Underreported Struggles #60, March 2012

Underreported Struggles #60, March 2012

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April 2, 2012

In the month’s Underreported Struggles: Australian government passes legislation to store nuclear waste on indigenous land; Himba people of Namibia reach out to the international community for support; Musqueam First Nation halts construction of new condominium; Mexico’s Supreme Court affirms indigenous right to take part in decision making.


Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that a Tarahumara (Raramuri) community in the state of Chihuahua has the Constitution right to participate in the decision-making of any project that would affect them. The little-noticed decision could have far-reaching effects across the country. The high court also stated that relevant national law is similar to the International Labor Organization’s Convention No. 169, which protects the rights of indigenous communities and tribal peoples. Mexico is among 22 nations that have ratified the international agreement.

The National Indian government recently gave its approval for the first of two Russian-designed nuclear reactors at Koodankulam (Kudankulam) in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The unsettling move has been met with a massive uprising involving up to 20,000 locals and protests around the country. The government’s response has been severe. According to a recent appeal thousands of armed policemen began terrorizing the local protesters. At least 500 people–some reports say as many as 3,000–have already been arrested. A media blackout is also now in effect.

Fifty years ago, in 1962, Dryden Chemicals Ltd. quietly began funneling its mercury waste into the Wabigoon River, a practice they continued until 1970. When all was said and done, the British-owned company had dumped some 10 metric tonnes of mercury into the Wabigoon, severely contaminating its fish and disrupting the economy and subsistence practices of three Indigenous communities. Fifty years later, the mercury problem continues.

Nyoongar activists are being continuously confronted by police on Heirisson Island, where a Nyoongar Tent Embassy has been established. Since the Tent Embassy began in mid-February–in opposition to a government proposal that would force the Nyoongar to permanently surrender their land title–there have been at least 6 confrontations in which police have arrested the activists, seized their property and dismantled the Embassy. The determined Nyoongar and their allies however, refuse to back down. They keep going back to the site and restoring the Embassy.

Naga Youth in Burma have formed a new group to resist the construction of the Tamanthi Dam which is located at Homlin township in Naga area, Myanmar. Once completed, the Dam reservoir would flood 1400 sq kms, permanently displacing 53 Naga villages, 15 villages inhabited by both Naga and Kuki people and 14 Kuki villages. At least 2400 people have been already relocated at gun point.

Fishermen in Palawan are being urged to follow the traditional sustainable fishing methods of the Tagbanua people. Over the years, destructive and careless fishing practices have depleted the population of Irrawaddy dolphins, bringing them to the edge of extinction. The Tagbanua, who consider dolphins to be messengers, limit themselves to catching certain fish species based on the position of the moon or the tide. They also share their catch among neighbors and relatives, avoiding wastage and overfishing.

The Chinese government introduced a new policy that places almost every Buddhist monastery in Tibet under the direct rule of government officials. The officials will be permanently stationed in each religious institution. According to official documents, the new policy is described as, “critical for taking the initiative in the struggle against separatism,” and aims to “ensure that monks and nuns do not take part in activities of splitting up the motherland and disturbing social order.”

The Australian government passed new legislation to let nuclear waste be stored at a remote indigenous community in the Northern Territory, a decision that indigenous groups and environmentalists have vowed to fight. Muckaty Station was nominated by the Northern Land Council in 2007; But since then several traditional owners have argued they were not properly consulted and did not give their consent.

In Ecuador, A group of women led protests against a Chinese-financed Canadian copper mining project, the first large-scale mine under a new government mining policy. The women say the project would damage Amazonia’s fragile ecosystem, affecting “for all time the territory of indigenous people and nature”. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE, also came forward against the mine as well as President Rafael Correa’s plans to allow international companies to carry out large-scale mining projects. In response, the Ecuadorian government mounted a march of its own, on International Womens’ Day.

Dozens of Musqueam First Nationmembers and supporters joined forces to halt the construction of a new 5-storey condominium that threatened an ancient village and midden site known as c??sna??m. After successfully preventing contractors from entering the site; the demonstrators set up a blockade camp to maintain a permanent presence at the site. The camp was dismantled on March 14 to make way for a three-week period of negotiations.

Representatives of Moro and Lumad communities in Mindanao signed a five-point kinship covenant in a gathering filled with remembrances of historical relationships and aspirations for peace and unity in the island. The inspiring covenant cited mutual recognition and respect (kilalaha), mutual sharing of information (sayuda), cooperation (buliga), mutual protection and preservation of life (uyaga), and mutual obligation to help the needy (pagbatunbatuna).

Quebec police dismantled a blockade that was organized by a group of Innu citizens to protest the construction of hydro transmission lines that are being placed through their traditional territory. According to available reports, no one was injured during the court-backed offensive, which the Innu passively tried to resist. The blockade/checkpoint went up soon after Innu representatives walked away from negotiations with the Hydro company.

Indigenous Peoples throughout Sarawak are coming together for the sake of their ancestors and future generations. Under the banner of “Save Sarawak Rivers” (SAVE Rivers), affected Indigenous Peoples like the Kenyahs, Ibans, Penans, Bidayuhs and Ukits have joined with local organizations and concerned individuals to halt the construction of new hydro dams and other plans to bring ‘dirty industries’ to Sarawak.

The Indigenous Peoples Confederation of Honduras (CONPAH) released a statement calling on the government of Honduras to withdraw a REDD proposal submitted to the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. The statement declares that the Honduran government failed to consult the Indigenous peoples, whose land would be used for various forestation programs, before submitting the proposal.

The Government of Israel is currently considering a new bill that would turn the controversial Prawer Plan into law, paving the way for Israel to increase its efforts to dispossess the Bedouin Peoples of their land and relocate them to impoverished townships. The Bedouin’s struggle, meanwhile, continues to be widely ignored by media outlets.

Tomkav, a Luiseno village and burial site in Northern San Diego County, is being desecrated by developers working for Pardee Homes and Palomar College in San Marcos, CA. “During the course of [work], many archeologically significant new discoveries have been made, and dozens of Luiseno burials have been unearthed”; but rather than halting work as required by state law, the construction activities have been increased. To make matters worse, the construction workers have actually been celebrating their work, laughing and giving each other high fives as Luiseno Elders and others watched on.

The Himba people, who have long seen their rights trampled upon by the Namibian government, have turned to the United Nations and the international community to intervene on their behalf. A January statement signed by all 36 Traditional Himba Leaders reveals a lengthy list of abuses concerning rights to land, cultural identity, lack of consultation relating to mining and dam construction, land grabbing, interference in ancestral tribal institutions and routine oppression. Though issued in January, the Himba’s call has received little international attention.

Videos of the Month

Can Traditional Knowledge Survive in the Modern World? – Anishinabek activist, scholar and writer Dr. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson answers the question: “Can Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Survive in the Modern World?”

The History of ILO Conventions on Indigenous Peoples – Lee Swepston, Former Senior Human Rights Adviser at the International Labour Organization (ILO), discusses the history of the ILO’s Conventions on Indigenous Peoples.

Song on the Water – “Song on the Water” takes viewers along with 50 indigenous canoes, their crews, and communities on a modern-day voyage to a traditional potlatch.

Underreported Struggles is a monthly round-up of essential news and film compiled by Intercontinental Cry.

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