Underreported Struggles #72 March 2013
In this month’s Underreported Struggles: India’s Supreme Court reverses order to ban human safaris; Traditional owners speak out against the widespread threat of fracking in Australia’s Northern Territory; Colombia’s indigenous organizations unveil five new ‘millennium development goals’.
Representatives of nearly 200 Kreung families in Cambodia’s Ratanakkiri province filed a complaint with local rights group Adhoc, accusing a Vietnamese rubber company of clearing their ancestral land. The government however, says that the Kreung no longer have rights to land in question, because it was sold to the company. The government went on to ask the villagers to start applying for private land titles; otherwise, they’ll have nowhere to go when the company arrives.
Peguis First Nation informed the Manitoba government about the discovery of several sacred artifacts buried at the Sunterra peat mine operation inside Peguis traditional territory north of the Province. According to the First Nation, the artifacts were being handled in a grossly irreverent fashion, with the workers showing little or no respect for the spirituality of Anishinabe Peoples. For these reasons, Peguis instructed the government to suspend all work at the mine to carry out a full and proper inventory.
India’s Supreme Court reversed its previous interim order to ban ‘human safaris’ in the Andaman Islands, dealing a major blow to the campaign against the controversial tours. Prior to the widely celebrated interim order, hundreds of tourists traveled daily along the Andaman Trunk road in the hopes of seeing the Jarawa tribe. Several cases were documented where the tourists treated the Jarawa like zoo animals.
Uranium mining companies have renewed their interest in the Navajo Nation which is still reeling from the uranium siege that allowed the US government to build up their nuclear arsenal during World War II and the Cold War. There are estimated to be about a thousand abandoned uranium mines across Navajoland, only a fraction of which have been cleaned up.
The Havasupai Nation, meanwhile, teamed up with three conservation groups to sue the U.S. Forest Service over its decision to allow Energy Fuels Resources, Inc. to begin operating a uranium mine near Grand Canyon National Park without initiating or completing formal tribal consultations and without updating an outdated 1986 federal environmental review. The Canyon Mine threatens cultural values, wildlife and endangered species and increases the risk of pollution and depletion of groundwater feeding springs and wells in and around the Grand Canyon.
A small delegation of respected Rohingya leaders unexpectedly showed up at a conference at Mahidol University in Bangkok to halt the further degradation of the history of Arakan. None of the Rohingya leaders nor any member of the Rohingya community were invited to the so-called International Conference on the History of Arakan; a conference whose speakers followed the traditional make-believe story that there are no Rohingya in the history and that the term “Rohingya” was created in 1951. The delegation did their best to set the record straight.
A group of grassroots Red Lake tribal members and allies stepped forward to demand that Enbridge Energy LP shut down a group of illegal oil pipelines on Red Lake Nation’s Ceded lands in Minnesota. On the cold morning of Feb 21, 2013, a peaceful protest camp was set up at the ceded land site. As of the date of this publication, the protest camp was ongoing.
Leaders from Agua Caliente, a community of Maya Q’eqchi Peoples from Guatemala, traveled to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about a harmful nickel mine planned in their indigenous territories. The mining company behind the proposed project, Compania Guatelmateca de Niquel, a subsidiary of the Solway Investment Group, has already used threats and violence against Agua Caliente and surrounding communities. In one case, the son of Rodrigo Tot (one of the Q’eqchi delegates) was killed, it is believed, as an act of retribution for the family’s public opposition to the mine.
COONAPIP, Panama’s Indigenous Peoples Coordinating Body, formally withdrew from the UN-REDD process in Panama. In a letter to the UN, COONAPIP explained that UN-REDD “does not currently offer guarantees for respecting indigenous rights [nor for] the full and effective participation of the Indigenous Peoples of Panama.” In a previous letter, dated 20 June 2012, COONAPIP wrote that the process “has been riddled with incongruences and inconsistencies” and that “We feel used in this process.”
The Shuar stepped up their efforts to defend their culture and way of life against the impending threat of the 25,000 acre Mirador mining Project. They initiated a legal action alongside Environmental and human rights using Articles 71-73 on Rights of Nature in the Ecuadorian Constitution. In their case, the plaintiffs have asked the courts to stop the Mirador Project using the precautionary principle. If the project is allowed to go ahead, it would have a severe impact on the Shuar’s culture, their sacred sites, and the very water and land they depend on.
The Right Honorary Powes Parkop, the Governor of Papua New Guinea’s National Capital District, issued a welcomed dose of support for West Papua, stating in a front of a crowd of 3000 people that “there is no historical, legal, religious, or moral justification for Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua”. Turning to welcome West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda, who was in Papua New Guinea as part of a global tour, the Governor told Wenda that while he was in Papua New Guinea “no one will arrest him, no one will stop him, and he can feel free to say what he wanted to say.” These are basic rights denied to West Papuans who continue to be arrested, tortured and killed simply because of the colour of their skin.
Indigenous Peoples from Peru and Brazil joined together to stop a Canadian oil company from destroying their land and threatening the lives of Indigenous Peoples who live in voluntary isolation. The oil giant Pacific Rubiales is headquartered in Canada and has already started oil exploration in ‘Block 135’ in Peru, which lies directly over an area proposed as a reserve for the ‘Jaguar people‘. Despite promising to protect the rights of its Indigenous Peoples, the Peruvian government allowed the $36 million project to go ahead.
The Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN) was taken to court by Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting (Hudbay) after some first nation citizens gathered for a second time at the entrance to the company’s gold, zinc and copper mine. The peaceful effort was aimed at drawing attention to the fact that neither HudBay or the Manitoba government obtained consent before going ahead with development. The company is suing MCCN for millions of dollars in alleged ‘damages’.
Hudbay, meanwhile, continues to face serious charges in another Canadian court room. A group of Maya villagers from Guatemala are suing the company for serious human rights abuses that took place prior to the company’s purchase of the fenix project. The villagers believe that Hudbay inherited liability for the crimes that were committed by employees of Skye Resources, including murder of a community leader and the gang rape of several women.
Traditional owners in Arnhem Land, Australia, issued a petition to Darwin and Canberra calling on the Northern Territory and Federal governments not to allow their country to be fracked. More than 80 per cent of the Northern Territory is now under application for the unconventional oil and gas exploration, including most of Arnhem Land. As a public demonstration, Traditional owners also burnt a letter from Paltar Petroleum who was responding to their objections. As they burnt the document the men called out in unison: “Paltar this is what you wrote to us, and we say no!”
Elsewhere in Australia, Environment Minister Tony Burke introduced a new Bill to include the Koongarra Project Area into Kakadu National Park, signaling the end to one of three long standing struggles against uranium mining within the Alligator Rivers Region of the Northern Territory. Just a few weeks later the Bill was ratified by Australia’s Senate. The move was widely welcomed, however, the Mirrar People expressed grave concerns over the government’s claim that it ‘completes’ Kakadu National Park since there are two more uranium project areas the Mirrar are similarly attempting to bring into the Park .
The Ontario court of appeal shamefully reversed a landmark ruling that found the Ontario government cannot unilaterally issue logging permits on Grassy Narrows First Nation’s traditional territory. The government argued it had “exclusive proprietary jurisdiction over public lands and in forests in the province” despite the fact that the First Nation has a legal treaty relationship with Canada which necessitates the protection of Grassy Narrows’ hunting and trapping rights.
Colombia’s indigenous organizations revealed five new ‘millennium development goals’ (MDGs), presenting the world’s first national framework for realizing indigenous rights in response to the Millennium Declaration. The move challenges the country’s authorities to record their progress in meeting the new targets, which include the protection of indigenous territory; the implementation of free, prior and informed consent protocols and the ‘institutional redesign’ of the state in its relations with indigenous peoples.
The Enxet community of Sawhoyamaxa announced their return to their ancestral lands which they were expelled from more than 20 years ago. Since the forced eviction was carried out, the community has been living along the side of a road, right next to the land they were removed from. Seven years ago, the community won a favourable ruling at the Interamerican Court of Human Rights; however, the Paraguyan government has thus far refused to act on it, leaving the community to roam around like cattle. No longer. The community resolved to occupy their lands in the hopes of compelling the government to do the right thing. As a part of the effort, Sawhoyamaxa called on call to all indigenous brothers and sisters to express solidarity with their struggle.
An indigenous Ngäbe protester was killed after attending a rally against the controversial Barro Blanco hydro dam. The incident, which was only sparsely reported in the Panamanian media, occurred at a time of heightened tensions with the Ngabe and other local villagers increasing efforts to stop the controversial hydro project.
Approximately 1000 Himba and Zemba peoples carried out their third protest against continuing human rights violations in Namibia despite prevailing drought conditions due to Climate Change, and their increasingly frantic search for grazing and water for their livestock. Among the Himba and Zemba’s list of concerns is the Orokawe hydro dam which would put even more pressure on the region’s water, destroy local fish stocks and medicine plant areas and force the resettlement of affected communities.
The Tanzanian government began moving forward with a plan to take 1,500 square kilometres of essential grazing land for the Maasai of Loliondo in Ngorongoro District. Continuing a legacy of removal that began in 1959 when every living person was evicted from the vast Serengeti by the British Government for the purpose of establishing the Serengeti National Park, the oncoming land grab is being justified as a heroic effort to protect wildlife and water catchments.
Peru’s national government declared an environmental state of emergency in the Pastaza River basin, a region that has been devastated from close to 40 years of oil pollution. The long-overdue emergency order aims to reduce the risk of contamination to the local population. The region is largely occupied by the Quichua and Ashuar Peoples, who have been working for years to address the problem. Authorities claim that they’re only taking action now because Peru lacked the requisite environmental quality standards. In any event, at least something is finally being done. The area in question will now be cleaned up by Pluspetrol, the country’s biggest oil and natural gas producer
The Philippine Government depicted oil palm as the “tree of peace”, of “economic growth” and overall as best environmentally friendly option for eradicating rural poverty while reducing dependence on imported edible oils. It also claimed that only ‘idle’ and ‘underdeveloped’ land should be converted into oil palm plantations. However, according the impacted indigenous communities, oil palm expansion in the country is bringing havoc to their lives by destroying their farmlands, hunting grounds and forest products, polluting their water sources and thus impoverishing them to an unprecedented level.
Native American sacred lands activists from throughout the United States–including O’odham, Navajo, Havasupai and Muscogee Creeks–demonstrated at the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) conference to support the preservation of Hickory Ground in Wetumpka, Alabama. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians excavated approximately 57 sets of Muscogee Creek human remains from the ceremonial ground at Hickory Ground as part of its $246 million casino expansion project.
Videos of the Month
Nagare Barro Blanco – IC presents “Nagare Barro Blanco”, an exclusive 39-minute documentary about the threat of Barro Blanco hydro dam in Panama.
We Are the Land – Preview an upcoming documentary film that follows Pauline Matt, an Elder of the Blackfeet Nation, who is fighting to stop fracking on her homeland: the Blackfeet Reservation in what is now northern Montana. The film is expected to premiere April 2013.
Nation to Nation Now – Watch the series of illuminating conversations from the day-long Nation to Nation Now conference in Toronto. Speakers include Arthur Manuel, Leanne Simpson, Russ Diabo, Aaron Detlor, Ellen Gabriel, Carla Robinson, Chelsea Vowel, Naomi Klein, Sheelah McLean, Donna Ashamock, Sylvia Plain and more!