Posts Tagged ‘Maasai’


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 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.




Photographic Update: Thousands of Maasai Made Homeless in Tanzania

Last week, more than 3,000 Maasai people in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro District were displaced from their homes, when Serengeti National Park security rangers burned 114 Maasai bomas. As of February 15, boma burnings reportedly happened in the villages of Arash, Loosoito and Maaaloni, although there have been reports of burnings in other Maasai villages as well. Below are photographs from the ongoing displacement of Maasai in Tanzania.

Displaced Maasai [photo credit: Charles Olengereza, Guardian News Tanzania]

Displaced Maasai [photo credit: Charles Ngereza, journalist, Tanzania]

Burned settlement [photo credit: Charles Olengereza, Guardian News Tanzania]

A burned settlement [photo credit: Charles Ngereza,journalist, Tanzania]

Displaced Maasai. [photo credit: Charles Olengereza, Guardian News Tanzania]

Displaced Maasai. [photo credit: Charles Ngereza, journalist, Tanzania]

Burning Boma [photo credit: Fredy Ledid]

Burning Boma [photo credit: Fredy Ledid]

Maasai that have been made homeless [photo credit: Charles Olengereza, Guardian News Tanzania]

Maasai that have been made homeless [photo credit: Charles Ngereza, journalist, Tanzania]

A burned settlement [photo credit: Charles Olengereza, Guardian News Tanzania]

Imprint of a burned boma [photo credit: Charles Ngereza, journalist, Tanzania]

Maasai [photo credit: Charles Olengereza, Guardian News Tanzania]

Maasai women [photo credit: Charles Ngereza, journalist, Tanzania]

Maasai with their belongings [photo credit: Charles Olengereza, Guardian News Tanzania]

Maasai with their belongings [photo credit: Charles Ngereza, journalist, Tanzania]

Charles Olengereza interviewing community members [photo credit: Charles Olengereza, Guardian News Tanzania]

Charles Ngereza interviewing community members [photo credit: Charles Ngereza, journalist, Tanzania]

Charles Olengereza interviewing community members [photo credit: Charles Olengereza, Guardian News Tanzania]

Charles Ngereza interviewing community members [photo credit: Charles Ngereza, journalist, Tanzania]

To read more about the recent displacement of Maasai, click here.


A Too Common Occurrence: Maasai Land Theft by Safari Company in Northern Tanzania

Reposted from the Cultural Survival Quarterly, 38-4 Indigenous Rights Protect Us All (December 2014)

Cattle in disputed land [photo credit: Cultural Survival]

Cattle in disputed land [photo credit: Cultural Survival]

The expansive landscapes and large wildlife populations of Ngorongoro District in Northern Tanzania, which borders Serengeti National Park, make it a leading area for Tanzania’s tourism industry. But the scenic beauty and pastoral ideal belie a much more complex and conflict ridden reality. For the land and the Maasai who have traditionally inhabited it, the past hundred years have been characterized by marginalization and loss. The story of Sukenya Farm is just one such example.

The Beginning: Sukenya Farm

Soitsambu, Sukenya, and Mondorosi villages are located in Loliondo Division, Ngorongoro District, and are predominantly Maasai pastoralist communities. Land is managed according to seasonal patterns of resource availability, which are largely dependent on rainfall and governed by rotational grazing reserve systems. In 1984 Tanzania Breweries Ltd. (TBL) obtained 10,000 acres within the boundaries of Mondorosi and Sukenya villages, a property that came to be known known as Sukenya Farm. During this period, fraudulent land allocations were widespread throughout northern Tanzania and in Loliondo in particular. While TBL apparently obtained dispensation from the district and regional government to use the land, it did not obtain an official certificate of occupancy until 2004. This was for an increased area of 12,617 acres.

From the outset TBL only used about 700 acres, and in 1987 abandoned the land altogether. The three resident Maasai clans, the Purko (residents of Mondorosi), Loita (a minority clan in in Sukenya), and Laitayok (the majority of residents in Sukenya but a minority clan in the region) continued using the property as they always had: for season livestock pasture, critical watering points, temporary settlement during the rainy season, and access between subvillages.

The Conflict

The 2004 certificate awarded control of the land to TBL with a 99-year lease agreement backdated to October 2003. One of the conditions of the title was that the land be used for “plant and animal husbandry.” In 2006 TBL divested the remaining 96-year lease to a new American-owned tourism operation, Tanzania Conservation Ltd (TCL). Tanzania Conservation’s owners also own Thomson Safaris, a Massachusetts-based company that operates luxury tours on the disputed property, which it has developed into a private nature reserve known as Enashiva Nature Refuge.

According to the lawsuit brought in Tanzania by the affected villages, company security guards and police officers forcefully evicted the Maasai from the land, burning their bomas (livestock enclosures), destroying homes, and denying them access to the land. Since TBL had abandoned the land in question for more than 12 years, it should have reverted back to the local villagers. A Ngorongoro Conservation Area councilor commented, “We are like slaves in our own land. Natural resources have become like a curse to us; those benefiting are from afar while the real owners are suffering.’’ Said another: “The entire process of land acquisition is characterized by bribing, cheating, and dividing communities.”

With the access to Sukenya Farm prevented by TCL/Thomson Safaris, the communities’ herders were forced to make a 14-hour return trip to Kenya for water in the dry season. In addition, they lost access to a valuable grazing resource. Prohibiting community access to the land created a major conflict among the company, local government, and the villagers, the majority of whom consider that the land is still rightfully theirs to use.

Rising Tensions

The level of conflict between TCL/Thomson Safaris and local residents has markedly escalated in the last few years with numerous arrests and imprisonments, a shooting incident, and other alleged misconduct by the company’s employees and the police. Local civil society organizations and concerned individuals have attempted to help resolve the conflict, but thus far these attempts have failed, only increasing tension and mistrust.

In 2011 Soitsambu village sought to challenge TCL/Thomson Safaris’ right to the land with the support of Minority Rights Group International, the Legal and Human Rights Centre, and the Pastoral Women’s Council. While initially dismissed on a technicality, the case recommenced in 2013 and is due to be heard in mid-December. The villagers, assisted by EarthRights International, also petitioned US courts to obtain documents of the sale to support their Tanzanian court fight to recover their land, as well as damages for violent abuses and property destruction. “The land belongs to us whether we win the case or not. We have to use the land. We will never give up,” one community member said.

Maasai traditional leaders from across Ngorongoro district have gathered several times since 2013 in Sukenya village to discuss the conflict. One resolution was a strengthened collaboration among the three affected clans, which to date are still working together. Another was to ensure that the district council strongly support villages in the land fight. “We cannot keep quiet while our land is under the hands of land grabbers. It is our responsibility to see that land comes back at any cost,’’ said a council chairman.

An Uneasy Truce

In July 2014, herdsman Olunjai Timan was returning home from grazing his cattle near the disputed land when he was confronted by policemen and local TCL/Thomson Safari security guards. He was shot and left lying face down, alone. As news of the shooting spread through the villages 300 youth gathered in the night, prepared to enter the disputed land and burn the safari camp down. When elders heard the news they rushed to the stop them. They decided to pursue peaceful means instead of a confrontational approach, but the incident prompted the question, “What type of government is this that attacks its own citizens?”

At a council meeting after the shooting, a traditional leader implored the District Council: “I decided to stop my warriors from burning the camp because I want peace. There is no benefit for anyone to die now. We need this land for our cows and we can’t stop grazing or passing. Who are the legal owners? Those with only a piece of paper, or us who are born and living here for years?” Added a council member from Mondorosi, “We have just finished paying fines for the innocent herders who were told they trespassed in our land, and today one of us is shot again. We have to fight back and there is no way to keep quiet.” Echoing the sentiment, a youth leader averred, “We, the Maasai, are not those of 1959 when our grandfathers signed to be moved out of Serengeti. We will fight to the end. We will keep fighting for our land and rights.”

An uneasy truce has been reached between the villagers and Thomson Safari, as villagers are currently allowed to access the disputed land for grazing. They are wary that this permission may be removed at will, but hopeful that the upcoming hearing will turn that permission into a right, with ownership of the land finally returning to them.


In Tanzania

The most recent Tanzanian litigation commenced in 2013 by Soitsambu, Mondorosi, and Sukenya villages against Tanzania Breweries Ltd., Tanzania Conservation Ltd., the District Council, and the Commissioner for Lands. The villages are challenging the transfer of Sukenya Farm by TBL to TCL/Thomson Safaris, land that had been abandoned for over 17 years and continually used during that time by villagers for grazing, watering, and cultural rituals. The plaintiffs contend that ownership of the land reverted back to the villagers by adverse possession, that TBL had no right to transfer its certificate of occupancy, and that TCL/Thomson Safaris is therefore an illegal occupant. The villagers are seeking the revocation of TCL/Thomson Safaris’ certificate of occupancy and a claim for damages for the illegal occupation.

In Massachusetts

In February 2014, the Soitsambu, Mondorosi, and Sukenya village chairmen, assisted by EarthRights International, petitioned a federal court in Massachusetts for documents and testimony to support their fight in Tanzanian courts to recover lost land and damages for violent abuses and property destruction. The federal court granted the villagers’ application in April, ordering TCL/Thomson Safaris and the companies’ owners, Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland, to turn over documents and give sworn testimony about the sale of Sukenya Farm, the alleged home burnings and beatings, and the conversion of the land from Maasai grazing territory to a private reserve.


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.


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.


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:


Illegal Evictions in Kenya

The Kenyan Forest Service, with police support, is torching homes and illegally evicting the Sengwer Peoples from their ancestral lands in the Embobut Forest.  Authorities are defending these actions as “conservation” efforts, and claiming that the communities are “squatters” threatening urban drinking water supplies.  In actuality, the Sengwer have inhabited and protected the Embobut Forest for centuries, surviving through sustainable and minimal usage of natural resources.

Although evictions of Indigenous Peoples are commonly associated with corporations and industrial development, it is important to remember that many occur in the name of “conservation.”  Similar cases in eastern Africa, such as the evictions of the Maasai from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Kenya and the Batwa from the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, have been traced to government partnerships with large international environmental NGOs.  Companies should remain aware of the inherent frictions between Indigenous Peoples and modern conservation, and avoid partnering with environmental NGOs with records of evicting Indigenous Peoples.

Sources: Forest Peoples Programme, The Guardian, Standard Media


Maasai Runner Survived Boston Marathon Bombings, Now Fighting to Fund Education in His Village


By Isaya Lukumay and Michele Christle, Cultural Survival

On April 16, 2013, Isaya Lukumay (Maasai), president and founder of The Warriors Organization (TWO), was one of the thousands of runners participating in the Boston Marathon. A corporate sponsor pledged funds necessary to build a two-room schoolhouse in his home village of Eluai, Tanzania, but since then has failed to deliver on the promise. Several weeks after the marathon, Lukumay spoke with TWO board member Michele Christle about the tragic events.

The night before the marathon I was very excited. We eat a lot of food in Maasailand, but not as much as I ate that night. I had a big pasta dinner with roasted spaghetti and a Tanzanian sauce with tomato and onions. The next morning I woke up early. I felt powerful and confident. My wife dropped me off. I talked with the faster runners. I was talking to Lelisa Desisa Benti, the guy who won. I asked him about his experience running marathons. “It’s my work,” he said, “It’s what I get paid for. I have to win. If I don’t, I don’t make money.”

The gun went off and the race began. I was in the third wave of runners. It was great to see everybody running together. [After] I had already run a half marathon, I felt miserable. I didn’t stop though, because I knew if I stopped I might not keep going. I was telling myself, You have to be strong, finish, make your goal. I thought of my siblings and knew I couldn’t stop.

When I was in back in Tanzania in January, I saw my younger sisters trying to get to school. They don’t know how to read or write, we don’t have a real teacher there. The teachers they bring to the schools on Maasailand are from the city. They don’t speak Maa, only Swahili. They are teaching five year olds who can’t even speak Swahili. In Tanzania, every year of school counts. If you fail the exam at the end of primary school, you are never allowed another opportunity to pass into secondary school. These kids have never seen a book or a conventional classroom. They can’t
understand the teacher. After three years of school, they can only say “jambo” and “safari.”

Thinking about how many would benefit from the money we were raising motivated me. I had a picture in my head of the children in Eluai, happy, studying, empowered. This was a big opportunity for me to support these kids. I wasn’t thinking about running, I was thinking about opportunity.

I finished Heartbreak Hill and around Copley Square, I was three miles from the finish line. I said to one guy who was slowing down, “Keep going, don’t stop. You’re almost there!” I kept going and I crossed the finish line. I couldn’t stop thinking about how great it was, just seeing what I had done and how it would affect my community back in Tanzania. I walked around for about 15 minutes, trying to get my stuff and find my wife.

I was about 100 feet from the finish line when I saw these two big clouds of smoke and heard a big sound. It looked like something had collapsed. Five seconds later, there was another boom. I thought, holy crap, what am I seeing? I thought it was the trains underground, that the land was collapsing. The whole area was becoming a mess. Everything was mixed up. My wife was supposed to be at the finish line, in the family area. She’s there waiting for me, I’m thinking. I’m freaking out. The place is full of people. Is this real or am I going crazy? I have seen bombs explode on TV, but not in real life. I was shocked. I couldn’t think. For five minutes, I couldn’t move.

Everything was black with smoke. I was so scared that something had happened to my wife. Finally, out of the crowd, she came running to me, crying. I was trying not to go crazy. It took us 45 minutes to get out of there. It was a hell of a day. It was a good day until the bomb. After that, everything changed. Everything. Later, I was sitting on the sofa, watching the coverage. I saw the guy I had told to keep going when we were still three miles from the finish line. When the explosions went off, he fell two feet from the finish line. I’m looking at him, thinking, I talked to him! I was shocked, shaking. He must have stopped and walked. My mind was exhausted from trying to calm down.

It took a long time be able to think about this on a personal level. And now what I’m thinking about is the impact these events have had on my community. When something bad happens, you just have to start moving again. You don’t look back. When you face challenges like this, you need to keep moving. If I didn’t have something to believe in, I wouldn’t have moved for a long time.
When I found out that my corporate sponsor didn’t follow through on their promises, it was very disappointing. People here don’t know much about the situation in Tanzania. It takes a long time to fully understand when you haven’t been there yourself. If you eat with us, if you see the brown water we have to drink, you know us and this helps people to follow through with funds. If people know what’s really going on, they take it seriously.

At first I wanted to go back to Tanzania, but I didn’t because I don’t believe in quitting. I believe in confidence. I was running to accomplish something, thinking that there would be money raised. All of the time I was training for the marathon, and when I was running it, I had dreams of what this would mean for my community. To have survived that day and not to have anything to give the children in my village is difficult. I wouldn’t have run the marathon if I had known that I was risking my life and that no money was raised.

My mom used to tell me a story about a strong warrior. He and his fellow warriors were in conflict with another tribe over cattle. He took 105 warriors with him to take back their cattle. They didn’t expect any trouble but the other tribe attacked them. They were all fighting and they lost 50 people. The warrior was going crazy because all they were supposed to care about was the cattle and everyone had gotten consumed with fighting. Then he got shot too, and fell down. All the warriors huddled around him. “We came here for the cows, we did not come here to fight. We have the cows. Now we just need to get back home together,” he said. And they went back with the cows. I always think about that story.

I ran the marathon to raise money for the school in my village. I didn’t know that the bomb was going to happen or that we would not get the funding. But I know that great warriors never give up; they move on past whatever bad things come to them. I will keep fighting.

For more information about The Warriors Organization, visit: or

(Photo: Aric Gutnick; Isaya Lukumay greets a village elder)