Posts Tagged ‘Kenya’


Thousands Evicted for Clean Energy and Tourism

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Thousands of Maasai pastoralists in Kenya and Tanzania are being forced off their lands at gunpoint by their respective governments. In Kenya, the evictions are intended to make way for geothermal energy projects, while in Tanzania, they are associated with Ortello Business Corporation, a luxury hunting company based in the United Arab Emirates with close ties to the ruling family of Dubai. Most conversations about Indigenous Peoples and corporations revolve around the oil, gas, and mining sectors, but it’s important not to neglect other industries (in this case, “clean” energy and tourism) that can be responsible for abysmal violations of Indigenous Peoples’ rights.

Sources: Cultural Survival, Ecologist

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.


Indigenous Knowledge: The key to Biodiversity Conservation

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

Image: Joseph Goko Mutangah. Photo Courtesy of UNPFII

Image: Joseph Goko Mutangah. Photo Courtesy of UNPFII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


World Bank Safeguards Violated

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The World Bank’s Inspection Panel (IP), which monitors the Bank’s compliance with its own policies, has identified an “operational link” between the Bank’s provision of support to Ethiopia for basic services, and the country’s “villagization” (forced relocation) of Indigenous Peoples. The Bank refutes this connection, claiming that “the allegations raised…are matters that are not related to compliance with Bank policy.”

Another recent IP report acknowledged the Bank’s role in the Kenya Forest Service’s (KFS) eviction of the Sengwer Peoples from the Embobut Forest. The IP identified no direct link between Bank funding and the evictions, but found that the Bank “was noncompliant with its safeguard policies…by failing to adequately identify, address or mitigate the fact that the institution it was funding, KFS, was and still remains committed to [evicting the Sengwer].”

Debates surrounding the revision of language in the Bank’s safeguards are important, but the Bank also must be scrutinized for how it applies its safeguards to its due diligence and risk analysis processes. The IP’s findings reveal major weaknesses in this area.

Sources: Anuak Media, Forest Peoples Programme


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.


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.




World Bank Makes Killing Indigenous Peoples More Profitable

The World Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework draft neglects Indigenous rights

Washington, D.C. – Not only does the World Bank’s new Environment and Social Framework (ESF) draft incentivize governments to ignore Indigenous peoples, it strategically neglects Indigenous and human rights of Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) and protection from forced evictions. Despite the Bank’s repeated “alignment” with international human rights laws and standards, the new ESF draft prioritizes rapid loan approval for borrower countries over protection of human rights, by allowing countries to “opt-out” of FPIC requirements if they do not recognize Indigenous peoples within their border. The neglect of Indigenous rights in the new ESF draft sends a clear and false message that protecting Indigenous peoples, let alone basic human rights, should drive up the cost of lending.

A set of environmental and social safeguards designed to support borrower countries’ Bank-funded projects, the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) draft was released for consultation on July 30, 2014. A concerned letter from the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (UNHCR) accuses the World Bank of continually prioritizing rapid approval of loans over the enforcement of safeguards, likely due to increased competition from other lenders to secure the “business” of developing country borrowers. However, incentivizing governments to adopt poor engagement practices with Indigenous peoples is counter-intuitive: countries that have negligible or non-existent policies toward Indigenous peoples are found to pose a much higher business risk than those that do have Indigenous policies, according to a recent study by First Peoples Worldwide. The Bank is cultivating a more hostile environment, both for Indigenous communities and business, with this safeguard draft.

While the ESF draft does require borrower countries to obtain Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) from Indigenous communities, it allows countries to define who Indigenous peoples are to begin with. Countries where “the existence or notion of Indigenous peoples is contested” can choose to opt-out of the ESF’s FPIC requirements – essentially incentivizing governments with fewer standards to comply with if they choose to not recognize Indigenous peoples within their borders. If countries decide to opt-out, the piecemeal treatment of rights throughout the document fails to protect Indigenous rights under any other safeguard clause. Even if countries do comply with the FPIC requirement, the processes for acquiring FPIC outlined in the ESF draft don’t comply with international standards, and don’t require requesting parties to have meaningful consultations with or participation of affected Indigenous peoples.

The Bank also backpedaled on their land acquisition, restrictions on land use, and involuntary resettlement standards, particularly concerning for Indigenous peoples. While an existing standard (ESS5) states that involuntary resettlement should be avoided, the new ESF draft fails to prohibit projects that will cause forced evictions, and fails to recognize that forced evictions violate international human rights law. There is also no reference to the need for prior notice before resettlement, security of tenure, access to public services and facilities, and most alarmingly, no prohibition on use of bank funds for land grabbing and the consequent displacement of people.

Photo Credit: The Guardian

Photo Credit: The Guardian

Moreover, the recent evictions of Sengwer peoples in Kenya due to a Bank-funded project demonstrate the Bank’s regard for Indigenous lives – that they have none. When a Bank-financed watershed conservation project in the Embobut Forest of Kenya resulted in forced evictions, the Sengwer community challenged the project through litigation in Kenyan courts and filed a complaint with the World Bank. “As the World Bank started to defy their own safeguards, the Sengwer started looking for ways to end the negative impacts the project was having on their community,” says Rebecca Adamson, president and founder of First Peoples Worldwide. “We’re all familiar with a race to the bottom in the business world, but now we are seeing it in the international aid world too.” The Sengwer Indigenous Peoples Programme is a grantee of First Peoples Worldwide’s Keepers of the Earth Fund.

The ESF draft egregiously avoids significant mentions of human rights or international human rights law throughout most of the document. Although the Bank has aligned itself and its operations in support of human rights through its Articles of Agreement, the ESF fails to stipulate how. While the draft includes a new standard on Indigenous peoples rights, they are built into the document incrementally. The ESF draft does not include a comprehensive safeguard that addresses all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights collectively, as in other international human rights laws and standards. Furthermore, the human rights norms expressed in the ESF draft fail to reflect any existing human rights laws and standards, which may muddle implementation and enforcement. The UNHRC calls for the World Bank to include human rights within its overall program objectives, and incorporate due diligence into its risk management policies.

Read the UN Human Rights Council’s letter of concern here.


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.


The Great Native Eats Challenge

First Peoples Worldwide wants to add an Indigenous flavor to this coming holiday season, and we need your help.

This November, FPW is hosting the very first

Great Native Eats Challenge

We challenge YOU to


Here are a few recipes and stories to get you started:

Happy cooking – and don’t forget to share your recipes and favorite Indigenous foods with us!


Due Diligence Necessary to Mitigate Country Risk

Maasai communities in Kenya are being threatened with eviction, to make way for geothermal projects being developed by Africa Geothermal International, Hyundai, Sinopec, Toshiba, and other African and Asian companies. The communities allege that the companies “have disregarded court injunctions instituted by the Maasai, proceeding to deploy their heavy machinery to their proposed project sites without due diligence or consultations” and are calling for the “deployment of armed police” to stop the evictions.

Despite Kenya’s recent adoption of landmark constitutional recognitions of Indigenous Peoples, the government’s tendency to forcibly relocate Maasai, Sengwer, and other Indigenous groups from their ancestral lands appears to be on the rise. Before beginning operations in a country, companies should research the government’s track record regarding Indigenous Peoples’ rights, to appropriately gauge their risk exposure to these types of scenarios. The chronic maltreatment of Indigenous Peoples in Kenya actions should have raised a red flag that these concessions would bring companies into conflicts with communities. Governments are unlikely to be transparent about the presence of disputed land claims in a concession, reiterating the need for companies to perform their own due diligence.

Sources: Intercontinental Cry


Campaign Update– Kenya: Hundreds of Maasai Families Under Threat of Eviction as Geothermal Companies Invade Their Land


By Ben Koissaba, Cultural Survival

Reminiscent of what happened to the Maasai community in Narasha in 2013, Maasai pastoralists in Kedong, Akira and Suswa are glaring at massive evictions arising from a group of concessions awarded to several companies including Hyundai, Toshiba, Sinopec and African Geothermal International (AGIL) for the purposes of developing geothermal projects on the Maasai lands.

According to the local communities–who claim ancestry to the land and have filed cases in Kenyan courts– African Geothermal International (AGIL) and Marine Power along with Akira I and Akira II1 have disregarded court injunctions instituted by the Maasai, proceeding to deploy their heavy machinery to their proposed project sites without due diligence or consultations with the local communities. The concession areas, which cover hundreds of thousands of acres, are home to thousands of Maasai pastoralists.

The communities feel that their rights have been grossly violated because each of the companies have failed to adhere to Bio-cultural Community Protocols2 that require all external actors to respect Indigenous Peoples’ customary laws, values and decision making processes; particularly those concerning stewardship of their territories and lands.

The companies have also disregarded a current dispute between Kedong Ranch Ltd and the Maasai community3 along with key provisions from the constitution of Kenya (2010). Article 40 of the constitution provides for the protection of the right to property (of any kind) without discrimination and just, prompt and full compensation where acquisition is of national interest. The right to a clean and healthy environment is equally guaranteed under Article 42 in addition to the right to a cultural heritage4.

While the Maasai are not against infrastructure development for the country, they are equally distressed over the companies’ similar dismissal of the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)5,6. By forcefully evicting the Maasai from their land while denying them the opportunity to participate in and benefit from the development projects, the companies are also in contravention of the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing7.

On top of these concerns, the Maasai decry the use of armed police to enforce the evictions, the destruction of their property, and the outright dispossession of their grazing land which is the only source of their livelihoods..

The Maasai demand the following:

  •     That the current deployment of armed police to enforce the evictions be stopped forthwith.
  •     That the companies be held in contempt for disregarding court orders.
  •     That a clear and documented plan on access to benefit sharing be put in place to ensure the affected families’ livelihoods are sustained.
  •     That the following international donors and companies be held accountable for losses suffered by the Maasai and demand that they put in place safeguards

Hyundai-South Korea
Toshiba, Toyota, Tsusho, and JICA-Japan
Marine Power

  • That other bilateral donors that support the projects being undertaken hold consultative meetings with the Maasai community before any further investments are made.
  • That the current ESIA reports which excluded livestock, homes and cultural rights should not be used and instead a team that includes Indigenous People be reconstituted to undertake another Environmental and Social Impact Assessment.

 –Ben Ole Koissaba is a PhD Student in Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life at Clemson University and Founder Chair Maa Civil Society Forum in Kenya.



We, Maasai: Revitalizing Indigenous Language and Knowledge for Sustainable Development in Maasailand, Kenya

By Daniel Salau Rogei, reposted from Cultural Survival

We, Maasai, still have much of our culture, customs, and tradition as we did thousands of years ago. Because the Maa society does not have a clear written history, it is difficult to say precisely where it originated. According to linguistic research, the Maa language is hermetic and not one of the numerous Bantu languages on the African continent. It is believed that the Maasai originated somewhere in the Middle East and came down the Nile River to our present territory, the plains of East Africa. This is confirmed by the numerous Maa-named places dotting this route. Over theyears, we have built a rich Indigenous knowledge system that has allowed us to survive in harsh environments and seasons.

However, the Maasai, like many other Indigenous Peoples, are fast losing our languages and cultures. Maa is an oral language that has not been documented and is therefore vulnerable to extinction. Other written languages, such as English and Swahili, are quickly finding their way into our communities through formal education, religion, and globalization. Elder Parkesian recalls, “Our fathers never wanted us to go to school but the British colonialists insisted and a few were reluctantly sent. They knew we would lose our language and culture and then get lost.”

Today, many Maasai regret that the Maa language was not passed down to them. Sharoni Nangurai, a college graduate and a current student of Maa language voices this regret: “I lost the dream opportunity of getting [an] internship and working with UNEP simply because I couldn’t speak Maa, and yet [I] am a Maasai by birth. I blame my parents for this.”

Globally it is estimated that a language dies every 14 days. If the current trend continues, by 2100 over half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth—many of them not yet recorded—may disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human brain. Much of what humans know about nature is encoded only in oral languages. Indigenous groups that have interacted closely with the natural world for thousands of years often have profound insights into local lands, plants, animals, and ecosystems—many still undocumented by science. Studying Indigenous languages and cultural practices therefore benefits environmental understanding and conservation efforts. Indigenous Peoples and local communities, who depend entirely on their natural environment and traditional sociocultural, economic, and spiritual life skills that are encoded and orally passed from one generation to another, are at a great risk of assimilation and subsequent extermination. Every time a language dies, we lose part of the picture of what our brains can do. Every fallen sage is tantamount to a burnt library!

To address this threat, the Center for Indigenous Languages and Cultural Studies, a project of Simba Maasai Outreach Organization (SIMOO), a nonprofit community-based organization
working with the Indigenous Maasai pastoralists of Kenya and Tanzania, was established. Based in Ngong Hills the Center for Indigenous Languages and Cultural Studies seeks to revitalize and promote spoken and written Indigenous languages. It also seeks to streamline traditional knowledge and Indigenous practices to complement the conventional approaches to combating poverty in a bid to achieve sustainable development. Chief Daniel Sankale says, “This is the best and sustainable way to preserve our culture. . . by teaching the youngsters the language and culture and documenting it for posterity.”

Protecting, preserving, and promoting a language is no easy task. The Center conducts research related to culture and development to establish the relationships among culture, peace, development, and environmental sustainability. Funded by the International Society of Ethnobiology, we are researching and documenting Maasai cultural practices such as rituals and ceremonies for posterity. The research is then compiled into materials and used for teaching and reference. This provides a basis for a rights-based approach to advocate for favorable policies both locally and internationally. We have been organizing a cultural field day where school children and parents come to participate in an annual three-day event where cultural presentations are staged to inform the community about their rights and connections to global issues.

Elder Mary Sakuda, 86 years old, says, “When we lose our land, we lose our language and then we lose our culture. . . we become like slaves of others.” The Center is also documenting culture, language, songs, and other cultural practices for posterity. We do this in printed and/or digital form by developing short videos, audio phrases, and online materials. School children conduct interviews with elders and translate from oral to written form. Story books are being compiled to preserve oral knowledge as elders pass on. Ole Kurraru, a 90-year-old elder, praises the program: “This initiative needs to be encouraged. Unless something is done, at this rate of alien encroachment and assimilation, there will be no Maasai [speakers] in 50 years to come.”

To address the need to revitalize threatened languages and cultural practices, the Center offers linguistic lessons, cultural orientation, and experiential learning. Classes are currently offered for Maasai who have lost fluency in the language. Teaching and reference materials have been compiled to serve as resources in the classroom, and the development of a Maasai–English dictionary is underway. During the holidays, the Center offers camp-based experiential learning for urban students. In addition to learning the Maa language, the students are exposed to environmental education that will allow them to understand and identify the role of plants and animals in the Maasai culture. Students also gain appreciation for aspects of the Maasai way of life such as herding and bead work, and get to live its spirit. Edward Simel, an early student of the Maa language class explains: “It is very embarrassing to have a Maasai name and lineage but not be able to speak the language. I was brought up in Nairobi where my parents worked and where I went to school. I lost touch with my community, I lost the language and I lost the beautiful culture. This is a great opportunity for me and my kids to learn the language and some aspects of the culture again.”

The Center also has a global goal in mind, to promote global understanding of the Maasai culture. Cultural exchange among people of diverse backgrounds is important for harmony, peace, and sustainable development. Exchange programs involve Indigenous Maasai visiting other parts of the world to share their culture, or international students coming for internships in Maasailand. The international exchanges are supported by Frogpond Production in PA. We, the Maasai, like many other Indigenous Peoples, are on the verge of losing our language and the rich Indigenous knowledge inherent in it. This will be a big loss to the global biocultural diversity and will be devastating to the environment. Safeguarding Indigenous languages is also a recognition of the existence of such communities as well as a promotion of their human rights. Unless Indigenous languages are protected, the gains made globally that have culminated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will be reversed. Sustainable development can only be realized if and when Indigenous Peoples are given an opportunity to exercise their right to cultural practices, including promotion of their native languages. For the Maasai, this is an invaluable legacy that we will be happy to bequeath to future generations.

— Daniel Salau Rogei (Maasai) is a founder of the Simba Maasai Outreach Organization in Kenya. To learn more, visit: