The Indigenous Rights Report

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Indigenous Rights Report

Indigenous Rights Report

Issue #17 / October 12 - 18, 2019

This is the Indigenous Rights Report for the week of October 12, 2019. In this week’s report:

  • Victory! Ecuador’s President repeals austerity decree and ends violence
  • Credit Suisse promises safeguards for Indigenous rights after DAPL intervention
  • Métis land claim could spark ‘reset’ in relations between Indigenous people and government
  • Argentina’s “Native Flower Rebellion” enters second week
  • In southwest Colombia, six Indigenous leaders have been killed
  • Heiltsuk open first Big House in 120 years
  • Declaration establishes Working Group on People’s Living in Isolation
  • A native plant is exposing the clash between traditional knowledge and Western conventions
  • Inter-American Commission Calls to Protect Environmental Defenders
  • Northwest Indigenous leaders call for removal of 3 Columbia river dams
  • Thousands bring Chile’s capital to a standstill on Columbus Day
  • ‘Symbolic rent’: Seattle residents pay reparations to Native American tribe
  • Recently rediscovered petroglyphs bring Indigenous narrative to surface
  • Yucuquimi de Ocampo declares itself an autonomous Indigenous municipality
  • Thunder Bay police re-investigate deaths of 9 Indigenous persons

In an unprecedented public dialogue between the Ecuadorian government and the Indigenous movement, President Lenin Moreno announced the repeal of Decree 883, ending an eleven-day strike that paralyzed the country and was met with brutal police repression against Indigenous peoples.

Photo: Freddy Chavez H.

The annulment of the decree, an economic austerity package that cut subsidies and imposed labor reforms, was a central demand of the Indigenous movement, along with an end to oil and mining extraction. A United Nations-mediated commission of government and Indigenous representatives will work on a new decree to supplant 883.


Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s second-largest bank, has agreed to ensure that its clients demonstrate that they have obtained the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous peoples affected by their projects in sensitive sectors. The Society for Threatened Peoples welcomed the move as a “first step” towards incorporating the rights of Indigenous communities but were disappointed that the bank was only planning to apply it to project financing. “Company financing and stock broking are excluded from these guidelines. The extension is therefore only a small step in the right direction when it comes to comprehensive protection of Indigenous communities,” said campaigner Angela Mattli in a statement.

In 2017, Swiss NGO Society for Threatened Peoples filed a complaint against Credit Suisse with the Swiss National Contact Point of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) over their financial relationship with firms involved in the Dakota pipeline. After months of mediation and negotiations, both parties agreed on an outcome.


Métis from Saskatchewan and Alberta filed a 120,000 square-kilometre land claim in a Saskatoon court. University of Saskatchewan professor Ken Coates hopes this massive Métis land claim will spark a change in the relationship between governments and Indigenous people. He said Indigenous peoples have won most recent court battles over rights and resources and that governments and society will eventually realize that it’s better to negotiate and settle things out of court.


The “Native Flower Rebellion” continued into its second week in Argentina’s capital. According to one of the movement organizers, on day 8 the group of Indigenous women had a meeting with Dr. María Fernández Rodríguez, Secretary of Justice, who promised to address some of their concerns.

Photo: Moira Millan

She also said that “[We] denounce what is called ‘chineo,’ naturalizing the rape of our girls. In the case of the demands that the Secretary of Justice did not address because they do not correspond to her jurisdiction, we asked the Secretary of Justice to please speak with the different areas that do have jurisdiction so that so that solutions can be found with due respect.” The Indigenous women say they will continue their peaceful occupation indefinitely.


The United Nations condemned the assassination of the sixth Indigenous guard in the troubled southwest of Colombia. Toribio Canas, 53, was gunned down at his home in the Toribio municipality of the Cauca province. The Indigenous guard became the latest victim of devastating violence aimed at Indigenous leaders and human rights defenders in the province. Regional Indigenous organization CRIC warned that people claiming to represent the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel are threatening locals as they attempt to expand their operations with the illicit coca crop, the base ingredient for cocaine. While the situation worsens for Indigenous communities in Cauca, the government is failing to fulfill protection guarantees that were given to Indigenous communities, according to CRIC.

Native Colombians have experienced extreme violence after the demobilization of the FARC guerrilla group in 2017, and the failure of the administration of current president Ivan Duque to implement a peace deal has plunged the region into crisis.


The Heiltsuk Nation opened a “Big House” on the First Nation’s territory in Bella Bella. The last Big House in the territory along the B.C. coast was destroyed 120 years ago. The community has been planning and fundraising to build a new one for decades. William Housty, cultural adviser on the project, said the opening is an important step toward cultural revitalization, following a history of oppression.

The Heiltsuk believe the missionaries knocked down the last Big House in their efforts to assimilate members of the First Nation, he said. It would be part of a series of efforts to erase Indigenous culture that also includes a federal ban on potlatches between 1880 and 1951.


A group of 21 organizations from across the Amazon and El Chaco have formed The Working Group on People’s Living in Voluntary Isolation and Initial Contact (PIACI). This announcement follows the release of “Indigenous People’s Living in Voluntary Isolation: Territories and Development in the Amazon and El Chaco Regions — Regional Report“. The report signals the pressures and threats that PIACI are under, and established pioneering regional vision of the situation of the PIACI in the Amazon and the Gran Chaco. A declaration issued by the organizations mentions the recategorization of the territories to weaken their protection as one of the setbacks in policies that affect PIACI. Exceptions to the protection of PIACI are made where there are extractive interests, increase of granted areas for exploitation, and institutional dismantling and reduction of fiscal resources intended for the protection of the PIACI. There has also been an exclusion of the Indigenous peoples who share territory with the PIACI in the process of decision making, monitoring and social control.

In the declaration, the organizations reaffirmed their collective commitment to defend the rights and protection of the territories and life of the PIACI and call on all sectors of national and international civil society to join this objective and urge states to effectively enforce protections needed to ensure these ends.


A fight is brewing over ownership of the native plant gumby gumby, exposing the clash between traditional knowledge and the Western intellectual property (IP) system. The plant, also known as native apricot, comes from inland Australia, including the Wiradjuri lands of central NSW. Aboriginal peoples use it as medicine to treat eczema and other skin problems, sprains and colds and induce milk flow in new mothers.

The fight is part of a broader debate in Australia and globally about how to value and protect traditional knowledge and ensure Indigenous peoples benefit from and retain access to their heritage. There have been similar debates from North America to India when Western companies have tried to patent the active ingredients in plants, after carrying out research to medically validate centuries or even millennia of traditional herbal knowledge.


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called for action to protect environmental defenders especially in light of the climate emergency. In a press release following the conclusion of the 173rd session of special hearings, the IACHR warned of “the large numbers of murders of human rights defenders and social leaders in the region, and of the attacks, threats, harassment, intimidation, stigmatization and smear campaigns, and the intense criminalization processes that these individuals continue to face in the region.” The IACHR said it would increase its efforts to address the problem.

Photo: CHRE

Romina Picolotti, winner of the prestigious Sophie Prize in 2006 for linking human rights to the environment, praised the IACHR for drawing attention to this critical threat to environmental defenders, explaining that, “Environmental defenders, as a ‘group’, are being attacked, and this has severe consequences to individuals, to families and to the very idea of sustainable development. The criminalization of environmental defenders is a particularly pernicious threat, because States’ criminal processes have the appearance of legitimacy. The public generally does not realize that criminal law is being manipulated to specifically target environmentalists. We need strong and coordinated international action to protect citizens that are standing up to protect the Earth.”


The Yakama Nation is calling for the removal of three lower Columbia River dams — Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day — in an effort to save salmon and preserve culture. Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe Goudy said First Nations never agreed to damming the river. He called on congressional leaders and others to remove the dams. Although calls to remove the four lower Snake River dams have been ongoing, this is the first big push to remove these mainstream Columbia River dams. The dams are managed by the Bonneville Power Administration. They provide power and river access to inland ports.

Celilo Falls once served as an integral fishing location for Northwest tribes, and was reputed to be one of the most productive fisheries in the world. The falls were submerged when The Dalles Dam was built in 1957. The final dam on the Columbia River, John Day Dam, was completed in 1972.


Thousands of protesters marched in Chile’s capital, Santiago, denouncing discrimination against the country’s Indigenous peoples amid the annual Columbus Day commemorations. They rallied for the release of detained activists facing prosecution for campaigning against extractive industries, including logging and copper mining, on Indigenous lands. The crowds also called for greater rights for Indigenous people and the return of ancestral lands seized by the Chilean government and sold off to farmers and forestry companies in the past.

Some two million Chileans, or 10 percent of the population, identify as Indigenous. The Mapuche are the largest Indigenous group. In recent years, relations between the Chilean government and the Mapuche have become increasingly fraught because of mining and logging on land the Indigenous Peoples claim as their own.


More than 2,700 people in greater Seattle choose to make a monthly contribution to the Duwamish Indigenous nation through a grassroots initiative called Real Rent Duwamish. The project is part of a growing movement of individuals, groups and businesses across the country who are voluntarily making up for unpaid reparations. Not legally recognized as a Native American group by the government, the Duwamish have been rendered a so-called “landless tribe” that does not benefit from federal assistance to Indigenous peoples.

Donors to the Duwamish tribe applaud during a thank you ceremony at the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center in Seattle, USA. Photo taken on 21 September 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Gregory Scruggs

The Duwamish are an Indigenous group of about 700 people whose ancestral lands include what is now present-day Seattle, a city named after their former chief. They gave up 54,000 acres (21,800 hectares) of land to the U.S. government under the terms of an 1855 treaty but were never resettled onto a reservation, according to Jolene Haas, head of Duwamish Tribal Services. In July, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs announced that it would not reconsider its 2015 decision to deny recognition to the Duwamish, when it said there was a “lack of evidence concerning the continuous existence of a ‘distinct American-Indian community’ and ‘tribal political influence or authority’”.


Rediscovered petroglyphs on a submerged river bank in Vermont are bringing some Indigenous narratives to surface. Archaeologist Annette Spaulding found one face carving in 2015, and then what appeared to be a portion of the main panel of petroglyphs in 2017. Petroglyphs, images carved into natural stone, are only known to exist in two places in Vermont: one on the shore of the Connecticut River in Bellows Falls, the other in Brattleboro, where the West River and Connecticut meet. Sketches of those Brattleboro petroglyphs as well as one historic photograph were made in the 1800s. But then the carvings were flooded by the Vernon Dam and buried under a thick layer of silt for more than a century.

The Elnu Abenaki have been working with the local Vermont Land Trust office to conserve land near the West River petroglyph sites. The goal is to ensure Abenaki access to the sacred site and protect the land from development.


The Mixtec Indigenous community of Yucuquimi de Ocampo in Mexico’s Oaxaca state, declared itself to be a “free municipality” under its own “autonomous” self-government.  With a reported population of more than 13,000 inhabitants, Yucuquimi de Ocampo has faced a history of discrimination and indifference from both the state and municipal governments. Most recently, the government refused to give them more than 50% of the resources allocated to them. It was the last straw.

Photo: Yucuquimi de Ocampo / facebook

“We can all dream and build a different world, a more just one, a more egalitarian one… a world of coexistence where many worlds fit,” the Mixtecs of Yucuquimi said in a public statement. “We gather together to keep fighting, and raise our voice in order to make visible that not everything is Tezoatlán, Huajuapan, Oaxaca City… We are forgotten people who continue the struggle of our brothers and sisters for the recognition of our rights.”


A group of officers from the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS) and the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS) are reviewing the old case notes and will soon be starting new investigations into the deaths of nine Indigenous people in the northwestern Ontario city, the team’s leader announced.  The re-investigations were recommended in the 2018 final report from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, which examined systemic racism in the TBPS.

“These are nine people involved and.. families will want to see how, and if, a wrong can be made right,” said Elder Helen Cromarty, a member of the executive governance committee overseeing the new investigations.

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