The Indigenous Rights Report

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Indigenous Rights Report #25

Indigenous Rights Report #25

December 7-13, 2019
Half a million people took the streets of Madrid demanding environmental justice on Dec. 8. An indigenous contingent of participants from the world-over led the action to keeping petroleum and coal in the ground. COURTESY / Indigenous Media Rising

This is the Indigenous Rights Report for the week of December 7, 2019. In this week’s report:

  • Indigenous activists protest proposal of massive Alberta oilsands mine
  • Native American COP25 delegation removed from US Embassy
  • Melanesian Indigenous Alliance calls for protection of Indigenous food production systems
  • US Senate passes bill to protect, promote Native American languages
  • National dance event held to uplift Indigenous communities in Australia
  • India’s Citizen Amendment Bill a threat to Indigenous Peoples
  • Indigenous community in Cambodia objects to land demarcation
  • Facebook wants to build on what may be a former Indigenous village
  • Two more Indigenous leaders killed in Brazil
  • New report reveals tribal evictions for tiger reserves are illegal
  • Coca farms close in on protected areas, isolated tribes in Peruvian Amazon
  • Tribe loses case against uranium mine
  • Indian Affairs Committee advances legislation supporting Tribal Public Safety and Health Care for Native veterans
  • In Colombia, Indigenous protesters decry drilling on reservations
  • >Land rights for Indigenous peoples in India wins global prize
  • Diné Institute receives grant to continue STEM-based professional development
  • Indigenous activists fight expansion of Canadian hydropower
  • Grant project aims to improve food security for remote Indigenous populations in Australia
  • How nature’s ancient technologies can inform today’s cities

A pair of protests were held this week at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid that saw Indigenous activists speak out in opposition to a massive oilsands mine proposed for northern Alberta. The protests targeted the Frontier oilsands project, a $20.6-billion mine proposed by Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd., for an area that is about a one-hour drive north of Fort McMurray.

Over the summer, a federal-provincial panel ruled that the oilsands project was in the public interest even though it could fundamentally cause harm to both the environment and to Indigenous peoples.


Over 75 Indigenous activists and their allies demonstrated in front of the US Embassy in Madrid, Spain, to demand justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women, two-spirits and girls (MMIW). The delegation was removed from the sidewalk by Spain’s National Police and followed for blocks.

In 2016, the Urban Indian Health Institute found that only 116 out of 5,712 cases of MMIWG reported in the United States were recorded in the Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database. Many of these cases have been the direct result of extractive fossil fuel industries implanting “man camps” for transient industry workers located near Native American communities.


At the 7th meeting of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA) on the importance and protection of Indigenous land tenure systems, MILDA says it will continue to promote the production and consumption of Indigenous foods, Melanesian systems of science, research, teaching and learning to bring about greater generation-to-generation transmission of, understanding of, and appreciation for Indigenous knowledge, practices and languages.

MILDA was formed in 2009 by a collective of individuals who shared a vision and commitment to working together to protect customary land systems and Melanesian values.


U.S. Congress has reauthorized a federal grant program that helps educational programs teach Native American languages and focuses on the revitalization of Native languages. The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Programs Reauthorization Act revises a grant program managed by the Administration for Native Americans within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The program provides funding opportunities to assess, plan, develop and implement projects that ensure the survival and continuance of Native languages.

Sen. Tom Udall who introduced the bill in the Senate in January said that “Native languages in the U.S. represent some of the greatest linguistic diversity in the world and embody the cultures, histories and resiliency of the Native communities that speak them.”


An online movement has become one of the largest coordinated expressions of culture as hundreds of Indigenous people across Australia danced on their Countries as one in a sign of solidarity. The ‘Nation Dance’ movement called on all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations to simultaneously share live videos of their ancestral dances with the world-wide web on Sunday.

Coordinated by Gooreng Gooreng and Wakka Wakka man Alwyn Doolan – who walked from Cape York in Queensland to Parliament House in Canberra, with the intention to empower First Nations People – the event was all about “uplifting community”.


Indian lawmakers approved legislation granting citizenship to non-Muslims who migrated illegally from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Critics of the government said the legislation undermines the country’s secular constitution. The Citizenship Amendment Bill seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled the three countries before 2015. Protesters say they oppose the legislation out of concern that migrants who came to the country illegally will move to the border region in the northeast and dilute the culture and political sway of Indigenous peoples. The bill was introduced by the Hindu nationalist-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi following his resounding election victory in May.


Representatives of the Indigenous community in Mondulkiri province of Cambodia  submitted three petitions to voice their objection against the planting of stone markers around the Doh Kramom mountain area by provincial officials. All petitions expressed their opposition to the setting of stone markers around the area from December 5-6, which was witnessed by some members of the Indigenous community and representatives of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.

Located in the province’s Sen Monorom town, Doh Kramom mountain is home to the Cultural Centre for Indigenous People. A government directive issued in 2004 designated 102ha from the foot of the mountain to the top for the centre.


Representatives of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe say that the site where Facebook is proposing to build its Willow Village project almost certainly contains Native American burials. It turns out that those burials are just a small part of what may be an ancient Native American village long buried beneath the earth in the area where Facebook’s planned new neighborhood and office campus.

Monica Arellano, vice chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area and the tribe’s Historic Preservation officer, said that “There is a high likelihood that the project will result in the disturbance of burials and the destruction of cultural resources. We hope that Facebook will consult and work closely with the tribe as this project unfolds.” She added that the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe “has recognized this area as one of extreme cultural sensitivity.”


Two Indigenous leaders have been shot dead and two others wounded in Brazil’s Maranhão state, in an attack not far from where a prominent tribesman who defended the Amazon rainforest was killed last month, authorities said. The attack on the members of the Guajajara tribe, which is known for the forest guardians who protect their territory against illegal deforestation, occurred in the Cana Brava Indigenous reservation, which spans 137,000 hectares in the state of Maranhão and has 4,500 inhabitants, according to government records. The incident comes during the UN’s two-week international climate change conference in Madrid, where Brazilian Indigenous leaders are present and attempting to draw attention to the importance of protecting their forest territories.

Indigenous tribes in Brazil are facing escalating violence during the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, who has promised to reduce tribal rights and encouraged the commercial exploitation of their protected lands. Since he took office, Tribes have faced an upsurge of violence from illegal loggers and miners.


A new report by Survival International has revealed that the mass eviction of tribal people in India whose lands are being turned into tiger reserves is illegal under both national and international law. The report looks at the claim by government ministers and conservationists that “relocations”, as they are officially termed, are voluntary and carried out according to the law. It is being launched to mark UN Human Rights Day. However, the report’s findings unequivocally show that evictions of thousands of tribespeople are taking place without their free, prior and informed consent, and in violation of many relevant laws, both national and international.

Survival is calling for a moratorium on all “relocations” from tiger reserves, and for an independent investigation into the evictions. Those who have been illegally and forcibly evicted must be allowed to return, if they wish to do so.


A remote region of the Peruvian Amazon is being invaded by farmers who are rapidly clearing mature forests for farms to grow coca. The invasions are occurring in the buffer zone of Alto Purús National Park and two reserves for isolated tribes, seriously threatening the Mashco-Piro, Peru’s largest isolated tribe. The farmers are from VRAEM, Peru’s largest cocaine-producing region, and are part of a growing movement of coca farmers from the Andean foothills to biologically and culturally sensitive lowlands near protected areas.

The invasions are occurring in timber concessions and exemplify the problem with Peru’s reliance on timber companies to properly manage remote forests lacking state presence.


The site of a potential uranium mine in southwest South Dakota will not have to be surveyed for cultural resources of concern to the Oglala Sioux Tribe if a decision issued by a panel of judges is upheld. A lawyer for the tribe said it is evaluating the decision before deciding whether to file an appeal prior to a January 6 deadline.

The company proposing the mine — Powertech, a subsidiary of Azarga Uranium in Canada — still has several more regulatory approvals to obtain before it can begin mining at the proposed site near Edgemont, in an area that was mined extensively for uranium from the 1950s to the 1970s. The Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Pine Ridge Reservation is about 50 miles east of the proposed mine, but the mine site, along with the Black Hills and all of western South Dakota, was formerly part of the Great Sioux Reservation.


The Udall-sponsored BADGES for Native Communities Act and the Udall-sponsored Health Care Access for Urban Native Veterans Act of 2019 bills passed the committee unanimously. U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, also introduced an amendment to the BADGES Act to reflect consultation from Tribes. Udall said that “We must ensure that Tribal public safety officials have access to the full array of the resources they need to best serve their communities. Native veterans also have more than earned access to quality, culturally-competent health care.”

Among other provisions, the amendment increases funding for Tribal access to law enforcement databases, authorizes Tribal law enforcement to access state and federal law enforcement databases for administrative background purposes, and requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a review of the Department of Justice’s unmet staffing needs in Tribal areas.


Indigenous peoples from the Colombian countryside converged on its capital city to declare their territories closed to business and decry what they describe as a systematic campaign of assassinations by shady economic interests to mine, drill, log or produce drugs on their land. The hundreds came from Colombia’s diverse Indigenous communities last week to join an ongoing national protest movement that has put high pressure on President Ivan Duque to turn his agenda away from fostering big business to investing in social well being. The persistence of the protests, plus with the participation of people from deep in the jungles where oil drilling and mining takes place, could present challenges to a national petroleum industry counting on new reserves to meet mid-term needs.

Nearly a third of Colombia is designated Indigenous territory, often is the most rural depths, sometimes in places inaccessible by road. This year, Colombia’s top weekly news magazine reported that 37 petroleum production contracts awarded by the country’s National Hydrocarbon Agency infringed 81 Indigenous reserves, another 26 of which were violated by exploration contracts.


A groundbreaking project that secured land rights for thousands of Indigenous peoples in India won a top global prize, highlighting the difficulties that lower-caste communities face in claiming land despite laws in place to benefit them. The project, which began in 2000 and is run by human rights group ActionAid India, with Indian non-profits Koraga Federation and Samagra Grameena Ashrama, was named a gold prize winner at the World Habitat Awards for its work with the Koraga tribe and nine other Indigenous communities in southern Karnataka state. It helped secure thousands of hectares of land for the communities, and assisted nearly 20,000 people to access state grants to build homes, according to a statement from the global charity World Habitat.

While Indigenous peoples in India are entitled to state and federal welfare schemes, entrenched caste bias and a lack of awareness had denied the communities their rights, said Nandini Krishnaswamy, a regional manager at ActionAid India. India’s 104 million tribal people – also known as Adivasis, or “original inhabitants” – make up less than 10 per cent of the population, and are among its most impoverished.


The Diné Institute for Navajo Nation Educators (DINÉ), a teacher-driven partnership between Northern Arizona University and schools on the Navajo Nation, received a $935,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to continue STEM-based professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers on the Navajo Nation. The grant, which runs for four years, will support program costs for STEM-related seminars serving teachers in the Navajo schools, and the addition of teachers from one other Native Nation beginning in the grant’s third year.

DINÉ is a partnership between NAU and Navajo schools aimed at strengthening the quality of teaching in Indigenous schools by offering professional development and resources to teachers. DINÉ is part of NAU’s overall goal of ensuring Indigenous and Native American students have access to equitable educational opportunities and outcomes. DINÉ recently joined the Yale National Initiative and became part of the League of Teachers Institutes. The organization’s collaborative nature, focuses on helping Native American postsecondary students and work in rural settings.


Indigenous activist Erin Saunders protested the construction of a local Canadian hydropower dam, which she says threatens her community’s way of life. Saunders lives in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, a town on the banks of the Churchill River. Upstream, a 5,428-megawatt hydroelectric plant called Churchill Falls has generated power for New England for years; a second, 824-megawatt plant called Muskrat Falls is expected to come online next year, and a third, 2,500-megawatt plant called Gull Island is on the drawing board for Nalcor, an energy company owned by the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. A primary concern for Saunders, and for many in the watershed that lies downstream from Churchill Falls, is the release of methylmercury into the environment. While Nalcor and the Inuit’s Nunatsiavut Government disagree with each other on the impact Muskrat Falls will have on local food sources, Saunders and others in her community deeply resent any poisoning of their food supply by state-owned Nalcor.  Hydropower has been the lynchpin in a mutually beneficial cross-border arrangement; Canada has gained a major source of revenue, while Vermont and New Hampshire have gained a major source of reliable, renewable energy.

Both Vermont and New Hampshire have mandated 25% renewable energy portfolios by 2025, and both states are currently at about 20%, with imported Canadian hydroelectricity representing a significant chunk of that. In late November, the United Nations released a report showing that, despite all the recent political momentum to combat climate change, global emissions have increased by 2% over the last decade, and several of the world’s most robust economies — including the United States and Canada — are not on pace to meet their emission reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement.


The project “Giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children the best start in life: improving healthy food affordability and food security” received funding for AU$2.1 million ($1.4 million) from the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council to investigate food availability and food security among Indigenous mothers and children in remote Australian communities. The project includes researchers from Australia, the U.S. and Canada, and it was developed in cooperation with the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, with input from health care staff and academics from the Indigenous populations. It focuses on two populations: Aboriginal communities in Central Australia and Torres Strait Islanders, living on remote islands off the coast of Queensland. About 30% of Indigenous people in these areas are food insecure, which leads to malnutrition and disease. A combination of low income and high food prices make it difficult to purchase healthy food, and mothers and young children are especially at risk.

Australia is one of the few high-income countries, along with the U.S., with a large Indigenous population that is at risk for food insecurity and related health issues.


More than 100 “nature-based technologies” are collected in a new book by landscape designer Julia Watson, titled “Lo_TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism.” The book describes cities, buildings and infrastructure from 20 countries including Iraq, Peru, the Philippines and Tanzania — perhaps the world’s best examples of “Traditional Ecological Knowledge” (TEK): techniques and technologies developed and incubated in Indigenous societies. They provide ideas of how today’s architects, planners and designers might respond to the global climate crisis, which scientists have warned will see temperatures cross the point of no return and one million species go extinct unless radical action is taken.

“At this very moment, probably the biggest impact that these system can have is decreasing the agricultural footprint of our cities by shifting the way that we understand productive land and (its) relationship with our cities — folding that (agricultural production) into the way that we design cities,” Watson said.

This is the Indigenous Rights Report.

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