Wednesday, March 18, 2009

March 11-17, 2009: Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues

Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues for the Week of March 11 - 17, 2009

Bolivia: Evo Morales Redistributes Land

Bolivia's President Evo Morales has handed over thousands of hectares of land seized from large-scale owners to indigenous farmers.

Mr Morales said the move would encourage people to put country over profit and would end human rights violations against indigenous people.

He had accused the previous owners of abusing workers and misusing the land.

Bolivians voted in a new constitution in January aimed at empowering the country's indigenous majority.

"Today, from here, we are beginning to put an end to the giant landholdings of Bolivia," Mr Morales said at a ceremony in the east of the country.

"Private property will always be respected but we want people who are not interested in equality to change their thinking and focus more on country than currency."

Mr Morales told a gathering of Guarani Indians on Saturday that some people "don't want to end large landownership" but that they should "voluntarily give up their land to people who have none," the Associated Press reported. Read more about the Bolivian land redistribution here....

British Columbia: New Bill To Recognize Aboriginal Rights, Title

The B.C. government is poised to rectify history, and adjust its laws, with a sweeping bill that would recognize first nations' historical presence and their right to make decisions and share revenues from their traditional land.

"I think if we do this together it will represent change on a seismic scale," said Aboriginal Relations Minister Mike de Jong in a passionate speech Thursday to members of the First Nations Summit, meeting in Victoria.

Summit chiefs followed the lead of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations and voted in favour of the proposed Recognition and Reconciliation Act, recognizing aboriginal rights and title, which de Jong plans to introduce before the legislature rises at the end of March.

Recognition of rights and title would mean that, during lawsuits, the federal and provincial governments could no longer use arguments that deny the existence of first nations. Read more about the B.C. bill here....

International: Arctic Peoples Must Be Consulted On Adaptation To Warming, Says UN-backed Group

Indigenous Arctic peoples must be consulted on ways to preserve their ways of life and boost employment opportunities as the northern ice retreats due to climate change, a group of experts convened by the United Nations cultural agency has agreed.

“Action formulated to address Arctic issues must begin from an understanding that many of the peoples of the Arctic have self-governing institutions,” according to recommendations issued by participants at the meeting organized by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“These peoples and their institutions have immense creativity and seek to advance the self-determination, prosperity and aspirations of their communities and their regions,” they added.

According to UNESCO, rapidly changing climate in the Arctic is putting pressure on hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in the circumpolar north.

The agency noted that for decades they have been witnessing a dramatic shift during the Arctic Ocean’s open water season, as sea ice retreats further and further from coasts. Industrial development and shipping are expected to rise in its place. Read more about the UNESCO statement here....

Paraguay: 'Protect Uncontacted Tribe's Land!' Say Local Groups

A desperate plea for the protection of uncontacted Indians’ land in western Paraguay has been issued by nine local organisations after round-table talks sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme.

‘The presence of the uncontacted Totobiegosode (in the forest) is proof that it is, and always has been, their land,’ says a statement from the nine organisations. ‘The invasion of that land by a company and its deforestation and destruction constitutes an aggression against the tribe and the appropriation of their property.

‘The Paraguayan state, in accordance with the national constitution and international norms. . . must meet its obligation to return the Totobiegosode’s land to them in one piece, not in fragments,’ the statement says.

The Totobiegosode’s land is being destroyed by two Brazilian companies wanting to graze cattle for beef: Yaguarete Pora and River Plate. The number of uncontacted Totobiegosode is unknown, but some of them have relatives who have already been contacted. Read more about the Totobiegosode's struggle here....

Australia: Australia to Become Signatory to the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples

According to 2009 Australian of the Year, Professor Mick Dodson, the Rudd Government would reverse the position of the previous Howard administration to sign the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

After the Formal Apology to the Stolen Generations, the Federal Government has committed to establish and implement policies to reduce the gap between non-indigenous Australians and indigenous Australians.

In September 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration has been negotiated through more than 20 years between nation states and indigenous peoples. 143 nations voted in favour of the Declaration and only 4 negative votes were cast (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States).

When the Declaration was adopted, Les Malezer, Chair of the International Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, welcomed the adoption of the Declaration in a statement to General Assembly:

“The Declaration does not represent solely the viewpoint of the United Nations, nor does it represent solely the view of the indigenous peoples. It is a declaration which combines our views and interests which sets the framework for the future. It is a tool for peace and justice, based upon mutual recognition and respect.”

The Federal Government is set to endorse the Declaration at the next meeting of the United Nations Permanent Forum in May. The Federal Government issued a statement that it supported the Declaration’s underlying principles and at this stage was “consulting with indigenous organisations, State and Territory governments, and other key stakeholders on an appropriate public statement to reflect this.” Read more about Australia's signing here....

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

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