Posts Tagged ‘International Indian Treaty Council’


Corporations and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Advancing the Struggle for Protection, Recognition, and Redress at the Third UN Forum on Business and Human Rights

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

By Andrea Carmen

In 1990, the UN Global Consultation on the Right to Development declared that “the most destructive and prevalent abuses of Indigenous rights are the direct consequences of development strategies that fail to respect their fundamental right of self-determination.” Twenty-five years later, notwithstanding historic progress in the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the international arena (most notably the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), this statement still defines the reality for the majority of Indigenous Peoples.


Today, the survival of Indigenous Peoples around the world continues to be threatened by corporate activity. This includes mining, oil drilling, damming, deforestation, toxic pesticides, proliferation by agribusiness, water privatization and appropriation, and a range of other activities carried out on or near Indigenous Peoples’ lands without their Free, Prior and Informed Consent. These activities are often undertaken in violation of legally binding treaties and agreements. They desecrate sacred places, undermine food sovereignty and traditional livelihoods, and jeopardize community and reproductive health with little regard for violations of these and other individual and collective human rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) and other Indigenous organizations are engaged in the work of Special Representative John Ruggie, who was appointed by the UN Secretary General “to identify and clarify standards of corporate responsibility and accountability for transnational corporations and other business enterprises with regard to human rights.” IITC has made several submissions urging the full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples to ensure that their perspectives and experiences would be taken into account. IITC has also consistently underscored the vital importance of the Declaration as a framework for upholding Indigenous rights.

In June 2011 the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution unanimously endorsing the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights implementing the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” framework proposed by Ruggie. This framework provided a global standard for preventing human rights impacts of business activity and providing remedies for victims. The Guiding Principles are organized under three pillars: the State’s duty to protect human rights; corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and the need for greater access to remedy for victims of business-related abuse.

The UN Working Group

In addition to adopting the Guiding Principles, the Human Rights Council established a UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises to carry out studies and oversee implementation at the country level. Along with issue-based studies and country visits, the Working Group organizes annual Human Rights and Business Forums where States, UN agencies, NGOs, and Indigenous Peoples review good (and bad) practices, present strategies for effective implementation, and highlight areas of ongoing concern.

The responsibility of States to be accountable for human rights violations caused by the corporations they license and the duty of corporations to respect human rights are relatively new and evolving human rights concepts. However, even before the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights were adopted in 2011, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the treaty monitoring body for the international convention of the same name, affirmed that both Canada and the United States are obligated to prevent human rights violations in Indigenous communities around the world by corporations licensed in either country. The continued lack of compliance by the US with this recommendation from the Committee was addressed when the US was reviewed again in 2013. The Committee made similar observations addressing the responsibility of Canada, in particular regarding the activities of Canadian mining companies carrying out activities that violated the rights of Indigenous Peoples outside the country in both 2007 and 2012.

Indigenous Peoples’ Participation in UN Forums on Business and Human Rights

From its first session in 2012, the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights has recognized that Indigenous Peoples around the world suffer from adverse impacts of corporate activity resulting in violation of a wide range of their individual and collective rights. At all three sessions of the Forum to date, Indigenous Peoples have been a key focus, although there is still no formal mechanism or permanent agenda item, as requested by Indigenous Peoples, to ensure their formal participation and full inclusion in future sessions. Chief Wilton Littlechild, Chair of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples addressed the first session in 2012, and the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, were panelists at the second and third sessions. One of the Working Group’s first activities was a groundbreaking study exploring the challenges faced in addressing “adverse impacts of business-related activities on the rights of Indigenous Peoples through the lens of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

Specific concerns raised by IITC at the third Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights held December 1–3, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland, focused on the continued production and export by US corporations of highly restricted and unregulated pesticides banned for use in the US. This practice, permitted by current US laws, has had devastating, well-documented human rights consequences, including undermining reproductive health and causing over 25 documented deaths in Yaqui Indian communities in northern Mexico. IITC presented this concern in a side event organized by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and was invited to submit this issue for the Committee’s country review of Mexico in May 2015.

The United States’ National Action Plan

A key mechanism for implementation and a central focus of discussion at the most recent Forum is the development of National Action Plans by UN member states to promote implementation of the Guiding Principles. On January 14, IITC sent a written contribution to the US State Department for the development of its own National Action Plan, which was announced by President Obama in September 2014. It is targeted for completion, after a series of consultations around the country, by the end of 2015. The first consultation was held in New York City on December 15; upcoming sessions are planned for Oklahoma, California, and Washington, D.C. in February and March 2015.

IITC’s submission followed up on issues raised during reviews of the US in 2014 highlighting corporate activities impacting the rights of Indigenous Peoples in and out of the country. These include laws allowing the manufacture and export of pesticides from the US that have been banned or deregulated in the US; violations resulting from corporate activities that cause the destruction, desecration, and contamination of Indigenous Peoples’ sacred and ceremonial sites, areas, and landscapes, including many located on what are now federal lands and in areas recognized as belonging to Indigenous nations under their ratified Treaties with the US; and lack of US compliance and implementation of the provisions and rights affirmed in its human rights obligations and commitments.

World Conference on Indigenous Peoples

AThe Outcome Document of the High Level Meeting of the UN General Assembly, also known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, further underscored UN member states’ commitments to uphold the rights affirmed in the Declaration. The Outcome Document adopted on September 22, 2014, included a commitment to the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent related to development activities. Based on the UN Guiding Principles Business and Human Rights, as well as the Concluding Observations of UN Treaty Bodies and the commitments made by States (including the US) in the outcome document, IITC made several recommendations to the US State Department urging the use of rights affirmed in the Declaration, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

IITC also urged that the national action plan affirm the rights contained in the World Conference outcome document to Free, Prior and Informed Consent; that the plan uphold the rights affirmed in the nation-to-nation treaties it concluded with Indigenous nations to interpret and guide its implementation of the UN Principles on Human Rights and Business; that it incorporate and implement the recommendations of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Covenant on Civil and Political Rights treaty bodies with regard to the protection of Indigenous Peoples’ sacred areas, sites, and landscapes; and that it include a commitment to take immediate steps to halt the production and export of pesticides and other toxic chemicals that have been banned for use in the United States.

Although these recommendations are directed specifically to the US, similar recommendations can be made to other member states where corporate and business activities impact the rights and survival of Indigenous Peoples. The devastating effects of business and corporate activities upon the rights of Indigenous Peoples, their health, lands and territories, cultures, and ways of life, cannot be minimized. Neither can the responsibility or accountability of member states.

Read the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights here:

Andrea Carmen is the executive director of International Indian Treaty Council, an Indigenous Peoples organization with General Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council.

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


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!




Grantee Highlight: Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative

By Katie Cheney

Setting up the conference site [Photo Credit: Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative]

Setting up the conference site [Photo Credit: Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative]

At this year’s 40th Anniversary International Indian Treaty Conference, conference attendees had the privilege of meeting, sharing meals, and discussing challenges facing Indigenous peoples in a traditional Seminole Chickee, built by the Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative (SSPI). With just a $5,000 grant from First Peoples Worldwide’s Keepers of the Earth Fund, the SSPI was able to rebuild a dilapidated Chickee that not only served as a meeting place for this conference, but shared Seminole traditions with visitors, inspired people to continue working to protect Indigenous values in their own communities, and created the potential for future gatherings in the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma.

The International Indian Treaty Council’s 40th Anniversary Conference was held on September 10-12, 2014 in the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma, at the home of the late Phillip Deere, one of IITC’s co-founders, in a traditional Creek “Roundhouse”. Initially, SSPI set out to restore the Seminole Chickee that had been built next to the Roundhouse twenty years ago. However, after inspecting the structure, the SSPI decided that it needed to be rebuilt.

Building the Chickee [Photo Credit: Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative]

Building the Chickee [Photo Credit: Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative]

Weather and access to needed materials delayed the Chickee construction, to a point where SSPI was still working on the structure as participants arrived for the conference. What started as a mere construction project became a cultural demonstration – participants were able to observe how the Chickee was built. Situated between the Roundhouse and the kitchen, participants interacted with the construction of the Chickee, sparking conversations about traditional structures from their own Indigenous communities and how they compared to Seminole traditions.

The Chickee used palm fronds from Florida, and represented Seminole traditional housing alongside the Roundhouse of the Southeastern Peoples. Of the Chickee construction, SSPI said:

“By educating our youth with hands on experience in building the Seminole Chickee, our traditions and our way of live as Seminole people will be carried on to future generations. The chickee also demonstrated a tangible bond between the Seminoles of Florida and the Seminoles of Oklahoma. Chickees of this kind are still common in Florida, but less so in Oklahoma – having this one in Oklahoma will hopefully inspire more of our traditional structures to be built in Oklahoma.”

For the SSPI, building traditional Chickees is just one way that they maintain their traditional culture – they also retain culture uniqueness through their tribal language, clan kinships, traditional foods and clothing, and storytelling of Seminole history. SSPI was able to leave behind a structure that will be used for future events at the Phillip Deere Roundhouse – the Deere family plans to continue to make the space available for future gatherings of traditional meetings. The project has also motivated the Initiative to apply for 501c3 status, so that they can seek more funding and build a foundation for a strong community center and Seminole organization.

“The IITC conference brought many participants from all over the Western Hemisphere to Oklahoma, it was an honor to have the Chickee there for all the conference participants to see. The Chickee is a reminder to all of the way of life of our ancestors as well as the traditions of the Seminole People.” – The Seminole Sovereignty Protection Initiative

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

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


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.


Vce Ohfvnkv en Heromkv – “Corn is a Gift from the Creator”: Indigenous Gatherings This Fall

By Katie Cheney

Amidst the high profile Peoples’ Climate March and the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in the past few months, Indigenous groups and representatives from across the Americas met at two consecutive gatherings in Oklahoma – the second annual International Indigenous Peoples Corn Conference, and the International Indian Treaty Council’s 40th Anniversary International Indian Treaty Conference.

The International Indigenous Peoples Corn Conference was hosted by the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) and the Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative, an organization that addresses food and health needs of the Mvskoke people in Oklahoma. Distinguished elders, traditional leaders, honored guests, and Indigenous representatives from the Philippines, New Zealand, Guatemala, Colombia, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Hawaii, Alaska, and all across the United States met to discuss the culture of corn, threats to corn and traditional food systems, and solutions for the future. The Diné Nation in Arizona held the first International Corn Conference in September 2013. The 2014 Corn Conference was supported in part by First Peoples Worldwide.

The Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma hosted IITC’s 40th Anniversary International Indian Treaty Conference on September 10-12, 2014. The theme of the conference, “40 Years Defending the Rights and Recognition of Indigenous Peoples”, sparked discussions about persistent challenges facing Indigenous peoples of the Americas, including racism, food sovereignty, environmental health, climate change and reproductive health, among others. The conference was held at the home of the late Phillip Deere, one of IITC’s co-founders, in a traditional Creek “Roundhouse”.

Below are some photos from both the Corn Conference and the 40th Anniversary Conference, shared by the International Indian Treaty Council.

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

[Photo credit: International Indian Treaty Council]

Sources: Indian Country Today Media Network, The Voice of the Taino People


FPW Funds Conference in Defense of Native Food Sovereignty

In June 2013, First Peoples Worldwide (FPW), through its Keepers of the Earth Fund, funded a gathering of more than a hundred participants from Canada and the U.S. at the “An Indigenous Peoples’ International Gathering to Honor, Protect, and Defend the Salmon,” conference in Northern California. Over 10 tribal communities discussed all the factors that threaten the health of fish populations, habitats, and spawning areas – including decreased water levels, temperature changes, snowmelt, dam construction, gold mining, fossil fuel extraction, and potentially the FDA’s tentative approval of genetically engineered salmon.

In the conference leader’s words:

“The cycles of our lives and the countless generations of our Peoples are merged with the life cycles of the Salmon. Salmon is our traditional food but also defines who we are. Our spiritual and cultural existence and the survival of our future generations are based on the survival of the Salmon and the exercise of our sacred responsibilities to protect the rivers, oceans, watersheds, and eco-systems where they live. The health of the salmon is one with the spiritual, cultural, and physical health of our Peoples.”

The Indigenous Youth Foundation, the International Indian Treaty Council, and the Yurok Tribe Wellness Court hosted the conference, where people from the Karuk, Hupa, Tolowa, Wintu, Northwest Indian Fisheries Tribes, Chickaloon Alaska, Pit River, Warm Springs, Pomo, and British Columbia coastal tribes were in attendance.

As Simon Senogles, Ojibwe, Food Sovereignty Safety & Health Organizer at the Indigenous Environmental Network says, “This is not just an indigenous issue. It’s about our relationship to the land and water and each other.”

Source: International Indian Treaty Council

Source: International Indian Treaty Council

 This post includes excerpts from an article published October 3, 2014 on Mint Press News. To read more about threats to Native food sovereignty in North America and FPW’s grant to support the conference, read the original article by Christine Graef here. To learn more about FPW’s grants globally, click here.


10 Amazing Photos from the Peoples’ Climate March 2014

By Britnae Purdy

On September 21st, appx. 400,000 people walked together through the streets of New York City to bring attention to the alarming effects of climate change. Simultaneous walks took place around the world, bringing together celebrities, politicians, community leaders, children, grandparents, and people of every race, leaving us with hope that we can make a change to save our Mother Earth. Here, we share just a few of the photographs that inspire us so greatly.


10712995_10152870257501844_3844484782254311409_n(Photo by Yvonne Gougelet, found on



Ta’kaiya Blaney and Kandi Mossett, two inspiring Indigenous environmental activists (from Cultural Survival)


10608777_717573501624606_8214121445702609281_o(Pictured: Art Tanderup holding “No Permit, No Pipeline” flag, Shane Red Hawk and his daughter Tasina, Rosebud Sioux Tribe president Cyril Scott, and Jane Kleeb with her family’s ranch brand flag at People’s Climate March. Photo by Jenna Pope.)


10697327_10103502634778633_4006870606029404852_o(An amazing photo taken by Jenna Pope for Bold Nebraska#PeoplesClimateMarch #IndigenousRising#CowboyIndianAlliance)



(from New York Magazine)


10649863_10152406468567914_872937377733644761_nThis photo is full of celebrities and important leaders, but we’re proudest of the next generation of strong Indigenous women up front (Photo by Amy Ponce, International Indian Treaty Council)


ByEWpusCcAAvdaZ(Photo shared by Twitter user @NoKXL)


ByBtrIDIQAEj9_XMarchers at the Peoples Climate March in Kathmandu, Nepal! (Shared on Twitter)


Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 9.06.19 PMFrank Waln performing on the Peoples Power Stage at the NYC March (Found on Twitter)






The Importance of Culture

A new study links oil sands production with high level of arsenic, heavy metals, mercury, and other pollutants in traditional foods in northern Alberta. This is causing First Nations to shift away from their traditional diets due to fears of contamination, and consume more imported, processed foods, which are less healthy and more expensive. The study was prepared by environmental scientists from the University of Manitoba, and funded by the National First Nations Environmental Contaminants Program, Health Canada, and two communities.

Impact assessments for projects on or near Indigenous lands should include impacts to traditional foods. When mitigating these impacts, companies should remember the strong ties between traditional foods and culture, in addition to health, economic livelihoods, etc. According to the International Indian Treaty Council, “many outsiders still use only economic or nutritional standards (not cultural standards) when they try to help us feed our communities, or when they carry out projects that affect our communities’ food systems.”

Sources: Globe and Mail


FPIC 101: An Introduction to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent


What is FPIC?

The world’s Indigenous territories are rich in natural resources. Governments, corporations and non-governmental organizations have historically used the lands of Indigenous Peoples for their own purposes and profit—drilling for oil, selling land for large farming plantations, or claiming areas for conservation purposes. These projects are too often undertaken without the consent of those who live on and are sustained by the land, resulting in physical, cultural, spiritual and environmental damage to the communities and the planet.

If a corporation, along with representatives of your government, came to your house and wanted to drill for oil, you would expect them to ask your permission first. You would also expect to be told of all the potential benefits and risks of the project, and if you agreed to the plan, partake in the profits. You wouldn’t expect to be completely ignored, or worse, violently removed from your own land without so much as an explanation. And yet that’s what Indigenous people are experiencing all over the world.

In other words, Indigenous people are not given the chance to give their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to companies looking to make use of their land. The consequences are dire—because governments often use force to ensure that companies can proceed unhindered, FPIC is literally a matter of life and death. Without control of their land, these communities suffer abject poverty and the unraveling of their traditional cultures, all because they are denied a right that most people living in Western-style democracies take as a given.

Over the last few decades, the concept of FPIC has increasingly been used by Indigenous rights advocates to guide negotiations between Indigenous communities and outside interests. The principles of FPIC were first formally laid out by the 1989 International Labour Organisation’s Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (ILO 169). Articles 6, 7, and 9 of ILO 169 establish that consent must be acquired before indigenous communities are relocated or before development is undertaken on their land. The FPIC concept was strongly reinforced by the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which outlined a host of scenarios in which FPIC should become the standard “best practice” for negotiations between indigenous peoples and any other entity. UNDRIP articles 10, 11, 19, 29, 30, and 32 all argue for the inclusion of FPIC in negotiations regarding land, culture, property, resources, and conservation.

Why do we need to define FPIC?

While the United Nations is an international organization with 193 member states and its declarations carry enormous weight, they are not legally binding. FPIC is simply a guideline and “best practice” for negotiations. So why focus on defining the concept in such detail?

FPIC can be used to alleviate misunderstandings about land ownership, safeguard indigenous sovereignty, ensure fair dealing, and formulate relationships built on trust. The FPIC guidelines established by UNDRIP have been used by Indigenous Peoples and their supporters to pass laws at the national level. However, since FPIC is not binding, it can be distorted for the purposes of manipulation, inequitable bargains, and poor representation for Indigenous Peoples. Without clear definitions of what qualifies as “consent,” outside actors can claim the legitimacy of FPIC even if its true spirit has not been upheld, making their projects even more difficult to challenge.

Even when outside interests fully intend to acquire FPIC before beginning their projects, it can be difficult to know how to secure FPIC from a community. For instance, there are multiple decision makers and opinions in every community, and consent from one faction may not represent the desires of the entire group. The more practical and unequivocal the international definition of FPIC, the stronger its implementation will be on the ground and the easier to follow for companies, governments and NGOs.

Defining Free, Prior and Informed Consent


Communities must be free to participate in negotiations that affect them without force, intimidation, manipulation, coercion, or pressure by the government, company, or organization seeking consent.


The community must be given a sufficient amount of time to review and consider all necessary information and to reach a decision before the implementation of the project begins. Because every community is different and has different decision-making processes, the community and only the community must decide how much time it needs.


The interested parties must provide adequate, complete, relevant information to the community so that it can assess the potential pros and cons of a particular action. Information must be provided in a form that is easily accessible to the community, including translated documents and media and descriptions of proposed actions that can be understood by a layperson. Scale models, videos, maps, diagrams and photographs can only do so much in depicting complex, large-scale changes that the community may never have experienced and are hard to conceptualize. Ideally, representatives of affected communities are able to visit similar projects in person and enter into dialogues with people who have experienced similar developments firsthand. It is also crucial that the community have access to independent, neutral counseling and the necessary legal and/or technical expertise to understand all of the potential results of the proposed action.


The community must have the option of saying “yes” or “no” to the project before planning begins, along with a detailed explanation of the conditions under which consent will be given. This decision must be respected absolutely by all interested parties. The community must also be given the opportunity to provide feedback at every stage of project development and execution to ensure that the conditions of consent are met. If the conditions of initial consent are not met, the community must have the option of withdrawing its consent and all interested parties must immediately cease any part of the project to which the community had not agreed.

What’s next?

Even these definitions leave much to be desired. A detailed manual on FPIC is needed, something that Indigenous groups all over the world contribute to and build from their collective needs and experience. First Peoples is working on creating a database of FPIC guidebooks – disturbingly, we’ve so far found that only 25 percent of FPIC sources are actually produced by Indigenous organizations.

All this week, First Peoples is focusing on FPIC, leading up to the United Nations’ International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on Friday, August 9th, when we’ll also be hosting a webinar with Proud to Be Indigenous Coalition members Cultural Survival and the International Indian Treaty Council. The webinar, which will start at 11am EST, is entitled Engaging FPIC: Understanding, Interpretation, and Self-Determination – register online here!


(Photo from Amazon Watch)


Minimata Convention: Mercury solution or just politics?

by Britnae Purdy

Mercury is a problem. Over time, it accumulates in fish and marine mammals and is passed along to humans through our food and water. A little mercury won’t hurt you. But over time, your body collects, or bioaccumulates, it in your fatty tissue and organs. When you have accumulated too much, it can cause brain and kidney damage, speech impairment, memory loss, fatigue, joint pain, vision loss, and cardiovascular disease. It is a massive threat because our most precious and vulnerable populations – pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and young children – are most susceptible to mercury poisoning.

Indigenous peoples suffer disproportionately high rates of mercury poisoning. Indigenous lands and reservations are the sites of coal plants and mining operations – both of which are heavy emitters of mercury.


On January 19, 140 states adopted a new treaty at the Minimata Convention on mercury restricting mercury emissions.

The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), an environmental, health, and human rights organization representing the indigenous populations of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Russia, says that it is pleased with this treaty. Arctic populations are most susceptible to mercury poison due to traditional diets based heavily on seafood and the use of the Arctic to transport mercury-contaminated products.

“Mercury reaches the Arctic region solely through long-range transportation from other regions of the world,” says Parnuna Egede, advisor on environmental issues for ICC-Greenland. “In this otherwise pristine environment, Arctic Indigenous Peoples are heavily impacted by mercury through their traditional diet.”

A 2009 study by the Arctic Monitoring  and Assessment Programme reported that 19% of indigenous women in Alaska, 5.6-32% of women in Northern Canada, 20-98% of women in Greenland, and 1.5-12% of indigenous women in Russia had elevated levels of mercury in their system. A 2008 study by the Inuit Health Survey showed that 25% of children in Nunavut, Canada had elevated mercury levels and found that 95% of mercury intake in the community came from traditional foods such as beluga, narwhal, ringed seal, and caribou.

However, representatives from the Global Indigenous Peoples Caucus are unhappy with the treaty. They argue that the language of the treaty is too weak, and prefer an agreement that would be legally-binding and effective immediately. The current treaty is a mixture of legal and voluntary measures and, though it cuts mercury emissions from artisanal and small-scale gold-mining, utility plants, and industrial complexes, it provides exceptions for vaccines containing mercury, religious and traditional activities, and for processes where there are no mercury-free alternatives. The treaty will not go into full effect until it is signed by 50 nations, expected to happen within three to four years.

“It will probably be decades before we can actually measure declines of mercury levels in the environment,” says Egede.

Some indigenous groups were also disturbed by disagreements over how to address and include indigenous peoples in the treaty. Indigenous peoples are only mentioned in the preamble of the document and are referred to as “communities” rather than “peoples.” This is a result of France and the United Kingdom refusing to accept a document containing the phrase “indigenous peoples,” despite support for the inclusion by nations such as the United States, Canada, Nepal, and many Latin American countries.

The California Indian Environmental Alliance and the Global Indigenous Peoples Caucus acknowledge that the inclusion of indigenous issues in the document and the wide support by nations at the conference do represent a win for indigenous rights. However, Attorney Danika Littlechild of the International Indian Treaty Council, sees this as an upsetting precedence.

“This is the first new multilateral environmental Convention to be negotiated at the United Nations since the adoption of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the U.N. General Assembly in 2007,” she said. “We cannot understand why states which voted in favor of the Declaration refused to include the term ‘Indigenous Peoples’ which is so important for the full recognition of our rights and status in the international arena. It is clear that we still have a lot of work to do in the fight for our recognition and rights within the environmental program of the U.N.”