Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October 22-28, 2008: Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues

Five Important Indigenous People's Issues for the Week of October 22 - 28, 2008

International: Why Indigenous People Of The World Are Losing Out

Most of the clashes between indigenous peoples, governments and international financial institutions have arisen due to differing interpretations of the term "development". For indigenous peoples, the key issues include not just the right to protect and preserve their ancestral lands, but also often their very survival as a community, notes Terence Gomez.

Last month, members of the Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia (JOAS) tried unsuccessfully to submit a memorandum to the king urging, among other things, that the government honour its commitment to abide by the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People (Undrip).

The incident, on the first anniversary of Undrip, raised an urgent question: why is it that, despite the burgeoning number of international charters and national laws across the world that assert and protect their rights, the majority of indigenous peoples find themselves increasingly subjected to discrimination, exploitation and dispossession?

And, as the Malaysian protest suggests, why is it likely that in spite of charters such as the Undrip, we will continue to see numerous conflicts of mismatched proportions between unempowered indigenous peoples and governments, multinational companies (MNCs) and international financial institutions (IFIs) worldwide? Read more about indigenous people and development here....

International: Pay Indigenous People To Protect Rainforests, Conservation Groups Urge

Rich countries should try to cut the greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation by first investing in the people who live and use forests, rather than relying on the financial carbon markets to encourage conservation, leading development experts have proposed.

If not, they risk unleashing a wave of land grabs, corruption, cultural destruction and civil conflict, said the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative, a coalition of of UN- and government-funded research organisations including the World Conservation Union and the Center for International Forestry Research (Cifor).

The loss of trees is responsible for almost a fifth of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide – stopping and reducing it is seen as one of the quickest and cheapest ways of cutting emissions.

The call for human rights to be put at the centre of the issue came after Johan Eliasch, Gordon Brown's special adviser on forests, proposed this week that tropical forests be included in future carbon markets.

UN climate change negotiators are trying to set up a new financial mechanism, known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (Redd) which could generate billions of dollars a year for reducing forest loss in the tropics.

But initial findings of World Bank-commissioned research presented at a conference in Oslo, Norway, suggest it will cost far less to save carbon by recognising forest community rights rather than relying on the future money markets. Read more about rainforests and indigenous people here....

Colombian Tribespeople Flee To Amazon Town For Safety

After an epic 16-day trek that took them down three rivers, across thick jungle and through a part of Brazil, a small group of scared Baro indigenous people arrived earlier this month in Leticia on the banks of the Amazon River.

Located on the border with Peru and Brazil, Leticia is Colombia's southernmost town. There are no roads in or out and the rivers provide the only link to the outside world. As a result of its isolation, the region has enjoyed relative peace from the armed conflict that has long affected other parts of Colombia.

When a UNHCR team met with the six Baro families here last week, they were still in shock after fleeing their homes last month when an irregular armed group entered their territory. Locals fear their arrival means that the violence has now reached Colombia's Amazonas department, which has largely been spared the kind of turmoil afflicting neighbouring Caqueta and Putumayo departments.

"Some of the children were quite sick and their parents did not want to get off the boat because they have no relations here and were scared," recounted Luis Alfonso Zabala, a Catholic priest who met the group on their arrival in Leticia.

Their ordeal did not end on arrival. Entitled by law to receive assistance as victims of forced displacement, the families were at first turned away when they went to register with the authorities because they had no identity documents. But people registering as displaced do not need to show ID.

For the time being, the group has been receiving assistance from the local church, which UNHCR has been supporting with advice and information. Read more about indigenous people in Columbia here....

Columbia: Authorities Suppress Coverage of Indigenous Protests

At least one person was killed and more than 130 were wounded during indigenous demonstrations last week in several departments in Colombia. But with multiple press freedom violations being committed, you would be hard-pressed to find out what's going on.

Indigenous community media groups in the department of Cauca complained recently that several of their websites have been blocked, and a local community radio station has reported suspicious power outages - at a time when indigenous communities have been protesting to protect their fundamental rights, reports the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), IFEX member in Colombia.

Thousands of indigenous Colombians, mainly in the southwest and northwest, mobilised last week on a five-point plan. It calls for the reestablishment of their territorial rights as laid out by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and rallies against the Colombian free-trade deal with the U.S., Canada and the EU and the increasing militarisation of the country by the government and paramilitaries.

As part of the protests, indigenous groups blocked several roads last week, including the Pan-American Highway, the country's main north-south thoroughfare, in at least four locations between Colombia's third largest city, Cali, and the city of Popayán, 135 kilometres to the south.

But they were met with a repressive response. Violent clashes broke out between protesters and security officers on 14 and 15 October, when officers attempted to reopen the highway, allegedly firing into the crowds and assaulting them with tear gas and hand grenades. According to the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC), the clashes have resulted in one death and more than 130 people injured, many gravely. Read more about Colombian protests here....

North America: Culture Clashes And Crimes

AS WE mark "Indigenous People's Month," I hope Native Americans would commemorate the rounding up 114 years ago next month of 19 men of the Hopi Nation.

Described as "murderous-looking" and misidentified as Apaches in a story by the San Francisco Call, the Hopi men were imprisoned for almost a year at Alcatraz, the island penitentiary that is now San Francisco's top tourism come-on.

Their crime: resistance to cultural imposition, subjugation and domination. They refused to send their children to boarding schools under a government program to "Americanize" them and wipe out their own culture.

In 1995, historian Wendy Holiday of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office wrote a story on the Hopi prisoners. She asked readers who had stories about them to contact her and help document this event in Hopi history - from the American Indian perspective.

That indigenous view surfaced in autumn of 1969, six years after the penitentiary was closed. Thousands of Indians and non-Indians landed on Alcatraz to reclaim it as Indian land. They invoked "discovery," in the same token that European colonizers earlier invoked the self-serving principle of "terra nullius" in claiming Aboriginal and indigenous lands.

They occupied The Rock for almost a year and a half. The occupation proved a powerful rallying point to demand respect for indigenous peoples and their human rights. Read more about indigenous culture clash here....

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

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