Posts Tagged ‘Mexico’


Fast Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership: What It Means for Indigenous Peoples

This article has been reposted from Cultural Survival, originally published April 13, 2015.



The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is a massive, controversial free trade agreement currently under negotiation behind closed doors by officials from the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

The TPP would elevate multinational corporations and private investors to equal status with sovereign nations, and therefore above individual citizens, empowering these entities to sue nations via private tribunals.  The TPP has been marked by an alarming lack of transparency and public input. The public has not been allowed to see the draft text, and the majority of information that is available is the result of leaks. Even members of Congress have been provided only limited access to the proposed agreement. US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has called for increased transparency in trade negotiations for the TPP, warning that, “Without transparency, the benefit from robust democratic participation—an open marketplace of ideas—is considerably reduced.” Meanwhile, more than 600 official corporate “trade advisors” have been given special access to the draft text.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: What Does It Mean for Indigenous Peoples?

In the same vein as deals like NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, the TPP is being drafted with no input from the Indigenous Peoples who live in countries that will be affected by the deal. The TPP could have broad implications for Indigenous Peoples living in the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

The secrecy of the TPP entirely disregards the concept of Free, Prior, Informed Consent, a tenant of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which states that policies affecting Indigenous Peoples should not move forward without the full understanding and approval of those it might affect.


Corporate Rights over Human Rights

The agreement threatens to dramatically affect Indigenous Peoples by ramping up trade policies that have allowed for transnational corporations to engage in oil, gas, and mineral extraction without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of their communities.  TPP policies would encourage the natural gas industry, which has already severely affected Native and First Nations communities in North America.  “The TPP would facilitate increased exports of liquefied natural gas by requiring the U.S. Department of Energy to automatically approve all natural gas exports to TPP countries. Increased exports would mean an increase in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the dirty and violent process that dislodges gas deposits from shale rock formations,’’ explains the Sierra Club.  Natural gas companies have already begun encroaching otherwise off limits native lands. Uniquely affecting native women, fracking operations tend to be correlated with increased sex trafficking, rape, missing women, and influxes of drugs and alcohol into communities, in addition to its obvious environmental effects contaminating local water and air quality.

The TPP would also allow companies to evade financial responsibility for environmental contamination, even when it occurs on Indigenous Peoples lands. Under the TPP, investors would have the ability to demand taxpayer compensation for imposed fines, effectively burdening the public with the cost of environmental cleanup. According to Professor Jane Kelsey of New Zealand, the TPP draft chapter on environmental regulations fails to define its key terms, leaving vagueness that will allow for inconsistent interpretation and implementation of regulations. Nowhere in the chapter does it detail a mechanism for setting penalties for environmental offenders. It excludes resource management practices and ignores standards set by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Mother Nature®

The draft article on Trade and Biodiversity recognizes the rights of states over natural resources and genetic material. This would allow for multinational corporations like Monsanto and industries like Big Pharma to benefit enormously by allowing them to exclusive rights over things like seeds and traditional plant-based medicines found in biodiverse areas managed by Indigenous communities. The agreement flagrantly ignores the United Nations’ specific mention of this in the Declaration, which states that

“Indigenous Peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop…the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora.” –Article 31

The patenting of plants that have been used traditionally by Indigenous Peoples without their consent or benefit sharing has been called bio-piracy, and would snowball given the approval of the TPP.  Indigenous activist Te Kaituhi, a Māori of Aotearoa New Zealand, exhorts us to “Imagine a world where Indigenous knowledge, language, and customs are outright owned by multinational corporations and copyright enforcement is heavily backed by government police forces.” According to Kaituhi, “The TPP won’t only affect Indigenous freehold land, nor will it just push our people further into poverty. The TPP will give multinationals the right to exploit the ecosystem and further aid them in the acquiring of enforced trademarking and copyrighting of Indigenous intellectual property and cultural or traditional knowledge;” in other words, a new form of colonization.


Suing for lost profits

One of the most troubling aspects of the TPP is found in the draft chapter on investment deals with investor-state dispute settlement which gives corporations the right to sue a government for unlimited cash compensation — in private and non-transparent tribunals — over nearly any law or policy that a corporation alleges will reduce its profits. Kelsey notes that “the vast majority of investment arbitrations under similar agreements involve natural resources, especially mining, and have resulted in billions of dollars of damages against governments for measures designed to protect the environment from harm caused by foreign corporations.” Under the proposed TPP, the investor-state clause can be used to pressure governments into allowing the continued operation of the severely polluting industries out of fear of being sued for lost profits.  Governments around the world are already extremely reluctant to regulate industries like mining and oil, which can bring them large revenues in royalties. With the potential that States could be held financially responsible for reigning in harmful business practices, corporate profits gains an even stronger precedence over disenfranchised Indigenous Peoples living with destructive industries in their backyards.

Fast Track

Negotiators have announced that they are very close to concluding the agreement, with just a few outstanding issues remaining. However, several countries have said that they won’t present their final offers until the US Congress grants President Obama “Fast Track” Authority.

Fast track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), is a process that would rush trade deals through Congress and remove the ability of elected officials to ensure that trade pacts protect workers, communities and the environment. Fast track would allow the president to send already signed trade pacts, including the TPP, to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote with no amendments and a maximum of 20 hours debate.

Despite mounting opposition, The Obama administration is throwing its full weight behind Fast Track and the TPP.   In response, a national day of action against Fast Track  has been declared for April 18th, 2015. The national day corresponds to a global day of action to promote fair rather than free trade deals  with events spanning the globe.  Now is the time to spread the word about the detrimental effects of the deals like the TPP and advocate for something better.

Cultural Survival signed on along with over 550 organizations in sending a letter to then US Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) firmly rejecting fast track trade promotion authority in the United States and calling for a new system for negotiating and implementing trade agreements. In the letter, this diverse coalition stated that “fast track,” an outdated mechanism that would limit Congressional and public oversight over trade negotiations, is “simply not appropriate” given the broad subjects covered by today’s trade pacts, such as the TPP and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. “Fast track is the wrong track for Americans who care about the health of our families and access to clean air, clean water, and land,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “We need a new model of trade—one that protects communities and the environment while keeping the public engaged in the policy-making process.”

Communities, workers, and especially Indigenous Peoples must have a say in these deals. The fast track is the exact opposite of the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent that is laid out as a human rights standard when negotiating deals that will affect Indigenous Peoples, as the TPP will in a dozen countries.


What can you do?

  1. Get in touch with your area Representatives and Senators.
  2. Share on social media: Fast tracking the TPP ignores the rights of #Indigenous Peoples across Pacific nations. #NoFastTrack for #TPP Atn.@RonWyden .@BarackObama
  3. Learn more with Public Citizen


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


Introducing FPW’s Indigenous Leadership Regional Network Program!

Indigenous Leadership Regional Network (1)

Indigenous leadership has its own unique cultural context. Indigenous leaders often arise out of necessity rather than by election or a sense of personal ambition. Leadership itself is a collective effort in Indigenous communities, a cumulative gathering of wisdom and experience in deference to the greater good. This lack of formal structure builds trust and solidarity within a community, but it does not necessarily cultivate bonds between leaders in one community and those in another – the Indigenous movement is made up of thousands of grassroots efforts acting in relative isolation. In an increasingly globalized world, with large-scale problems such as climate change and the spread of international industries, Indigenous leaders need community beyond their communities.

To begin to identify and bring these Indigenous leaders together on a global and regional level, First Peoples Worldwide is excited to announce the launch of the Indigenous Leaders Regional Network Program, an initiative to enhance and amplify cultural leadership through trainings, shareholder advocacy, and network building.

The Indigenous Leadership Program will work to cultivate a globally connected Indigenous leadership network through training on social media and a new online networking platform for Indigenous Leaders: the Celebrating Indigenous Leaders: Knowledge and Wisdom Facebook group. Celebrating Indigenous Leaders is a place for Indigenous leaders across the globe to share information about their communities, challenges they face as Indigenous leaders, and development solutions that are working in their region.

On a regional level, the Indigenous Leadership Program will help to build internal and external capacities of Indigenous organizations, through Shareholder Advocacy and Leadership Training Centers (SALT). Regional SALT Centers will serve as platforms for determining leadership needs, sharing technical assistance, and building regional networks among Indigenous Leaders. First Peoples Worldwide will establish SALT Centers in Argentina, Mexico, and Canada, and will hold the first shareholder advocacy and leadership workshop at the 2015 UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, April 25, 2015.

Through establishing robust regional and global networks among Indigenous organizations in the Americas, the Indigenous Leadership Regional Network Program will begin to amplify the voices of local and regional Indigenous leaders, and provide them a space for growth and development.



Poor Social Risk Management Costing US Taxpayers

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Communities in Oaxaca, Mexico have defeated a proposed hydroelectric plant that allegedly would have polluted their drinking water and damaged forests. The plant received an $8.5 million loan by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), a US government agency that mobilizes private capital to finance overseas development projects. This is not the first OPIC project to encounter social resistance. The agency also met protests in Liberia, where a $217 million energy project was recently shelved due to “questionable due diligence.”

These events have prompted US politicians to call for greater regulatory oversight of OPIC. An appropriate response would be better social risk management. Although OPIC operates without net costs to taxpayers, its activities supplement the foreign aid budget, so the costs of these botched investments are ultimately absorbed by taxpayers.

Sources: New York Times, Kansas City Star

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.


How We Make Progress, How We Have Change: Rebecca Adamson

Reposted from the Cultural Survival Quarterly

By Agnes Portalewska


Her voice reflects her passion. Her work reflects her commitment. Her legacy is an inspiration for many. Rebecca Adamson (Cherokee) is a businessperson and Indigenous rights advocate. She is the former director, president, and founder of First Nations Development Institute and the founder of First Peoples Worldwide. Born to a Swedish-American father and a Cherokee mother, Adamson grew up in Akron, Ohio and spent summers with her Cherokee grandmother in North Carolina. Reflecting on these early years, she says, “My journey and my vision has been driven by knowing we could solve our own problems and really wanting to listen to the ways our cultures helped us and supported our problem solving.”

Early in her career Adamson was hired by the coalition of five Indian Controlled Schools in the country. As she tells it, “the schools sued [then-President] Nixon to release the Title IV Indian Education funds. Title IV provided funds for parental involvement, among other things.” With the release of that money, the Coalition of Indian Controlled Schools were able to help tribes start their own schools. “All of this dovetailed into the Indian Education Self Determination Act. After they won and then they hired me, and I got to work in our communities, and it was amazing.” She also worked to get the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 passed, giving tribes authority for how they administered the funds.

Adamson’s background was in philosophy, a field she entered with “an undying belief that as Indigenous Peoples, we needed our own models. People constantly look at our systems and they talk about them being quaint. We get pushed back on two things: one is that the principles that I call ‘fundamental design principles’ are called romantic notions in Western thinking. But then they get caught up thinking that we’re saying individual Indians are better than individual Westerners. Both of those are just wrong. We [have] built systems that actually incentivize the good behavior.”

Later, as she pursued a graduate degree in economics and “began really looking into the finances of it,” she says, “what really hit me was how all the models that we were taking out into our communities carried Western values—they weren’t our values. So I thought if we had a development process that really listened and brought the technical and the resources together with the brilliant thinking and problemsolving of Indigenous peoples, we would get new models.” This is how the idea for First Nations Development Institute was born in 1980.

Initially, the primary purpose of First Nations Development Institute was to create a development process for Native people to do their own problem solving. The Institute created the land consolidation model, the tribal investment model, marketing, arts, food sovereignty, traditional food processes, agriculture, and the first micro-loan fund in the United States. The first 15 years were devoted to exploring Indigenous economics domestically, and the Institute began global outreach in 1994. Their first international field project grew into First Peoples Worldwide.

Since 2007, First Peoples Worldwide’s Keepers of the Earth Fund has awarded nearly $1.5 million to Indigenous communities around the world representing 427 Indigenous groups in 53 countries. “Making that international transition has been extremely rewarding,” Adamson says. “It is magnitudes more difficult, more violent, and more discriminatory internationally, with what other Indigenous groups are facing. The grants are really what bring the energy and excitement and the heartbeat into our work.” She adds that the fund has supported projects that are “really struggling in dealing with huge global corporations and the pressure of being surrounded by the extractive industries and the governments that want the resources. In those cases we may be the only funder out there that is funding our communities to make their own decisions. One-third of our grantmaking portfolio had never had funding before. So we’re building those links back up to national and international groups so that we build that political machinery, bit by bit.”

For Adamson, getting corporations and governments to respect Indigenous rights requires a multipronged approach. “In the long run I think the activist groups keep the heat on. Social media has absolutely been bringing attention to it. If corporations want to manage by headlines, we’ve got to get them headlines. The activist groups are doing good work on that. Legal and rights groups are trying to get legal precedents set. What hasn’t really been approached in all this is the market. That’s why First Peoples Worldwide did the Indigenous Rights Risk Report (see page 14), to try to get one more strategic tool out there that we could all use. I think it really will bring more power and augment what we’ve already got underway,” she says.

Forward progress, however, isn’t always linear: “We don’t have a silver bullet anywhere. We could win a court case and the government decides not to uphold it. We could win an activist and media campaign, and as soon as the headlines die down they turn around and do it again. We make progress and then we slide back. [But] that is how we make progress and that is how we have change. “

After concluding its risk assessment of US-based extractive companies, First Peoples Worldwide is now turning its attention to Canada; Adamson estimates that about 70 percent of the global equity capital financing oil, gas, and mining comes from the Canadian exchange. “What we hope to do is bring the Indigenous groups in areas where we’re researching together with the other groups in the areas we’ve already researched. That’s the idea, to really start sharing this information among ourselves,” she says.

To aid in this information sharing, First Peoples Worldwide is currently developing curriculum on shareholder advocacy and planning to organize Indigenous shareholder advocacy leadership training centers in Indigenous areas where resource extraction is rampant. “We are organizing these centers so that our people in those places have the accountability they need to really negotiate and control their destinies with these corporations and with the government,” she explains.

Getting resources and information to the grassroots is a must for Adamson. “Real successes have been primarily [achieved] by us, by Indigenous people. We’ve got thousands of grassroots groups out there, and we need to be able to link them with the international and national groups. We have an ability to build the political machinery globally that we need to achieve change. We need more local capacity. Funders right now tend to build somebody else’s capacity, to study us, to work for us, to be an intermediary with us, but never fund us.” She cites the adoption of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) as a prime example: “We saw hundreds of thousands of dollars going out to non-Indigenous groups to do FPIC studies. The Indigenous groups are the ones having to figure out how to implement it, and yet all of the resources went to other folks to study us in doing it.”

Adamson believes that Canada, at the epicenter of so many protests and recent controversies around FPIC and Indigenous rights, “is really the microcosm of all of this. What the First Nations have made [Prime Minister] Harper’s administration understand is they can stop his resource development agenda.” She also points to the Amazon region, which “has had the lowest bids on concessions in its history,” a cause she attributes directly to protests and work stoppages. “We can stop the production and the extraction of these resources and get heard, but it’s a path that could lead to violence, which in many cases has been a struggle for our lives,” she says.

As the First Peoples’ risk report illustrates, in-country risk is one of the biggest drivers of corporate risk. “Corporations want to go to where there’s the least risk, and if it’s working with us, we can be at the table directing the government to title our land, uphold our rights,” Adamson says. “We are finding out through the risk report that it’s good business when countries uphold Indigenous rights. My hope is that we can get the results into the market quicker; that we can prove that countries that want economic performance have to uphold our rights to get it, and companies that want profit have to uphold our rights to get the profit. We’ve got to get that message out more and more.”

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.


The Importance of Culture

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For several years, the Wixarika Peoples of Mexico have urged First Majestic Silver Corporation to cancel a planned mining project on Wirikuta, a sacred mountain that has been the site of ceremonial pilgrimages for generations. In November 2014, the company made headlines again when a film about the Wixarika’s ongoing struggle was released.

In its response, the company claims to have a “high level of commitment with the communities of the locations where we operate” and is “open to establishing a mutually respectful dialogue with the Wixarika.” The company also claims to be building museums and “improving the area as a tourist destination” to “give the local community long term jobs and improve their standard of living.” It is paramount that the company obtains the Wixarika’s consent for this (as well as the mining project itself), as tourism can impact Indigenous Peoples just as negatively as mining, especially when sacred sites are involved. Additionally, the company donated 761 hectares “to protect the sacred sites of the Wixarika groups.” However, it is unclear if the donated area encompasses Wirikuta, which appears to be the focal point of the Wixarika’s grievance with the company.

Sources: Intercontinental Cry

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.


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.


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

By Katie Cheney

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

Photo Credit: International Indian Treaty Council

[Photo credit: International Indian Treaty Council]

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


Addressing Negative Impacts During Consumption

A sharp spike in diabetes in Indigenous communities in Chiapas, Mexico is being attributed to an “invasion” of soft drinks. Researchers at Mexico’s National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition highlight “very aggressive commercial campaigns” in the region by Coca-Cola and other food and beverage companies, and note that shortages of potable water in communities encourage consumption of soft drinks. Soft drinks are reportedly becoming incorporated into religious ceremonies and other cultural events, sometimes replacing traditional foods and beverages.

In addition to mitigating negative impacts to Indigenous Peoples during the production stage, food and beverage companies should be mindful of negative impacts during the consumption stage. While every company needs to prioritize selling its products, food and beverage companies should note the momentous health disparities between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Peoples, and take actions to offset the chances that their products exacerbate those disparities. According to the Lancet Medical Journal, “poverty, malnutrition, overcrowding, poor hygiene, environmental contamination, and prevalent infections” are some of the root causes for Indigenous Peoples’ lower health standards.

Sources: Indian Country Today


Mexico Introduces Mining Tax

In 2014, the Mexican government will introduce a 7.5 percent mining tax, 50 percent of which will go to communities or states affected by mining.  Some companies claim that the tax will deter investment from Mexico’s booming mining industry, with Goldcorp (TSE:G) and Grupo Mexico (OTCMKTS:GMBXF) threatening to divest billions of dollars from the country.  However, Jason Reid, CEO of Gold Resource (NYSEMKT:GORO), said the tax could help companies win community support for projects.  Community opposition has affected Gold’s El Rey Project in the Mexican state of Oaxaca (which has a large Indigenous population), and Reid hopes that the tax will persuade local leaders to support the company to restart exploration.

The tax appears to be an attempt by the Mexican government to preserve the sustainability of an industry that is crucial to the country’s economy.  Since 1992, the Mexican government has granted more than 30,000 concessions spanning nearly 51 million hectares to over 300 mining companies.  Deforestation and pollution has turned many communities against mining, and the Observatory on Mining Conflicts in Latin America has documented 21 mining-related conflicts in the country.

Sources: BNamericas, Indigenous Peoples Issues and Resources


More and More, Indigenous Crops Are Being Celebrated Across the Globe


by Britnae Purdy

The anti-GMO movement is enjoying both wide-spread publicity and legal wins these days. First, the Dine Nation of the southwestern United States declared their territory GMO-free during a recent “Corn is Life” Indigenous Gathering in Arizona. As the conference declaration read, “[Our seeds] are the source of our survival, today and in the hard times that are coming. We therefore declare the Diné Nation traditional homelands to be a zone that will be kept free from genetically modified seeds, plants, and animals as well as toxic pesticides. In that way it will be a healthy and safe place for our traditional seeds and plants, and our children and future generations to live, survive, and thrive within the boundaries of our four sacred mountains in good health, tranquility, and beauty.”

Now, Mexico has taken the unprecedented step of banning genetically-modified corn from its fields. On October 17 the District Federal Court for Civil Matters in Mexico temporary halted all existing and pending permits for genetically modified corn, preventing multinational corporations such as Monsanto from spreading GMO corn seed through commercial planting or field trials until the pending legal case is resolved. The action is a major victory for the Sin Maiz No Hay Pais (Without Corn There is No Country) Movement, an organization of farmers, educators, Indigenous Peoples, environmentalists, and farmers. As Eduardo Correa, coordinator of the Slow Food Youth Network in Mexico, part of the movement, says of the case, “It is our duty to take a stand and act accordingly with our convictions and ideals. It is no longer enough to be responsible co-producers; today we must take affirmative actions oriented to preserve all that we consider essential for nature, and for us.” Corn is an important staple crop for Mexico – committing to keeping their crops GMO-free represents a significant move in protecting Mexico’s traditional food heritage and security.

Across the globe in Hubei province, northern China, a rare strain of rice that nearly went extinct in the 1970s has been revived and is being re-introduced to the market. Kermes rice is notable for its rich red color and high amino acid content. Though it was used historically in imperial courts of the Qing Dynasty, the crop was passed over in favor of more high-yield strains of rice. Kermes rice was banned by the local government, under pressure to produce bountiful crops, and the seed nearly disappeared. Zheng Hehai, head of the Tangshan Daoxiang Rice Company, obtained the rice from the father of a family friend who hid a small supply of seeds after they were banned. Zheng uses no pesticides and only organic fertilizers; he considers the seeds to be a healthy alternative to GMO, a gift from China’s ancestors. “Kermes rice has low yield and is difficult to cultivate,” he admits. “So why should we plant more? First, it has special nutritional value. Second, it would be regrettable if we lost something that has existed for several hundreds of years.”

Rather than genetically-modified and mass-produced crops, Indigenous food systems, crops, and traditional farming practices are the key to producing healthy, sustainable food sources. The Food Tank identifies six compelling reasons why small, Indigenous, diversified crops are so important:

  1. They improve nutrition and food security – diverse diets are linked to better nutrition
  2. They preserve biodiversity – as Food Tank points out, 75 percent of the planet’s genetic resources have been lost in the 20th century alone
  3. They increasing yields – the group finds that polyculture operations (more than one crop, such as the Three Sisters planting method) typically produce 20-60 percent more than monocultures (single crops, such as mass-produced corn).
  4. They can help build soil health and repair depleted land – important to health crops, as soil degradation is found to result in a nearly 50 percent loss in crop productivity
  5. Water can be conserved by improving soil quality through strategic Indigenous crops, such as planting water-retaining legumes
  6. Perhaps most importantly, Indigenous crops can help mitigate the effects of climate change, as Indigenous crops are more resilient and can stand up better to extreme weather changes

However, change need not be left only to nation-wide movements and activism; community and small-scale initiatives are integral as well. For example, Australia has seen the emergence of small initiatives between local government and Indigenous communities are promoting the cultivation and education of Indigenous plants. In the past month, two such gardens have opened. The Dja Dja Wurrung of Bendigo, Victoria, are using a $9,006 grant from the Australian government to open a community nursery. As Lisa Chesters, member-elect of Dja Dja Wurrung Enterprises says, “This organization is doing so much for its people in central Victoria. They will be able to cultivate and grow native species which tell their story. It is a great opportunity for local Aboriginal people to share their stories and educate Aboriginals and non-Aboriginal people about the native species of the region.

Additionally, the University of Southern Queensland recently celebrated the official opening of the Gumbi Gumbi Gardens Indigenous cultural site, a collaborative effort between the university, the Toowoomba local community, and the Jarowair people, the traditional custodians of the land on which the university was built. Gumbi gumbi is a traditional medicinal plant used by the local Indigenous peoples. The garden will provide 2.2 hectares of land for the cultivating of Indigenous plants to be used for both food and medicine. The gardens will also be incorporated into certain courses for the university students. Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas hopes that the gardens, in addition to being educational, will promote harmony between the local and Aboriginal communities. “These gardens are a wonderful opportunity for locals and visitors to understand and appreciate he heritage of our district,” she said before the opening ceremony. “They are a visual symbol of the University of Southern Queensland’s commitment to reconciliation and an opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to move forward together. This public and enduring recognition will benefit all community members, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.”

In North America, it is harvest season – our upcoming holidays are primarily focused on the celebration of food and family. Now is the perfect time for contemplation – what can you being doing to help national and global movements against GMO and unsustainable agriculture? What can you be doing in your community to raise awareness and education? Where is your food coming from – and where should it be coming from?


(Photo: Peta Duncan, Bethyl Mabo, Bonita Mabo, and Hannah Duncan celebrate the opening of the Gumbi Gumbi Gardens, from