Posts Tagged ‘indigenous peoples’


Fast Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership: What It Means for Indigenous Peoples

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is a massive, controversial free trade agreement currently under negotiation behind closed doors by officials from the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

The TPP would elevate multinational corporations and private investors to equal status with sovereign nations, and therefore above individual citizens, empowering these entities to sue nations via private tribunals. The TPP has been marked by an alarming lack of transparency and public input. The public has not been allowed to see the draft text, and the majority of information that is available is the result of leaks. Even members of Congress have been provided only limited access to the proposed agreement. US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has called for increased transparency in trade negotiations for the TPP, warning that “without trans- parency, the benefit from robust democratic participation— an open marketplace of ideas—is considerably reduced.” Meanwhile, more than 600 official corporate “trade advisors” have been given special access to the draft text.

Thetrans-pacific partnership: 
What Does It Mean For Indigenous Peoples?

In the same vein as deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, the TPP is being drafted with no input from the Indigenous Peoples who live in countries that will be affected by the deal. The TPP could have broad implications for Indigenous Peoples living in the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The secrecy of the TPP entirely disregards the concept
of Free, Prior and Informed Consent, a tenet of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which states that policies affecting Indigenous Peoples should not move forward without the full understanding and approval of those it might affect.

Corporate Rights Over Human Rights

The TPP threatens to dramatically affect Indigenous Peoples by ramping up trade policies that have allowed for transna- tional corporations to engage in oil, gas, and mineral extrac- tion without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of their communities. TPP policies would encourage the natural gas industry, which has already severely impacted Native and First Nations communities in North America. According to the Sierra Club, “The TPP would facilitate increased exports of liquefied natural gas by requiring the US Department of Energy to automatically approve all natural gas exports to TPP countries. Increased exports would mean an increase
in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the dirty and violent pro- cess that dislodges gas deposits from shale rock formations.’’ Natural gas companies have already begun encroaching on otherwise off-limits Native lands. Native women are particularly victimized, as fracking operations have been correlated with increased sex trafficking, rape, missing women, and influxes of drugs and alcohol into communities, in addi- tion to environmental contamination of local water and air quality. The TPP would also allow companies to evade finan- cial responsibility for environmental contamination, even when it occurs on Indigenous Peoples’ lands. Under the pro- posed agreement, investors could demand taxpayer compen- sation for imposed fines, effectively burdening the public
with the cost of environmental cleanup. According to Profes- sor Jane Kelsey of New Zealand, the TPP draft chapter on environmental regulations fails to define its key terms, leaving vagueness that will allow for inconsistent interpretation and implementation of regulations. Nowhere in the chapter does it detail a mechanism for setting penalties for environmental offenders. It also excludes resource management practices and ignores standards set by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Trademarking Mother Nature

The TPP’s draft article on Trade and Biodiversity recognizes the rights of states over natural resources and genetic material. This would allow for multinational corporations like Mon- santo and industries like Big Pharma to benefit enormously by allowing them exclusive rights over seeds and traditional plant-based medicines found in biodiverse areas managed by Indigenous communities. The draft flagrantly ignores Article 31 of the Declaration, which states that “Indigenous Peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop…
the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora.”

The patenting of plants that have been used traditionally by Indigenous Peoples without their consent or benefit sharing has been called bio-piracy, and would conceivably snowball upon the approval of the TPP. Indigenous activist Te Kaituhi, a Māori of Aotearoa New Zealand, exhorts us to “imagine a world where Indigenous knowledge, language, and customs are outright owned by multinational corporations and copy- right enforcement is heavily backed by government police forces.” Kaituhi argues that “the TPP won’t only affect Indigenous freehold land, nor will it just push our people further into poverty. The TPP will give multinationals the right to exploit the ecosystem and further aid them in the acquiring of enforced trademarking and copyrighting of Indigenous intellectual property and cultural or traditional knowledge;” in other words, a new form of colonization.

Suing For Lost Profits

One of the most troubling aspects of the TPP is found in the draft chapter on investment deals with investor-state dispute settlement, which gives corporations the right to sue a government for unlimited cash compensation in private and non-transparent tribunals over nearly any law or policy that a corporation alleges will reduce its profits. Kelsey notes that “the vast majority of investment arbitrations under similar agreements involve natural resources, especially mining, and have resulted in billions of dollars of damages against governments for measures designed to protect the environment from harm caused by foreign corporations.”

Under the proposed TPP, the investor-state clause can
be used to pressure governments into allowing the continued operation of severely polluting industries out of fear of being sued for lost profits. Governments around the world are already reluctant to regulate industries like mining and oil, which can bring large revenues. With the potential for States to be held financially responsible for reigning in harmful business practices, corporate profits will gain an even stronger precedence over disenfranchised Indigenous Peoples living with destructive industries in their backyards.

Fast Track

Fast track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, is a process that rushes trade deals through Congress and removes the ability of elected officials to ensure that trade pacts protect workers, communities, and the environment. Fast track would allow the president to send already signed trade pacts, including the TPP, to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote with no amendments and a maximum of 20 hours of debate. Despite mounting opposition, the Obama administration
is supporting the fast tracking of the TPP.

Cultural Survival has signed on along with over 550 organizations in a letter to former US Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), firmly rejecting fast track trade promotion authority in the United States and calling for a new system for negotiating and implementing trade agreements. In the letter, this diverse coalition stated that fast tracking is an out- dated mechanism that would limit Congressional and public oversight over trade negotiations. Communities, workers, and especially Indigenous Peoples must have a say in these deals. Fast track is the clear opposite of the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent, the human rights standard in negotiating deals that affect Indigenous Peoples as the TPP will in a dozen countries.



Supporting Knowledge Exchange and Partnerships

The Karlka Nyiyaparli Aboriginal Corporation, owned by the Nyiyaparli from Western Australia, is working with the NANA Regional Corporation, owned by the Inupiat from Alaska, to explore business ventures in resource development in the US. If they are successful, the partnership could become the first international joint venture in resource development that is wholly owned and operated by Indigenous Peoples. It could also become the first major international project for an Australian Aboriginal company. The two groups have already worked together to secure a $25 million housing contract, and plan to attend the National Minority Supplier Development Council’s conference in November.

Knowledge exchange and partnerships between Indigenous Peoples from different regions of the world is often an effective method of building capacity and support networks. Funding communities to visit and learn from each other’s experiences with resource development can enhance their ability to engage with companies on fair and equitable terms.

Sources: Mining Australia

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 faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples” says UN Special Rapporteur

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya

Statement upon conclusion of the visit to Canada

15 October 2013

I am now concluding my visit to Canada in my capacity as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. Over the last nine days I have met with federal and provincial government authorities, and with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis leaders, organizations and individuals in several parts of the country. In addition to being in Ottawa, my meetings have taken me to various places, including indigenous territories, in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Québec.

I am grateful to the Government of Canada for its cooperation and for the information it has provided, and for allowing me to carry out my visit freely and in an independent manner. I would also like to express my deep gratitude to representatives of indigenous peoples who invited me to visit their territories and communities across Canada, and to those indigenous organizations and individuals who assisted me in organizing parts of my agenda. Finally, I especially want to thank the indigenous peoples with whom I met for sharing with me their stories, concerns and aspirations. I am honored to have been welcomed into their communities and territories, and am truly humbled by their hospitality and warmth.

Over the past several days, I have collected a significant amount of information from indigenous peoples and Government representatives across the country. In the following weeks, I will be reviewing the extensive information I have received during the visit in order to develop a report to evaluate the situation of indigenous peoples in Canada and to make a series of recommendations. This report will be made public, and will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council. I hope that that this report will be of use to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people, as well as to the Government of Canada, to help find solutions to ongoing challenges that indigenous, or aboriginal, peoples in the country face. In advance of this report, I would like to now provide some preliminary observations and recommendations on the basis of what I have observed during my visit. These do not reflect the full range of issues that were brought to my attention, nor do they reflect all of the initiatives on the part of federal and provincial governments related to indigenous issues.

Canada, with its diverse and multicultural society, has been a leader on the world stage in the promotion of human rights since the creation of the United Nations in 1945. And it was one of the first countries in the modern era to extend constitutional protection to indigenous peoples’ rights. This constitutional protection has provided a strong foundation for advancing indigenous peoples’ rights over the last 30 years, especially through the courts. Federal and provincial governments have made notable efforts to address treaty and aboriginal claims, and to improve the social and economic well being of indigenous peoples. Canada has also addressed some of the concerns that were raised by my predecessor following his visit in 2003. These include actions to remedy gender disparities in the Indian Act and to providing access to the Canadian Human Rights Commission for claims based on the Indian Act. Additionally, Canada has adopted the goal of reconciliation, to repair the legacy of past injustices, and has taken steps toward that goal.

But despite positive steps, daunting challenges remain. From all I have learned, I can only conclude that Canada faces a crisis when it comes to the situation of indigenous peoples of the country. The well-being gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada has not narrowed over the last several years, treaty and aboriginals claims remain persistently unresolved, and overall there appear to be high levels of distrust among aboriginal peoples toward government at both the federal and provincial levels.

Canada consistently ranks near the top among countries with respect to human development standards, and yet amidst this wealth and prosperity, aboriginal people live in conditions akin to those in countries that rank much lower and in which poverty abounds. At least one in five aboriginal Canadians live in homes in need of serious repair, which are often also overcrowded and contaminated with mould. The suicide rate among Inuit and First Nations youth on reserve, at more than five times greater than other Canadians, is alarming. One community I visited has suffered a suicide every six weeks since the start of this year. Aboriginal women are eight times more likely to be murdered than non-indigenous women and indigenous peoples face disproportionately high incarceration rates. For over a decade, the Auditor General has repeatedly highlighted significant funding disparities between on-reserve services and those available to other Canadians. The Canadian Human Rights Commission has consistently said that the conditions of aboriginal peoples make for the most serious human rights problem in Canada.

It is clear to me that Canada is aware of and concerned about these issues, and that it is taking steps to address them. I have learned about numerous programs, policies and efforts that have been rolled out at the federal and provincial levels, and many of these have achieved notable successes. However, it is equally clear that these steps are insufficient, and have yet to fully respond to aboriginal peoples’ urgent needs, fully protect their aboriginal and treaty rights, or to secure relationships based on mutual trust and common purpose. Aboriginal peoples’ concerns and well-being merit higher priority at all levels and within all branches of Government, and across all departments. Concerted measures, based on mutual understanding and real partnership with aboriginal peoples, through their own representative institutions, are vital to the long-term resolution of these issues.

Importantly, Canada has taken action toward the goal of reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians with the 2008 government apology for the residential schools and the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been documenting the horrifying stories of abuse and cultural dislocation of indigenous students who were forced from their homes into schools whose explicit purpose was to destroy their family and community bonds, their language, their culture, and their dignity, and from which thousands never returned. Generations of aboriginal children grew up in residential schools estranged from their cultures and languages, with devastating effects on maintaining indigenous identity. It is clear that the residential school period continues to cast a long shadow of despair on indigenous communities, and that many of the dire social and economic problems faced by aboriginal peoples are directly linked to that experience. I urge the Government to ensure that the mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission be extended for as long as may be necessary for it to complete its work, and to consider establishing means of reconciliation and redress for survivors of all types of residential schools. In addition, I would like to emphasize that the mark on Canada’s history left by the residential schools is a matter of concern to all of Canada, not just aboriginal peoples, and that lasting healing can only truly occur through building better relationships and understanding between aboriginal peoples and the broader society.

Another aspect of the long shadow of residential schools, combined with other historical acts of oppression, is the disturbing phenomenon of aboriginal women missing and murdered at the hands of both aboriginal and non-aboriginal assailants, whose cases have a much higher tendency to remain unresolved than those involving non-aboriginal victims. Certainly, both federal and provincial governments have taken steps targeted at addressing various aspects of this issue. Yet over the past several days, in all of the places I have visited, I have heard from aboriginal peoples a widespread lack of confidence in the effectiveness of those measures. I have heard a consistent call for a national level inquiry into the extent of the problem and appropriate solutions moving forward with the participation of victims’ families and others deeply affected. I concur that a comprehensive and nation-wide inquiry into the issue could help ensure a coordinated response and the opportunity for the loved ones of victims to be heard, and would demonstrate a responsiveness to the concerns raised by the families and communities affected by this epidemic.

These and further steps are required to realize the promise of healing and a new relationship that was made in the 2008 apology. Among all the government and aboriginal people with whom I have met, there is agreement that improving educational outcomes for aboriginal people is a key to addressing many of the other problems facing them. I commend the governments at both levels for placing a high priority on education. However, I have heard remarkably consistent and profound distrust toward the First Nations Education Act being developed by the federal government, and in particular deep concerns that the process for developing the Act has not appropriately included nor responded to aboriginal views. In light of this, I urge the Government not to rush forward with this legislation, but to re-initiate discussions with aboriginal leaders to develop a process, and ultimately a bill, that addresses aboriginal concerns and incorporates aboriginal viewpoints on this fundamental issue. An equally important measure for improving educational outcomes, and one that could be implemented relatively quickly, is to ensure that funding delivered to aboriginal authorities for education per student is at least equivalent to that available in the provincial educational systems.

As was stressed to me throughout my visit, it will be difficult to improve educational outcomes without addressing the substandard housing conditions in which many aboriginal people live. Young people described to me the difficulty they have studying in small homes overcrowded by generations of family members. Other social problems have also been linked to these overcrowded conditions, including high rates of tuberculosis and other health problems, family violence, unemployment, and unwanted displacement to urban centres. Overcrowding of homes leads to increased wear and tear and the premature deterioration of existing housing stock, resulting in dilapidated and often unsafe housing conditions.

It is abundantly clear that funding for aboriginal housing is woefully inadequate. The housing problem has a significant economic and social impact; the Chief of one community I visited indicated that if adequate housing were available, the vast majority of his community’s members with university degrees—nurses, teachers, engineers—would choose to return home. A woman from the same community who more typically had not had the opportunity to attend university, told me that as she became an adult she had no chance of having a house of her own, but rather was forced to remain in her parents home for years to come, with few prospects for developing a life on her own. “It is as if I’m not a person”, she said. I urge the Government to treat the housing situation on First Nations reserves and Inuit communities with the urgency it deserves. It simply cannot be acceptable that these conditions persist in the midst of a country with such great wealth.

By all accounts, increased investment in building self-governing capacity is essential to creating socially and economically healthy and self-sufficient aboriginal communities. One hundred and thirty years of Indian Act policies persistently undermined—and in some cases continue to undermine—many First Nations’ and Inuit peoples’ historic self-governance capacity. Enhancing economic development opportunities is also crucial to restoring and building healthy and vibrant aboriginal nations and communities. I acknowledge the many initiatives by Canada to strengthen aboriginal governance and catalyze economic development. And I applaud the many successes a number of aboriginal communities have had in building governance capacity and pursuing economic development opportunities.

But at the same time I note the frustration expressed to me uniformly by aboriginal leaders that their self-governance capacity and economic development, and improved conditions more generally, remain impeded by the multiple legacies of the history of colonization, treaty infringements, assault on their cultures, and land dispossession suffered by their peoples. To address these legacies Canada has developed specific and comprehensive claims processes that in many respects are models for the world to emulate. There are noteworthy success stories arising out of these procedures. But in their implementation overall, the claims processes have been extremely slow and mired in challenges—challenges that appear in most cases to stem from the adversarial structure of negotiations, in which entrenched opposing positions often develop on key issues and agreement simply cannot be reached. To make this worse, resource development often proceeds at a rapid pace within lands that are the subject of protracted negotiations between aboriginal peoples and the Government, undermining the very purpose of the negotiations.

The Government has rightly acknowledged problems with the claims processes. In 2008, it took action to reform the claims processes, including by imposing a time limit for settlement of specific claims. I commend the Government’s recent efforts to establish high-level oversight committees on treaty and comprehensive claims, which I hope will help to address in a timely fashion many of the concerns shared by both Government and indigenous peoples related to these processes. In this context, in re-thinking the available claims processes, I encourage the Government to take a less adversarial, position-based approach in which it typically seeks the most restrictive interpretation of aboriginal and treaty rights possible. In this regard, the Government should instead acknowledge that the public interest is not opposed to, but rather includes, aboriginal concerns. The goal of reconciliation that has been cited by the Government and indigenous peoples alike requires a more generous and flexible approach that seeks to identify and create common ground. Further, as a general rule, resource extraction should not occur on lands subject to aboriginal claims without adequate consultations with and the free, prior and informed consent of the aboriginal peoples concerned.

More generally, greater efforts are needed to improve avenues of communication between Canada and aboriginal peoples to build consensus on the path forward. In all my meetings with aboriginal leaders and community members it was evident that there is a significant level of discontent with the state of relations with federal and provincial authorities, as well as a widely held perception that legislative and other decisions over multiple matters of concern to them are being taken without adequate consultation or consideration of their inherent and treaty rights. I urge the federal Government especially to work with aboriginal peoples, through their representative institutions and authorities, to overcome this condition of mistrust. As with the Education Act initiative mentioned earlier, unless legislative and other government actions that directly affect indigenous peoples’ rights and interests are made with their meaningful participation, those actions will lack legitimacy and are likely to be ineffective.

In order for the Government to move forward to address the concerns of indigenous peoples in partnership with them, it is necessary to arrive at a common understanding of objectives and goals that are based on full respect for indigenous peoples’ constitutional, treaty, and internationally-recognized rights. Indigenous leaders from First Nations with historical treaties repeatedly expressed to me their yearning for the friendship, respect and sharing of resources that they understand the treaties to embody, and aboriginal leaders look to future arrangements based on similar premises. Such aspirations provide a much stronger grounding for a Canada respectful of human rights than a premise of indigenous subjugation and extinguishment of rights.

In addition to historical treaties and constitutional principles, the international standards endorsed by Canada and aboriginal peoples, in particular the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, should inform the definition of common objectives and goals. Canada’s 2010 endorsement of the Declaration marked an important step on the path towards reconciliation with indigenous peoples, and Canada should be commended for joining most all of the rest of the countries of the world in support of this instrument. I was pleased to hear, throughout my visit, references by First Nations, Inuit and Métis people to the Declaration, and about the incorporation of its standards into their work. It is my hope that the provincial and federal governments in Canada, as well as the country’s courts, will aspire to implement the standards articulated by the Declaration. The Declaration can help to provide a common framework within which the problems that I have outlined here in a preliminary fashion can be addressed.

I look forward to developing more detailed observations and recommendations beyond these initial comments in my report to the Human Rights Council. My observations and recommendations will be aimed at identifying good practices and needed reforms in line with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other international instruments that mark Canada’s international human rights obligations. I hope that this process will contribute to ensuring that the indigenous peoples of Canada can continue to thrive and maintain their distinct ways of life as they have done for generations despite the long shadow of a history of misdealing, enriching Canadian society for the benefit of all.

Original Post:


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.)


Amerindians of Guyana don’t have right to gold on their land

by Britnae Purdy

The high court of Guyana recently ruled that “indigenous groups do not have the right to expel legal miners from their land” if the miners posses a government-approved mining license. The ruling comes as a result of a lawsuit brought by gold miner Joan Chang against the indigenous community of Isseneru  for protesting her land claim.

“Gold Mine (Mahdia, Guyana),” courtesy of flickr user caribbeanfreephoto (Georgia Popplewell).

“Gold Mine (Mahdia, Guyana),” courtesy of flickr user caribbeanfreephoto (Georgia Popplewell).

Though the indigenous peoples of Guyana, collectively referred to as Amerindians, have a legal title to over 29,000 square kilometers, or 13 percent of the nation’s land, they do not have rights to any valuable subsoil minerals found in that land. Furthermore, the majority of this land is unsuitable for sustainable agriculture. Amerindians make up 9 percent of the Guyanese population. Whereas the majority of Guyanese live in the coastal or urban areas of the country, 90 percent of Amerindians live in the country’s remote interior.

This ruling is part of a disturbing acceleration in gold-mining in Guyana. Though 75 percent of the country is still covered in forest, the boom in world-wide gold prices over the past five years has attracted both foreign investors and artisanal mining groups. The amount of gold produced in Guyana jumped 23 percent between 2009 and 2011 and is expected to continue to grow.

The Amerindian population is vulnerable to the negative effects brought by gold-mining. The loss of land is devastating to communities that primarily support themselves through subsistence farming, and pollution from the mining operations contaminates water sources, harming humans, vegetation, and animals alike. Mercury, a contaminant that can cause blindness, speech impairment, cardiovascular disease, memory loss, and fatigue and is especially dangerous to pregnant women and young children, is commonly used in gold panning to help separate gold pieces from soil. Guyana has sought permission to be exempted from the UN’s newly drafted Minimata Convention on Mercury (could link back to other article here). Despite undeniable evidence that mercury contamination is devastating to miners, jewelers, and inhabitants of the land near gold-mining operations, Guyana argued that such a ban would damage their growing economy. In July, Guyana banned gold-mining directly from rivers in an attempt to address growing complaints of contaminated drinking water.

Amerindians also fear the increased rates of prostitution, drug use, and murder that may accompany gold-mining in their territory. Indigenous women are susceptible to rape and abuse at the hands of non-indigenous miners and may become trapped in prostitution as a means to support themselves. Disputes over territory and profits can lead to violence.

This ruling highlights flaws in the 2006 New Amerindian Act passed by the Guyanese government. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, “The main issues of contention [with the act] were the lack of autonomy given to community governing institutions, the degree of power held by the Minister of Amerindian affairs, the inadequacy of land and resource rights and the use of the term ‘Amerindian’ rather than ‘indigenous’.”

The Isseneru are shocked at the ruling and plan to protest.

“We feel that when the High Court tells us that we have no rights to decide and control what takes plan on our land, then the land is not ours,” the community said in a press release. “Just Friday, when inquiring at the office of the GGMC [Guyana Geology and Mines Commission], we learnt that our whole land in covered with mining concessions. Yet , the government has not informed us about this.”


Protected Planet Report Highlights Importance of Indigenous Peoples and Biodiversity

According  to the Protected Planet Report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC), Indigenous Peoples’ efforts are more important than ever in the effort to protect biodiversity.

The report highlights changes in how protected and biodiversity-rich areas are being managed. In 1990, 96 percent of these areas, including national parks, were managed by governments, but today only 77 percent are managed by governments. As a result, Indigenous Peoples and community-based initiatives have to come to play a bigger role in protecting biodiversity.

According to the World Database on Protected Areas, Indigenous peoples are in charge of 1.1 million square kilometers of protected areas—or about 9.3 percent of the total—but the actual percentage, according to the Protected Planet Report, is closer to 22 percent of all forests in developing countries. And the report finds that Indigenous management can be wise both environmentally and economically— they find that “several studies also indicate that indigenous and community conserved areas can be as effective, or even more effective, than protected areas in reducing deforestation and forest fires.”

How can Indigenous peoples and local communities play a bigger role in managing protected areas? 


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?


First Peoples Worldwide in the world!

Neva Morrison, Managing Director of First Peoples Worldwide, has an exciting month ahead!

November 20-21, Morrison will be in Ottawa, Canada at YES The Young Entrepreneurs Symposium. The Symposium is organized by the New Relationship Trust and the Cree Nation Youth Council and brings together young Aboriginal entrepreneurs and business people to help build business skills in native communities.

Later in the moth, November 28-December 2, Morrison will be in New Orleans, Louisiana hosting a panel at the Social Change Film Festival & Institute (SCFFI).  The Festival encourages filmmakers to focus on significant global social and environmental issues in creative, educational, and action-inspiring ways and the SCFFI has collaborated with FPW to highlight Indigenous filmmakers.

And December 10-13, Morrison will be Doha, Qatar as part of a World Bank/Trust Fund for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development workshop on the “Impacts of Climate Change on Indigenous Peoples and Traditional Knowledge.” The workshop will coincide with the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) 18th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP18) meeting in Doha.

For more information on these events, please contact Nick Pelosi:


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.


Indigenous Anuak Submit Complaint to Inspection Panel over Forced Villagization

By Andrew Alesbury

The Anuak, an Indigenous group inhabiting the Gambella region of southwestern Ethiopia and southeastern South Sudan, recently submitted an appeal to the World Bank Inspection Panel to demand accountability for the organization’s contributions to grave human rights abuses. The complaint, accompanied by a legal submission drafted by Inclusive Development International (IDI), holds the World Bank responsible for human rights infractions against the Anuak and other natives groups of the Gambella, and demands to stop.

The Anuak claims the Protection of Basic Services Project (PBS), which is financed and administered by the World Bank, has directly donated $1.4 billion to an Ethiopian program of forced villagization since 2006. The complaint claims that officials whose salaries are paid by PBS are enacting villagization plans and that villagization is one of the major channels through which PBS is being carried out in the Gambella Region.

According to the Villagization Action Plan of the Gambella regional government, villagization is a voluntary process which affords people better access to basic services and food security, but the Anuak claims it is anything but that. Forced into refugee camps in Kenya and South Sudan, some Anuak give accounts of rape, extra-judicial murders, and other intimidation tactics. The camps provide little of the promised services and access to food. Meanwhile, much of the Anuak’s ancestral homelands has been sold to investors.

IDI has written the Bank’s Board of Executive Directors to advocate the prevention of PBS Phase III “until a thorough and impartial investigation has been conducted by the Inspection Panel into the links between PBS and forced villagization and robust safeguards and accountability mechanisms are put in place to ensure that PBS funds are not used to harm marginalized and vulnerable Ethiopian groups.”

 How might governments offer more services to Indigenous populations without relying on villagization? Read the IDI’s full report here and let us know what you think in the comments section!