Posts Tagged ‘Conservation’


Indigenous Knowledge: The key to Biodiversity Conservation

Reposted from Cultural Survival Quarterly issue 39-1 Upholding Indigenous Rights Is Good Business (March 2015)

Image: Joseph Goko Mutangah. Photo Courtesy of UNPFII

Image: Joseph Goko Mutangah. Photo Courtesy of UNPFII

Joseph Goko Mutangah initially became involved in biodiversity conservation during the course of his research when he grew concerned about the deliberate degradation of natural habitats and loss of biodiversity in many Kenyan natural habitats, particularly indigenous forests. With other research scientists, he formed Habitat Restoration Initiative for Eastern Africa in 1998 with the objective of restoring degraded habitats in the region. The initiative later became a committee of Nature-Kenya, which operates under the umbrella of the East African Natural History Society. “Currently my interest and insights in ecological and habitat restoration is expressed through my newly formed African Center of Tropical Ecology,” he says.

For the last 10 years, Mutangah has been in charge of the Kenya Resource Center for Indigenous Knowledge. He explains the center’s activities: “We document Indigenous knowledge of food and medicinal plants with an aim to preserve and disseminate traditional knowledge attached to the natural biological resources, and how such knowledge can add value in the overall conservation and sustainable management of natural habitats and ecosystems. The change of lifestyles among many societies in the world has greatly influenced the change of culture, traditional rights and rites, and more importantly dietary habits. The modern trend of migration of local people from rural to urban and back, modern education systems, modern food diets and medical care, as well as environmental changes, have all significantly contributed in making Indigenous knowledge and cultural heritage not only vulnerable but seriously endangered. This threat of extinction of our culture and its embedded Indigenous knowledge has inspired me to work towards ensuring its protection and continued use in guiding the younger generation in our society towards sustainable utilization and management of our natural resources, including environmental protection.”

He continues, “In Kenya, both the Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Forest Service have realized they cannot successfully protect the wildlife in their natural habitats without involving the local people. Their past efforts and experiences have taught them the importance of joint management for effective and realistic conservation. For example, in regards to the Kenya Forest Service managed forests, the local communities are allowed limited access into the forests for extracting firewood and sustainable harvesting of grass as fodder for their livestock and medicinal herbal materials. This understanding and mutual respect ensures sustenance of the natural biological resources and improved livelihoods of the local Indigenous people living around the habitats of wildlife conservation areas.”

Today in Kenya, Indigenous Peoples (particularly those that depend on forests) regularly face the threat of biodiversity loss, a factor that may affect their quality of life due to land degradation and deforestation. Mutangah sees the illegal extraction of timber, charcoal burning, and land encroachment as the major issues causing environmental degradation on Indigenous land. “Reduction of grazing land due to unplanned settlement and reduction of available water as a result of drying up of rivers are some of the factors that have threatened the lives of Indigenous people in Kenya. The Indigenous people cannot access important natural resources they used to enjoy, such as traditional foods and medicines, adequate water supply, game meat, and honey due to excessive exploitation of the habitats,” he says.

Still, Indigenous Peoples remain resilient and are fighting to regain and maintain their cultural lifestyles and ancestral land. According to Mutangah, the majority of Indigenous people in Kenya are pastoralists who used to own their land communally and have managed to maintain their designated grazing areas as intact as possible. However, Indigenous people who live in and around the forests, mainly as gatherers and hunters, are facing pressure to change their lifestyles. Mutangah says they are in constant discussion with the government, which sometimes evicts them out of the forest: “But the outcry of the affected people and that of the general public make the government sometimes withdraw or suspend its eviction orders. Both the pastoralists, who live mainly in dry areas, and the forest dwellers, have a very rich traditional culture of protecting the environment whereby they coexist with nature with little disturbance. This aspect has made these two groups of Indigenous people maintain their cultural heritage and the rest of the biodiversity without harming them to alarming levels.”

Last year Mutangah began serving on the Permanent Forum as a government-nominated member. He considers the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples a victory in legislative achievement for Indigenous Peoples. On the local level, he points to Kenya’s new constitution (2010) in which the rights of Indigenous people in Kenya are enshrined. “This is one of the greatest tools Indigenous communities can use to claim and protect their rights,” he says, adding that pushing for writing of the policies regarding the rights and issues affecting the minority and marginalized people (Indigenous people) is currently going on through the National Gender and Equality Commission of Kenya, which is mandated to look after the welfare of the minority and marginalized communities in Kenya.

Since becoming a member of the Permanent Forum, Mutangah says, “we as members of the Forum have discussed many issues about Indigenous people globally and have passed many resolutions to the United Nations Economic and Social Council—especially resolutions that emanated from presentations and discussions of last year’s conference in April-May 2014.” He has also participated in similarly related local and international conferences and workshops, including the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (UNREDD), held in Arusha, Tanzania, and a workshop in Kenya organized by the National Gender and Equality Commission on Marginalized and Minority Communities in Kenya.

Looking to the future, Mutangah says, “As an environmental research scientist, having worked with local communities for a long time integrating science and Indigenous knowledge, I look forward to those strategies that will improve the environment and at the same time improve the livelihoods of the local people. My specific goals include understanding species composition, population dynamics, and protection status of relic natural habitats in areas with heavy human pressure with an attempt of ecosystem rehabilitation. I am interested in the restoration of native tree species, especially those with economic importance in the community farmlands for improving environmental quality and community livelihoods. And I will continue working with local communities in achieving their environmental, social-cultural, and economic aspirations as well as their human rights—all geared toward efforts of reducing poverty and promotion of human dignity among Indigenous Peoples. Globally, the greatest tool Indigenous communities can use to protect their rights is to negotiate with the concerned authorities: having an open mind for them to be recognized, their rights respected, restored, and compensated where possible in areas where such rights might have been violated, whether politically, economically or socially.

Since 1972 Cultural Survival has been advocating for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and supporting Indigenous communities’ self-determination, cultures and political resilience. To read about Cultural Survival’s work around the world, click here. To read more articles on the subject use our Search function and explore 40 years of information on Indigenous issues.


Final Land Claim Agreements Supersede Territorial Legislation in Yukon

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In December 2014, a Yukon court rejected the Yukon government’s land use plan for the Peel Watershed, on the grounds that it does not respect final land claim agreements with First Nations. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of First Nations, conservation groups, and individuals, in response to a series of incremental changes to the land use plan (initially approved in 2009) that rendered it “unrecognizable” from the original, and reduced protected areas from 80% to 29%. The court ordered the Yukon government to return to discussions with First Nations and revise the land use plan in ways that fulfill its constitutional duty to consult and accommodate. This ruling establishes a precedent that final land claim agreements supersede territorial legislation in Yukon, and has important implications for companies interested in the largely undeveloped Peel Watershed.

Sources: Common Sense Canadian, Yukon Courts

This post is excerpted from First Peoples Worldwide’s Corporate Monitor, a monthly report on key trends affecting companies interacting with Indigenous Peoples. To sign up for monthly e-mail updates, click here.


A Too Common Occurrence: Maasai Land Theft by Safari Company in Northern Tanzania

Reposted from the Cultural Survival Quarterly, 38-4 Indigenous Rights Protect Us All (December 2014)

Cattle in disputed land [photo credit: Cultural Survival]

Cattle in disputed land [photo credit: Cultural Survival]

The expansive landscapes and large wildlife populations of Ngorongoro District in Northern Tanzania, which borders Serengeti National Park, make it a leading area for Tanzania’s tourism industry. But the scenic beauty and pastoral ideal belie a much more complex and conflict ridden reality. For the land and the Maasai who have traditionally inhabited it, the past hundred years have been characterized by marginalization and loss. The story of Sukenya Farm is just one such example.

The Beginning: Sukenya Farm

Soitsambu, Sukenya, and Mondorosi villages are located in Loliondo Division, Ngorongoro District, and are predominantly Maasai pastoralist communities. Land is managed according to seasonal patterns of resource availability, which are largely dependent on rainfall and governed by rotational grazing reserve systems. In 1984 Tanzania Breweries Ltd. (TBL) obtained 10,000 acres within the boundaries of Mondorosi and Sukenya villages, a property that came to be known known as Sukenya Farm. During this period, fraudulent land allocations were widespread throughout northern Tanzania and in Loliondo in particular. While TBL apparently obtained dispensation from the district and regional government to use the land, it did not obtain an official certificate of occupancy until 2004. This was for an increased area of 12,617 acres.

From the outset TBL only used about 700 acres, and in 1987 abandoned the land altogether. The three resident Maasai clans, the Purko (residents of Mondorosi), Loita (a minority clan in in Sukenya), and Laitayok (the majority of residents in Sukenya but a minority clan in the region) continued using the property as they always had: for season livestock pasture, critical watering points, temporary settlement during the rainy season, and access between subvillages.

The Conflict

The 2004 certificate awarded control of the land to TBL with a 99-year lease agreement backdated to October 2003. One of the conditions of the title was that the land be used for “plant and animal husbandry.” In 2006 TBL divested the remaining 96-year lease to a new American-owned tourism operation, Tanzania Conservation Ltd (TCL). Tanzania Conservation’s owners also own Thomson Safaris, a Massachusetts-based company that operates luxury tours on the disputed property, which it has developed into a private nature reserve known as Enashiva Nature Refuge.

According to the lawsuit brought in Tanzania by the affected villages, company security guards and police officers forcefully evicted the Maasai from the land, burning their bomas (livestock enclosures), destroying homes, and denying them access to the land. Since TBL had abandoned the land in question for more than 12 years, it should have reverted back to the local villagers. A Ngorongoro Conservation Area councilor commented, “We are like slaves in our own land. Natural resources have become like a curse to us; those benefiting are from afar while the real owners are suffering.’’ Said another: “The entire process of land acquisition is characterized by bribing, cheating, and dividing communities.”

With the access to Sukenya Farm prevented by TCL/Thomson Safaris, the communities’ herders were forced to make a 14-hour return trip to Kenya for water in the dry season. In addition, they lost access to a valuable grazing resource. Prohibiting community access to the land created a major conflict among the company, local government, and the villagers, the majority of whom consider that the land is still rightfully theirs to use.

Rising Tensions

The level of conflict between TCL/Thomson Safaris and local residents has markedly escalated in the last few years with numerous arrests and imprisonments, a shooting incident, and other alleged misconduct by the company’s employees and the police. Local civil society organizations and concerned individuals have attempted to help resolve the conflict, but thus far these attempts have failed, only increasing tension and mistrust.

In 2011 Soitsambu village sought to challenge TCL/Thomson Safaris’ right to the land with the support of Minority Rights Group International, the Legal and Human Rights Centre, and the Pastoral Women’s Council. While initially dismissed on a technicality, the case recommenced in 2013 and is due to be heard in mid-December. The villagers, assisted by EarthRights International, also petitioned US courts to obtain documents of the sale to support their Tanzanian court fight to recover their land, as well as damages for violent abuses and property destruction. “The land belongs to us whether we win the case or not. We have to use the land. We will never give up,” one community member said.

Maasai traditional leaders from across Ngorongoro district have gathered several times since 2013 in Sukenya village to discuss the conflict. One resolution was a strengthened collaboration among the three affected clans, which to date are still working together. Another was to ensure that the district council strongly support villages in the land fight. “We cannot keep quiet while our land is under the hands of land grabbers. It is our responsibility to see that land comes back at any cost,’’ said a council chairman.

An Uneasy Truce

In July 2014, herdsman Olunjai Timan was returning home from grazing his cattle near the disputed land when he was confronted by policemen and local TCL/Thomson Safari security guards. He was shot and left lying face down, alone. As news of the shooting spread through the villages 300 youth gathered in the night, prepared to enter the disputed land and burn the safari camp down. When elders heard the news they rushed to the stop them. They decided to pursue peaceful means instead of a confrontational approach, but the incident prompted the question, “What type of government is this that attacks its own citizens?”

At a council meeting after the shooting, a traditional leader implored the District Council: “I decided to stop my warriors from burning the camp because I want peace. There is no benefit for anyone to die now. We need this land for our cows and we can’t stop grazing or passing. Who are the legal owners? Those with only a piece of paper, or us who are born and living here for years?” Added a council member from Mondorosi, “We have just finished paying fines for the innocent herders who were told they trespassed in our land, and today one of us is shot again. We have to fight back and there is no way to keep quiet.” Echoing the sentiment, a youth leader averred, “We, the Maasai, are not those of 1959 when our grandfathers signed to be moved out of Serengeti. We will fight to the end. We will keep fighting for our land and rights.”

An uneasy truce has been reached between the villagers and Thomson Safari, as villagers are currently allowed to access the disputed land for grazing. They are wary that this permission may be removed at will, but hopeful that the upcoming hearing will turn that permission into a right, with ownership of the land finally returning to them.


In Tanzania

The most recent Tanzanian litigation commenced in 2013 by Soitsambu, Mondorosi, and Sukenya villages against Tanzania Breweries Ltd., Tanzania Conservation Ltd., the District Council, and the Commissioner for Lands. The villages are challenging the transfer of Sukenya Farm by TBL to TCL/Thomson Safaris, land that had been abandoned for over 17 years and continually used during that time by villagers for grazing, watering, and cultural rituals. The plaintiffs contend that ownership of the land reverted back to the villagers by adverse possession, that TBL had no right to transfer its certificate of occupancy, and that TCL/Thomson Safaris is therefore an illegal occupant. The villagers are seeking the revocation of TCL/Thomson Safaris’ certificate of occupancy and a claim for damages for the illegal occupation.

In Massachusetts

In February 2014, the Soitsambu, Mondorosi, and Sukenya village chairmen, assisted by EarthRights International, petitioned a federal court in Massachusetts for documents and testimony to support their fight in Tanzanian courts to recover lost land and damages for violent abuses and property destruction. The federal court granted the villagers’ application in April, ordering TCL/Thomson Safaris and the companies’ owners, Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland, to turn over documents and give sworn testimony about the sale of Sukenya Farm, the alleged home burnings and beatings, and the conversion of the land from Maasai grazing territory to a private reserve.


Cultural Survival helps Indigenous Peoples around the world defend their lands, languages, and cultures as they deal with issues like the one you’ve just read about.


Entering Conservation Partnerships with Caution

In October 2014, Survival International (SI) reported that “Baka men and women in Cameroon are regularly victims of violence and intimidation by wildlife officers and the soldiers that accompany them…rather than target the powerful individuals behind organized poaching, [these] wildlife officers and soldiers pursue Baka who hunt only to feed their families.” SI also alleges that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) “provides essential support and funding for these anti-poaching squads…despite the evidence that the anti-poaching squads have grossly abused the rights of the Baka.”

Companies frequently gravitate to the WWF and other large conservation NGOs for their environmental partnerships. Although these groups have attempted to improve their reputation with Indigenous Peoples in recent years, tensions persist from decades of “conservation” approaches that separated Indigenous Peoples from their traditional lands and livelihoods. The surfacing of stories like this indicates these approaches might not be fully extinguished; companies should enter partnerships with these groups with caution to ensure Indigenous Peoples’ rights are not violated.

Sources: Survival International

This post is excerpted from First Peoples Worldwide’s Corporate Monitor, a monthly report on key trends affecting companies interacting with Indigenous Peoples. To sign up for monthly e-mail updates, click here.


Canada: Tsilhqot’in Declare Tribal Park surrounding Sacred Fish Lake

Reposted from Cultural Survival

Photo credit: Cultural Survival

Photo credit: Cultural Survival

On October 12th, Tsilhqot’in People gathered at Fish Lake in British Colombia to inaugurate a totem pole at a new conservation area covering 800,000 acres to be managed by the Tsilhqot’in First Nation of Canada. The park, whose official name is Dasiqox Tribal Park, is known as ‘Nexwagwez?an’ , meaning “it is there for us” in the Tsilhoqot’in language.

The park was created as a response to the threats of misuse to the area by Canadian mining company Taskeo, who have insisted on establishing a gold mine on the sacred spiritual and cultural site for the past decade, despite repeated rejection by the native communities who have been using this land as a ceremonial and cultural site for centuries.

The new park is just outside the Tsilhqot’in-Nemiah Aboriginal Title area recently recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada, but is still considered within the claimed aboriginal title and rights area.   It represents an intriguing and innovative response to the colonial occupation of territory by Canadian government. The founders of Dasiqox Tribal Park explain,

“A Tribal Park is an assertion of physical space on the basis of Indigenous Law, established throughout Canada as a reaction to the Crown’s assumed authority. They often arise as a result of industrial economic activities that are incompatible with the original people’s values. Tribal Parks are also an exercise of Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution and are developed and managed by Indigenous peoples to integrate traditional ways of life, rights and responsibilities, with ecologically sound commercial activities. Internationally, Tribal Parks are recognized as Indigenous peoples’ and community conserved territories and areas, or ICCAs.

The Tsilhqot’in communities, Yunesit’in and Xeni Gwet’in, chose to organize the creation of Dasiqox Tribal Park as a means to design an alternative plan, based on years of political and legal struggles, years of research on the importance of our unique ecosystem, and the constant threat of industrial logging and mining activities. These struggles were highlighted by the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision on June 26, 2014 that unanimously awarded Title to the Tsilhqot’in Nation. In addition, the Tsilhqot’in Nation has successfully protected Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) through two Canadian Environmental Assessments, with the latest rejection of a mine issued on February 26, 2014. It is the view of the Tsilhqot’in Nation that the high cost of conflict requires a proactive approach that respects Indigenous authority to this cultural and environmentally sensitive area.”

The park will form part of a larger network of provincially protected areas, made up of 5 adjacent parks, that is as large and significant for wildlife as the Yellowstone National Park in the US.  The land will be managed in a way that is consistent with Tsilhqot’in values. This will  include care for threatened wildlife populations including wolves, grizzly bears, deer, moose and salmon, as well as the stewardship of fresh water and forest resources.  As well, it will highlight the protection and promotion of Tsilhqot’in archeological sites and spiritual sites, of which there are many surrounding Fish Lake.  They are also open to using the land for economic development projects that would benefit Tsilhqot’in people while in keeping with the protection of the environment.

Meanwhile, Taseko Mines have recently applied to bring a civil suit against the federal review panel for rejecting their project application for the mine, essentially suing the federal government of Canada for damages to cover the cost of their failed designs. A company spokesperson said this does not mean they are giving up plans to see New Prosperity Mine developed. “Not by any stretch are we giving up on this,” said Brian Battison, Taseko’s vice-president of corporate affairs. Taseko initially sought permits for a mine project that would have drained Fish Lake to create a “tailings pond” or toxic waste water dump site, in its place. The Tsilhqot’in successfully organized to prevent those plans, and the company created an alternative design, but that was determined to be equally harmful to the surrounding environment. The company, whose stock has been plummeting, estimated that it has spent $140 million trying to develop the $1.5 billion New Prosperity mine, and calculated the loss of potential revenue to be $2 billion.

Reaction by the public commentary to Tasesko’s suit has been critical:  “Every penny that Taseko has spent on their efforts has been at their risk. To suggest that the costs of rolling the dice on what numerous environmental assessments have found to be a bad project, there should be no expectation of those risks being “eaten” by the taxpayer. Those costs are between Taseko and their shareholders,” noted one comment.

Read more about the new Tribal Park, here:


Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia Scapegoats for Forest Fires

In June, 2013,  burning Sumatran forests produced a haze that darkened Southeast Asian skies for hundreds of miles. The haze billowed and drifted from its origin point in Riau Province, Indonesia, and made air unbreathable in cities and towns of several countries, including Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, and Thailand. The province itself was severely affected as fires raged in the Riau peatlands, smoldering from a depth of four meters below surface level in some areas. According to the Center for International Forestry Research, much of the damaged area was natural forest cover. Palm and acacia plantations in the region often employ burning techniques to clear land of old growth, but the fires frequently get out of control. This is believed to have been the case this year in Riau.

The fire was suspected to have been started June 9th on land intended for palm oil production in the Bengkalis Regency. Though the origins of the fire are unknown, allegations of illegal slash-and-burn clearing have surfaced against both local farmers and multinational corporations operating in the province.

The affected areas are home to Indonesia’s Indigenous Melayu peoples, descendants of the great Melayu kingdoms that once covered large areas of Kalimantan (Borneo), Sumatra, and the entire Malay peninsula.  Contract laborers from other regions in Indonesia (including other Melayu ethnic sub-groups from North Sumatra and eastern Kalimantan) also maintain residence in affected areas as workers for the industries involved in resource extraction.

These local residents were and continue to be disproportionately affected by the fires, yet most national and international media coverage has focused on the effects of the haze in the wealthy city-state of Singapore, located less than 150 miles (240 kilometers) from Riau across the Strait of Malacca. A major concern for local residents and activist organizations has been smoke inhalation; some families are too impoverished to purchase face masks. Homes and villages have also burned. Transporting water to the fire sites to fight the flames has also been a challenge in the most rural areas of Riau, though local firefighters have been praised for their efforts.

In late June, Indonesian police began arresting local farmers they believed to be responsible for the blazes. At least eight local farmers were arrested by June 25, and ten more were in custody as of June 28. A police spokesman stated that the farmers were not connected to any of the dozens of concession holders (inter- or multinational corporations) working in the region. On June 30, the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) and the Indonesian Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (the Alliance of Agrarian Reform Movement, AGRA) released a statement claiming that the farmers were “sacrificial lambs” arrested by the provincial police in order to protect the palm oil companies. According to the official APC-AGRA statement, the immediate and unconditional release of the eighteen farmers as well as “genuine agrarian reform” for the nation are necessary next steps. The organizations represent Indigenous peoples and agricultural workers in various Asian countries and support agrarian reforms which grant land ownership to the tillers, among other initiatives.

According to the Bengkalis Regency disaster management agency, annual fires cause industries to abandon their devastated crops on a regular basis. New, naive companies then come into Riau and purchase the plantation lands at a greatly reduced price, unaware of the potential for ravaging fires basically guaranteed in the following dry season. Logic would suggest that economically disadvantaged local farmers, Indigenous and migrant, might be desperate enough for cash to set clearing fires at the request of a corporation offering a comparatively large sum to do the job; an average salary for Sumatran farmers ranges between US$10-20 monthly. The farmers would bear the burden of blame if the fires did not burn as planned, regardless of who hired them and was, therefore, the responsible party. The APC and AGRA have explained that clearing by burning costs approximately US$200-300 per hectare (ha), whereas other methods not requiring burning can be as expensive as US$1,500/ha. So far, 16,500 ha have burned in Riau this year.

Indigenous peoples around the world have relied on slash-and-burn farming techniques for subsistence farming for thousands of years. When done with careful rotation and sufficient time for land recovery, the practice is relatively sustainable. However, Indigenous populations without land titles to ensure access and facilitate rotation plans often use slash-and-burn techniques on new lands more frequently. This is particularly true if they are trying to survive intrusion from outside forces, such as colonization or the modern condition of extractive industry intrusion. In the case of Indonesia, the federal transmigration program has also put pressure on Indigenous farmers in Sumatra. Over-crowding in other regions within the country prompted tens of thousands of migrants to move to remote areas of the country in order to create infrastructure and make use of fertile land.

Fifty years of intense transmigration has contributed to Sumatran deforestation and put the livelihoods of Indigenous inhabitants, including the ethnic Melayu and Sumatran forest dwellers, at risk. The large swaths of land previously occupied by Indigenous populations have been parceled off and titled to migrants. The federal transmigration program and concessions to corporations have left few options for traditional farmers. In Riau, if allegations against a corporation are ultimately unverifiable, a small-scale farmer could be implicated as reponsible for the destruction and the haze. However, the systemic issues at play in the region demonstrate that the guilt could not possibly rest with an individual farmer or a small group of individuals.

Regardless of whether a local farmer, corporate-sponsored slash-and-burn negligence, or a single careless smoker started the fires, the Indonesian government has leveled allegations against at least one of the many large firms operating in Riau. The suspect is PT ADEI Plantation and Industry, a subsidiary of Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhard (KLK), and the charge is illegal burning practices within their 14,000+ha concession area. The firm will be brought to suit on charges of environmental damage. According to the Jakarta Post, other companies in the area were implicated in the fires, but proof of illegal activities has only been found in PT ADEI concession areas. The charges were announced officially on July 11, sixteen days after KLK released a statement affirming their compliance with the ASEAN zero burning policies.

Indonesian environmentalists have put blame on the government for failing to respond quickly enough and for not building the capacity of local law enforcement to stop farmers from taking part in slash-and-burn activities, both on the small scale and in the cases they are hired by large corporations to burn within concessions. Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) has issued apologies to Singapore and Malaysia for the haze and lawmakers have visited Riau to explore fire prevention strategies with local officials.

Neither the Indonesian government nor any representative of PT ADEI/KLK have issued any apology to the local populations affected by the fires or the haze. No word has yet surfaced about the fate of the 18 farmers arrested last month. If Indigenous Melayu farmers had been practicing the slash-and-burn techniques commonly seen in small-scale farming around the globe, they could indeed be unjustly sacrificed to protect the interests of corporations also implicated in or responsible for the disaster. Multiple questions are raised through an examination of this case: How can small-scale Indigenous farmers in modern Sumatra be supported in transitioning to more sustainable farming practices? How can the negative impacts of the federal transmigration program be reduced? How can extractive corporations operating in Indonesia be held responsible for their transgressions against the land and regional Indigenous populations? We hope that the lawsuit against PT ADEI / KLK facilitates greater action towards protecting tropical forests and Indigenous peoples in Riau and across the whole of the Indonesian archipelago.

(Photo: “Indonesian fires cause record smog”, courtesy of Ulet Ifansasti/Getty and Financial Times.)


New Book Highlights Impacts of Industrial Agriculture on Indigenous Peoples

Fred Pearce’s new book, The Landgrabbers: The New Fight Over Who Owns the Earth highlights how the Brazilian Cerrado—and the Indigenous Peoples who call it home—have been impacted by agricultural commercialization in the country.

The Cerrado, or grasslands, of Brazil cover nearly one-quarter of the country and they’re home to one-third of all Brazilian biodiversity, including nearly 10,000 plant species.

The land was mostly untouched until the 1980s because the soil was too acidic to grow crops. But the Brazilian government began neutralizing the acid with lime, and industrial-scale farms now cover the region.

According to Pearce, “this land {the Cerrado} is turning into one of the most unremitting commercialized monocultures on earth. It is the first place in the tropics to successfully recreate on a large scale the high-tech, high-input, high-investment farming system pioneered in the American prairies.”

Unfortunately, this commercialization has had serious impacts on biodiversity—more than 60 percent of the Cerrado is now under cultivation and scientists from the UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimate that at least 12 species are under threat of extinction in the Cerrado, and 20 more are endangered.

In addition, the Cerrado’s Indigenous Peoples have also been affected. The Tupi, Cariris, Botocudos, and Xavante peoples have all been pushed off their land—as a result, they can no longer access their traditional hunting grounds and are cut off from nutrition and livelihoods.

Source: Jaguar Conservation Fund

What can be done to prevent the impacts of industrial agriculture on Indigenous Peoples?


UN Indigenous Fellowship Program Empowers Communities through Knowledge

By Carol Dreibelbis

Launched in 1997 by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Indigenous Fellowship Program (IFP) takes a unique approach to empowering Indigenous communities. The IFP offers training on the UN human rights system to representatives of Indigenous communities. Through this training, representatives gain the skills they need to help their communities protect and promote the rights of their people.

The IFP consists of four to five weeks of training in Geneva each year. The training includes briefing sessions, discussions, and individual and group assignments on general human rights mechanisms as well as UN mechanisms that deal specifically with Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Upon completion of the training, each participant returns to his or her community and provides human rights training to others.

The IFP is held in four different languages—English, French, Spanish, and Russian—in order to meet the needs of as many communities as possible. More than 100 men and women from Indigenous communities in 46 countries participated in the IFP in its first decade.

Patricia Wattimena, a member of the Haruku Indigenous Peoples of eastern Indonesia, participated in the IFP in 2012. She represented the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance in the Archipelago, a community-based umbrella organization that brings together 1,993 Indigenous groups in Indonesia.

As part of the fellowship, Wattimena explored how to strengthen the Haruku people’s community-based system of natural resource regulation, called Sasi. Sasi is an example of successful Indigenous decision-making that protects their resource-rich land from commercial exploitation. The community is already taking steps to secure their land through participatory mapping, which combines modern cartography with traditional knowledge to create maps that reflect local knowledge systems. “The participatory mapping process is very important to Indigenous Peoples because it is one of their strengths to fight for their rights to land and territories, especially when dealing with legal processes,” Wattimena said.

The OHCHR eventually hopes to launch regional training components to extend their reach to more Indigenous communities.

For more information on the IFP, visit the website or email IFP applicants must be Indigenous, have a working knowledge of one of the four program languages, and be willing to train others in his or her community after returning from the program.

Patricia Wattimena, a member of eastern Indonesia’s indigenous Haruku community, participated in the 2012 Indigenous Fellowship Program. (Photo credit: OHCHR)


Do you know of other programs that are working to empower Indigenous communities around the world? Please let us know in the comments section below.


Rebecca Adamson to Speak at Annual Bioneers Conference

Rebecca Adamson will speak at the 23rd Annual Bioneers Conference, October 19-21, 2012 in San Rafael, California. The conference draws more than 3,000 attendees each year, and gathers “scientific and social innovators who have demonstrated visionary and practical models for restoring the Earth and communities.”


‘Bioneers’ are people, of all diversities, working collectively in crafting solutions to the world’s environmental and bio-cultural challenges. Speakers and presenters at past conferences have included Jane Goodall, Michael Pollan, Philippe Cousteau, Gloria Steinem, and others.


Rebecca will participate in a 90-minute session about feminomics, or feminine economics, on Sunday, October 21st. The session is titled, “How Women’s Leadership and Whole-Systems Approaches Are Reinventing Economics That Work for All.”


She will also speak at a day-long intensive workshop about feminomics taking place after the conference, on Monday, October 22nd. This session will explore “how women, a gender lens, and valuing the well-being of people and planet can converge to inform new visions for finance, business, economics, and culture.” The intensive workshop, separate from the annual conference, is organized by Bioneers and co-sponsored by Women Donors Network, Social Venture Network, and RSF Social Finance.


“The Bioneers conference represents an opportunity for hope, inspiration, and solutions amid a sometimes gloomy landscape,” said Rebecca Adamson. “Indigenous Peoples can play a huge role in driving these solutions, and I am proud to provide a representative voice for Indigenous Peoples at this year’s conference.”


This year’s conference speakers include:

  • Monika Bauerlein, Co-Editor-in-Chief of Mother Jones Magazine
  • Bill McKibben, Founder of
  • Gary Paul Nabhan, internationally celebrated nature writer and agricultural activist
  • Ai-Jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance
  • Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network
  • John Seager, President and CEO of Population Connection


Registration is open for one-, two-, and three-day passes to the conference, as well as tickets to workshop intensives. Partial scholarships and group passes are also available. Visit FPW’s blog to receive a 20% discount off ticket prices.

Picture caption: The San Rafael-based conference draws activists, thought-leaders, and entrepreneurs from across the globe (photo credit:

Jan19 Kenya – Minority Group Decries Forceful Eviction

  1. Evans Wafula and Portus Chege AfricaNews reporters in Nairobi, Kenya Nairobi, Kenya
    A community is accusing the African world life Foundation, The Nature conservancy, Kenya Wildlife Service and others for continuously trampling on their rights and scheming to illegally evict the Samburu people from their land(kisargei/Elan downs in Laikipia East District.

    The Community has appealed on the Centre for International Human Rights Law and Advocacy CIHRA to pursue any legal means necessary to hold those accountable for the current unlawful actions against this poor and marginalized Samburu community.

    Through a letter written and copied to the Attorney General Githu Muigai, Forestry and Wildlife minister Noah Wekesa and the Kituo Cha Sheria, the bone of contention is the decision by the wildlife body with the assistance of AWF and NTC to purchase 17,000 acres of land in Laikipia to convert into a national park.

    Last week the community held peaceful demonstrations to protests continuous harassment by police, who so far have killed two persons, destroyed their Manyattas and displaced them resulting to one child who got disorientated from a makeshift manyatta and eaten by a lion

    “The police have been harassing us, we don’t sleep, they are even raping women, slaughtering our goats by force and beating as like children,” said Ms Nalotuang Tepeshe

    They accused KWS of purchasing 17,000 acres of land from former President Moi which it intends to turn into a nature conservancy called Laikipia National Park.

    The community through their spokesman Mr Joseph Lekamario said KWS purchase of the land was illegal because the Samburu have acquired rights to this land under the Kenyan Constitution and international law by residing on the land continuously for over 90 years.

    Mr Lekamario argued that, the said land, is currently the subject of a lawsuit before Justice Joseph Sergon at the High Court in Nyeri reference number L.R. No. 10068.Since KWS and the police entered the land over 50 elephants have been killed and no action is being taken by the relevant authorities.

    The suit was filed by the Samburu against the African Wildlife Foundation and the former President Moi to prevent illegal forcible evictions from their land.

    According to the community KWS purchase of the land as well as actions taken before the purchase is indirect violation of the court ordered injunction. To formalise continuous police presence in the suit land, last year the provincial administration rushed to gazette the suit land as a police post.

    “KWS represents to the world that it is purchasing the land in the name of conservation, but neglects to disclose that in the process it will illegally remove whole communities of women, children, and elderly Samburu from the land leaving them homeless and without any place to go,” said Mr Lekamario.

    Last year CIHRA wrote a letter AG, Forestry and wildlife ministry and accused KWS for failing to disclose its true purpose which is to make millions of dollars in revenue from tourist visits to the conservancy.

    “The Centre, the Samburu Community, and the international community are well aware of the true intentions and consequences of KWS’ recent purchase of the land and we will do everything within our means to continue to protect the Samburu people,” Read the letter in part.

    The Human rights body through Mr Travis LaSalle said in the letter the Centre is carefully documenting all actions taken by KWS and will pursue any legal means necessary in alliance to hold KWS accountable for its current unlawful actions. The actions include filing to hold KWS in contempt of court.

    “Since May of 2009, various groups have been trying to forcibly and illegally evict the Samburu people from this land you just purchased,” the letter says in part. It is signed by Lasalle of the Centre

    The Centre has also vowed to report these actions to a variety of international human rights groups and governmental organizations.