Wednesday, September 3, 2008

August 28 - September 2, 2008: Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues

Five Important Indigenous People's Issues for the Weeks of August 28 - September 2, 2008

Unease Over Guatemalan Gold Rush

With gold prices skyrocketing, the Mayans of Guatemala find themselves caught up in a new rush for the precious metal.

Mario Tema sits across from me, a Mayan with a mission.

We are in the town of Sipacapa in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, washing down a breakfast of tamale and beans with a cup of freshly brewed coffee.

As he tells me of the town's fight against a huge open pit gold mine, that famous picture of Che Guevara gazes at us from the wall. Here in Sipacapa, Mario Tema is an anti-mining icon.

Last year he travelled to Vancouver, where the mine's Canadian owner, Goldcorp, has its headquarters. He went to speak out against the mine at the company's annual shareholders meeting.

"After I spoke at the meeting," he says, "a shareholder approached me and he told me 'I don't care about your cause, all I care about is the money in my pocket."

Mr Tema tells me the story with a shake of his head. Do shareholders not know that his country was wracked by decades of civil war that saw more than 200,000 people killed, one million displaced, and that most of the victims were Mayan? Read more about the Guatemala gold rush here....

Indigenous Rights Group Organizes

The Indigenous Rights Group has begun organizational work headed by former Speaker Oscar C. Rasa and other members of the Northern Marianas community. As of this writing, over 3,000 people have registered as members of the local organization. It is a purpose-driven non-partisan group focusing on educating local governance of their inalienable rights to a greater degree of self-government.

Personally, I admire their dedicated efforts to renew the indigenous community's understanding of its right to self-government, reconnect them with their ancestral past and rights, including time-honored traditions revolving around the land and the sea; overcome the legacy of neo-colonialism and the old assumption of white supremacy and to find a way of life that is both modern yet true to the traditions of the indigenous people.

The emergence of this group was prompted by the apparent negligence of elected public officials (over the last two decades) to hold the United States responsible to its commitment. That commitment is an inherent provision of law (48 USC Section 1801). It mandates the federal government to provide “for a progressively higher standard of living” for the people of these isles. But most local leadership must have been snoozing, acquiescing the sale not of items on the shelf, but the store itself. Read more about the indigenous rights group here....

BRAZIL: Setting an Important Precedent for Indigenous Lands

An imminent decision by Brazil’s Supreme Court on the demarcation of the Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous reservation in the Amazon jungle region has the country’s native communities on edge, because of the precedent it will set.

Raposa Serra do Sol is in the Amazon jungle state of Roraima at the northwestern tip of Brazil, a land of water and abundance.

The 1.7 million hectare reserve was officially demarcated by the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2005, after judicial appeals and debates that dragged on for nearly two decades. The decision was based on the principles laid down in the 1988 constitution.

The Supreme Court is set to decide next week whether or not to uphold the demarcation of the reservation as a single, unbroken territory.

The reservation is home to more than 19,000 members of the Macuxí, Wapixana, Taurepang, Patamona and Ingarikó indigenous communities.

But since 1992, invasions of indigenous land by large-scale rice producers have become frequent, and in just 13 years, rice plantations in the area covered by the reservation grew sevenfold, to 14,000 hectares. Read more about indigenous lands in Brazil here....

Peru Throws Out Amazon Land Laws

Peru's Congress has voted to repeal two land laws aimed at opening up Amazonian tribal areas to development, which led to protests by indigenous groups.

Correspondents say the repeal of the laws is a blow to President Alan Garcia, who had approved the legislation by decree.

Mr Garcia had described the initiative as pivotal to the improvement of life in Peru's poorest regions.

A leading indigenous rights campaigner welcomed the repeal of the laws.

Alberto Pizango called it a new dawn for the country's indigenous peoples.

During the protests, which lasted more than 10 days, indigenous groups took several police officers hostage, and took control of both a major natural gas field in southern Peru and an oil pipeline. Read more about Peru and indigenous peoples here....

Fiji Chiefs Say No

THE traditional heads of the three confederacies have reiterated that the Draft People’s Charter “is unconstitutional” and they do not recognize the document.

Kubuna High Chief, Ratu Apenisa Cakobau, the Roko Tui Dreketi, Ro Teimumu Kepa and Tui Cakau Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu yesterday released a joint statement which highlighted their concerns that the December 2006 coup had undermined the rights and protection of the Fijian people.

The statement’s release coincided with the high ranking chiefs’ representation and show of support to the Methodist Church at the church’s conference at the Centenary Church in Suva yesterday.

The chiefs’ statement cites Clause 4 and 7 of the 1874 Deed of Cession which amongst other things protected the rights of indigenous to self determination.

The chiefs highlighted five key issues of concern with the charter – the use of the term ‘Fijian’; integration of the provincial and advisory councils; attempts to weaken the Fijian administration; militarization of the civil service and; the return to democracy and the rule of law.

On the use of ‘Fijian’ as a common name, the chiefs say the name is “deeply embedded in the Fijian psyche” since colonization and has been used in the Deed of Cession, and three Constitutions “to refer to the first people of this country or i taukei.” Read more about indigenous Fijians here....

Last weeks Five Key Indigenous People's Issues can be found here.

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