Posts Tagged ‘Land rights’


Indigenous People In Danger of Displacement: The Nicaraguan Canal and its Drastic Effects

Nicaraguans protest the canal construction [Photo source: Noticiero Digital]

Nicaraguans protest the canal construction
[Photo source: Noticiero Digital]

by Katie Redmiles

Vendepatria!”: an epithet for one who sells his own homeland, was shouted at the Nicaraguan government by protesters during the groundbreaking of the Nicaraguan Canal.

The Indigenous people of Nicaragua, known as campesinos, gathered by the thousands in early October to protest the plan for the interoceanic canal to cut across the country. Protesters held up banners reading “Chinese go home!” and “Our land is not for sale!” The march organizer herself, Francis Ramirez, said in response to the projected canal plan that she “would rather die than hand over [her] property,” as quoted by the Huffington Post.

President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega gave a 50 year concession (with the flexibility to make it 100 years) to Chinese businessman Wang Jing to head the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKND) in December 2014. The canal project is estimated to cost $40-$50 billion. It will measure 278 kilometers, compared to the Panama Canal which is currently the longest in the world at 77 kilometers. It will be twice as deep as the Panama Canal requiring the excavation of more than 4.5billion cubic meters of earth. The Nicaraguan Canal’s projected width is estimated to be around 230 to 520 meters.

Yet the project is aimed to take only five years, compared to the ten it took for the Panama Canal.

These numbers have been a huge cause for concern for environmentalists, scientists and Indigenous Nicaraguans since the plan’s announcement.

President Ortega and other supporters of the HKND profess its necessity, claiming that the initial 50,000 jobs created during construction and 200,000 upon its completion will be the driving force to raising Nicaragua out of severe poverty. The leader of Nicaragua’s National Agrarian University, Francisco Telemaco Talavera, supports the canal because of its potential to follow in the path of the Panama Canal by making Nicaragua into “the region’s powerhouse, with economic growth rates as high as 14% per year.”

However, the number of negative ramifications from the canal are vast and drastic.

Due to the range of the route and the immense amount of land it will cover, there is an outcry of injustice from the Indigenous communities that would be displaced by its construction. Many of the communities have been living on the land since before the Spanish conquest, and include Rama and Kriol people. The canal would bisect the two territories causing fragmentation, which at minimum could induce a loss of culture and belonging.

[Photo Credit: SCMP]

[Photo Credit: SCMP]

Before the HKND was decided upon and put on the table, there were no conversations held with the Indigenous communities, no Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC),  no thought to include them in the process, and there appears to be no sign that their rights will be taken into account.

Many of the affected Indigenous groups have presented their case to the Inter-American Commission Human Rights, with strong evidences of violations to Nicaraguan law, as well as international labor standards. Yet as the months progress, nothing seems to be in action to prevent these violations from taking place once canal construction starts.

What has been made clear by the Nicaraguan government is that anyone who is displaced by the canal construction will be compensated for their property based on its value as of June 2013. It seems that the most Indigenous communities can hope for in terms of justice is for higher rates of compensation – no movement is being considered for allowing them to stay on their land and not build the disastrous canal.

President of a Rama community, Carlos Billis, expressed his strong opposition for the canal: “It will destroy the nature that we are as much a part of as the trees that grow here and spread their seeds. The government wants to move us for a project that has nothing to do with us. There’s been no consultation, but they are going ahead regardless. This is discrimination against Indians, the same discrimination that’s been seen all over the world for so long.”

Other Indigenous leaders, such as Alan Claire of the Kriol Community, express the same opinion citing the legal and moral injustices of the plan. “This is an Indigenous area. By law, the government is supposed to ensure prior, free and informed consultation, but we haven’t been asked anything,” he tell Watts.

The government has claimed it feels secure against any campesino uprising once they learn of the generous compensations given to them. However, for many Indigenous people, the displacement itself is the heartbreak, not just the monetary concerns of having to adjust elsewhere.

Elizabeth Del Carmen is one such individual, whose family has seen generations live on the land and recently was told to shut down their project of building a chapel due to the canal development.

“I’ve been worrying about this because I don’t want to move to another place,” said Del Carmen. “We don’t agree with this bad treatment. They are making poor people feel uncomfortable. This place is safe. We all know each other here. Who knows where they are going to move us…We don’t want to leave.”

Indigenous peoples, as well as environmentalists all around the globe, are also greatly lamenting the ecological destruction the construction would wreak. The canal is planned to cut through nature reserves, significant wetlands that contribute to the biodiversity of the globe, Lake Nicaragua which is the largest freshwater lake in Central America, and the scenic beauty that is characteristic of the country.

Environmental assessments have been made by organizations such as the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation  and the International Society of Limnology, all citing the major negative effects the canal will have.

The lake will be compromised as the significant source of freshwater for irrigation, with harmful effects to the ecosystem due to pollution, traffic, noise, salinity, higher levels of torpidity and oxygen depletion.

[Photo Credit: ]

[Photo Credit: ]

There is also the constant risk of oil spills from cargo-carrying ships.

Other important wetlands and ecosystems will be upheaved as a result of the canal construction, and given the sheer size of the project, scientists are not hopeful for them to ever return to their original states.

The destruction of pristine land, displacement of peoples who have called the land home for centuries, and ecological depletion are some of the major reasons why the development for

the Nicaraguan Canal is a global catastrophe and warrants global awareness. With economic ambitions and major influential government powers driving this project into fruition, it is hard to see a way of halting the plan, but in order to protect Indigenous rights and culture, a ceasing of the canal’s construction is vital.


Canadian Industry Lags Behind in Human Rights

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

This article has been reposted from Cultural Survival, originally published January 14, 2015

By Emily Sanders

Despite the reputation held by Canada for its comparatively respectful human rights practices, the country’s recent actions in Indigenous territories both at home and abroad has caused Vancouver businesses to gain notoriety in Latin America as the worst in the extractive industry. Both in terms of environmental degradation and human rights violations, the Canadian government has failed to prevent the corrupt behaviors of its extractive industries —the result of lacking policy standards and enforcement on the part of the Canadian government.

According to the World Bank’s Corrupt Companies Blacklist, a condemning list of firms banned from doing business with the World Bank due to their chronic malpractice, Canada is the reigning offender, providing 117 businesses out of the 600 listed. Efforts by the Canadian government to address such transgressions on indigenous land have been particularly poor, even after communities, UN bodies, and environmental reports call for attention to this matter.

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

In Guatemala, Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine has repeatedly violated human rights and has been called on to close operations by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the International Labor Organization, the Catholic Church, the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, multiple advocacy organizations both locally and internationally, and even the president of Guatemala. A study by the University of Michigan has shown elevated levels of aluminum, manganese and cobalt are at problematic levels within public drinking and irrigation water sources downstream from the mine.  When the company first bought properties and land in Guatemala, citizens were not informed that it was a mining industry, but rather were made vague promises of community development. Since then, despite multiple violent altercations, the murder of Guatemalan citizen Alvaro Sanchez by the mine’s workers during a heated discussion over the company’s destruction of his homeland, and collapsing social fabric in the community, the Canadian firm has continued operations. Similarly negligent are the proposed plans for an open-pit silver mine by the Canadian company First Majestic Silver. In this project the Indigenous Wixarika people of Mexico face the destruction of their most sacred mountain, a site destination of traditional pilgrimage for over one thousand years, along with decimation of the region’s unparalleled biodiversity found in the Wirikuta Biosphere Nature Reserve.

Such astounding failure to practice environmental responsibility and obtain the free, prior, and informed consent from Indigenous communities has cost extractive industries more than just their reputation. In 2014, prices and earnings plummeted drastically for these Vancouver-based industries, many of which were forced to suspend or cease operations after failing to comply with environmental regulations.

One such case, involving Vancouver company Taseko Mines Limited, represents a cautionary tale for what is at stake when companies ignore Indigenous Peoples’ land rights. The company’s proposal to create the so called ‘’Prosperity’’ gold and copper mine had already been denied by an environmental review board because of its plans to dump toxic tailings into Teztan Biny, a lake home to a population of about 85,000 rainbow trout and used by the Tsilhqot’in First Nation People of Canada for traditional hunting, fishing, cultural, and spiritual ceremonies. Investing this time to propose an alternative tailings pond two kilometers upstream from the lake this “New Prosperity Mine” was rejected, again, after an environmental review and sustained protest by the Tsilhqot’in people. The Tsilhqot’in then succeeded ingaining title rights to land they have traditionally used in Canada’s Supreme Court—a hugely significant step forward on their decades long fight for the rights to their land under Canadian law.

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

Photo Credit: Cultural Survival

Unfortunately, Canada’s reaction to the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples’ in September 2014 seemed to lash back against this Supreme Court decision. Despite having endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,Canada singularly refuted the right of Indigenous peoples to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, fearing the sovereignty it would allow to First Nations against intrusive business. It argued that Free Prior Informed Consent is a veto of the sovereignty of parliaments. “[That idea] is a complete misrepresentation of what the whole document is about and what free and prior informed consent is about,” commented Les Malezer, the Indigenous co-advisor of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.  “Despite the fact that they said they support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, if they don’t support the right of Free, Prior and Informed Consent they don’t understand or accept self-determination,” says Malezer.

Canada’s supposition that its federal government equally represents the interests of indigenous people as those of other Canadians is faulty, considering that along with many other nations, its established institutions inherently exclude indigenous interests and lifestyles. Chief Perry Bellegarde, now President of the Canadian Assembly of First Nations, in his address to the General Assembly at the UN in 2014, said Canada’s recent push for restricting indigenous rights, by allowing mere “consultation’’ rather than ‘’consent’’ is a misinterpretation of the Declaration, as well as a direct contradiction to its own Supreme Court decision. “In the Tsilhqot’in Nation Supreme Court of Canada decision, Canada’s Supreme Court used the term ‘consent’ in nine paragraphs and the ‘right to control’ the land in eleven paragraphs. The Court added that the ‘right to control’ means ‘consent’ must be obtained from Aboriginal titleholders,” asserted Bellegarde. As the only State to refuse Free, Prior and Informed consent to Indigenous peoples, Canada’s statements reflect a hesitation to commit to widely accepted human rights standards, in favor of negligent business.

There has, however, been an increasing recognition of crimes against First Nations by extractive industries, both domestically and abroad, in Canadian courts. In North-eastern Quebec and Labrador, the Innu First Nations of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John successfully brought a 900 million dollar lawsuit against the Iron Ore Company of Canada. Operated by Rio Tinto, the “IOC megaproject” had refused to cooperate with offerings by the tribe for peaceful negotiation and cooperative settlement since the 1950s, when its serial violations against Indigenous rights were initiated. In El Estor, Guatemala, the gruesome violations of human rights against the Indigenous Mayan Q’eqchi’ by Hudbay Minerals have been acknowledged by an Ontario court and will proceed to trial in Canadian court. The three cases arose in response to a murder, a shooting, and the gang-rape of 11 Indigenous women committed by security workers during the forced relocation of their village from ancestral lands by Skye Resources, another Canadian mining company which later merged with HudBay Minerals. Such emblematic victories for Indigenous rights will hopefully pioneer the path towards adequate punishment of inhumane action and wrongful expulsion by extractive industries in the higher courts.

Learn more about efforts to regulate Canadian mining companies at Mining Watch Canada.

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. 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.


Why the World Bank’s New Environmental and Social Safeguards Are A Step Back for Indigenous Peoples

In response to the World Bank’s release of their new Environmental and Social Safeguards (ESS) draft in July 2014, 360 civil society organizations issued a statement of objection to the draft, as it fell far short of the rules needed to protect the environment and respect the rights of affected communities, workers, and indigenous peoples. Below is excerpted commentary on the ESS draft by the Bank Information Center (BIC), an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization that advocates for the protection of rights, participation, transparency, and public accountability in the governance and operations of the World Bank Group.

The draft Environmental and Social Framework…

Undermines the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Allowing borrowers to “opt out” of implementing the proposed Indigenous Peoples standard would directly undermine successive and hard-fought battles by indigenous peoples at the national, regional and international levels to have their rights recognized and respected, and thus contradict their rights to self-determination and collective ownership of lands, territories and resources. This would constitute a massive dilution of current World Bank safeguard protections and undermine the credibility of the world’s most prominent development finance institution.

The World Bank’s intention to allow our governments, which have marginalized our communities for decades, to decide whether we are indigenous or not would severely undermine our fundamental human rights and weaken the limited protections we currently have. This approach would completely contradict the growing recognition of our rights, and must not be allowed to happen.”

Adrien Sinafasi Makelo, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Does not meaningfully address climate change. Despite the Bank’s prominence in warning of the dangers that a warming world poses to development, the draft includes only sporadic mention of climate change. The draft does not ensure that projects are in-line with national climate plans, nor does it have clear requirements for assessing and managing the impacts of climate change on the viability of projects or the resilience of ecosystems or local communities in project areas. At the same time, the draft fails to require assessments of greenhouse gas emissions for all high-emission projects or to take steps to reduce emissions.

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Tramples the rights and threatens the welfare of communities subject to forced displacement. The draft eliminates the fundamental development objective of the resettlement policy and the key measures essential to preventing impoverishment and protecting the rights of people uprooted from their homes, lands, productive activities and jobs to make way for Bank projects. The draft allows the Bank to finance projects that entail the physical and economic displacement of communities without first ensuring that there is a reconstruction plan and budget available to ensure adequate compensation, sound physical resettlement, economic recovery and improvement. This would be an unconscionable regression in Bank policy that will result in the large-scale impoverishment of affected people and exacerbate inequality, in flagrant contradiction of the Bank’s mandate and goals. The draft also fails to ensure a transparent accounting at project completion that no displaced people end up worse off than without the Bank project.

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Eliminates protections for forests and forest-dependent peoples. The newly rebranded biodiversity standard establishes a single-minded focus on species biodiversity at the expense of ecological integrity and the local communities dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods and cultural survival. Far from safeguarding forests and other natural habitats, the biodiversity standard permits projects in previous ‘no-go’ areas and provides loopholes for logging, while the standard’s heavy reliance on biodiversity offsetting leaves no natural areas off the table for destructive interventions. The draft must strengthen protections for the natural resources that the majority of people living in extreme poverty depend on.

“The Bank must not rely on national legal frameworks without independent assessment in order to ensure the rights of Indigenous Peoples are protected in its activities. Under international law, Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral land rights are an inherent right, established by their customs and practices, and are not dependent on national law.”
Amnesty International

Fails to protect and promote land rights. Despite the growing land-grabbing crisis displacing countless indigenous communities, small farmers, fisher-folk and pastoralists throughout the Global South, the draft fails to incorporate any serious protections to prevent Bank funds from supporting land-grabs. While the Bank pledged that the new safeguards would be informed by the Committee for World Food Security’s ‘Voluntary Guidelines on Tenure of Land, Forests and Fisheries’, the draft fails to strengthen protection of the land rights of poor and vulnerable groups. Instead, it undermines them in many ways, such as by excluding the application of the land and resettlement standard to projects concerning land titling and land use planning.

“Not only does the draft Framework fail to include a comprehensive set of safeguard standards on land tenure and land rights, as is acutely needed, alarmingly, it actually acts to narrow the scope of the current policies and weaken land rights protections for poor and vulnerable groups.”
Joint civil society input on ESS5, endorsed by 97 civil society groups and 17 individuals

To learn more about the Environmental and Social Safeguards and the World Bank, visit 


A Guide to the Indigenous Rights Risk Report

370 oil, gas, and mining sites operated by 52 U.S. companies - color coded according to risk.

370 oil, gas, and mining sites operated by 52 U.S. companies – color coded according to risk.

By Katie Cheney

One year ago, First Peoples Worldwide’s Indigenous Rights Risk Report exposed 52 extractive companies who are at risk of losing profits and share price – simply because they don’t respect Indigenous rights. The report looked at 52 U.S. extractive industry companies that operate 370 oil, gas, and mining sites located on or near Indigenous lands. It found that 92% of these sites are at risk of protests, negative press, work stoppages, shut-downs, and law suits – all stemming from companies poor engagement and negligible business practices with Indigenous peoples. FPW found that nearly all of the companies faced medium to high risks in at least one of their operating sites; operating in a high risk country, that doesn’t provide laws that protect Indigenous communities, is correlated to high overall risk; and 51 out of 52 companies lacked an Indigenous Peoples Policy that included Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC). Moreover, as extractive industries seek more resources around the globe, they are increasingly finding them on or near Indigenous lands.

So how did FPW rate these companies, and what do their scores mean? First, we collected company and site-specific data using public sources, corporate website and filings, and through direct consultations with the company, investment professionals, and Indigenous communities. Then, we looked at 370 project sites operated by U.S. oil, gas, and mining companies that are located on or near Indigenous lands, and scored them based on six types of risk:

  • Location. The proximity of a project to Indigenous lands.
  • Indigenous Peoples Policy. Whether or not the company has an Indigenous Peoples policy and the strength of that policy.
  • Reputation. The level of negative media exposure that the project has received, and the associated risk of reputational damage to the companies involved.
  • Country. The level of legal protections for Indigenous Peoples in the country in which the project takes place, and the degree to which they are enforced.
  • Community Climate. The level of community support or opposition to the project.
  • Legal. Whether or not there are lawsuits filed against the company over the project’s negative impacts on Indigenous Peoples.


Each risk is rated on a scale – 1 having the least risk, and 5 being the riskiest. Some of the categories are weighted more than the others – for example, location risk is 20% of the score, whereas community climate risk is 25% of the score. Once we scored each site according to each category above, we averaged each category score for their overall risk score –and made the financial case for why investors, shareholders, and corporations need to respect Indigenous peoples rights.

Look out for the 2014 Update to the Indigenous Rights Risk Report, to be released on November 10, 2014. The 2014 Update will revisit last year’s scores with an expanded methodology for even more thorough risk assessment. If you would like to receive the report when it is published on, sign up here.


Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia Scapegoats for Forest Fires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Value of Indigenous Communal Lifestyles

by Nick Pelosi on Making the Business Case

Cambodia Daily reports that since June, members of Indigenous communities in the highlands of eastern Cambodia have accepted over 100,000 private land ownership titles from the Cambodian government, in order to protect their ancestral territories from the grasps of land developers and speculators.  In doing so, they are forced to abandon ancient traditions of communal living.

Bunong villagers observe destruction of their forests by a rubber company (source: Cambodia Daily)

Bunong villagers observe destruction of their forests by a rubber company (source: Cambodia Daily)

Yun Mane, a Bunong community member and the Chair of the Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association, said the concept of private property is foreign to the Bunong and other minority groups in the region.  They are used to living and utilizing resources collectively, and transitioning to private titles is likely to jeopardize the communities’ economic security and cultural integrity.

Sek Sophorn, Cambodia’s National Coordinator of the International Labor Organization, said the land plots that community members receive are typically no larger than 1 hectare, preventing them from planting and harvesting crops on larger, rotating land tracts, as their ancestors did for centuries.  The discontinuation of this sustainable farming technique may pose risks to food security and generate economic inequalities among individuals.

Ror Chamroeun, the Chief of a Yasoum community that will soon receive 100 private titles, expressed concern that community members, many of whom are indebted, will immediately sell their land plots to pay off their debt, leaving them landless.

Although Indigenous Peoples’ communal property rights are recognized by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Cambodian government awarded only six communal land titles over the past decade.  The situation is not unique to Cambodia.  Indigenous Peoples around the globe are finding their social and economic systems, which emphasize communal living and equitable distribution of resources, threatened by those that value private property and competition.  Governments’ failure to uphold communal property rights leaves companies operating on or near Indigenous Peoples’ territory with a responsibility to do so.

When companies do not recognize the value of communal property to Indigenous Peoples’ social and economic well-being, the effectiveness of their community engagement practices are compromised.  Bill Herod, an advisor to The Bunong Center, recalled the purchase of land belonging to Bunong villagers by Socfin, a French rubber company.  The villagers used the proceeds to purchase cattle that they believed would be allowed to graze on the land they sold, only to be told by the company that, by selling the land, they relinquished their right to access it.  While this notion might seem obvious from a corporate perspective, it was not obvious to the villagers, whose traditional way of thinking is rooted in collective ownership.


Great Sioux Nation Reacquires Sacred Site

by Nick Pelosi

A November 2012 article in Indian Country Today announced that the Great Sioux Nation raised US$9 million to purchase land rights to Pe’ Sla, a sacred site in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  The land was put up for public auction in August 2012, by private owners Leonard and Margaret Reynolds.  The ensuing outrage from tribal leaders, who feared that new ownership would make the land vulnerable to development, caused the Reynolds’ to cancel the auction and accept a bid from the tribes to purchase the land for US$9 million, if they could raise the money by November 30.  After months of campaigning, the tribes successfully raised the funds and purchased the land.

Members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community gathered at the site for a historic reacquisition ceremony.  The tribes announced plans to form a special commission tasked with protecting and preserving Pe’ Sla for future generations.  Tribal leaders issued thanks to the members of the public that donated to their cause, and to the Reynolds’ for their willingness to cooperate with the tribes to reacquire the land.

In the article, Rosebud Sioux Tribal Chairman Cyril Scott explained the significance of Pe’ Sla to his people: “Pe’ Sla is sacred because it is related to the Lakota creation and it is the site for annual ceremonies. It has historically hosted many village gatherings. Black Elk, the Lakota visionary sought his visions at Pe’ Sla. It is the high mountain on a prairie in the heart of the Black Hills.”

The entire Black Hills mountain range is considered sacred by the Great Sioux Nation (known traditionally as the Lakota).  The US government signed treaties in 1851 and 1868 promising the Lakota sovereignty over the Black Hills and protection of the land from settlers, but when gold was discovered in the region, the treaties were broken and communities were forced onto reservations.  In 1980, a US Supreme Court ruling awarded over US$100 million to the Lakota for the Black Hills, but the tribes refused the offer, claiming that the land was never for sale.  James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, has urged the US government to consult with the tribes to resolve these disputes, in order to help heal the historical injustices they have faced.

Pe’ Sla, a high mountain on a prairie in the heart of the Black Hills (Source: Minnesota Public Radio)

The Great Sioux Nation successfully raised enough money to purchase Pe’ Sla. But should they have had to pay anything at all? Let us know in the comments section!


First African Land Forum

By Rachel Martin

Check out this article on the first African Land Forum held in Yaounde, Cameroon last week.  The forum was organized by the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association of Cameroon  (MBOSCUDA), an organization dedicated to resolving the social problems of the Mbororo people, and the International Land Coalition, an organization that promotes equitable land access. The forum addressed the theme ‘Securing the land rights of indigenous people and rural communities’ and was attended by 95 participants from 22 different countries.

The attendees viewed presentations from nationally renowned land rights experts and activists, including Dr. Manu Ibrahim of the University of Dschang,  and Mr. Abdoulaye Harrissou, author of “Land, a Human Right: Micro-properties, Social Peace and Development.”

The event’s keynote speaker was MBOSCUDA’s National President, El Hadj Manu Giado. “The rich are becoming more interested in the land that belongs to the Indigenous and rural poor communities, who are considered as everlasting strangers who must leave their land,” said Giado in his speech addressing the importance of indigenous land rights.  “We are saying no, we are all Cameroonians, we are all Africans, and all of us have the same rights.”

The Forum also held a discussion on land reform and Indigenous Peoples, and the importance of gender equality and women’s land rights was present throughout the forum.

One of the most important events at the forum was the unanimous approval of the Yaounde Declaration, a document which identifies emerging problems related to land issues, and provides eight recommendations for African governments to ensure the protection of land rights for indigenous peoples.

Yussuf Nsengiyumva (International Land Coalition) and Fati Hassan (Grassroots Ghana) attend the African Land Forum (source: International Land Coalition)


Why do you think it’s important to talk and learn about Indigenous land rights? How are they different from other land rights? Let us know what you think in the comment section below!


FPW Revisits Old Friends in Botswana

By Katie Cheney


First Peoples Worldwide has been working with Indigenous communities throughout Southern Africa since 1996. We have assisted San communities in Botswana as they were faced with re-location throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). Our past work includes capacity-building trainings and land rights workshops, as well as funding Indigenous organizations through our Keepers of the Earth Fund.

Now, FPW board member Jim Brumm and I have been travelling around Gaborone and Ghanzi re-connecting with the issues surrounding communities in Botswana. We have met with various stakeholders in the CKGR, including the United States Embassy, Gem Diamonds, Community Link Botswana Trust, the Kwhedom Council, the University of Botswana San Studies Center, Ditshwanelo: the Botswana Centre for Human Rights, First Peoples of the Kalahari, Kuru Family of Organizations, and many others.

Next week, I will go into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve to meet community members and discuss how they view the challenges they face, what they want to do about it, and how FPW might support them. Stay tuned!


Jim at the D’Kar Museum, photo by Katie Cheney


Human Rights Victory in the Ecuadorian Amazon

By Angela Kim




In the central Ecuadorian Amazon, the Indigenous Sarayaku community won a major feat this year in the ongoing struggle to defend their territory from resource extraction. Represented by the Association of the Kichwa People of Sarayaku, Ecuadorian lawyer Mario Melo, and the Center for Justice and International Law, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the Ecuadorian state is responsible for the violation of the Sarayaku people’s rights to prior consultation, communal property, life, and judicial protection.

According to Amazon Watch, in 1996, after the Ecuadorian government divided the community’s land into concessions for multinational oil companies such as Argentinean Compañia General de Combustibles (CGC) and U.S.-based ConocoPhillips, the Sarayaku people’s opposition to oil extraction was fully disregarded. The Center for Justice and International Law affirmed that the state detained community leaders, constructed trails, destroyed sacred trees, and left numerous explosives for seismic testing across the territory. With the support of its people and allied organizations, the Sarayaku community brought their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2003, where these human rights abuses were formally recognized.

Last month, the Sarayaku welcomed the court decision that the State of Ecuador must consult with the indigenous community, before pursuing natural resource extraction projects, investment plans, or other activities that would affect Sarayaku territory or aspects of its culture. Overseeing compliance to this ruling, the Sarayaku people continue to show resilience against oil, logging, and mining projects throughout the Amazon.

Amnesty International is supporting Sarayaku’s efforts to defend their rights and will be screening the campaign documentary, Children of the Jaguar, at the National Geographic All Roads Film Festival in September.


Angela Kim is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.