loggers in deaths of indigenous activists in Peru
  • Venezuela to host Indigenous founding congress in 2020
  • Indigenous-led conservation plan draws ‘fierce’ criticism from conservationists
  • Legislation to permanently protect Greater Chaco Landscape passes
  • Proposed Indigenous Protected Areas signal recognition of indigenous environmental leadership
  • Colombia launches military offensive after killing of five indigenous leaders
  • New UN report scalds Canada for Indigenous housing conditions
  • US House OKs permanent ban on mining 1 million acres around Grand Canyon
  • Mining giant obtains court order to stop Traditional Owners from entering mine site
  • Mi’kmaq grandmothers want unceded land recognition from Nova Scotia Court
  • New Mekong dam in Laos opens to protests, dried-out downstream
  • Indigenous Communities Using Tech to Monitor Illegal Logging in the Amazon
  • Indigenous Forest Guardian Murdered by Illegal Loggers in Brazil
  • Forest peoples under threat from new Indonesian land law

Australian Indigenous traditional owners have watched tourists climb over their sacred rock Uluru for the final time after decades of pleading for people to respect their culture and only walk around the base. Hundreds of Australian and international visitors had queued to scale the 348-metre high sandstone monolith, once known as Ayers Rock, on the final day. Tjiangu Thomas, a 28-year-old Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park ranger, said it had been easy to wake up knowing the climb was closing for good. “This is really important for me and for Anangu and for the region,” he said.

Sunset at Uluru, Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia. Photo: Beren Ackers

The first non-Aboriginal person to see the rock was the explorer William Gosse in 1873, who, after traversing “wretched country” saw “one immense rock rising abruptly from the plain”. The rock is higher than the Eiffel Tower and extends several kilometres below the ground. Gosse named it Ayers Rock after Sir Henry Ayers, the chief secretary of South Australia at the time. In 1993 the rock was formally given its traditional name, Uluru.


Prosecutors in Peru have charged two timber executives and three loggers with the 2014 shooting deaths of four indigenous activists who had battled illegal logging in the Amazon jungle. Environmentalists say the case is unprecedented in Peru, where years of illegal logging and, on occasion, suspected attacks by those carrying it out have often been met with an ineffectual response from authorities.

“We hope that the legacy of the victims of this massacre can lead to justice,” said Tom Bewick, of Rainforest Foundation US, a group that funded efforts to bring the alleged killers to justice. Prosecutors say the five suspects could face up to 35 years in jail if convicted. The timber executives José Estrada and Hugo Soria are accused of ordering the killings, which were allegedly carried out by the loggers Eurico Mapes, Josimar Atachi and Segundo Atachi.


The Founding Congress of the United Indigenous Movement will be held in Venezuela in August 2020 with the aim of establishing alliances with global and continental organizations to ensure the social and political claims demanded by the peoples, and defining a progressive line against imperialism and neoliberalism.

The decision to create the congress stems from an agreement that was approved by the delegates attending the 1st International Congress of Indigenous Peoples that ended last week in Guyana, Bolivar state. Honduras Indigenous spokeswoman Martha Mesa explained that Venezuela will host this movement, and more than 400 indigenous and tribal representatives participating in this 1st Congress will be part of the opening meeting in 2020.


Hawaii’s Board of Land and Natural Resources accepted the final environmental impact statement for the Kawainui-Hamakua Master Plan Project in Kailua, despite fierce criticism from non-Hawaiian environmental groups.  The project centers on restoring the Kawainui Marsh, a 1,000-acre cultural landscape that’s filled with wildlife sanctuaries and historic resources. Pollution runoff from a nearby road and the growth of invasive plants has caused significant damage to the marsh. Now, Hawaiian cultural practitioners are working to fully restore the site and maintain a permanent presence.

Various non-Hawaiian groups, however, refuse to trust the Hawaiian practitioners to make management decisions in these ancestral lands, believing that the marsh must be “properly” protected.


Bipartisan legislation that would permanently protect the Greater Chaco Landscape passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2019 (H.R. 2181) would remove all public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) within ten miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park from consideration for future oil and gas lease sales, officially codifying a temporary moratorium on drilling in the region.

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) is a co-sponsor of H.R.2181, the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, a bill that bars energy development on public lands around Chaco Cultural Heritage Area in New Mexico. She is seen here at a markup of the House Committee on Natural Resources in Washington, D.C., on July 17, 2019. Photo courtesy House Committee on Natural Resources Democrats

“The Pueblos of New Mexico and Texas are forever tied to the cultural resources found across the Greater Chaco Landscape,” said All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman Edward Paul Torres. “The integrity of this region ensures the continuance of our cultural traditions, and the well-being of our identity as handed down to us by our ancestors. On behalf of the Council, I want to thank Assistant Speaker Luján and his fellow lawmakers for their commitment to protecting the places that are most meaningful and vital to our Pueblo nations and communities.”


Seven new Indigenous Protected Areas are in the works, sending a clear signal that Australia is starting to recognize the central role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people play in the protection of nature. Once complete, these Indigenous Protected Areas will mean Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people manage more than half of Australia’s protected area network on land, the National Reserve System.

“IPAs are protecting vast land and sea country – the rainforests, deserts, bushland, seas that make us all so proud of Australia – and it’s important that we’re growing their funding and supporting them well,” Country Needs People spokesperson Sophia Walter said. “We’re really proud to have had a part to play in supporting these new IPAs,” she said. The Maralinga and Haasts Bluff proposed IPAs would also link up a huge network of protected areas across the deserts of Central Australia, making the desert Outback area the largest protected area on land in the world, outside the Greenland ice sheet. The area of the protected area network in the desert would total 86.5 million hectares.


Colombia’s government has launched a military offensive to hunt down the gunmen responsible for the massacre of five indigenous leaders in the south-western province of Cauca. The government blamed dissident factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or Farc), a now-demobilized leftist rebel group, for the attack on Tuesday, in which assailants threw grenades and opened fire on a convoy of armoured SUVs carrying the indigenous leaders.

Among the victims was Cristina Bautista, the leader of the semi-autonomous Tacueyó reservation and her unarmed indigenous guardsmen. Six other people were wounded in the aftermath, as the attackers fired on an ambulance that arrived at the scene. “When will the massacre end?” tweeted the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (or Onic), going on to report that 121 indigenous people have been murdered since Duque took office in August last year.


A new United Nations report delivered a scathing assessment about the role “abhorrent” housing conditions are playing in the poverty and exploitation that Indigenous people face in Canada. Prepared by the UN’s special rapporteur on adequate housing, Canadian Leilani Farha, the report examines the lack of access to secure housing both in cities and on reserves and the effect on the rights of Indigenous people in countries around the world.

Dirty water filling a bathtub on Potlotek First Nation territory

Farha says that close to half of all First Nations people in Canada live on reserves, with more than 25 per cent of them living in overcrowded conditions. Her study also found that “more than 10,000 on-reserve homes in Canada are without indoor plumbing, and 25 per cent of reserves in Canada have substandard water or sewage systems. In Manitoba specifically, she  found that nearly 5,500 First Nation homes either require major renovations or need to be replaced. “It’s absolutely scandalous,” she says. “How is that possible and acceptable in a wealthy nation like Canada?”


The US House of Representatives voted 236-185 to permanently ban uranium mining on just over 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon, on a largely party line vote in which each side accused the other of fear-mongering.

Republicans said the bill would do little to protect the Grand Canyon while killing mining jobs and making the U.S. reliant on other countries – some hostile – for uranium for our power and weapons. But Democrats said the real threat is to the contamination threat the mining poses to a popular natural treasure and to residents of the area, including tribes that live in and around the canyon. In a news conference after the vote, they called it a major step toward safeguarding spiritual and cultural lands. “In 2019, our Havasupai voices were heard after 30 years,” said Carletta Tilousi, a councilwoman for the Havasupai Tribe, said after the vote.


The Indian multinational conglomerate Adani has obtained a court order barring two Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners from returning to a ceremonial camp at the company’s Queensland mine site. Adani’s security guards filmed a verbal confrontation with the two men as they drove out of the mine site on September 4. Days earlier, the ABC revealed the Queensland Government had quietly extinguished native title over the mine site — including the site of a ceremonial camp set up by W&J mine opponents away from Adani operations — without first telling traditional owners.

One of the individuals, Adrian Burragubba, responded to the court order by saying that he will continue protesting against the company’s Galilee Basin project despite being bankrupted by numerous failed court actions to stop the project. Mr Burragubba’s lawyer, Col Hardie, said the court order was a “disturbing development.”


Three Mi’kmaq grandmothers are trying to move the dial forward when it comes to the way the justice system interacts with Indigenous peoples. The trio pushed for recognition in Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court that the province rests on unceded Mi’kmaw territory before proceedings in their case continue — a recognition that did not verbally take place in the courtroom at the time. The women are accused of violating a court-ordered injunction against trespassing on land owned by Alton Gas in Fort Ellis, N.S., during protests over the natural gas storage project the company wants to build there.

Kuku’wis Wowkis, Kiju Muin and Thunderbird Swooping Down Woman occupied the Alton Gas site in April as part of an ongoing Indigenous and environmental campaign to protect the land and water from developments that could harm the ecosystem. If found to have been in contempt of the injunction, they could face fines and court costs.


The first hydropower dam on the lower Mekong River began commercial operations in Laos amid protests from villagers in Thailand who say the Xayaburi Dam and several others in the works will destroy their livelihoods. Villagers say the Mekong is normally at least 3 meters high at the end of the rainy season, when Ban Namprai typically holds dragon boat races, which this year had to be cancelled. Fishermen and fish farmers said that since March, when Xayaburi first started testing their turbines, they’ve seen ever-more erratic river flow that can’t be explained just by a drought earlier in the year. “I think the future of the river is dire. This is just the beginning,” said Ban Nampai’s village chief, Sangtong Siengtid.

Xayaburi, which will sell 95% of its power to Thailand at an average rate of 2 baht ($0.066) per unit, is the first of at least nine more hydropower projects either under construction or planned on the lower Mekong in Laos.


A growing number of Indigenous communities in Central and South America are harnessing the power of high-resolution satellite imagery, sophisticated drone equipment, and the latest smart-phone technology to precisely document and act on threats to their lands such as fires, gold-mining, logging, and deforestation for agriculture.

Early results show a “measurable reduction of deforestation”; but it hasn’t come without risks. Community forest monitors have had their lives threatened on several occasions.


Members of the Guajajara people’s Forest Guardians, a volunteer land and environmental monitoring force, were ambushed by a group of illegal loggers in the Araribóia indigenous territory, leaving one Guardian dead and another gravely wounded. Forest defender Paulo Paulino Guajajara was killed by a shot to the face, while the attack gravely wounded the Guardian leader Laércio Guajajara. One logger is also missing, according to the Maranhão State Secretariat of Human Rights.

Paulo Paulino Guajajara

Sônia Guajajara, of the Guajajara People and leader of the Association of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples (APIB) said: “The Araribóia territory loses another Forest Guardian for defending our territory. Paulinho Guajajajra was killed today in an ambush by loggers. It’s time to stop this institutionalized genocide! Stop authorizing the bloodshed of our people!”


Indigenous peoples’ organizations and supportive NGOs in Papua have strongly condemned a draft Indonesian Land Law Bill that was supposed to regularize land ownership and encourage sustainable investment. However, organizations argue that it will curtail customary rights, further encourage business use permits – which extinguish indigenous peoples’ ownership – and criminalize their continued occupation of their own lands.

In a strongly worded ‘Declaration of Opposition’ the indigenous groups said: “[This law] will exacerbate deforestation and undermine indigenous peoples’ sociocultural life and socioeconomic wellbeing in ways that run counter to indigenous peoples’ own aspirations. We declare and request that the members of the [parliament] and the government immediately terminate discussions pertaining to the draft Land Law, as this law has the potential to extinguish our sovereignty and rights to both customary rights and wellbeing.”

This is the Indigenous Rights Report.

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