In our daily travels to all our favorite news websites, it’s routine to almost never come across stories about Indigenous Peoples. Some stories, of course, get tonnes of local and national coverage. For instance, here in Canada, Idle No More and the widespread struggle against the tarsands is prominently featured on every major news website.
However, if we open up the lens just a quarter inch, one can find dozens of major stories that aren’t being covered for every one that is. Unless we know exactly where to look, we would never see just how much is going on around us.
Over the course of 2013, however, we here at IC Magazine observed a handful of stories that seemed to suffer from an extraordinary amount of media isolation in the Western hemisphere. As we head in to 2014, we would like to draw your attention to some of those stories:
For a few short months, the Jarawa Peoples had the chance to remember what life was like before the Andaman Nicobar Trunk Road was constructed. The controversial highway, which connects Port Blair and Diglipur in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, has been used by tourists for more than a decade to go on “human safaris” in which Jarawa men, women and children are literally treated like apes in a zoo.
After years of public outcry over the inhuman practice, India’s Supreme Court banned all tourists from traveling along the Andaman Nicobar Trunk Road. Sadly, the much-need victory was not long to last. In March 2013, the Supreme Court reversed the ban, allowing the safaris to continue unabated once more. Tour operators who had been unable to use the road were reportedly readying their vehicles within days of the decision, gearing up to resume the profitable sideshow. The total u-turn was accompanied by equally distressing news that the Supreme Court had asked the island’s authorities if they wanted to keep the Jarawa isolated or assimilate them into the mainstream.
These events were covered fairly well in India the UK, even though we almost never got to hear from the Jarawa themselves. Here in North America, however, IC Magazine was about the only regular source of grassroots coverage.
Over the course of 2013, the Himba and Zemba Peoples carried out several protests to express their fears and concerns over the construction of the Orokawe dam. If completed, the Orokawe dam would put a dangerous amount of pressure on the region’s scare water resources. With the effects of climate change all too clear in Namibia, the Himba and Zemba already find themselves searching frantically for grazing and water for their livestock.
Both the Himba and Zemba also continuously expressed their frustration over a laundry list of other problems including the Namibia government’s refusal to recognize their traditional leaders, implement the Communal Land Reform Act of 2002, and allow their children to attend school in traditional cultural attire.
Our friends at Earth Peoples did a superb job covering the many Himba and Zemba demonstrations. They were, however, the only one.
An alarming conference dedicated to opposing tribal governments in the United States went by almost completely unnoticed and unchallenged. Held at the Lakeway Inn in Bellingham, WA, about ten miles from the Lummi Nation, on April 6, 2013, the conference was sponsored by “Citizens Equal Rights Alliance” (CERA) one of the most prominent anti-Indian organizations in the United States. The event featured a rogues gallery of speakers including Elaine Willman, a CERA board member who once famously claimed that “Tribalism is socialism and has no place in our country” and Philip Brendale, who has considerable experience fighting tribal sovereignty. The event was also organized with the help of Skip Richards, a Bellingham property rights activist who has a history of recruiting Christian Patriot militias to back up his domestic terrorist threats.
CERA went on to host three more such conferences across the US in 2013, sending a clear message that they are working to build a nationally coordinated campaign against federally recognized Tribes while seeking to mobilize racial resentment against Native Americans.
Given the long history of American barbarism against Indigenous Peoples in the United states, these developments are troubling indeed. Unfortunately, the only attention this received came from the Lummi Nation and their local allies along with IC Magazine, Cascadia Weekly and the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR).
In 2012, the United Nations identified the Rohingya as one of the most persecuted populations in the world. It’s no exaggeration. Whether they’re found in Bangladesh, Burma or Thailand, the Rohingya are treated like vermin. In all three countries, their freedom of movement is restricted; their basic rights are deprived; and they are subjected to land confiscations, evictions, deportations, and ruthless attacks on a near-daily basis.
Unlike many other Indigenous Peoples and minority populations who face a total media black out, attacks on the Rohingya are frequently covered. In the last few days alone, more than 200 articles have been published detailing the endless barrage of cruelty that the Rohingya face for nothing more than being Rohingya.
Despite the significant amount of media coverage, however, the Rohingya never really seem to “get” any attention. For instance, just a few short weeks ago, Reuters revealed that Thailand, the supposed “land of a thousand smiles”, is secretly selling Rohingya refugees into human trafficking rings under the guise of deportation. The story went on to be covered by the Globe and Mail, CNN, The Nation and many others. In turn, the UN called for a probe and a few Nation States added their 1.5627 cents, but that’s basically where it ends. NGOs aren’t coming out in full force, awareness campaigns aren’t being organized, protests aren’t being coordinated.
The Rohingya just don’t seem to be on our radar, here in the Western Hemisphere. Never have been.
Important sacred sites across Hawaii are being routinely damaged and destroyed by the Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA) and other State agencies on the island. One such sacred site, known as “Leina a ka Uhane” was considered to be spiritual leaping point for spirits returning to the Tahitian homeland. The area was well documented in the Hawaiian chants of Hi’iaka going back nearly 1000 years. The HCDA permitted construction work to take place at the site “without archaeological surveys or supervision” in order to develop a new photovoltaic power station (aka, solar energy farm).
The sacred lands of Mauna Kea are facing additional threats by the University of Hawai‘i which has already adversely impacted the natural and cultural features of Mauna Kea after constructing massive telescopes and observatory complexes. Now the University wants to expand their land use, causing even more harm to the region. Mauna Kea faces an additional threat from the likes of the US military which is pushing to expand operations at the Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) to include risky high-altitude helicopter training on the sacred slopes of Mauna Kea as well as Mauna Loa.
The situation in Hawaii is covered well by various media sources on the island. Outside of Hawaii, however, there is basically no coverage.
The US Defense Department agreed to fund a controversial mapping project led by the American Geographical Society and the University of Kansas Geography Department. Like the first invasive expedition to Mexico, this latest venture will be led by KU geographers Jerome Dobson and Peter Herlih, two names that the Zapotec Peoples know well. During the Mexico expedition, the Zapotec denounced Herlihy’s and Dobson’s efforts as “geopiracy,” and accused Herlihy of failing to inform them of the U.S. Army’s role in funding the exploration. The geographers turned over their findings to Radiance Technologies, an Alabama-based military contractor that specializes in “creative solutions for the modern warfighter.”
Between May and September of 2011, the same geographers carried out a rigorous mapping project of Miskito and Garífuna lands along the Northern Coast of Honduras. Eights months later, the region became the target of a military operation that culminated in the massacre of innocent Miskito people by the Río Patuca.
Dobson and Herlih have raised the stakes with their latest planned expedition. Under the auspices of “informing the public” and helping to secure legal recognition of Indigenous property rights, the well-funded explorers intend to build a comprehensive database of the terrestrial geography of 59 Indigenous territories across Central America.
There were just a few news reports dedicated to this troubling development. The Lawrence World-Journal offered a washed-out piece on the expedition, which was followed by a more critical report from Joe Bryan at the Public Political Ecology Lab, University of Arizona. OFRANEH also issued a press statement that was translated to English.
Two years ago 700sq km of Indigenous land in Sarawak, Malaysia was flooded by the controversial Bakun Dam – with many Indigenous Kenyah and Kayan families still in their homes.
It was one of the most horrendous stories in 2011, which received curious little press coverage in North America. Leaving only a few isolated ‘island’ areas unsubmerged, the dam waters displaced upwards of 10,000 people, drowning not only their homes but their cultures and livelihoods, along with the precious ecosystem that defined them.
Despite the cruel outcome of the Bakun Dam, as may as 700 Kenyah and Kayan Peoples refused to leave, choosing instead to adapt and endure a different way of life surrounded by newly-formed lakes and rivers that stretch as far as the eye can see.
Sadly, this government-sanctioned destruction of indigenous lands was not the end of the story. This year the Malaysian government of Sarawak announced their intentions to convert the remaining dry lands into a new national park known as the “Bakun Islands National Park”. In their announcement, the Sarawak government warned that all Native Customary Rights (NCR) will be ignored in order to make the park a reality.
In September 2010, the Triqui people of the Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala made the difficult choice to abandon their lands in Oaxaca, Mexico. Leading up to the decision, the Triqui had endured a seven-month long blockade in which local paramilitaries cut off water, electricity, and all outside access to the town. Herded-in like diseased sheep, the Triqui faced daily attacks at the hands of the paramilitaries. Physical and verbal abuse, rape, kidnapping and murder became common practice–all because the Triqui wanted to live autonomously. The ever-vigilant Triqui endured as long as they could; however, during that month in 2010, the paramilitaries laid out a final ultimatum: evacuate or die.
The situation at the time received a strong amount of media coverage and international support from activists and human rights organizations. There were even a few attempts to provide the Triqui with emergency relief; however, those efforts proved fruitless. The first group that attempted to reach the Triqui came under fire, resulting in the death of two people. International support continued to swell after the outrageous attack on the peaceful caravan; but that all changed in September 2010. After the Triqui decided to abandon their homes rather than face a genocidal massacre, the world stopped paying attention.
The media, it seems, is far more interested in talking about “Shoeless Triqui Indian Boys Beating the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs”.
For more than a year now, the Colombian National Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army (FARC–EP) have been engaged in peaceful negotiations designed to bring an end to the Country’s decades-long internal conflict.
The peace talks have made important progress. Just a few short days ago, FARC agreed (at least in principle) to sign an end to their self-proclaimed war against the state, silencing their guns once and for all. The government, in turned promised to address the “causes” of the “insurrection” which has-over the past 50 years–claimed the lives of more than 220,000 people.
There is still a long way to go before the guns are actually silenced; nevertheless, there is definitely cause to celebrate, especially for Indigenous Peoples in Colombia who have been continuously caught in crossfire. Of the country’s 90 distinct Indigenous populations, at least 34 are on the edge of extinction as a result of the armed conflict.
This crisis–facing the Nukak, Tule, Awa and so many others–started getting major attention in 2010 with many human rights groups urging Colombia to ensure the safety of all the Indigenous by-standards. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with intractable conflicts that seem utterly hopeless, everyone stopped paying attention.
With the exception of Survival International’s “Earth’s most threatened tribe” campaign which is hyper-focused on the Awa, no one is really saying anything; especially now that the peace talks have taken center stage. It’s as if those 34 at-risk populations are already extinct.
Similar to the protracted struggles in Colombia and Palestine, Indigenous Peoples in West Papua have endured decades of brutal–that is, genocidal–treatment at the hands of the colonial government of Indonesia. According to conservative estimates, no fewer than 100,000 Melanesian Papuans have been killed and 300,000 have been displaced since West Papua was occupied some 47 years ago.
Much of the struggle in West Papua has occurred in cold and calculated isolation with the government denying any foreign journalists or observers into the region to document what has been happening.
That restriction is still in effect, however, with the help of current communications technologies the international community has started to become aware of the continuous rain of attacks that the Papuan People face.
Unfortunately, there are still just a small handful of websites that go above and beyond to keep us informed. No, it’s not Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International! Rather, it’s West Papua Media Alerts, Free West Papua, the West Papua Action Network and various other organizations and networks devoted exclusively to Papua.
With their tireless efforts, worldwide support for the People of West Papua is steadily on the rise. Nevertheless, there is still a great need for media coverage across the board if the greatest hope of the People of West Papua is to ever become a reality: They want freedom.
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