Tuesday, November 25, 2008

November 19-25, 2008: Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues

Five Important Indigenous People's Issues for the Week of November 19 - November 25, 2008

Nigeria: Ogoni and Quest for Autonomy

Roland Ogbonnaya puts the various Ogoni crises in perspective, looking at efforts made in the past by the people and various governments to address the problems. Investigations however show that the Ogoni issue illustrate the interplay of politics, economics, and ethnicity within a context increasingly shaped both by access to international media and by human rights concepts.

The Ogoni struggle has its roots in the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-70. Many non-Igbos who were coerced to join the defunct Biafra felt oppressed by Igbos, as well as by Nigerians. This was especially true for the Ogoni after their homeland was taken over by Nigerian forces in 1968 and thousands were forcibly moved into Igboland by Biafran authorities. At the end of the war, the Ogoni formed a "supreme cultural organisation" called KAGOTE, which was created by an elite group of traditional leaders. KAGOTE was a non-political organisation that gave rise to MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People), which was formed to address the economic and environmental conditions of Ogoni. MOSOP was led by political elite capable of articulating commonly-held perceptions of oppression. The nature of that oppression has changed over time, as the impact of exploitation developed and intensified.

Ogoni economic and environmental complaints have focused on Shell and Nigeria's military government. Shell has not endeared itself to people of the Niger River Delta who suffer environmental degradation, but do not enjoy either jobs or improvement in living conditions. MOSOP claimed Shell has taken $30 billion from Ogoniland since 1958. A cursory look "shows an immeasurable level of poverty, squalor, underdevelopment and complete absence of basic social amenities such as electricity, pipe-borne water, hospitals, roads, and recreational facilities.”

According to a MOSOP publication: “In the 35 years, Shell (has) operated with such total disregard of the environment that the Ogoni people have come to the conclusion that the company is waging an ecological war on them . . . The response of Shell has been to appeal to the rulers of Nigeria for whom oil means a lot of money in private pockets and in the public purse. Together, the two have mounted a campaign of intimidation and terrorism against the Ogoni people and its leaders.”

Because the public sector appears to reward the private interests of those who control it, persons outside the privileged and corrupt inner circles turn to kinship networks and emphasise personal ties, yielding the potential for and the reality of intense feuds across divisions of clans, indigenous identities and class strata. Thus, Ogoni complaints and demands have never been limited to the question of environmental degradation or economic deprivation of the proceeds resulting from the oil industry which is responsible for the degradation; they are much more problematic than can be explained in such simple analysis. Read more about Ogoni and Nigeria here....

United States: Barack Obama and the Native American Vote

Like millions of people all over the world, I'm ecstatic, over-the-moon inspired by Obama's win, if for no other reason than his win is actually a good thing for the people in my community. Yes indeed, the new leadership of Barack Obama in the United States of America is good for Native people, and you can sure as hell bet that a whole lot of us voted for him, and are counting on him to really care about the issues we are facing.

Like right now.

Several times last night, I heard:
"If a Black man can do it, so can we."
"We need a Native Barack Obama."
"A man of color in office is a victory for us all!"

Which were all great things to hear rather than the usual cutting each other up in stereotypes and ignorance I usually see. To me, this represented an unveiling of a layer of oppression, where you had the Indigenous peoples of this land busting ass so that a fellow marginalized person could clean house with votes within a system none of us created, to make real change that we all sorely need.

Especially if you are still being colonized, I might add.

The First Americans for Obama Campaign was a true attempt at engaging the Native Americans here to work in solidarity with Obama on our common ground issues, and get the Democratic Party to pay a little more attention to the severity of what is going on in our communities. I'll admit myself that when I first heard about it, I immediately wanted to jump on the bandwagon of actually seeing our people represented in such a public light with the star that is Obama. But now that the campaign is over, I can honestly say that it did not do a good enough job of reaching out to where we actually are, which for a high percentage of us is in rural and remote places. In addition to that important factor, I have several friends and family members who although they were Obama supporters, refused to even wear a "First American for Obama" t-shirt, because of the offensive nature of referring to us as "Americans," which of course we are not. Read more about Obama and the Native American vote here....

Philippines: Davao Villagers Battle World’s Largest Mining Company

Waves lap up the shallow shores of Sitio Wagon in Barangay (village) Macambol as fishermen and their families work and live off the bountiful waters of Pujada Bay.

The noise of the waves mixes with that of an electric plainer being used to shape the belly of a new banca – a simple fishing boat — under the shade of some coconut trees. A much bigger boat which can carry more than a ton of fish approaches the shore after having spent days, possibly even weeks at sea.

Many boats are still out and six more colorfully painted bancas lie on the sand, their fishing nets and traps left to bleach and dry out under the sun.

A sand spit away from the boat shop, Martina Baldapan is sun-drying a basket of different fish just outside her kitchen. They were caught by her son and prepared simply by being dipped in salt and water. Martina leaves them for a day before taking most of the basket to sell for PhP 80 (USD 1) a kilo. The rest she keeps for her family to eat.

Martina is just one of an estimated 3,000 people in the coastal village of Macambol who rely on Pujada Bay for a living.

Other villagers work the lands round Mt. Hamiguitan which, like the Bay has been declared a protected area. Read more about indigenous people fighting mining company here....

Mindanao: Community "Kept in the Dark" While Mine Exploration Goes Forward on Philippine Island

The land of Macambol in the island of Mindanao in the Philippines lies between two areas of rare natural beauty: the Hamiguitan Mountain range and Pujada Bay. According to the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), approximately 25 percent of the 5,000 people living there are indigenous people. While average family incomes are low, most of the population is still able to make a living from their surrounding natural environment – through fishing and farming mango, coconut and root crops.

And so the fact that the Anglo-Australian mining company BHP Billiton plans to develop a nickel processing plant and operate a mine there for around 30 years is highly relevant to them.

The Philippines’ experience in mining has not been a pleasant one. For instance, the 1996 mining accident in Marinduque Island in the Phillipines – when more than four million metric tons of toxic mine waste spilled from the Marcopper mine – caused widespread flooding and damage to both people and property. According to an Oxfam Australia Mining Ombudsman Case Study in 2004, communities throughout Marinduque said that the effects of the accident were still affecting their livelihoods and health.

But such tragedies are not restricted to mining accidents. CAFOD says that mining can have long-lasting effects on communities: through social division, displacing people from their homes and lands against their will and causing irreversible loss to biodiversity. Read more about mining exploration in Mindanao here....

Canada: The Error of Taking Away First Nations' Land Has Not Yet Been Corrected

Today British Columbia is officially 150 years old. We extend sincere congratulations to the people of this province and the government of B.C. in commemorating this important anniversary. We share an incredibly beautiful and resource-rich land which has provided a livelihood for most British Columbians.

Not necessarily for B.C. first nations, however. The goodwill of the people and the political will of governments is required to address socio-economic disparities and honourably and fairly resolve the "land question."

On Nov. 19, 1858, James Douglas, governor of the colony, issued a proclamation dispossessing our peoples of our lands. Douglas called them "Indian Territories" and "wild and unoccupied." He named the colony British Columbia and paved the way to establish a government.

Three months later, on Feb. 14, 1859, he would "declare" that "all lands in British Columbia, and all the Mines and Minerals therein, belong to the Crown in fee."

Douglas's description of our territories as "wild" may have a certain poetic allure, but these lands were certainly occupied. Our "Indian Territories" were and continue to be the ancestral homelands of many different self-governing indigenous peoples and nations including Dakelh/Dene, Coast and Interior Salish, Haida, Tsimshian/Nisga'a/Gitxsan, Tlingit, Ktunaxa, Kwakiutl, Nuu Chah Nulth and so on.

None of them, or their ancestors, consented to the transfer of their lands to the Crown by way of agreement, treaty, acquiescence, conquest, warfare or otherwise. Read more about First Nations land struggles here....

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

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