The Indigenous Rights Report

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

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The Indigenous Rights Report

The Indigenous Rights Report

Issue #3 July 6-July 12, 2019
Photo: Amazon Frontlines

In this week’s Indigenous Rights Report:

  • Developer offers to give land back at the center of the 1990 Oka Crisis
  • Heart of Ecuador’s Yasuni, home to uncontacted tribes, opens for oil drilling
  • Malaysia’s Indigenous peoples protest forced conversions
  • On a Philippine island, Indigenous groups take the fight to big palm oil
  • A proposed freeway bypass is threatening to destroy sacred Indigenous land
  • BlackBerry, Microsoft partner to bring new tech to Indigenous nations
  • WWF cover-up of rangers’ rapes, murder, revealed in new Buzzfeed investigation
  • Waorani people win historic appeal against Ecuadorian government
  • Maya meet Maori: the indigenous people learning from each other in Aotearoa
  • Indigenous Peoples Blockade OceanaGold Mine in the Philippines
  • Brazil’s forest communities fight against climate catastrophe
  • Climbers flock to Uluru before a ban, straining the sacred site
  • Australia indigenous recognition: Landmark vote ‘within three years’
  • A Shipibo community calls on UN to safeguard their forests from government sanctioned landgrabs
  • Indigenous communities in Mexico go to court to halt trans-isthmus development
  • PBS launches the US’s first children’s series with Indigenous leads
  • Netflix partners with Indigenous cultural organizations in Canada
  • Suicide rate three times higher among Indigenous population in Canada
  • Australia’s first Indigenous-themed emojis are coming to Android and iOS via an new app


A Quebec developer is offering to give back some of the land that was at the heart of the 1990 Oka Crisis. Developer Grégoire Gollin said he’s committed to transfer an area known as “The Pines” in the spirit of reconciliation, through a federal ecological gifts program. Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Ecological Gifts Program offers a tax benefit to landowners who donate land or a partial interest in land to a qualified recipient, via the Income Tax Act of Canada and the Quebec Taxation Act. Scott Nurse, a policy analyst with the program, said it’s never been used to return land to a First Nation. The area known as the Pines is a part of a 300-year-old land dispute between the Mohawks of Kanehsatà:ke and the Canadian government. The area known as the Pines is a part of a 300-year-old land dispute between the Mohawks of Kanehsatà:ke and the Canadian government.

An indigenous warrior stares down a member of the Canadian military during the 1990 “Oka Crisis.”

Gollin is also offering to make around 150 hectares of his vacant land available for purchase by the federal government to transfer to Kanehsatà:ke. His commitments were signed in a declaration of mutual understanding and agreement with Grand Chief Serge Simon on behalf of the Mohawk Council of Kanehsatà:ke in June. Ellen Gabriel, a Mohawk activist and artist from Kanehsatà:ke, is skeptical of the agreement, because so little information on its contents has been given to the community by the Mohawk Council. While the agreement says it is subject to final approval by the Mohawk people of Kanehsatà:ke, consultation has yet to occur.


The Ecuadoran government approved two new controversial plans to drill for oil farther into Yasuni National Park, encroaching on the Intangible Zone (known by its Spanish acronym ZITT), which was created to protect the two uncontacted indigenous nations that live there, the Tagaeri and Taromenane.

In April, the Ministry of Environment approved plans to open two platforms of the Ishpingo oil field, the third phase of the controversial Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) project. And in May, President Lenín Moreno signed a new decree that allows oil platforms to be constructed within the Intangible Zone’s buffer area, which was previously forbidden.

Indigenous women marching for Yasusin. Credit: beto0albo (pixabay.com)

Yasuni National Park has long been controversial for being an area rich in biodiversity that also has some of Ecuador’s largest oil reserves, in a country that is highly dependent on oil revenue. Activists say these recent decisions will have major environmental repercussions in a region that was once a beacon of hope for global conservation, and on the two indigenous nations that live in voluntary isolation there.


Malaysia’s indigenous community wants the government to end the practice of coerced conversion to Islam in the Muslim-majority country and show respect for others and their culture. A group of Orang Asli (native people), the original inhabitants of the Malaysian peninsula, handed over a memorandum to the nation’s parliament urging Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government to halt the practice of sending Muslim preachers to convert their community to Islam.

The memorandum also highlighted commercial activities like logging and mining on their traditional land. The community discovered that there were plans by the government to build hydroelectric dams near their villages, potentially forcing them to leave their homes.


Many Palawan indigenous communities in Philippines say they have suffered unfair land acquisition or lease arrangements for oil palm plantations (like those from palm oil company Agumil Philippines). But tribal groups are fighting back on multiple fronts.  A tribal representative in the municipality of Rizal recently won a mayoral election; the re-elected mayor of neighboring Brooke’s Point has also pledged a halt to more oil palm plantations; three of the seven municipalities in southern Palawan have now placed limitations on oil palm cultivation. A growing number of communities are responding to threats to their ancestral domains by pursuing legal recognition of their community land and water resources. Two communities celebrated success in 2018, and at least 12 more claims are in process.

A group of indigenous Pala’wan planting upland rice in the Municipality of Brooke’s Point.

According to the Coalition against Land Grabbing (CALG), a local indigenous organization campaigning for indigenous people’s rights, 9,000 hectares (22,200 acres) in Palawan have been cleared for oil palm plantations, and the government is inviting foreign investors to develop more. It claims the Philippines’ Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA Law) has been ignored, and that the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) has failed to implement its Strategic Environmental Plan as required under a 1992 act.


The Djab Wurrung Embassy in Australia is fighting a daily battle to ensure their land is not bulldozed to make way for a bypass that would to reduce congestion and improve local road safety. VicRoads and Major Road Projects Victoria have plans to construct a four lane strip of highway between the towns of Ararat and Buangor in southwestern Victoria, as part of its $672 million Western Highway duplication project. This highway would destroy around 3,000 trees, over 200 of which are sacred to the local Indigenous peoples.

The Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy was established on June 18, 2018 to stop the destruction of the sacred trees and the land they’re situated on.

Currently, the project is on hold until the outcome of a mid-April Federal Court hearing is delivered, which involves the Djab Wurrung people appealing the decision of federal environment minister Melissa Price to let the project go ahead. Despite the government’s claims, the Djab Wurrung people insist that there’s been no adequate consultation during the whole process.


BlackBerry and Microsoft are partnering with professional services firm Forrest Green to launch a project with the goal of helping to strengthen technology adoption in Indigenous communities across Canada, create culturally relevant tools for self-determination and governance, and ensure Indigenous communities have equal access to the latest tech.

A statement from BlackBerry stated the partnership between the three firms will also focus on enabling residents to participate in various digital skills-based education programs.


A new investigation by Buzzfeed News has revealed that WWF-backed rangers gang-raped pregnant women, murdered one villager and tortured others in the Congo;  WWF cut short an investigation into the atrocities, and tried to cover it up; The charity asked its partners to treat the findings in “a non-public fashion”; and that WWF failed to disclose the investigation’s report to a Congressional committee investigating whether US aid money funded human rights abuses.


The Waorani peoples of Pastaza won a historic appellate ruling in Ecuadorian court, securing protection of a half million acres of land in the Amazon rainforest. The decision by the three-judge panel of the Pastaza Provincial Court permanently voids the consultation process with the Waorani that was undertaken by the Ecuadorian government in 2012, and indefinitely suspends the auctioning of their lands to oil companies. The sentence also orders the Ministry of Energy and Non-renewable Resources and the Ministry of the Environment to sufficiently train government officials regarding the right to free, prior and informed consultation and self-determination before sending them out into the field. In its ruling, the appellate court further demanded an investigation into the actions of government officials involved in the unlawful prior consultation process.

Photo: Amazon Frontlines

The decision on appeals represents a major setback for the Ecuadorian Government, and marks a watershed moment in the indigenous movement to permanently protect their rainforest from oil drilling, and other extractive projects.


Four Maya academics visited New Zealand to share their experiences of colonization as part of the University of Otago’s Maya-Māori cultural economy exchange. “The purpose of the exchange is to share learnings and look for opportunities to deepen our understanding of each others’ cultures and economies,” said Katharina Ruckstuhl, associate dean of Māori at the University of Otago Business School.

The project of the Maya-Māori cultural exchange coordinated by the University of Otago started last year at the Los Angeles edition of the NAISA conference. The Maya-Māori cultural economy exchange was supported by funding from the Centre of Asia Pacific Excellence.


OceanaGold’s copper-gold mine in Didipio is facing opposition by local and indigenous Ifugao peoples living near the mine site as well as from municipal and provincial elected officials. This clear lack of social license across three relevant jurisdictions is reported to be one of the reasons the mine has not been successful in renewing its license.

MiningWatch Canada and Jubilee Australia expressed grave concerns that the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) appears to be allowing the Australian-Canadian mining company OceanaGold to continue to operate the controversial mine on a temporary permit despite the expiration of its mining license and evidence that it had violated national laws and FTAA contract provisions on numerous occasions, relating to environmental, land, labor, and Indigenous peoples’ rights.


An Assembly of Apurinã Indians in Brazil’s southwestern Amazon in a letter addressed to FUNAI (the embattled federal Indian agency), and the Federal Public Ministry (a powerful body of prosecutors within the Justice Ministry), expressed alarm over the spreading red zone and the gutting of the state’s environmental monitoring and protection agencies.

Imazon, a Brazilian research center, reports deforestation in the first months of 2019 jumped more than 50 percent compared to the amount during the same period in 2018. Half of this deforestation has occurred illegally in protected areas, including hundreds of Indigenous lands that cover a quarter of Brazil’s Amazon and provide a crucial buffer for much of the rest. These recent developments signal the advance of an agribusiness frontier dominated by cattle and soy. Emboldened by the October election of Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil’s president, they are pushing more brazenly into places like Apurinã land in the roadless depths of Amazonas.


Tourists are flocking to Uluru after learning that they will soon be prohibited from scaling the 1,141-foot-tall rock. The ban is intended, in part, to prevent further environmental damage to the monolith, which sits inside a national park that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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

Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, is a sacred site for the Indigenous Anangu peoples. For years, signs at the base have read “This is our home” and “Please don’t climb.” In 2017, the board members of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park decided to turn that plea into an injunction, saying that climbing would be banned in two years.


The Australian government has pledged to hold a referendum within three years on recognizing indigenous peoples in the nation’s constitution. Official recognition and rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is a major national debate. Mr. Wyatt, the first Aboriginal Australian ever appointed to cabinet, hopes to achieve bipartisan support on a referendum proposal. The government has allocated A$7m (£3.9m; $4.8m) towards it.

About 3.3% of Australians identify as indigenous today, and many have called for more sincere efforts to address recognition, rights, and disproportionate levels of disadvantage.


Indigenous and human rights organizations in the Peruvian Amazon have filed a formal petition to the UN to appeal for urgent action to prevent the land grab and destruction of their lands. The action comes in response to the decision by the Regional Government of Ucayali (GOREU) to remove protections for 3.5 million hectares of Amazon rainforest and allow for the invasion of indigenous lands, with at least 100,000 hectares under immediate threat from settlers and agribusinesses. These forests have previously been classified as “Permanent Production Forests” (BPP), meaning they enjoy a high degree of legal protection from deforestation, and rights cannot be issued to companies or private individuals.

The petition follows the UNCERD’s formal observations to the Peruvian government in May 2018 which concluded that there is an “absence of effective mechanisms for the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, territories and resources — a situation which continues to provoke serious social conflicts.”


Four indigenous residents from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico have filed an injunction request against the government’s trans-isthmus trade corridor project. The four complainants say that the body charged with executing the Isthmus of Tehuantepec interoceanic corridor was created without prior consultation of the indigenous communities that will be affected.

Three Mixe people and one Zapotec man claim in their injunction application that the project – which includes the modernization of a railway between Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, and Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz – violates provisions of the constitution and human rights conventions.


For the first time, a children’s TV series will feature a Native American lead character on an animated TV show in the United States. Premiering on PBS Kids on July 15, Molly of Denali will follow Molly Mabray’s story as a 10-year-old Athabascan girl who lives in the fictional village of Qyah, Alaska. The show aims to help 4 to 8 years-old kids develop “knowledge and skills for interacting with informational texts through video content, interactive games, and real-world activities,” PBS said in a press release.

Tooey, Molly and Trini

Beyond portraying Indigenous peoples, their culture and customs, the show is also inclusive behind-the-scenes, employing a team of locals and natives to most accurately represent them.


Netflix has announced new partnerships with three Indigenous cultural organizations in Canada to help create the next generation of Indigenous creators across Canada. The partnerships with imagineNATIVE, the Indigenous Screen Office (ISO), and Wapikoni Mobile were revealed at the Banff World Media Festival.

“Indigenous communities in Canada are rich with unique stories, and organizations like imagineNATIVE, The Indigenous Screen Office (ISO) and Wapikoni Mobile are vital to ensuring these voices are heard,” said Stéphane Cardin, Director of Public Policy, Netflix Canada. “Netflix is proud to help launch these three programs, which will reach Indigenous communities across the country.”


According to figures from Statistics Canada, the suicide rate among First Nations, Métis and Inuit is three times higher than among the non-Indigenous population. Among the factors are “Geographic and socioeconomic factors, specifically household income, labor force status, highest level of education, marital status and geographic location” along with larger historical factors: “The historical and ongoing impacts of colonization, forced placement of Indigenous children in residential schools, and removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities and the forced relocation of communities”.

These factors “resulted in the breakdown of families, communities, political and economic structures; loss of language, culture and traditions; exposure to abuse; intergenerational transmission of trauma; and marginalization, which are suggested to be associated with the high rates of suicide.”


Australia’s first Indigenous-themed emojis are coming to Android and iOS via a new app. Included in the emojis are a boomerang, the Aboriginal flag, and the flag on a number of other items including a heart, a hand and a crown.

The new emojis were designed by young Aboriginal people in central Australia as part of workshop programs that ran in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek between December 2018 and April 2019. Ingeous studios, which is behind the project, is also developing a keyboard for the Arrernte language, aimed at keeping the language alive.

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