The Indigenous Rights Report

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Indigenous Rights Report

Indigenous Rights Report

Issue #10 August 24-30, 2019

In this week’s Indigenous Rights Report:

  • Indigenous organizations demand action to halt the destruction of the Amazon
  • Oglala Sioux Tribe ‘fights back’ to protect Black Hills from uranium mine
  • Coastal GasLink bulldozes ancient Wet’suwet’en war trail
  • Indigenous people under threat from Indonesia’s plan to move capital
  • Leonardo DiCaprio’s Earth Alliance donates $5M to help Indigenous peoples affected by Amazon fires
  • Brazil congressional committee allows commercial farming on Indigenous reserves
  • Indigenous hunters in Canada are protecting animals, land and waterways
  •  Indigenous governor sentenced to 7 years for protesting against a mine
  • Wells Fargo agrees to pay the Navajo Nation $6.5 million in settlement over ‘predatory’ practices
  • Australia back a freeway’s heritage over Indigenous culture?
  • Mi’kmaw language is making a comeback in Nova Scotia
  • Violence against Indigenous Hondurans shows us what fuels migration
  • Indigenous peoples need a say on water rights, U.N. rapporteur urges
  • The Cherokee Nation wants a representative in Congress
  • Indigenous communities are against the Santa Lucía airport project
  • Loggers are lighting fires inside the territory of uncontacted Amazon tribes
  • Amazon’s Indigenous warriors take on invading loggers and ranchers
  • Brazil’s Bolsonaro will review territories set aside for Indigenous peoples
  • National Museum of the American Indian launches new online materials based on Native history
  • World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Education to be held in Adelaide in 2020



While international attention and ire has focused on the burning of the Brazilian Amazon and responsibility of the ultra-rightwing government of Jair Bolsonaro, across the border in eastern Bolivia, equally devastating wild fires in the past three weeks have destroyed nearly 1 million hectares, including the now ravaged Ñembi Guasa park, a refuge for “uncontacted” Ayoreo people on the Paraguayan border. The fires threaten at least four protected reserves, as well as the Noel Kempff National Park, home to over 3,500 species of flora, and 1,500 species of fauna. Locals are upset by what they see as authorities’ slow response, refusal to officially declare a state of emergency and reluctance to ask for international aid. Indigenous leaders and civil society organizations point to government policies for encouraging deforestation and forest fires.

Forest fires in the Chiquitania follow years of detrimental environmental policy from the Morales government, designed to open the Bolivian Amazon to mega-development projects and commercial interests.


The Oglala Sioux Tribe is set to argue for the protection of cultural resources from unprecedented uranium mining in the southern Black Hills. The tribal government and local groups urged members of the public to attend proceedings and participate in a simultaneous outdoor cultural event to raise awareness about the issue. A panel of administrative judges from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) is supposed to be in town on these dates to hear from the tribe, the commission staff and intervenors in the case, which is focusing on the “reasonableness” of their divergent approaches to surveying tribal cultural, religious, and  historical properties at the proposed 10,000-acre Dewey-Burdock in situ leach mine and mill.

Tribal members and allies, pictured in Rapid City in 2015, continue to express opposition to licensing of proposed Dewey Burdock radioactive extraction project, which regulators say could have a large impact on Lakota cultural resources.

The project is being promoted by license-holder Powertech USA Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Azarga Uranium Corp., which is carrying on a decade-long foreign crusade to clear all the U.S. regulatory hurdles that would allow the undertaking of South Dakota’s first-ever in situ mining and milling of uranium.


Coastal GasLink has bulldozed a section of the ancient Kweese war trail in BC, Canada, despite failing to acquire the proper permits or complete an archaeological impact assessment in the area. In a letter to provincial officials, the Office of Wet’suwet’en described the destruction as “an act of cultural genocide.”

The Kweese war trail is part of a vital story for the Tsayu clan, of which Kweese was a chief. The trail also passes through Unist’ot’en territory, and is important to the many clans and warriors that united to support Kweese in war against the Gitamaat.


Thousands of Indigenous peoples may be uprooted from their ancestral lands on Borneo island as large areas of forests are cleared to make way for Indonesia’s new capital, human rights groups said. President Joko Widodo said the new capital would be moved to the province of East Kalimantan on Borneo, with the relocation planned to begin in 2024. Indigenous peoples in East Kalimantan have not been consulted, and stand to lose their lands and livelihoods to make way for the new capital, said Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri of advocacy group Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact.

Indigenous Dayaks who live in Kalimantan have been caught up in a decades-long struggle to protect their traditional land and forests from logging, mining and oil palm plantations, according to advocacy group Minority Rights Group International (MRGI). Across the archipelago, Indigenous and rural communities are fighting to reclaim their ancestral land, following a historic 2013 court ruling to lift state control of customary forests.


Leonardo DiCaprio’s Earth Alliance is committing $5 million toward helping the Indigenous communities affected by the fires. The organization’s Amazon Forest Fund will go toward five organizations: Instituto Associacao Floresta Protegida, Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon, Instituto Socioambiental, Instituto Raoni and Instituto Kabu.

The Brazilian Amazon—home to 1 million Indigenous peoples and 3 million species—has been burning for more than two weeks straight. There have been 74,000 fires in the Brazilian Amazon since the beginning of this year—a staggering 84% increase over the same period last year (National Institute for Space Research, Brazil).


A Brazilian congressional committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment to allow commercial agriculture on Indigenous reserves, a practice that is currently prohibited.

Following approval by Brazil’s Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee, the proposal will now pass to a specially formed committee for consideration. After passing through committee votes, a constitutional amendment must ultimately be approved by super majorities in both houses of Congress.


In Canada, Indigenous peoples are part of the conservation movement to conserve 17 per cent of its land and fresh water by the end of 2020. In October 2018, Dehcho First Nations and the Government of Canada announced the creation of the first Indigenous protected area in Canada. The Tsá Tué Biosphere Reserve, created in 2016, protected more than 9,000 square kilometers of land and water. First Nations, Inuit and Métis have put in place other initiatives too.

These Indigenous groups are interested in protecting the land because their holistic approach to ecosystems will help preserve their traditional way of life.


The Indigenous governor of the southern Andean region of Puno, Peru, Walter Aduviri, is awaiting his transfer to that territory, where he will be imprisoned, amid continued controversy over his detention. While the press and neoliberal politicians oscillate between support and indifference towards the case, progressive forces denounced that it is part of the application of a policy that criminalizes social protests.

Aduviri was involved in the mobilization of Aymara communities, in 2011, against the mining project of a Canadian transnational company installed in their lands, close to the border with Bolivia, causing environmental damage.


Wells Fargo agreed to pay the Navajo Nation $6.5 million to settle claims it used “predatory” practices to defraud the tribe. The settlement concludes a 2017 lawsuit the Navajo Nation brought against the bank claiming Wells Fargo preyed on it from 2009 to 2016 with practices including opening fake bank accounts, stalking local events and pressuring seniors who did not speak English to pay for unneeded services. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez on Thursday said that “This puts other companies on notice that harmful business practices against the Navajo people will not be tolerated.”

Wells Fargo is still grappling with the fallout from the fake accounts scandal that was uncovered three years ago, and it was in talks with the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission about resolving probes into the issue.


The Victorian government has announced it is seeking heritage listing for parts of the Eastern Freeway in Melbourne. A Major Road Projects Victoria proposal to extend the Western Highway will destroy sacred Djab Wurrung trees and places. The Indigenous Peoples have been protecting these trees for more than a year, but faced eviction – from their own Country. All this is happening as the government is conducting treaty negotiations across the state.

Victoria supposedly has a legislative system for protecting this Aboriginal heritage. The government asserts that it has followed the “due process” of this system in relation to the Djab Wurrung trees. The fact that Djab Wurrung Elders and leaders have been protesting on site for the past 15 months raises serious questions about what constitutes “due process”.


There is a resurgence of interest in reclaiming Indigenous language and culture. Bryson Syliboy is involved in revitalising Mi’kmaw, Mi’kmaq peoples traditional language. For the last two years, he’s been sharing a Mi’kmaw ‘word of the day’ on Twitter. Francis, a linguist from Maupeltu (Membertou) First Nation in Cape Breton, N.S., developed — with his mentor and partner Doug Smith between 1974 and 1980 — a new orthography (conventional spelling system) of the Mi’kmaw language. Today the Smith/Francis orthography is officially recognized by Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaw chiefs and the Canada-Nova Scotia-Mi’kmaq Tripartite Forum.

“There are only 8,000 or 9,000 [Mi’kmaw] speakers left, which means the language is dying,” says Francis, of why he feels the government should provide materials, infrastructure, and funding to the Mi’kmaq people (and other tribal nations) to help strengthen Indigenous cultures.


Besides the narcos’ illicit trade, the Garifuna’s coastal lands have also been targeted for tourism, a naval base, palm oil plantations and oil and gas extraction — all with government approval. Violent land grabs like these drive migration. Back in 2014, Humberto Castillo estimated that half the Garifuna population between 12 and 30 years old had left Honduras.

These resource grabs and the ensuing violence, especially against Indigenous people, turned Honduras into the most dangerous country in the world for environmental activism.


Indigenous peoples from the Amazon to the Arctic are being left out of the global conversation on water property rights, a United Nations’ Indigenous rights expert warned. Special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said Indigenous peoples needed to be better “consulted and involved” with water projects to help stem the impacts of climate change. The U.N. envoy said that customary laws and Indigenous governance systems should be part of international systems to deal with climate, land and water crises and conflicts.

The World Bank estimates there are about 370 million Indigenous peoples worldwide, who make up just 5% of the global population but safeguard 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity, with the land they live on often inextricably linked to their identity.


The Cherokee Nation announced that it intends to appoint a delegate to the US House of Representatives, asserting for the first time a right promised to the tribe in a nearly 200-year-old treaty with the federal government. It was a historic step for the Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation and its nearly 370,000 citizens, coming about a week after Chuck Hoskin Jr. was sworn in as principal chief of the tribe. Having a delegate in the House would fundamentally alter the relationship between the US government and the Cherokee Nation. Right now, the federal government and Native American tribes largely operate as two sovereign nations that interact with one another. Representation in the House would incorporate the Cherokee Nation into the US government itself.

The Cherokee Nation says it’s the largest tribal nation in the US and one of three federally recognized Cherokee tribes.


Representatives of Indigenous communities from the municipality of Tecámac, State of Mexico, processed nine writs of amparo against the construction of the new airport of Santa Lucía. In their demands, they criticized the omission of federal authorities to perform a study about the people and communities that will be affected socially by Santa Lucía International Airport, and the lack of a previous Indigenous consultation in all the affected towns and communities.

The group of communities from the municipality of Tecámac are afraid of losing part of their territory, suffering from a water collapse, and other affectations to their daily life due to the project of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.


Deep in the eastern Amazon rainforest, loggers enter the Awá’s territory and light fires to burn the underbrush, so they can more easily access and fell the large, old-growth hardwood trees. This has happened during every dry season in recent years, fragmenting the tribe’s reserved land piece by piece, according to Survival International. The nearby Guajajara tribe has formed firefighting patrols to keep watch for the illegal loggers who threaten the Awá’s remaining scraps of intact rainforest. The news of the latest fires comes from the Arariboia Indigenous territory, one of the five places the Awá still live.

Across the Amazon, fires set mostly by cattle ranchers, miners, and loggers are burning swaths of rainforest where Indigenous people live. The Amazon is home to some 306,000 Indigenous people, who have legal rights to 422 reserves, or nearly a quarter of the land area of the Amazon basin. But in light of the current Brazilian government’s open disdain for the reserve system, Indigenous people are even more vulnerable.


Threatened by fire, deforestation and invasion, the Xikrin peoples of the northern Amazon are fighting back. While the authorities stand idle and the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, tries to undermine their territorial rights, the Indigenous community has taken matters into their own hands by expelling the loggers and ranchers who illegally occupied their land and set fire to the forest in the state of Pará. The land-grabbers first started to creep into the area in June last year, using a rough road that had been cut into the forest by illegal loggers. The 1,651,000-hectare Trincheira Bacajá Indigenous territory was officially recognized by the government in 2000. Nobody but the 1,100 members of the Xikrin community has the right to live on it. The Xikrin filed complaints to official agencies several times, but to no avail.

Many other Indigenous lands in the Xingu river region are under similar pressure. This basin – one of the biggest in the Amazon – has been opened up by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which brought an influx of business people and laborers. The municipality around the main city of Altamira now ranks first in Brazil for fire outbreaks.


Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro is doubling-down on his attack on Indigenous territories, proposing a review of the reserves he says were created fraudulently. “There’s a lot of land for few indians,” Bolsonaro told said, using a word common in Brazil to refer to Indigenous people. “My decision is to stop demarcating land for indians,” he said, adding that he suspected wrongdoing in the allocation of territories and that he believed the Indigenous had sold land to foreigners. He offered no evidence for his claims.

Nearly 14% of Brazil’s territory comprises reserves that are home to 800,000 Indigenous people, according to data from environmental regulator Ibama. The constitution establishes that, while the lands belong to the nation, they can be neither sold nor exploited in any scale beyond subsistence farming. Still, illegal miners, loggers and land speculators have exerted increasing pressure on the protected areas.


As part of its national education initiativeNative Knowledge 360 Degrees (NK360°), the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has launched new online educational resources about the Pawnee Treaties and the Inka Empire that will expand teachers and students’ knowledge and understanding of the contributions and experiences of Native Peoples of the Western Hemisphere. Collaborating with teachers, curriculum developers, national education organizations and working within state and national standards, NK360° uses innovative technology and media to engage students and enhance their learning.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian is looking to change the narrative about American Indians in classrooms, transforming how teachers are teaching history to achieve a more inclusive, accurate and complete education.


The World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Education (WIPCE) 2020 will bring Indigenous representatives from across the globe to the Adelaide Convention Centre from November 2-6, 2020. Focused on the theme of “Sovereignty: Our Voices, Our Futures”, WIPCE 2020 will feature a program of keynote presentations, networking opportunities, interactive workshops and discussion forums. “If we’re talking about sovereignty, then the primary principal is on the premise of Indigenous people to be responsible for their own community development,” WIPCE 2020 academic program committee assistant Tranthim-Fryer said.

The event, which runs roughly every three years, has been held in countries across the world.

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