The Indigenous Rights Report

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Indigenous Rights Report #21

Indigenous Rights Report #21

November 9-15, 2019

This is the Indigenous Rights Report for the week of November 9. In this week’s report:

  • Indian government scraps “dangerous” forest law after outcry
  • Crow Creek Sioux become second tribe to pass hate crime law protecting LGBTQ people
  • New leader of National Congress of American Indians focuses on tribal sovereignty
  • Bolivia’s anti-Indigenous backlash is growing
  • Indigenous opposition grows against proposal for largest nuclear storage facility in US
  • House Committee approves bill to preserve Indigenous games in the Philippines
  • Northern Territory officer charged with murder after Indigenous teen’s shooting death
  • Indigenous authority over museum objects could be the future
  • The Internet Society hosts Indigenous Connectivity Summit; helps create the first independent community internet in Hawai‘i
  • United States prohibiting access to abortion service through the Indian Health Service
  • Turkish jets repeat attack on Yezidi villages
  • Inuit, reporters call out New York Times for ‘trauma porn’
  • South Africa’s rooibos tea industry to pay KhoiSan peoples
  • Protecting the data rights of New Zealand’s Māori and Indigenous people
  • Sami Parliaments, EU concerned by Russia shutting down Indigenous Rights Group
  • Indigenous leader calls for EU action against firms over Brazil deforestation
  • New Montana missing persons specialist sees progress in addressing cases
  • Remote Indigenous community wins decade-long health battle
  • New program helps bridge financial literacy gap for Indigenous Australians
  • Documentary on Ogiek community launched

The Indian government has scrapped a plan to militarize its forests and open them up for commercial exploitation, after a national and international outcry. Under the plan, forest guards would have been armed and enjoyed virtual immunity from prosecution; any forests could have been handed over to private interests after the original inhabitants had been evicted; and millions of forest-dwelling tribal people would have found their lives made impossible.

Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International, said: “The Indian government, advised by WWF-India, wanted to strip millions of tribal people of their rights and give extraordinary powers to forest guards – allowing them to kill people with virtual impunity. Thousands protested in India and internationally and tribal peoples have now won a huge victory in getting the plan scrapped.


The Crow Creek Sioux have become the second tribe to adopt a hate crime law that protects LGBTQ people. The law is modeled after the Matthew Shepard Act signed by President Barack Obama in 2009, that expanded existing federal hate-crime laws to include actions motivated by gender, sexual orientation, or disability. The new Crow Creek policy means offenders will face a $1,000 fine and increased jail time in addition to any penalties from applicable federal laws. The amendment, which passed unanimously, will likely take effect next month.

In September, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, also in South Dakota, became the first to pass a hate crimes law that included protections for LGBTQ citizens. South Dakota’s hate crime law does not include protections for LGBTQ people.


The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has a new leader in Fawn Sharp who won a resounding victory over three opponents to become the organization’s 23rd president and its third female leader. She is just the second leader from the Quinault Nation to serve as NCAI president. The first was her mother’s former boss, Joe DeLaCruz, who served four years in the position. Sharp, who is currently serving her fifth term as president of the Quinault Nation, said her vision for NCAI is focused on advancing tribal sovereignty. She said she hopes to improve tribes’ economic sovereignty and social sovereignty related to truth and reconciliation. She said she is also interested in climate change and would like to see tribes take the lead on policy and scientific discussions about this issue. She plans to focus on ensuring adequate funding for federal programs that serve Indian nations. As NCAI president, she will advocate for reforms in international trade policy and tax policy to improve economic conditions for tribes.

Fawn Sharp at the National Congress of American Indians meeting. (Photo by Mark Trahant)

The Quinault Nation is a matriarchal society and currently boasts a female majority on its tribal council and women serving as the tribe’s chief of staff and chief operating officer.


Bolivia’s religious right is stoking the flames of anti-indigenous sentiment now that the Morales government is out of the way. Since Morales fled for safety in Mexico, many officials down the line of succession for the country’s presidency have resigned, to protect themselves and their families. This has left Jeanine Áñez Chavez, a conservative opposition leader and second vice president of the Senate, poised to take over Bolivia’s presidency. “This Bible is very important to us. Our strength is God,” the 52-year-old politician said, holding the modern, pink-covered bible up for the cameras. “Power is God.”

Luis Fernando Camacho, a right-wing evangelical lawyer from Santa Cruz who has largely led the opposition movement over the last weeks, has also spouted extremely violent and xenophobic rhetoric, to the point that he’s been dubbed the Bolsonaro of Bolivia. “Bolivia for Christ, Pachamama will never again enter this palace,” said the protest leader, an Áñez ally, kneeling before the Bible on the Bolivian flag at the government palace on Nov. 10. Since Morales’ removal, dozens have died and more than 700 have been injured in military operations ordered by Áñez “to re-establish order.” The political situation remains volatile.


A proposal for New Mexico to house one of the world’s largest nuclear waste storage facilities has drawn opposition from nearly every Indigenous nation in the state. Nuclear Issues Study Group co-founder and Diné organizer Leona Morgan told state legislators the project, if approved, would perpetuate a legacy of nuclear colonialism against New Mexico’s Indigenous communities and people of color. Holtec International, a private company specializing in spent nuclear fuel storage and management, applied for a license from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate the facility in southeastern New Mexico. The proposal, which has been in the works since 2011, would see high-level waste generated at nuclear power plants across the country transported to New Mexico for storage at the proposed facility along the Lea-Eddy county line between Hobbs and Carlsbad. Holtec representatives say the facility would be a temporary solution to the nation’s growing nuclear waste problem, but currently there is no federal plan to build a permanent repository for the waste.

Legislators, activists and residents alike share concerns about the proposals. Some fear the “interim” storage facility could become a de facto permanent storage facility if no other repository is built; others question the site selection for a nuclear facility so close to oil and gas activity in the Permian Basin. Increased transport of high-level radioactive waste across the state could also lead to potentially dangerous nuclear releases, leaving impacted communities responsible for emergency responses.


The Philippines House Committee on Youth and Sports Development has approved a bill seeking to preserve the Indigenous games in the country. House Bill 3860, the proposed Philippine Indigenous Games Preservation Act, mandates the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), in coordination with the Department of Education (DepEd), to initiate measures to preserve the traditional games in the country.

Pangasinan Rep. Tyrone Agabas’ bill calls for the inclusion of games as part of the curriculum in the basic education system of schools; production of documentary or other useful means; and the conduct of regular demonstration of such games in national events and in appropriate school activities.


A Northern Territory policeman has been charged with murder over the shooting of 19-year-old Indigenous man Kumanjayi Walker. After the shooting, angry residents from the remote community of about 800 Warlpiri had gathered at the police station as officers locked themselves inside.

Emotions are running high among Indigenous peoples in the NT and around the nation and the death has been a flashpoint for anger over the treatment of Aboriginal people by police, including deaths in custody, high prison rates, past massacres and the Stolen Generations.


At this year’s American Studies Association Convention in Honolulu, the session titled “Decolonizing Museums” took a deep dive into the ways in which museums are responding to national and global calls to decolonize. Returning objects to the communities of origin are one option. Halealoha Ayau has spent decades hunting for native Hawaiian remains and sacred objects in museums around the globe. His group, Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawaiʻi Nei, helped repatriate feather cloaks, wooden statues, and more than 6,000 ancestral bones in the past 30 years.

But reconnecting Indigenous peoples with items originating from their community may mean museums lose possession. It’s something Noelle Kahanu at UH Mānoa’s American Studies Department says requires a shift in how museums relate to communities: “There’s a perception that there’s a loss, that theyʻre giving up something,” says Kahanu. “When museums are ceding authority that can build relationships between communities and museums in a way that can really last for generations and be transformative.”


The Internet Society (ISOC) hosted an Indigenous Connectivity Summit in Hawai‘i, where communities from across North America came together to learn from one another and share solutions. After the summit, a small group went to Pu‘uhonua o Waimānalo to install the internet with the community of about 100 people, so they can have safe, secure, fast internet. Pu‘uhonua o Waimānalo’s connectivity is coming after more than 125 years of struggle, creating the first independent community internet in the state of Hawai‘i.

Hawai‘i’s work with ISOC is reflective of a greater movement happening across the United States and Canada, especially among Indigenous communities, to be sure everyone has access to fast and affordable internet. Indigenous voices are often not at the table when these connectivity conversations are otherwise had. “Ensuring access to affordable and reliable Internet service empowers Indigenous communities to have a say when it comes to decisions and policies that shape their future,” said Mark Buell, North America Regional Bureau Director for the Internet Society.


The U.S. has failed to meet treaty obligations with sovereign nations in part because of the federal prohibition on using federal dollars for abortion services through the Hyde Amendment, which continues to be passed by the U.S. Congress. The Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1976, prohibits the use of federal money to fund abortion — which in practice means that people who get their health care through programs like Medicare or the Indian Health Service (IHS) are effectively blocked from accessing abortion care. Although IHS is federally mandated to provide health care to Native Americans, IHS fails every day to provide high-quality health care among Indigenous communities.

By prohibiting access to abortion through IHS, the United States is imposing a Western religious system over the bodies and lives of Indigenous women.


The Yezidi village of Bara was struck for the second time in two days, following another suspected Turkish airstrike in a nearby village the day before. Situated north of Mount Shingal, which sheltered thousands of Yezidis against the ISIS onslaught in 2014, the strike was said to be targeting Kurdish forces in the area.

Since liberation from ISIS in December 2015, Shingal has been controlled by a variety of armed groups, including the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmarga, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic). Yezidis have also set up their own militias, some of which are affiliated with larger groups. Turkey justifies its strikes by claiming Mount Shingal is host to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions.


Many critics have been taking to social media to call out the New York Times and the reporter, Catherine Porter (with an article about Inuit in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, entitled “Drawn from Poverty: Art Was Supposed to Save Canada’s Inuit. It Hasn’t”) for perpetuating harmful and racist stereotypes about addiction and poverty in what many are calling “trauma porn.” Francine Compton, from the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA), who is also an executive producer at APTN, says journalists can report on these types of issues — but they need to practice trauma-informed journalism, contextualizing issues such as addiction within colonialism and institutionalized racism.

Indigenous people and journalists regularly call out mainstream media for innappropriate wordplay, criminalizing victims and undermining violence against Indigenous people.


The KhoiSan are about to be payed to be payed for the industrialized use of  the traditional plant rooibos, thanks to a  landmark agreement between South Africa’s environment minister, the National KhoiSan Council, the San Council of South Africa and the South African Rooibos Council. The industry behind the herbal tea rooibos has agreed to pay a percentage of the money that is made to the Indigenous people who used the plant before production was industrialized. South Africa’s KhoiSan people will now receive 1.5% of the value farmers get when they sell to the tea processor. This could amount to roughly $650,000 a year. Lesle Jansen, from environmental and human rights law firm Natural Justice, said that this agreement is not just about money but about recognition. “This was very much a dignity issue and the recognition by the industry that the Khoi and San are the knowledge holders to the uses of rooibos.” The lawyer representing the San people told the industry-wide agreement is a “world first”. “It has huge ramifications for the Indigenous world and also for other industries where many people can be brought under one agreement,” Roger Chennells said.

The KhoiSan are South Africa’s oldest inhabitants and are made up of a number of related communities: The Cape Khoi; the Nama; the Koranna; the Griqua and the San – who also often refer to themselves as bushmen. Rooibos only grows in the Suid Bokkeveld region of South Africa.


Two researchers from New Zealand’s University of Waikato are helping to pioneer a global initiative that seeks to restore control of data to Indigenous peoples. Professor Tahu Kukutai and Associate Professor Maui Hudson recently aided the launch of the Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA). This provides an international forum for Indigenous peoples to collectively progress their goals for data sovereignty and data governance. As a first step, GIDA has published its CARE Principles, which aims to provide the first international framework for the ethical use of Indigenous data. CARE stands for Collective benefit, Authority to control, Responsibility and Ethics. GIDA is a step forward to ensuring Māori have rights and ownership to information that is considered sacred.

Data sovereignty has been a topic of importance among Māori for some time. By ensuring that the Māori peoples have rights and ownership to their own data, they can continue to have a say in matters that are about and for them.


Moscow City Court ruled to dissolve the Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North/Russian Indigenous Training Center (CSIPN/RITC), provoking protests from Brussels and the Nordic Sami Parliaments. Hindering contacts with intergovernmental organizations and forums is exactly why the Justice Ministry in Moscow took the case to court, says CSIPN/RITC director Rodion Sulyandziga, who represents Indigenous voices across Siberia and the Russian north. “That was Russia’s goal to keep us outside of any international, Arctic and UN venues,” he said. “These worrying developments go against independent and active civil society, which is an essential element to every democracy,” says Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy with the European Union.

The non-governmental group was funded in 2001 to provide assistance to people in Siberia, the North and Far East of Russia. The ruling by the court, however, will be appealed to the next upper court within 30 days, in accordance with legal procedures.


An Indigenous community representative said that the European Union should consider sanctions for companies that source materials from protected Brazilian forest reservations and native lands. Sonia Guajajara, the head of APIB, which represents many of Brazil’s 900,000 native people, called for EU lawmakers to exert pressure on Brazil’s government to better protect the rights of Indigenous communities and for scrutiny of companies profiting from deforestation in the Amazon.

“We are calling on the European community to support us so that each of them in their country can pressure companies, pressure parliamentarians, so they can adopts laws that guarantee the traceability of products and their production chain,” she said.


Missy LaPlant, Montana’s new missing persons specialist, sees progress in addressing cases. LaPlant said she is also working with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to better address missing and runaway youth in care. She said communication is a key part of what she is doing. “Communication and building relationships – not only with victims, families, but also law enforcement agencies,” she said.

LaPlant, a former Glacier County sheriff’s deputy and Blackfeet law enforcement officer, was elected the Montana Department of Justice’s missing persons specialist in September. The position was created this year, after the Montana Legislature passed House Bill 21, known as “Hanna’s Act.” The bill was part of a package of legislation aimed at addressing the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people, which advocates have called an “epidemic.”


After a 10-year battle by elders and renal health workers in central Australia, the first remote South Australian dialysis clinic officially opened its doors this week at Pukatja (Ernabella), an Anangu community about seven hours south-west of Alice Springs. Purple House is an Aboriginal community-controlled health service that provides dialysis in 17 remote communities and a mobile unit called the Purple Truck, which allows patients to head back home to visit family, for festivals, funerals and other cultural business.

Since the centre – which is entirely Indigenous owned and run – began, central Australia has gone from having the worst survival rates for kidney disease to some of the best in Australia.


A new online education program launched by the not-for-profit First Nations Foundation aims to help bridge the financial literacy gap between Australians and the general population. Called My Money Dream, the program is aimed at people aged between 16 and 60 and includes modules on money and culture, budgeting, banking, superannuation, insurance, loans and credit, buying a home, buying a car and financial first-aid.

The foundation believes the program has the potential to improve the financial knowledge of tens of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, reduce their financial stress and provide the tools to set up a secure financial future.


A documentary detailing hope and resilience among the minority Ogiek for land rights has been launched. The film ‘Ogiek Peoples Documentary portrays the Ogiek as an Indigenous people who have a critical role to play in safeguarding their local ecosystems and in conserving and protecting their ancestral lands and natural resources. The Executive Director of Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program, Daniel Kobei, said “For close to a century misinterpretation of Ogiek people and their culture has influenced and perpetuated misleading and broader population’s perceptions.” One of the key highlights of the film is that it places a special emphasis on the Arusha Land mark ruling of May 26, 2017. The African Court ruled that kicking the Indigenous Ogiek community from their forest dwellings would amount to infringement on their rights. The court stated that Kenya was also bound by seven separate articles of the African Charter, including right to property, natural resources, development, religion, culture, and non-discrimination.

The  film demonstrates a relentless quest of the marginalized community to have their land rights respected and recognized. The community is yet to be furnished with recommendations of a task force appointed by the government on the way forward in implementing the Africa Court’s ruling.

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