Indigenous peoples' struggles 2011: Another year of censored and under-reported news

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Fifteen of the hundreds of stories of Indigenous struggles against corporate expansion and exploitation, struggles for human rights, land and dignity, that weren’t published in your daily paper

by Ahni
Intercontinental Cry, December 17, 2011

Given the crucial role that media has in the success or failure of any movement, it’s important for a journal like IC to stay on top of everything that’s happening around the world. That’s why we observed more than thirty thousand reports this year.

Roughly two thousand of those reports were prioritized, researched and documented on the website.

It’s also important to keep an eye on which stories are getting attention and which ones are being suppressed. Sadly, when it comes to Indigenous Peoples, the latter is almost always the case.

When it wasn’t big media bulldozing over our stories and alternative media marginalizing them, it was NGOs, perhaps inadvertently, blocking them from the eyes of the international community. Meanwhile, grassroots groups like Intercontinental Cry and Censored News struggled alongside 10,000,000,000 other websites that want nothing to do with Indigenous Peoples.

On average this year, just two stories made serious headlines at any given time, foremost among them the situations surrounding the tar sands and those two crazy pipelines, the ever-controversial Belo Monte dam, the equally-controversial TIPNIS highway in Bolivia, the malevolent Marlin Minein Guatemala, and the ongoing threat to Wixarika lands by First Majestic Silver.

Of course, each of these situations needed the attention they got, even if they were at times twisted by lobby groups who had no choice but to replace facts with cheap cliches (“Ethical oil” anyone?) because those facts are against them.

But these aren’t the only stories that needed attention; there were hundreds more.

We’re tempted to list out a good thousand of them right now, but that would probably do more harm than good, so here’s a brief cross-section of those stories, as reported on Intercontinental Cry:

1. The Quechua People in the Peruvian state of Cusco, launched an ambitious plan to send 1,500 varieties of Potato to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Arctic Circle. It was first time Indigenous Peoples ever contributed to the underground vault, which already houses more than 90,000 seed samples from around the world. Exactly one month after the donation was announced, then-Peruvian President Alan García signed a decree allowing the import and planting of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country.

2. The Mirarr People renewed their opposition to the multibillion-dollar Jabiluka uranium deposit in Australia’s Northern territory, declaring their wish, in solidarity with the people of Japan, to include the deposit as part of the UNESCO world heritage-listed Kakadu National Park. Rather than become overnight billionaires, the Mirarr said that they want the uranium to stay where it belongs: in the earth, where it can’t harm anyone, and so future generations have it to protect.

3. Colombia’s Constitutional Court issued an historic ruling “unconditionally”recognizing one of the most critical human rights for Indigenous Peoples: the Right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). The important ruling halted three industrial development projects: a highway, an electric power line, and a mine. That’s a considerable victory, considering Colombia’s human rights record and the ongoing threat of extinction so many Indigenous Peoples are facing there today.

4. After years of violating the human rights and customary laws of the Subanon People, the Canadian mining company TVI Resource Development, Inc. (TVIRDI) admitted its wrongdoings in a cleansing Ceremony led by the Gukom, the Subanon’s traditional judicial authority. During the Ceremony, the company acknowledged that Mount Canatuan is a sacred site and admitted that they were wrong for desecrating it. They also admitted to their other misdeeds and agreed to pay fines as stipulated by the Gukom. This is the only example in 2011 of corporation taking responsibility for itself, after the fact.

5. Hundreds of Maasai, Sukuma, Barbaig and Taturu pastoralists refused to leave the Maswa Game Reserve in Tanzania, because of their historical ties to the land. The Tanzania government wants the pastoralists out of the reserve, which borders the world-famous Serengeti National Park, because of an all-too-familiar claim: “environmental degradation concerns”.

6. Security guards working for the Italian businessman, Idolo Augustine Mastronei, violently evicted a group of Bribri families from their ancestral territory in the Talamanca region of Costa Rica. Most of the adults were arrested during the eviction, while the children were threatened at gun point, inside their own houses by the private security guards.

7. Conservation groups went on a last-minute run to stop one of the world’s largest private equity firms, the Blackstone Group, from getting a brand new 72,000 hectare palm oil plantation in the middle of the rainforest in Cameroon. The ancestral lands and livelihoods of the Baka, Bakola, Bedzang and Bagyeli (BBBB)–so-called ‘Pygmy’ peoples–would be lost in the rainforest cull.

8. The Kalahari Bushmen celebrated a major victory in their nine-year struggle to return to their ancestral lands with their basic rights intact. Thanks to a new partnership between Gem Diamonds Botswana and the non-profit organization Vox United, the Kalahari Bushmen finally gained access to water at four different villages. The partnership itself arrived just three months after another major victory when Botswana’s Court of Appeal overturned an unfortunate High Court ruling that denied the Bushmen’s legal right to water on their lands.

9. The world’s largest wine corporation, Spain’s Grupo Codorniu, began pushing for a permit to clear-cut more than 1,900 acres of redwood forest in Sonoma County, California. The company’s proposed “land conversion” would erase the complex forest ecosystem; reduce local water quality; threaten the continued survival of the endangered coho salmon; and, like other large vineyards around the world, raise the region’s temperature. Among other environmental concerns, the conversion would severely impact the cultural and spiritual well-being of the Kashia Pomo, who regard the redwood forest as a sacred place that must be preserved.

10. The Elder “Mamos” or Spiritual leaders of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, expressed profound concern over a new plan to build a seven-star hotel on their ancestral territory within the Tayrona National Park in northern Colombia. The Mamos only learned about the proposed “Dávila tourism complex” after an attorney, Samario Alejandro Aria, uncovered a letter from the Ministry of the Interior which described the project area as being empty of any permanent human settlements. The Mamos warn that the proposed site is located on sacred lands that are supposed to be held inviolate.

11. The Government of Manipur began the process of burning down hundreds of floating huts (Khangpokshang) belonging to the Meitei Peoples in the Loktak Wetlands of Central Manipur. The Government blames the Indigenous Peoples of polluting the Lake; however, the Meitei say that any pollution there is really from the Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project. Nearly 200 floating huts were initially burnt. 1,132 more were faced with the same fate.

12. Two Shipibo communites in the Peurvian Amazon broke off negotiations with Maple Gas Corporation del Peru SRL., over the health and environmental impacts of six oil spills on their territory since 2009. The move came just one month after 32 Shipibo were forced to clean up the very latest spill without any protective gear. They were forced to use their bare hands. A few weeks later, a special Peruvian Government Commission officially confirmed the environmental pollution and health problems caused by the spills. Unfortunately, The Shipibo are still waiting for remediation efforts.

13. The government of Belize quietly granted an American oil company drilling rights to protected Maya lands inside the Sarstoon Temash National Park (STNP) in the Toledo District of southern Belize. The surreptitious move was in direct defiance of an historic Supreme Court ruling that confirmed the government’s obligation to adhere to the international standards of informed consent.

14. The Splatsin First Nation warned that it would not allow the City of Enderby and the Regional District of North Okanagan to sacrifice an historic fishing and village site for a brand new parking lot in southern British Colombia, Canada. The site–known to the Splatsin as ‘Cqltqín’–is the only remaining section of habitable land left in the area. The Spaltsin said thy will erect some fences in order to control who has access to the area.

15. A Samburu community’s struggle to hold on to their ancestral land and their grazing rights took a turn for the worst after more than 300 police officers went to the community, killed at least one Samburu elder and confiscated as many as 10,000 of their cattle, goats and sheep. The Samburu believe that the police operation was meant to ‘punish’ the community for taking former President Daniel arap Moi to court.

The lack of attention our stories get, is clearly something we need to work on. Unfortunately, as Indigenous Peoples we have to contend with a lack of resources, infrastructure, accountability, solidarity and perhaps even clout on top of everything else, which makes that work quite difficult.

Fortunately, real grassroots media is growing. More and more projects are popping up all the time, in Australia, South America, India, Canada. Most recently, Jodi Rave initiated a project to educate people about ‘Native American’ issues in the US; and Duncan McCue started a project of his ownto assist journalists who report on Indigenous communities.

At the same time, existing projects like Intercontinental Cry have a firm eye on the future; because we know what’s at stake and we know we can do better.