Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January 14-20, 2009: Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues

Five Important Indigenous People's Issues for the Week of January 14, - 20, 2009

Bolivia: The Constitutional Challenge of Bolivia

Mariano Aguilera is driving fast down a country road in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, heading towards his sugar cane fields. He coaxes the red Mercedes over ninety and passes a truck full of peasants, regarding them in his rearview mirror. "I bet they're headed to La Paz to take over the Congress or something," he says. "A new constitution is going to bring nothing but more problems."

From August 2006 to December 2007, Aguilera was actually part of an assembly that rewrote Bolivia's constitution. The draft will be approved or rejected by a highly anticipated referendum here on January 25.

Aguilera now says he is against the charter he was supposed to have co-authored. Nonetheless, it's expected to win the 50+1 percent support needed to make it official, setting up the likely re-election of President Evo Morales at the end of this year. But the process has caused many to ask if a new constitution can establish common ground in this divergent nation of 9 million.

Carved out between the Andes and the Amazon Basin, Bolivia is home to thirty-six indigenous groups, mestizos of partly European descent, whites, foreigners and a small group of Afro-Bolivians. Until recently those indigenous groups, as well as Afro-Bolivians, had little political power. Read more about Bolivia's constitutional challenge here....

Brazil: 54 Indigenous Natives Murdered in Brazil in 2008

At least 54 Indians were murdered last year in Brazil in conflicts over land or defending their rights, down 40 percent from 2007, a body linked to the Catholic Church said Tuesday.

According to data from the church's Indigenous Missionary Commission, or CIMI, the most serious situation occurred in the west-central state of Mato Grosso do Sul, which borders with Bolivia and Paraguay, where there were 40 murders and 34 suicides of Indians last year.

The number of suicides in Mato Grosso do Sul grew by more than 50 percent, compared to the 22 Indians who took their lives in 2007, but homicides fell about 25 percent there from the 53 killings the previous year.

Suicide, which was formerly something foreign to the indigenous culture, has been increasing among tribes like the Guarani, which are confronting problems like overcrowding and alcoholism.

Heavily agricultural Mato Grosso do Sul is one of the states with the most Indians and one of the regions with the largest number of land conflicts, given that Indians are concentrated in very small areas.

"CIMI continues to warn about the serious situation of the Guarani Kaiowa people in Mato Grosso do Sul. There were 74 cases of murders and suicides in 2008 and 75 in 2007 among a population of about 40,000 people," said the organization in a communique. Read more about indigenous murders in Brazil here....

Canada: Telecom Boosts Development in Aboriginal Communities

When a group of remote First Nations communities in northern Ontario launched an electronic bulletin board in 1994, it was the seed that would become Canada’s largest Aboriginal broadband network and a model network for Indigenous telecommunications of interest worldwide.

The Bulletin Board System (BBS) was meant to meet the critical need of maintaining contact with the communities’ children and help support them to stay in school while living away from home.

These fly-in communities had no high school and many of their children continuing their education at boarding schools were dropping out.

At the time many of the communities’ approximately 2,800 residents did not even have a home phone—a public payphone had to be shared among several hundred people.

In less than a decade, residents were able to access broadband services from their homes and public places like community centres and libraries.

Today, the communities coordinate with service agencies and universities to deliver an Internet high school, telehealth, telejustice, and webcasts of education and training events to residents via their Kuhkenah Network (K-Net), a system vastly expanded from its BBS days. Read more about telecommunications in aboriginal communities here....

Venezuela: Indigenous Venezuelans Get Welfare But, So Far, Not Much Land

The Medellín ranch lies in the foothills of the Sierra de Perijá, a forested mountain range on Venezuela’s border with Colombia. It is the front line of a simmering conflict between ranchers and the indigenous Yukpa people, some of whom, claiming these lands as ancestral territory, have occupied nine nearby ranches. Their dispute illustrates the gap between the rhetoric from Hugo Chávez’s socialist government, championing the rights of indigenous peoples, and the reality.

Only around 2% of Venezuela’s 28m people are of unmixed Indian blood. The constitution, which President Chávez fathered in 1999, recognises their right to “the lands they ancestrally and traditionally occupy.” That is potentially more than half the national territory. The constitution said these lands should all be demarcated by 2002 but this task has barely begun.

Last August four Yukpa leaders, wearing red warpaint and carrying bows and arrows, held a press conference in Caracas. They accused ranchers of employing gunmen to harass and even kill them. The ranchers deny this and accuse the government of encouraging the ranch invasions. At night, local ranchers, armed with shotguns and hunting rifles, patrol the properties most at risk of invasion. Francisco Vargas, the owner of the Medellín ranch, says it has been in his family for three generations. “So far as I know,” he says, “my grandfather didn’t kill a single Indian. These lands were bought, and I have the documents to prove it.” Read more about indigenous peoples in Venezuela here....

Australia: Aboriginal Artists Say Code May Stymie Bad Deals, Fuel Sales

Aboriginal artist Rene Kulitju, who paints at the base of Uluru in remote Australia, says new rules may help curb dealers exploiting artists and fuel sales as the economic downturn crimps the global appetite for art.

Australia has launched a draft code regulating the sale of Aboriginal art, worth as much as A$500 million ($330 million) per year. It aims to outlaw so-called carpetbagging, when dealers exploit artists and buy their work cheaply for alcohol or drugs.

“This industry is not regulated and sometimes people buy paintings cheaply and rip us off,” Kulitju, who was paid A$2,050 for a painting which later sold for A$15,000, said by telephone on Dec. 29 from Mututjulu in central Australia. “This code will help us get a fair price and stop exploitation.”

The Australia Council code bans the sale of art for drugs or alcohol. It says buyers must not take advantage of an artist who is ill, affected by drugs or alcohol or who does not understand the terms of the sale.

Indigenous Australians are almost three times more likely than non-indigenous to get a disease. Half indigenous adults smoke, compared with 11 percent of non-indigenous. Some 55 percent drink alcohol at risky levels and Aborigines die on average 17 years younger than other Australians, government figures show.

“This will help protect the industry because many of the artists are vulnerable and live in remote areas,” Sabine Heider, owner of aboriginal art store Central Art, said in a telephone interview. “This will help stem out carpetbaggers, but there will still be dealers who exploit artists.” Read more about aboriginal artists here....

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

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