Posts Tagged ‘indigenous women’


Breaking Barriers: Indigenous Women Participate at the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

“Fears and tears bound women (and some men, too),
Shackles that need to be broken.
Together in harmony and peace we can live,
If we open the path for man and woman to walk hand-in-hand, If our mat welcomes both to sit together as equals, When we do not leave anyone behind, All together we can move forward to a life of bliss.”

— Maribeth Biano, Indigenous woman from
the Philippines and first time participant at CSW

More than 30 Indigenous women participated at the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 59), also known as Beijing+20, at the United Nations. The International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI) actively participated and supported the advocacy efforts led by Indigenous women from the Americas, Asia, Africa, the Arctic, and the Pacific, bearing in mind the Fourth World Conference on Women organized in Beijing, China by the United Nations; reaffirming the advancements achieved during the past 20 years in terms
of political advocacy at an international level; and demanding more actions to be taken to ensure the full exercise of Indigenous women’s rights. Participation included organization of side events and presentation of political statements such as marching, lobbying, and engaging in the Regional Women Caucuses.

The International Indigenous Women’s Forum is an organization that brings together Indigenous women leaders and human rights activists from different parts of the world to coordinate agendas, capacity-build, and to develop leadership roles. It followed a delegation of Indigenous women from different countries including Argentina, Cameroon, Nepal, Philippines, and Sudan. Sisters from Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Kenya, Mexico and Peru, among others, were also part of the delegation. The session opened on the morning of Sunday, March 8, International Women’s Day. Agnes Leina, an Indigenous woman from Kenya and founder and executive director of I’llaramatak Community Concerns, spoke on the urgent need to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights
of Indigenous Peoples. She also emphasized the need to consider the demands of Indigenous women at the global level as stated in the Lima Position Document and Plan of Action.

In the afternoon, Indigenous women from Asia, Latin America, and Africa gathered for an initial coordination meeting at UN Church Center, where Mirian Masaquiza (Quichua) from the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and Eleanor Solo, a former UN Women official, provided an introductory overview on advocacy strategies. After the session, some of the participants joined the March for Gender Equality and Women’s Rights organized by UN Women. Each day the delegation of Indigenous women convened coordination meetings in the UN lobby, exchanging their experiences and organizing activities and ideas for the day.

On March 9, FIMI organized a press conference on Indigenous women at UN Headquarters. It was an empowering experience for Winnie Kodi (Nuba) from Sudan and Maribeth Biano from the Philippines, two young Indigenous women attending CSW for the first time thanks to a UN Women scholarship. One of the speakers, Tarcila Rivera Zea (Quechua), president of FIMI, ECMIA, and Chirapaq, stressed Indigenous women’s key demands at CSW 59. She called on the Commission to focus on the empowerment of Indigenous women at future sessions by way of collecting disaggregated data by gender and ethnicity; paying special attention to violence specifically committed against Indigenous women; promoting their political and economic advancement; and considering the rights of all Indigenous Peoples in the elaboration of the post-2015 Development Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.

On March 11, FIMI convened a second session to share the results of research conducted in partnership with the Association of Women Rights in Development and International Funders for Indigenous Peoples on the question of funding for Indigenous women to organize. It was a space to share knowledge, experiences, and concerns. As an outcome of this session, the soon to be published research will include specific case studies illustrating its findings. The following day at midday, the side event “Political Participation of Indigenous Women: Leadership and Good Governance” was convened at the Salvation Army, followed by another side event sponsored by FIMI and co-organized by Tebtebba
and Asia Indigenous Women’s Network.

The event on political participation focused on the results of a research study on political participation of Indigenous women, showing the challenges that they face for full and effective participation and the different ways they participate at the community, local, national, and regional levels. The results were presented by FIMI Program Coordinator Mariana Lopez and commented on by Begoña Lasagabster, acting head of the UN Women’s Policy Division; Rose Cunningham, director of Wangki Tangni in Nicaragua; Lucy Mulenkei, executive director of the Indigenous Information Network; and Chanda Thapa Magar, regional Indigenous Women Program Coordinator for Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Pact, all of whom helped shed light on the achievements, challenges, and next steps to enhance awareness on Indigenous women’s participation throughout the world.

By the end of the first and most intensive week of CSW, FIMI convened another side event at the UN in partnership with the Secretariat of Permanent Forum and the International Fund for Agricultural Development on the implementation
of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action. It was also the occasion to present the results of the “20-Year Review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action and Beyond: Framework to Advance Indigenous Women’s Issues,” prepared by the secretariat of the Permanent Forum. Lakshmi Puri, assistant secretary general of the UN and deputy executive director of UN Women, gave the opening remarks centered on the key role that Indigenous women have as protagonists of the change in the social, economic, and political spheres. María Cristina Perceval, permanent representative of Argentina to the United Nations, expressed her commitment and insisted on the need to overcome the gap between the inter- national instruments and the real implementation at national level. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Igorot) and Rivera Zea high- lighted the progress made at the local, national, and inter- national levels, and also showed concern about the structural racism that still permeates the system and represents a barrier to the full exercise of Indigenous women’s human rights. To conclude, Gambo Aminatu Samiratu (Mboro), women’s coordinator at Lelewal Foundation in Cameroon, called on the Commission to consider the issue of empowerment of Indigenous women at a future session.

The Ivonne H. Fellowship, sponsored by UN Women, enabled participation of young women who were attending CSW for the first time. Five Indigenous women were sup- ported this year with that fellowship, including Samiratu, who shared her perspective on gender equality in an interview with UN Women: “I think that to achieve gender equality we need to take proactive measures to train and place women in positions of political power while meeting their various needs and sensitizing the entire community about women’s rights and gender equality. To do so we need to focus on the social trans- formation required to eradicate poverty and employ the most marginalized and excluded peoples, such as the Indigenous and local communities, by removing all barriers to women’s empowerment.”

Indigenous women’s participation at CSW 59 showcased the many efforts that have been made toward removing these barriers, evidenced by various meetings with governments and coordination of advocacy to demand that the empowerment of Indigenous women be considered as an emerging theme at CSW 60 in 2016. To this aim, a position document was presented by Dali Angel (Zapoteca) during the second week of the session. The document is one piece of an advocacy road map that is already being developed. It is a long road
to be sure, one which will continue during the upcoming Permanent Forum and beyond, so that Indigenous women’s voices are heard and their rights are fully exercised.

For more information on FIMI (Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indigenas/Internation Indigenous Women’s Forum), visit:


Indigenous Women Still Discriminated Against by Their Governments

This article has been reposted from Cultural Survival, originally posted March 25, 2015


Indigenous women demand that their countries reduce the inequality gaps and improve the quality of life for Indigenous Peoples.

Racism and gender discrimination are intertwined in our societies. That is why Indigenous women represent the population that face some of the biggest hardships. This was pointed out by female leaders who are members of the Continental Network of Indigenous Women of the Americas (ECMIA), Tuesday the 13th, at the 59th meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended on March 20 in New York.

“If we want to talk about inclusion and be inclusive ourselves, we have to share the stage with all differences present and develop respect between us,” recommended Tarcila Rivera Zea to the states. Rivera is the Peruvian president of CHIRAPAQ, the Center for Indigenous Cultures of Peru. Rivera said that while countries should promote respect for the human rights of women, these should include the collective rights of Indigenous women in relation to their cultures and territories.

For Tania Pariona, a young leader from Peru, “there are still gaps in empowering Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.” Pariona stated that young leaders like herself are demanding to participate in any discussion board on topics that deal with “the rights of our people and the survival of our cultures.”

“Women in Latin America face great challenges to obtain even the most basic human rights. This is magnified in the case of Indigenous peoples,” reported Karmen Ramírez, a leader from the Wayuu people of Venezuela. Ramírez expresses that without educational and legal assistance programs, all other programs for the protection of Indigenous women will be ineffective. “Even if these barriers were overcome, women in our communities are stigmatized and excluded by extremely patriarchal societies,” she concluded.

The statements were made in the context of an intergenerational dialogue organized by UN Women, a United Nations organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. The space aimed to strengthen ties between young activists committed to gender equality and senior leaders of the “generation of Beijing,” who participated in the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. During the meeting, participants examined advancements and challenges from the past twenty years and the strategies and perspectives that can accelerate the achievement of gender equality by 2030.


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Recognizing Women Leaders at Community Radio Stations in Guatemala

This article has been reposted from Cultural Survival, originally published February 26, 2015

The legalization of community radio stations has been an on-going struggle for Indigenous communities in Guatemala for almost 20 years. Community radio stations operate in the fear of being raided by the Guatemalan Public Ministry because the current telecommunications law does not allow for non-profit community radio—despite its guarantee in the 1996 Peace Accords, the Guatemalan Constitution, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The constant persecution of community radio operators puts not only the right to freedom of expression at risk, but also the volunteers that maintain the stations are extremely vulnerable.  Despite the odds, radio volunteers continue to advocate in favor of their communities. Indigenous women especially face innumerable obstacles when choosing to participate as radio volunteers.

Indigenous women in Guatemala still live under a highly traditional and patriarchal society. However, in various community radio stations around Guatemala we still see, even if limited, the participation of brave Indigenous women who choose to voice their opinions and educate their communities on air.

In San Pedro La Lugana, Sololá, Radio Sembrador has been a crucial source of information for its small Tzutujil community for over 10 years. Brenda Garcia, a Tzutujil radio broadcaster at Radio Sembrador, has volunteered with the radio for over five years. Brenda hosts several programs both in Spanish and Tzutujil where she talks about topics such as women’s rights, domestic violence, education and the rights of Indigenous Peoples with disabilities. “It feels good to have a space where one can express their ideas and opinions freely, especially as a woman. I am thankful that my family supports me. I may not be making any money but I know I’m making a difference,” says Garcia.

Brenda Garcia at Radio Sembrador's cabin, she is a huge advocate for women's rights in her community and has been a part of the radio for over five years.

Brenda Garcia at Radio Sembrador’s cabin, she is a huge advocate for women’s rights in her community and has been a part of the radio for over five years.

Olga Ajcalon is a radio volunteer at Radio Juventud in Sololá, the radio was recently raided in December 2014 by the National Police. Ajcalon is also a teacher in a small rural village in Sololá where she splits her time between her radio programs and planning for her classes. “I’ve been at the radio for over eight years and many ask me why I continue to do it when I have a full time job,” said Ajcalon. For Ajcalon, as for many radio volunteers, having access to a “on air” space where she can educate and speak freely is a huge resource. “I am not married, so that makes things easier. I don’t know what will happen if I get married. I think things change so much more for a woman when they marry then they do for a man.” In Guatemala, after a woman marries, it is customary even if she is highly educated, that her family will make her choose between raising a family or working. Since traditionally the woman must live with her husband’s family, the way a married woman lives her life is heavily influenced by her husband and his family, even in decisions like volunteering at a radio. Ajcalon hopes to continue at the radio station and she is constantly recruiting and training young women to join Radio Juventud.

Olga Ajcalon is a dedicated volunteer at Radio Juventud, despite her busy schedule with her full time teaching job she trains and recruits young women for Radio Juventud.

Olga Ajcalon is a dedicated volunteer at Radio Juventud, despite her busy schedule with her full time teaching job she trains and recruits young women for Radio Juventud.

In Sumpango, Sacatepequez, one of Radio Ixchel’s goals is to revive the Kaqchikel language and traditions. Elsa Chiquito de Pacache, a determined Kaqchikel woman, began volunteering at Radio Ixchel at the age of 14. “My best friend was offered a position but she declined. I asked her to give me her space and promised that I would take full advantage of it. I’ve been a part of the station since,” expressed Chiquito de Pacache. She is now 26 years old, married, has a daughter and is the current director of Radio Ixchel. “My husband supports me, he always tells me that its good that I take ownership of my identity and that he hopes my daughter takes after me and learns about radio,” said Chiquito de Pacache.

At only 26 years of age, Elsa Chiquito is already an admirable leader in her community of Sumpango. She has been a radio volunteer at Radio Ixchel for 14 years and continues to lead as the current radio directo.

At only 26 years of age, Elsa Chiquito is already an admirable leader in her community of Sumpango. She has been a radio volunteer at Radio Ixchel for 14 years and continues to lead as the current radio directo.

Radio has been a tool that has allowed these strong Indigenous women to pursue their passion for communication. “It is important as Indigenous women to be in radio because in the culture of the past, women were thought of as staying at home and raising kids only. It is important for us to voice our opinions,” said Chiquito de Pacache. “I’ve seen many women join the radio movement enthusiastically, only to leave it once they marry. I am working on creating a network where we can support one another as women broadcasters, so that we have other options after we marry.” shared Garica. The community radio movement in Guatemala will continue to be enriched and strengthened with the increasing leadership that women push for.


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Rape, Sex Trafficking, and the Bottom Line: Corporations’ Complicity in Violence Against Women

Rosa Eblira Coc Inh, one of the plaintiffs. (Photo by Roger LeMoyne, MacLeans)

Rosa Eblira Coc Inh, one of the plaintiffs. (Photo by Roger LeMoyne, MacLeans)

By Katie Cheney

On January 17, 2007, 9 men entered the temporary home of Rosa Elbira Coc Ich, a Mayan Q’eqchi woman in Guatemala. 12 days earlier, Rosa and her family had been forcibly evicted from their home – now, she faced a second eviction, as hundreds of policemen, military, and security workers entered the settlement. After pointing a gun to her head, these 9 officials – one by one – proceeded to rape Rosa. They followed suit with 10 more Mayan Q’eqchi’ women in the community.

Gender-based violence is considered a pandemic by the United Nations, as 35% of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence. Women and girls are victims of violence at the hands of their partners, family members, communities, and governments – and now, increasingly, the private sector.

The officials that entered Rosa’s settlement allegedly did so based on a land dispute, between the Fenix mine, then owned by Skye Resources, and the Q’eqchi’ Mayan community of El Estor, Guatemala. The community claims the land on which the mine sits as their Indigenous territory, and has argued that the land concession was granted without the community’s consultation or consent. Skye Resources allegedly hired security officers to “guard” the mine against the local community – the same security officers that carried out the evictions and rapes in El Estor In 2007.

On March 28, 2011, the 11 Q’eqchi rape survivors filed a lawsuit in Ontario’s Superior Court against Hudbay Minerals, which acquired Skye Resources in 2008. It is the first time a Canadian court is hearing a case against a Canadian mining company for overseas human rights abuses. The company is also facing lawsuits from the El Estor community for shootings in 2009 that left one man dead and another paralyzed, investigations into which are ongoing in Guatemala. Hudbay Minerals has denied all allegations against them, saying they are “without merit”, and has vowed to “vigorously defend itself” against the allegations of rape. The company’s stance on its former operations in Guatemala can be accessed on its website.

Rape: A Weapon of Corporate Warfare

In 2010, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon invited CEO’s and Corporate Executives the world over to join in the fight to end violence against women and girls – but what about corporations that are perpetrating, and at the very least permitting, violence against women?

Over the past decade, more and more cases of corporations complicit in violence against women have surfaced across the globe, particularly in the extractive industry. Anvil Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo provided transportation (planes and vehicles) to the Congolese Armed Forces as they raped and tortured civilians near Anvil’s Dikulushi copper mine. Unocal Oil Corporation was sued for permitting (and arguably encouraging) rape, slave labor, murder, and forced displacement during the constructing of their gas pipeline in Burma. Royal Dutch Shell Oil is infamous for suppressing protests against their operations in Nigeria in the early 1990s, during which the military systematically targeted Ogoni villages, murdering, looting, and raping Ogoni women – on behalf of Shell’s operations.

An overwhelming number of lawsuits against extractive corporations that cite human rights abuses include rape and sexual assault of women. Rape has been used as a weapon of war for centuries, and was deemed a war crime in 1998 as a result of the Rwandan genocide. According to UNICEF, “Sexual violation of women erodes the fabric of a community in a way that few weapons can. Rape’s damage can be devastating because of the strong communal reaction to the violation and pain stamped on entire families. The harm inflicted in such cases on a woman by a rapist is an attack on her family and culture, as in many societies women are viewed as repositories of a community’s cultural and spiritual values.” Albeit on a smaller scale, corporations are waging wars against communities, and using sexual violence as a weapon.


Bakken: the Sex Trafficking Boom

While many of these cases happen internationally, extractive corporations have not excluded the United States from this trend of gender-based human rights abuses. The Bakken oil formation in North Dakota has boomed – over the past five years, it has increased daily production of oil from 200,000 barrels to 1.1 million barrels, becoming the second most oil-productive state in the country. Thousands of highly-paid workers have flocked to the region, settling in “man camps” that encroach upon the Native American Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation. The combined influx of cash and oil workers has sparked a considerable crime wave – crime has tripled on the reservation in the past 2 years, including murders, aggravated assaults, rapes, and robberies – 90% of which are drug related. Most alarmingly, a burgeoning illegal sex trade in the region has put Native American women hugely at risk to sex trafficking.

The trafficking of Native American women started in the colonial era, and has not abated – many major sex trafficking centers in North America are in cities in proximity to First Nations reserves, Indian Reservations, and Alaskan Native communities. Of female trafficking victims in the U.S., Native American women are disproportionately over-represented – in Anchorage, 33% of the women arrested for prostitution were Alaska Native, yet Alaska Natives make up only 7.9% of the population. In Canada, researchers have found that 90% of children in the sex trade were Native, and First Nations women and youth represent between 70 and 90% of the visible sex trade in areas where the Aboriginal population is less than 10%.

Reports of Native American women and girls being trafficked to the Bakken has put the Three Affiliated Tribes community on high alert – according to Sadie Bird, director of the Fort Berthold Coalition Against Violence, “We’re in crisis mode, all the time, trying to figure out…these new crises that are coming to us that we never thought we’d have to worry about. No one was prepared for any of this.” While trafficking has been a concern among Native populations in Minnesota and North Dakota for a long time, what’s unique about the spike in sex trafficking in the Bakken is its source of fuel – the oil workers.

How have companies operating in the Bakken responded to this trend? They haven’t. Companies including Apache, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Hess have taken zero responsibility for their workers’ collusion in the growing sex trade, increased drug violence, and general crime wave in Fort Berthold over the past two years, let alone the rest of the Bakken region.

Sadie Young Bird, the director of the Ft. Berthold Coalition of Domestic Violence, listens during a breakout session during the 2014 statewide summit on human trafficking put on by North Dakota FUSE at the Bismarck Civic Center in Bismarck, N.D. on Thursday, November 13, 2014. photo credit: Carrie Snyder / The Forum]

Sadie Young Bird, the director of the Ft. Berthold Coalition of Domestic Violence, listens during a breakout session during the 2014 statewide summit on human trafficking put on by North Dakota FUSE at the Bismarck Civic Center in Bismarck, N.D. on Thursday, November 13, 2014. photo credit: Carrie Snyder / The Forum]


Zero Corporate Social Responsibility

There is no indication that companies are having any substantive conversations about the impacts of their operations in the Bakken region. This trend of neglecting social risks, as companies in the Bakken have done repeatedly, has permeated corporate interactions with the communities they impact across the globe.

In the example of the Hudbay Minerals case in Guatemala, the company could have avoided its current legal challenges, had it given stronger attention to the social risks involved with acquiring Skye Resources. Despite making a number of community investments (link), the company remains exposed to financial, legal, and reputational risks related to the actions of its predecessor in the concession.

Hudbay is not the only one with poor social risk management. First Peoples Worldwide’s Indigenous Rights Risk Report found that only 8% of U.S. oil, gas, and mining companies have operating policies that address human rights or community relations. According to the report, virtually all communities that host or are proximate to extractive projects are unprotected from the project’s potential negative impacts – as we’ve seen, given case after case of corporate abuses against women.


The Price of Cooperation

Corporations can’t get much worse than perpetrating violence against women – except when they attempt to bribe their victims to keep quiet. Barrick Gold’s Porgera gold mine has produced more than 16 million ounces of gold since 1990, an amount equivalent to about US$20 billion today. To protect the mine, Barrick employed a private security force of nearly 450 personnel, who also monitor the mine’s waste dumps. Hundreds of local people scour the waste dumps daily in search of minute traces of gold, at the risk of arrest by the company’s security officers.

At least 170 women have allegedly been raped at the Porgera mine as of 2013, by those same security officers employed by Barrick Gold. A report from Human Rights Watch recounts horrifying stories of gang rape and physical abuse, in the name of “protecting” the waste dumps from illegal mining. Many women reported that after they were arrested, they were given a choice between gang rape or going to prison and paying fines. Several were raped regardless of their choice to go to prison.

It allegedly took Barrick Gold 5 years to acknowledge the rapes. In 2013, the company set up a grievance process at the mine site to receive complaints from the rape victims – allegedly forcing women to return to the site of their attack. In Barrick Gold’s remediation strategy, if womens’ reports of rape were validated by the company’s complaints process, they qualified to receive a benefits package – on the condition that “the claimant agrees that she will not pursue or participate in any legal action against [Barrick Gold or its subsidiaries] in or outside of [Papua New Guinea].” Barrick Gold’s conditional remediation package, including items such as access to counseling and micro-credit, is an appallingly inhuman response to the rape of 170 women.

Not surprisingly, a chillingly similar case occurred at Barrick Gold’s North Mara mine in Tanzania, where police and security guards sexually assaulted 14 women, originally arrested for also scouring waste dumps for tiny bits of gold. This is in addition to allegations that security police at the North Mara mine killed six local villagers and injured many more.

Barrick Gold has repeatedly made systemic failures in both recognizing and addressing the social risks of their mining operations, and at this point, hundreds of people have faced sexual assault and violence because of it.


Corporate Warfare

Imagine if we were to add Barrick’s number of rape victims to those attributed to Hudbay Minerals, Shell, Anvil Mining, and Unocal Oil. Then, we accounted for every sex trafficking victim in the Bakken, whose exploitation was supported by various extractive corporations’ employees. To be thorough, we add in the number of murder, torture, and assault victims linked to corporate abuses. War has traditionally been defined as conflict between political entities – yet if we consider corporations collectively, is their accumulation of victims and use of force not increasingly similar to warfare?

Account after account of gender-based violence is adding up to a war – waged by corporations, against women. Their weapon of choice: rape, sex trafficking, and violence, all for the sake of the bottom line.



Indigenous Women as Development Practitioners: conducting equality-driven projects without sacrificing cultural significance

By Elizabeth Gunggoll

The encroachment of Western culture on Indigenous communities has posed a myriad of consequences for Indigenous peoples – Indigenous languages are increasingly endangered; western education is replacing traditional knowledge; youth are moving to urban areas in droves. What starts as marginalization of an entire community by the government or state can turn into a power struggle of the sexes. More often than not, Indigenous women find themselves losing the social status they traditionally held, to have it replaced by a role that gives them less influence in their household or community.

In this way, Indigenous women are marginalized twofold: one, as being Indigenous, along with the rest of their community, and two, as women. For example, non-Indigenous women across Africa lack rights to inheritance, property/livestock ownership, and land tenure. The same lack of rights for Indigenous women, paired with ethnic and political marginalization that all Indigenous peoples face, predisposes them further to situations of poverty, gender-based violence, a lack of education, and other disadvantages.


Ma’an – The Forum for Bedouin Women’s Organizations in the Negev

For the Negev Bedouin community in Israel, women have lost their traditional respected status and societal roles due to increased discrimination from the state, to the point where many Bedouin villages are considered “unrecognized”. This marginalization from the state gave rise to the marginalization of Bedouin women from their own community. Bedouin women face a multitude of gender-based challenges, including polygamy, domestic violence, child marriages, and a patriarchal family and community structure that has lasting consequences into adulthood. For Negev Bedouin women, their greatest limitation is a lack of both individual and community awareness of rights and entitlements. So the question is: what could be done to help Indigenous Bedouin women regain their autonomy, and restore their ability to trust others?

Ma’an – The Forum for Bedouin Women’s Organizations in the Negev works to provide spiritual, emotional, and physical healing for Bedouin women who are or have been subjected to domestic violence and/or sexual abuse. In a community where seeking help is often discouraged, trust is developed between those reaching out for help and those lending “first aid”, by offering sympathy as well as practical solutions to their struggles. The fact that most of the volunteers are Bedouin women with similar experiences offers a degree of comfort to those seeking help, because “they themselves [face] the traditional and patriarchal codes.” With the help of First Peoples Worldwide’s Keepers of the Earth Fund, Ma’an has created a comprehensive system for women’s protection, which involves a Hotline, the Ma’an legal team, and staff to address the welfare and wellbeing of Ma’an’s beneficiaries. Such an attentive project enables an environment where Indigenous Bedouin women can work toward their own security.

“With guidance and support the beneficiaries will develop to be able to effectively advocate for their rights within the community, so creating and contributing to an inclusive society by participating in decision making processes that impact upon their lives and that of the wider community.” – Ma’an– The Forum for Bedouin Women’s Organizations in the Negev

Ultimately, Ma’an’s goal is for Indigenous Bedouin women to regain the respect, strong social footing, and economic capabilities they once held alongside their male counterparts. By promoting women’s rights and status in the Negev Bedouin community, the project will build on the community’s traditional values and strengths of respecting women’s roles.


Kakenya Center for Excellence

While some Indigenous women’s groups are trying to return to their traditional gender roles, others are looking to transcend traditional values in order to broaden their horizons. As a young girl growing up in a Maasai village, life is usually predetermined according to cultural traditions, and girls are expected to halt their schooling at a young age to become wives and mothers. Young Maasai women might not consider more prosperous and enlightening opportunities, simply because they aren’t aware of them. This cycle of marginalization is reinforced from one generation to the next, as a combination of doubting teachers and tribal elders “dictating [their] present and future without considering [their] social, financial, or emotional well-being”. So, while young Indigenous girls are essentially dissuaded from continuing their education in order to assume the role of the childrearing homemaker, they lose the opportunity to gain important insight into their rights.

This is where the Kakenya Center for Excellence, another Keepers of the Earth Fund recipient, comes into play. Kakenya Ntaiya, born and raised in the Maasai village of Enoosaen in south Kenya, diverged from the traditional path of women in her village to attend higher education in the United States. After completing her studies, she returned to Enoosaen to create a school which works to “empower and motivate young girls to become agents of change in their community and country.”

[photo credit: Kakenya Center for Excellence]

[photo credit: Kakenya Center for Excellence]

“Girls are a valuable part of the community, and since the entire community is connected and thrives when each individual thrives, it is important to invest in girls as crucial members and contributors of society rather than only wives and mothers.” – The Kakenya Center for Excellence

The center works to reinforce the fact that women are independent, and therefore capable of carving their own path, however it does so without sacrificing traditional Maasai values. To do this, KCE provides an environment where the girls can thrive. The teaching of leadership skills and the spreading of knowledge in order to make informed decisions about reproductive health forms a curriculum that not only empowers, but also enlightens. In the Maasai village of Enoosaen, as in many rural villages of Kenya, Female Genital Mutilation is a rite of passage into adulthood that also traditionally prepares them for marriage – however the procedure is extremely painful and often inflicts lasting physical damage to young girls. Instructors in the center let the girls know that FGM is not an obligation while also maintaining the spirit behind the ritual, and the ushering into adulthood it represents, through their own graduation ceremony. All in all, the Kakenya Center for Excellence demonstrates that it is indeed possible to hold on to cultural values while still developing one’s community in a direction of gender-equality.


Highland Women’s Association

Indigenous women living in microregions of Guatemala are confronted with similar challenges. The Maya population, making up much of the country’s rural poor, suffered genocide from the Guatemalan government during their civil war. In 1992, four years before the end of the war, AMA, or the Highland Women’s Association (Asociación de Mujeres del Altiplano), started working with widows and orphans in the Quiche region, one of the most affected by the armed conflict. AMA’s goal was to help the most isolated and marginalized women living in the highlands of Guatemala through community organizing, educational instruction, utilization of economic resources and production, and partnership that allows for a life of dignity, while initiating sustainable developmental processes.

“The mission of AMA is to break cycles of dependency by providing accompaniment and support to grassroots community leaders to foster transformational processes with Indigenous women.” The transformational process, meaning lifting people out of poverty through social change and economic dependency, is facilitated through small organized women’s circles led by trained community organizers, often of Maya descent. Empowerment and leadership skills are developed through a curriculum organized around four focal areas: self-esteem and mental health programming, education, civic participation, and private enterprise.

Traditional Maya practices and values are not lost with the installation of these new programs.

“In our meetings, we try to harmonize the material aspects of our daily lives with our spiritual life through our Maya worldview taught to us by our grandparents.” Guadalupe Ramirez Blevins, Directora, Asociación de Mujeres del Altiplano

This is in part a large reason for their success as a system of development practitioners. The Indigenous Maya women are able to regain pride and empowerment in their traditional values, as opposed to distancing themselves from the culture that sparked a civil war wishing to extinguish their existence.

AMA’s success has helped to re-instill freedom of expression among Maya women as more respect is being given to Indigenous Maya communities since the end of the civil war. Three generations starting from AMA’s founder, Doña Carmen Romero, her daughter Alejandra, and now her granddaughters Jesica and Yolanda are able to vouch for the success and empowerment that AMA has brought to Indigenous Maya women. They say that community organization is required for community development, for having a voice and power in community decision making, and also in order to inspire other women to be active among their own group of women – whether they are serving in their local school, community committees, or being an active member in their church.


Pastoral Women’s Council

Safeguarding cultural values while escaping gender inequality continues to be an important factor in other community development projects as well. The Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC), based in Northern Tanzania, implements a variety of programs with this goal in mind. Not only does PWC work towards providing an education for Maasai girls, but it also lifts marginalized Maasai women out of poverty through exposure to property ownership and opportunities for income generation, while preserving an ancient Maasai practice of livestock herding.

[photo credit: Pastoral Women's Council]

[photo credit: Pastoral Women’s Council]

Aside from working with the Maa Council of Elders to lift the ban on women as livestock owners, exposure to women in leadership has had a great effect on the women of the Maasai community. Additionally, women are encouraged to openly discuss the positive and negative aspects of Maasai culture, to act on their findings, and to mobilize local efforts and resources. These factors, on top of increased awareness of their individual rights, caused Maasai women to finally feel empowered. The encouragement of such expression lets the Maasai women know they have a voice worth hearing, and everyone is capable of being an agent of change.

Since becoming a Keepers of the Earth Fund grantee, PWC has been able to undertake community meetings and gain community support, acquire and vaccinate livestock for Maasai women to breed, therefore facilitating economic independence, and train women on the diagnosis and treatment of livestock diseases.


All women, Indigenous or not, feel the effects of gender inequality on a daily basis. However, for women of Indigenous communities, the effects are often compounded by the unique marginalization of their Indigenous identity. As Western culture inevitably continues to influence more Indigenous nations, it is important to bring attention to and promote Indigenous values that value Indigenous women. Feelings of empowerment grow and thrive in programs where Indigenous women are sharing education and leadership with other women from their own communities, empowering them to be autonomous, independent members of society. There is still quite a bit of work to be done, yet more and more Indigenous women are living the lives of development practitioners, and being agents of change within their communities. As it becomes more evident that the entire community thrives when each individual is empowered, the reality of gender equality within Indigenous cultures comes more clearly into view.




Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact Reports on Corporations

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In December 2014, the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact published a briefing paper detailing the experiences of Indigenous Peoples affected by corporate activities in Asia, with a focus on mines, dams, and plantations. These experiences include threats of ethnocide, fragmentation and internal conflicts, threats to well-being and a life of dignity, impacts on Indigenous women, and impacts on civil and political rights. The paper notes that grievance mechanisms offered by courts, national human rights institutions, intergovernmental commissions, and multilateral lenders are largely futile, and that those offered by traditional and community-based procedures are neither recognized nor respected by companies and governments. “Given the expense involved in accessing remedial mechanisms and the extended timeframes it takes in terms of having their grievances addressed, the communities are forced to take direct action in the form of blockades and protests in order to assert their rights.”

Sources: Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact

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.


Philanthropy as Reciprocity

This article has been reposted from Cultural Survival Quarterly, Issue 38-4 Indigenous Rights Protect Us All (December 2014)

By Ingrid Sub Cuc and Mark Camp

Indigenous reciprocity is much more complex than a two-way exchange of favors…while the word reciprocity is not used often in our daily lives, it is deeply embedded in most Indigenous cultures. Where reciprocity remains strong in many respects, we must acknowledge that in other respects the serious erosion of our worldview has consequently caused damage to our systems of reciprocity. But we continue to have strong philosophical continuity.

Roberta L. Jamieson, Canadian lawyer, First Nations activist, and keynote speaker at the opening of the IFIP World Summit on Indigenous Philanthropy

[photo credit: Cultural Survival]

[photo credit: Cultural Survival]

Reciprocity, the practice of exchanging with others for mutual benefit, is the basis for relationships in many Indigenous communities and was the buzzword characterizing the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (IFIP) World Summit on Indigenous Philanthropy. The summit took place September 24–26 in New York City, dovetailing with the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, the UN Climate Summit, and the People’s Climate March. It brought together funders, NGOs, and Indigenous leaders to foster a deeper understanding of Indigenous philanthropy by allowing them to create relationships without the constraint of the funder-recipient dynamic, working as equal partners.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, spoke at the World Summit on the important role that Indigenous philanthropy has in the future of climate change. Her remarks highlighted the importance of the climate march, particularly for Indigenous Peoples: “Indigenous Peoples did not contribute to climate change, but we are asked to solve the crisis. Controlling climate change requires the respect and protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. I like to believe that our funders have the same passion and commitment as Indigenous people to leave a better future for our next generation,” she said.

Currently, less than one percent of philanthropic giving benefits Indigenous Peoples. International Funders for Indigenous Peoples is a nonprofit organization that aims to transform philanthropy globally through encouraging and facilitating partnerships with Indigenous Peoples to further vision, imagination, and responsibility to tackle the challenges of our times. Its members include foundations and individual donors who are focused on funding opportunities for Indigenous Peoples.

Conference speakers provided a closer look at philanthropy and reciprocity as it operates in Indigenous communities. One panel considered the role of youth in continuing the work of philanthropic leaders in their communities and the necessity of educating them for the future. Neydi Juracan Morales (Kaqchiquel Maya), a youth leader from the Comite Campesina del Altiplano, shared that “young Indigenous women in many communities experience discrimination four times: one for being a woman, two for being Indigenous, three for being young, and four for being a leader.” Morales spoke of the struggle to bridge the generational gap between her elders and her peers, more so to prove to her family that being a woman should not limit her work in advancing the political and social movements in her community. “Women are a vital resource to Indigenous communities because we know what our families need. Women play a huge role in maintaining the household; it only makes sense that we have a vote in decisions,” she said.

Also discussed at the event were the rights of Indigenous people with disabilities and their role in Indigenous philanthropy. Diana Samarasan, founding executive director of the Disability Rights Advocacy Advocacy Fund, spoke of the underrepresentation of Indigenous people with disabilities in both political and social realms. She highlighted a different angle of reciprocity—one between movements—in discussing the necessity of acknowledging these members of our communities for the progress and equal representation of Indigenous communities. “We have been funding cross-movement work between the Indigenous Peoples movement and the disability rights movement. Indigenous people with disabilities have been invisible in both movements,” she explained. “The disability community globally [as well as the Indigenous movement] has the slogan, ‘Nothing about us without us.’ And that’s how we, as a funder, have tried to build what we do around that concept… the the structure that we use for funding is to incorporate the voices of persons with disabilities at all levels of what we’re doing.”

Conference participants were encouraged to ask questions and actively participate in the discussions in order to gain broader perspectives. One such question asked how Indigenous funders are incorporating the concept of reciprocity within their respective organizations. Mirna Cunningham, a Miskita leader and activist on the Reimagining Resources, Reciprocity, and Relationship in Grantmaking panel said, “Our concept of reciprocity is a concept of sharing…so our vision at FIMI [Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indigenas] is that we provide the funds and the various groups provide their traditional knowledge. That’s how it works, we share and we exchange.” The panel discussed the funders’ responsibility to view Indigenous philanthropy as mutually beneficial. As Cunningham expressed, the idea is that each side provides their resources to bring about sustainable and culturally sensitive change.

“In traditional Indigenous communities you are aware of what your neighbor has; that is, we know if he has one or two camels. That is how we know what they need in hard times. But the modern economy makes us put our money in the bank where we don’t see it. How then do we know what we have and don’t have? We can’t share that way,” said Dr. Hussein Isack from the Kivulini Heritage Trust.

Participants repeatedly underscored the idea that protecting the environment protects resources for all, including future generations—and that this is the highest form of reciprocity. “Remember that water is our first food, and that food is water. We must conserve our land and our water at the same time,” said Melissa Nelson of The Cultural Conservancy during the Food Sovereignty, Indigenous People, and the Future of Agriculture: a Global Strategy panel. Sustainable land use was also a recurring theme. “Now that we control over 40,000 hectares (150 square miles), the challenge is how to manage it without destroying it. We can’t just continue with the colonial way,” said Abdon Nababan of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago.

Change must happen at several levels for reciprocity to blossom; changing the culture of funding is essential and needs to respect the way Indigenous communities operate. Tauli-Corpuz explained, “Some donors want to see big impact in very little time, but it doesn’t work that way. It took 25 years to draft and pass the UN declaration, so it takes that long.” Sandra Macias del Villar of the Global Fund for Children offered a donor’s perspective, saying that funders too often restrict what the community wants to do. She argued that communities need flexible funding, money that can be spent on anything from transportation to meetings to Internet access. “Too many funders fund short term for just a year or two. That is just not enough time to accomplish anything,” she said.

Reflecting on the event as a whole, Atama Katama, conference panelist and nonprofit leader, commented, “I feel that the summit is very important to not just Indigenous people, but for funders themselves to know more about the new level of working with Indigenous Peoples, especially after the outcome document of the world conference. In the same way, we Indigenous Peoples who are empowered by the process of the world conference now have in mind, can think about, can strengthen the passion to work with philanthropists who are here today.”

Maori Grantmakers Recognized

The recipient of the 2014 IFIP Award for Indigenous Grantmaking went to the JR McKenzie Trust. Founded in 1940, it is one of the oldest organizations in New Zealand that supports the well being and development of the Maori people. This is the first time an award was given to a foundation that has appointed Maori tribal and community leaders on its Board to share in the decision making. Executive Director Evelyn Arce said, “JR McKenzie Trust is a model for the future of Indigenous philanthropy which places community leaders at the center of the decision making process.”

To learn more about International Funders for Indigenous Peoples, visit:

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.


14 Grantees to Celebrate in 2014!

Happy Holidays from First Peoples Worldwide! As 2014 comes to a close, we are honored to share just a few of the Indigenous organizations that our Keepers of the Earth Fund supported this year. Totaling $220,059, our grants reached 43 organizations in 29 countries. Every year we are more amazed and thankful for the amazing things Indigenous communities are doing across the globe.

CKGR village of Molapo

CKGR village of Molapo

Ditshwanelo (Botswana) –The Basarwa/San peoples who inhabit the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) in Botswana have faced forcible relocations to designated re-settlement areas, and as a result, their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle is at risk. Ditshwanelo, the Botswana Centre for Human Rights, has teamed up with the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) NGO Coalition to develop a program that would help ease tensions between the Basarwa/San tribes and the CKGR authorities. KOEF provided funding to support this initiative, which maps land use in the CKGR and would allow the Basarwa/San peoples to actively take part in the preservation and environmentally-responsible use of the CKGR’s delicate ecosystem. Two drafts of the mapping program have already been presented to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), and KOEF’s funding will allow Ditshwanelo to continue its work in land use mapping.


AWISH Community Brushing for IVS Rice Project

AWISH Community Brushing for IVS Rice Project

A World Institute for a Sustainable Humanity (AWISH) and the Coalition for Community Transformation and Development (Sierra Leone) – Although AWISH continues to strive to reestablish the Inland Valley Swamp Rice network in Sierra Leone after a decade of civil war, it has been severely hampered by the Ebola epidemic. Working alongside the CCTD, the coalition deployed Ebola prevention and protection measures through provision of food, water, medicines and disinfectants along with training for mass groups of community peoples on how they can protect themselves against contracting the virus. In this instance, First Peoples Worldwide loosened its usually rigid granting parameters and provided two small grants from Keepers of the Earth Fund in response to an international crisis for humanity.


Grand Houroumi Initiative (Algeria/Niger/Nigeria) – Twice per year, the nomadic Farfarou Peoples, along with their life-supporting herds of animals, traverse the Grand Houroumi, a 2,000-kilometer stretch of land through Algeria, Niger, and Nigeria. The Farfarou experience mounting pressures to sedentarize by governments that do not understand the ecological and cultural importance of their lifestyles. With support from KOEF and the ICCA Consortium, the Farfarou are using participatory mapping and modern GPS technologies to delineate the Grand Houroumi. The project is a crucial step towards acquiring recognition of the Farfarou’s collective rights to use and conserve the Grand Houroumi, and will be guided by pulaaku, a code of conduct that emphasizes patience, self-control, discipline, prudence, modesty, respect for others, wisdom, forethought, personal responsibility, hospitality, courage, and hard work.


Mission Shalom International (Senegal) – This project serves the Diola Peoples that inhabit the coastal plain between the Gambia and Sao Domingo rivers of Senegambia and Guinea-Bissau. These wet-rice farmers, predominantly women, have a long-established tradition of farming together, growing food to feed their families. Five rural Indigenous women networks in five villages in the Casamance region, supported by Shalom International, conducted community building workshops to rebuild the Diola values system in improving food production, and adapting knowledge and local contexts to conform to Diola values and beliefs.


“Sain Tus Center” Business Management Training Course, May 23-24, 2013 – Khuvd, Mongolia

“Sain Tus Center” Business Management Training Course, May 23-24, 2013 – Khuvd, Mongolia


Sain Tus Center (Mongolia)Sain Tus Center is located in Mongolia, the country with the largest share of Indigenous peoples in the world. They had a long history of development funding for their community, but wanted to work on a project that focused on the preservation of their traditions. Specifically, they wished to preserve the Uriankhai Tuuli, which is a traditional epic, or story told through song, and has been declared “a tradition in urgent need of protection” by UNESCO. With their KOEF grant, Sain Tus will be able to create a documentary about the Uriankhai Tuuli, teach several school children how to deliver the Tuuli, and film a television program to raise local awareness about their traditions.


cordilleralogoCordillera Peoples Alliance (Philippines) – The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) represents the Igorot Peoples of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The CPA believes that music, dancing, theater, and other forms of cultural exchange are the best methods of preserving traditional knowledge, educating their youth and disseminating information about unwanted development in Igorot territories. KOEF funded the CPA to form a cultural youth group that will prepare and perform cultural productions in eight communities threatened with development aggression throughout the CAR. The final performance will be held on Cordillera Day, which is an annual celebration commemorating the death of Macliing Dulag, who was murdered in 1980 for his opposition to the Chico River Dam Project.


Tribes Defenders 2Tribes and Natures Defenders (Philippines) – The project is located at the Higa-onon and Manobo tribal communities. Previously, this community received a grant to support its Hilltop Tribal School project that enabled Filipino children to attend school. With its second grant, TRINAD will implement its sustainable economic development project to reestablish farms destroyed by typhoon Yolanda (internationally known as Haiyan) in order to recover from hunger created by this natural disaster. The basis of this project is recovering the food system based on traditional Higa-onon values and beliefs and capacity-building for community people in implementing a tribal farming system.


Centro de Mujeres Aymaras (Bolivia) – Although traditional laws and customs emphasize respect for women in Aymara communities, Aymara women in La Paz, Bolivia frequently experience inequality, discrimination, and abuse. With support from KOEF, the Centro de Mujeres Aymaras will facilitate the written documentation of traditional laws regarding women. They will then spread awareness of these laws to traditional and legal authorities, and to Aymara communities throughout the region, through a combination of seminars, conferences, radio programs, and days of reflection.


Fundacion Mujeres del Agua (Venezuela) – In southeastern Venezuela’s Gran Sabana (Great Savannah), the traditional lifestyles of the Pemon Peoples are rapidly transforming due to the influx of mining to the region. As young men go to work in the mining industry and become increasingly influenced by mainstream culture and the cash economy, women are left as the primary guardians of Pemon traditional values, which emphasize peace, self-sufficiency, and respect for the earth. KOEF supported Fundacion Mujeres del Agua to convene gender-focused and culturally-oriented leadership trainings aimed at enhancing the presence of Pemon women in traditional and contemporary political forums throughout the Gran Sabana.


img_1883Cultural Survival (Guatemala) – Cultural Survival’s community radio program is designed to unify and strengthen communication among Mayan communities in Guatemala, many of which live in remote and rural areas of the country. KOEF supported Cultural Survival to produce and broadcast radio programs on Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). The programs, which are developed by community members and aired in Indigenous languages on more than fifty radio stations, informed Mayan communities about their government’s granting of concessions on their traditional territories, alerted them to the potential consequences, and offered strategies for asserting their right to FPIC.


downloadIndigenous Lafkenche Community of Llaguepulli (Chile)The Lafkenche-Mapuche peoples of Llaguepulli were already working towards Indigenous autonomy and preservation of their heritage when they began to develop a microfinance institution with the help of Maple Microfinance. With a small school run by the community which teaches students their native Mapudungun language, as well as a history of successful self-managed development, starting their own community financial institution seemed like the next step for the Lafkenche-Mapuche peoples. The community received generous support from several funders, in addition to the funds received from First Peoples. Their KOEF funds will specifically support a stipend for two female community managers to work on the microfinance institution.


FamiliaAwUnidad Indigena de Pueblo Awa (Colombia) – The Awa Peoples of southwestern Colombia experience massive and systematic violations of their rights due to the presence of various armed groups in their katza su (territories). KOEF supported the Unidad Indigena de Pueblo Awa to organize a forum of leaders from various Awa reservations to exchange traditional seeds and discuss the history and mythology behind them. The leaders then began the process of planning and creating a self-sustaining Awa farm, which will infuse their traditional farming practices with contemporary permaculture techniques. The farm will serve as a model for other farms in Awa territories, and as a means of combating poor nutrition, environmental degradation, and cultural deprivation in Awa communities.


Chickee Completed! [Photo Credit: Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative]

Chickee Completed! [Photo Credit: Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative]

Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative (United States) The Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative (SSPI) is a community organization located in Oklahoma that strives to support the local Native peoples, which include the Seminole and Muscogee Creek tribes. KOEF provided funding for the SSPI to participate in the rebuilding of a Seminole chickee—a structure used for housing, cooking, and eating—that had been damaged by a lightning strike. The financial assistance provided by KOEP allowed for the transportation of traditional cypress and palm fronds that were used to rebuild the chickee in time for the 2nd Annual Corn Conference and the 40th anniversary celebration of the International Indian Treaty Council Conference (IITC).


Hui Malama I Na Kupuna o Hawai’I Nei (United States)The “Hui” is a Native Hawaiian organization working to identify and repatriate the remains of Native Hawaiian ancestors. The people are ‘Oiwi, which literally means “of the bone” and refers to one’s parents, their parents, and their parents, ad infinitum (ancestry). They believe in an interdependent relationship between themselves and their relatives, and the responsibility of care and protection between the living and deceased. The organization received a second grant to continue its work in identifying Hawaiian skeletal remains, specifically in the collections at Oxford University, Museum of Natural History in England. The organization waited four years for a determination from the University as to whether or not four skulls thought to be Native Hawaiian were indeed Native Hawaiian. Three of the skulls were determined to be Native Hawaiian and two of these were repatriated with funds awarded in the first KOE grant. One of the remaining two was found to be Native Hawaiian and one Egyptian. The second grant was used to repatriate the third skull. By returning the ancestors home for reburial, the Hui restored and strengthened the Native Hawaiian ancestral foundation.

 Stay tuned for more news from FPW in January 2015!




#Frack Off: Indigenous Women Lead Effort Against Fracking

Originally posted by Cultural Survival in Cultural Survival Quarterly 38-4 Indigenous Rights Protect Us All (December 2014)

By Madeline McGill

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is posing a danger to Indigenous communities beyond its damaging environmental impact. First Nations in both Canada and the United State are being hit the hardest, where oil and gas companies with interests in the untapped resources of Indigenous lands are gaining ground. Fearing the effect that fracking will have on their lands and families many Indigenous women have begun to stand up with their communities to tell oil corporations, tribal councils, and their respective governments that enough is enough.

The efforts of these women came to fruition during Climate Action Week in New York on September 20 when the School of Media Studies at the New School hosted #FRACKOFF: Indigenous Women Leading Media Campaigns to Defend our Climate, co-organized by FRACK ACTION. Influential Indigenous organizers Shelley A. Young (Mi’kmaq), Kandi Mosset (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara), Elle-Maija Tailfeathers (Blood and Saami), and Ellen Gabriel (Mohawk) were presenters at the event. Though from different parts of North America, these women came together at the conference with a similar mission: to address the impact of fracking, and what Indigenous women can do about it.

“We knew it was important to organize a women’s event because women are the creators of life,” said Julia Walsh, founder and campaign director of Frack Action. “We cannot have life on Earth without clean water. In order to restore balance on the planet, the women must be honored and respected. So we are here tonight to listen and learn from these women. Women are leading our movement.”

[Photo Credit: Cultural Survival]

[Photo Credit: Cultural Survival]

The environmental damage of fracking is undisputed, yet many of North America’s Indigenous Peoples have been helpless to stop the tide of trucks and drills pouring into their sacred lands, polluting groundwater and dispersing harmful chemicals. Less acknowledged is the effect the fracking industry has had on the safety and wellbeing of female residents. Indigenous communities have seen increases in missing women, sex trafficking, and rape since oil workers have begun flooding their lands seeking employment.

Gabriel voiced her concerns over the treatment of Indigenous women and the lack of response from the government. She is in the midst of a fight over Kanehsatà:ke traditional lands in Alberta, which are in the path of Energy East and Line 9 tar sands pipelines. “Right now it’s a man’s world. In fact, it’s a rape culture,” she said. “In Canada, rape of Indigenous women has gone on with impunity. And the government of Canada refuses to have a national plan of action; they refuse to have an inquiry because it profits them to continue to oppress Indigenous people, and the best way to do it is by the life givers themselves, the women. It ruptures the family unit, and it’s another form of genocide as far as I’m concerned.”

Mossett agrees that the fracking industry has brought nothing but bad news for Indigenous communities. Long engaged in the fight for sustainability through the Indigenous Environmental Network, she has been devastated watching her North Dakota homeland become a hub for the fracking industry. North Dakota, she said, portrays the fracking industry as being beneficial for the state for the jobs that it provides. However, many of these jobs are not going to Dakota residents, as people are pouring into the state seeking work. “There are people coming in, there are women being raped. Kids being found running away from a [workman’s] camp, people being sold into sex slavery, slavery rings that are happening, drugs and alcohol,” she said.

Similar to the inaction in Alberta, Mossett affirmed that little is being done by the tribal council on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota to stop the injustices against Indigenous residents. “The current tribal council is turning the other cheek,” she said. “They’re getting very rich, lining their pockets. We don’t know where over $380 million went…it blows my mind how corrupt it is.”

It is the deadly combination of council corruption, Mossett argued, combined with North Dakota’s natural resources, that have contributed to its establishment as one of the capitals of the fracking industry in North America. “This is a common occurrence that we’ve started to see in what, for me, used to be God’s country. I’m very close to the land; it’s a beautiful place. The western part of North Dakota is the Bad Lands. It’s very, very beautiful, yet at the same not a lot of people live there so it’s very, very, very convenient for the industry,” she said.

All of the Indigenous leaders at the conference agreed that more efforts could be taken to address the frequent occurrence of missing women on tribal lands.

Young, an Eskasoni leader, has been on the frontlines of the fight against fracking in Elsipogtog, organizing on campuses and in communities along the coast and fundraising for fellow activists in legal jeopardy. She saw how little is being done to find missing Indigenous women after a pregnant Canadian woman studying the cases of missing women disappeared and was eventually found dead. “RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) didn’t even call the mother. They didn’t care. It was reported and they kept saying that they were so worried about her, and that it was unlike her, and they weren’t making any phone calls. It was just another dead Indian to them,” she recounted.

These instances of national and tribal governments refusing to address issues of the environment and women’s justice caused by the ever-booming fracking industry have served as the catalyst for Indigenous women to seek strength within their communities. “It’s so hard to do this work when so many people are against you,” said Mossett. “But we do. We get together in our communities and we organize. And we take back the power because nobody is going to do it for us.”

The speakers maintained that, living on the lands being sold to oil and gas companies, it was easy for many Indigenous people to accept what the government and corporations were than the consent of the governed. “The first thing that Chief and council did once news of this deal broke was they handed out distribution checks to every member of the tribe. These distribution checks were handed out 10 days before Christmas, for $800. I don’t know too many people who would turn down $800 10 days before Christmas, especially if you’re broke, or a single mom living on social assistance.”

In order to protect future generations from the dangers of fracking, Gabriel said, it is important that Indigenous people and activists educate themselves on the issues. “When the people decide that it’s time to take back their democracy from the corporate-controlled governments and the corporations, when the people decide that you’ve got to get up off your seats…you’ve got to get up and tell your friends, you’ve got to bring it into the schools of your children, about what’s been going on to Indigenous Peoples. Because if they had respected our lives as human beings since contact, we would not be in this terrible mess today.

“You’re never guaranteed in this movement that you’re going to win by sticking your neck out and making your voice heard,” said Mossett of the grassroots effort behind Indigenous women’s organizing. But, she added, “you’re guaranteed to completely fail if you don’t at least try.”

Watch the whole event here:
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Maintaining the Ways of Our Ancestors: Indigenous Women Address Food Sovereignty

In honor of The Great Native Eats Challenge this November, this Cultural Survival article is re-posted from December 2013.

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

“Food sovereignty is knowing the species we have on our lands, knowing what kind of seeds to plant in each territory.” These are the words of Clemencia Herrera from the Colombian Amazon, a participant in the working group on food sovereignty at the recently concluded World Conference on Indigenous Women. From establishing schools to educate Indigenous youth about traditional foodways to building greenhouses in the Arctic and east Africa, no shortage of proposed solutions emerged from the conference on the issue of food sovereignty—the ability of a people to produce their own food independent of outside markets.

As introduced by Indigenous leader Andrea Carmen (Yaqui, United States), executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council, food sovereignty is a concept that Indigenous Peoples have developed as a key component of their right to control how their lands and territories are used. Article 1 of Common, International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states, “In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.” Yet, that is exactly what is happening: governments and companies the world over are seizing Indigenous Peoples’ lands without their consent, introducing genetically modified seeds to replace highly adapted heirloom seeds, and forcing dependence on a globalized food economy. Moreover, climate change is altering the environments in which Indigenous peoples live, rendering inhospitable the habitats of the plants and animals on which they depend for food.

Although the problem of diminished food sovereignty and food insecurity is one that affects all people, not just Indigenous communities, Indigenous Peoples are uniquely situated to offer solutions. Armed with ancient traditional knowledge and a deep connection to the their lands, Indigenous communities, and particularly Indigenous women, are developing projects and building networks to revitalize local food capacity and strengthen food sovereignty.


Food security vs. Food sovereignty
Cecilia Brito, president of the Coordinating Association of Indigenous Women of the Amazon, explains how the eating practices of her community have changed. “In the old days, we Indigenous Peoples enjoyed unlimited territory for all. There was no hunger or contamination. We had our lands, our forests, our rivers . . . all with plenty of species.” Her people produced or hunted their own food, but now, she says, they hunt animals, sell them in the market, and use that money to buy food from outside, a cycle that she sees as self-defeating,  especially considering the high levels of malnutrition that she and other women are seeing in their communities.

The same is happening in the Arctic. Another conference attendee, Linda Arsenault-Papatsie (Pauuktuutit), executive assistant at Pauktuutit, whose people depend heavily on hunting and fishing, said that last winter their caribou herds did not arrive because climate change had altered their migratory routes. Thus, the men in the community are no longer hunting and women are turning to paid work to provide income to buy food, almost all of which is imported. And in the Andes, alpaca are no longer arriving to drink the water they always have, so communities are losing their best source of meat and forced to turn to pesticide-ridden imported products.

Maria Ponce, a representative of Centro de Culturas Indígenas del Perú, clarifies that food security and food sovereignty are not the same thing. Her people are full, she said, but on potatoes, yucca, and other carbohydrates. Whereas her community used to be able to call the forest their market, they no longer have access to protein and other vital nutrients. They may be food secure—that is, they have enough food—but not the right food.


Biodiversity and Free Trade
“Transnational corporations have negative social, economic, and cultural impacts,” including among them destruction of food sovereignty, Brito said, because “the State supports a neoliberal policy to which we are not well adapted.” Neoliberal, capitalist policy was a theme running through the presentations of the many Indigenous women in the food sovereignty working group. The issue is not, as defenders of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and pesticides would have us believe, that Indigenous peoples cannot feed themselves. Clelia Rivero, a Quechua from Peru, faults free trade agreements, under which the best domestically produced foods are exported to other countries and Peruvians are left with lower quality foods.

The loss of biodiversity, changing migration patterns, atypical rainfall, and other effects of climate change, along with the false lure of pesticides and “improved” seeds, are causing traditional foods to be supplanted by imported, less nourishing foods. And as Indigenous Peoples stop producing their own food in traditional ways, the passing down of ancient knowledge to their children is lost, seeding a vicious cycle resulting in the loss of traditions developed over thousands of years to care for the Earth and produce from it nutritious foods.


Finding Solutions
Recommendations to address these problems are plentiful, although as many women recognize, implementation is a long process. Ilaria Cruz, a Guaraní from Paraguay, proposed establishing agro-ecological schools to prepare Indigenous youth for the task of maintaining food sovereignty. She said that in her community, Indigenous organizations are saving seeds and engaging in seed exchanges where they share successful seeds and maintain them by continuing to plant them. Alice Lesepen, a Maasai from Kenya, described how
the women in her community have sought assistance from the government to address an inability to access water for growing food. They began planting greens and vegetables at the household level; when climate change altered rain patterns, they consulted the government and now have a greenhouse in which they can grow food in less time, with less water.

The Maasai women’s self-determination is allowing them to confront the issues of food sovereignty and develop solutions. They need to learn how to use irrigation systems and access markets but, Lesepen says, “I am sure we are able to produce a lot.” In similar fashion, Brito and her community are implementing a project to teach families to produce food at the household level and to bring in a small income. Her organization offers workshops to gather traditional knowledge about native foods and to teach people to produce their own food again based on the wisdom of their ancestors, creating “cooperation between the past and the present.”

Indigenous women are especially important to the fight for food sovereignty. As Brito explains, “The special role of the Indigenous woman is to maintain the ways of our ancestors. [We fulfill] the important role of preserving our cultures. We produce and reproduce. For the most part, women are in our homes each day with our children, with our family, while the men go out. The woman is the one who most works the earth. As women we hold an important role as protagonists in moving forward.”

All of the Indigenous women who spoke at the conference emphasized working toward food sovereignty, acknowledging that the encouragement of their families and communities to do so largely falls to them. Brito’s organization is working to change this paradigm by encouraging couples and their children to produce food for their families together. As she says, they do this work “to preserve, to continue holding onto that which is ours.”


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.