John Ahni Schertow/InterContinental Cry Magazine: 15 Indigenous Rights Victories That You Didn’t Hear About in 2015

Re-posted in part, from Intercontinentalcry.org, please visit there for the full article. Thanks to Kauilapele for pointing to this post. It’s just great to be posting good news. And inspiring to the rest of us! (Can you see a shining future yet?) Reading the words of these determined –and ordinary–men and women who took up the fight for their lands, their livelihoods, their communities–and won–does renew my hope and optimism for great positive change ahead, for all of humanity.

“Indigenous rights victories give us all pause to celebrate, to reflect and to rejuvenate our own quests for justice.

May we encounter 10,000 more victories just like these in 2016!”

15 Indigenous Rights Victories That You Didn’t Hear About in 2015

by December 21, 2015

Good news. Sometimes, it comes in the form of a cancelled hydro dam that spares 20,000 people from the burden of displacement. Other times, it takes the shape of a simple court admission that Indigenous Peoples do actually make the best conservationists.

In this day and age such stories are incredibly rare. They are even more difficult to find amidst the constant deluge of media that doesn’t matter. That makes them all the more valuable.

Indigenous rights victories give us all pause to celebrate, to reflect and to rejuvenate our own quests for justice.

May we encounter 10,000 more victories just like these in 2016!

1
Justice for the Ogoni

Alali Efanga & Chief Fidelis Oguru from Oruma, two plaintiffs in the Dutch court case against Shell. (Photo: Milieudefensie/flickr)

In a landmark decision last week, the Dutch Court of Appeals ruled that four Ogoni farmers from Nigeria can take their case against Shell to a judge in the Netherlands. Alali Efanga, one of the Ogoni farmers who, along with Friends of the Earth Netherlands, brought the case against Shell, said the ruling “offers hope that Shell will finally begin to restore the soil around my village so that I will once again be able to take up farming and fishing on my own land.”

The ruling by the Court of Appeals overturns a 2013 decision in favor of Shell, who, in another big hit to the multinational oil giant, agreed to clean up two massive oil spills in the Ogoni community of Bodo following a three-year legal battle in London.

2
Wampis Autonomy

The Wampis nation, who made international headlines in 2009 when they stood up to the government of Peru alongside their brethren the Awajun, took an unprecedented step foward by establishing the first Autonomous Indigenous Government in Peru’s history. Spanning a 1.3 million hectare territory – a region the size of the State of Connecticut – the newly created democratically-elected government brings together 100 Wampis communities representing some 10,613 people.

Speaking of the challenges that the Wampis Nation will now face, the newly elected Pamuk (first President) Wrays Pérez Ramirez, told Intercontinental Cry by phone: “We know that it will be difficult to get the National Government to support us and recognize our territory. It will seem unacceptable to the Government to have to consult us regarding any activity that could affect our territory. We know that it is going to be hard work but we are prepared. We are not going to stay silent not least when we have legal backing from national and international legislation regarding our right to self-determination and free, prior and informed consent. It will be difficult, but not impossible.”

3
Protected Lands

Members of ACIYA Indigenous organization (Fundacion Gaia Amazonas, 2014)

After five years of legal contests and what felt like a lifetime of uncertainty, Colombia’s Constitutional Court confirmed that Yaigojé Apaporis, an indigenous resguardo (a legally recognized, collectively owned territory), has legitimate status as a national park.

Comprising a million hectares of the Northwestern Colombian Amazon, the pristine forest region of Yaigojé Apaporis is home to numerous endangered species including the giant anteater, jaguar, manatee and pink river dolphin. It is also home to the Makuna, Tanimuka, Letuama, Barasano, Cabiyari, Yahuna and Yujup-Maku Indigenous Peoples, who share a common cosmological system and rich shamanistic traditions. Together these populations act as Yaigojé’s guardians, a role that was strengthened in 1988 when they successfully established the Yaigojé Apaporis resguardo over their traditional territory.

In the late 2000s Canadian mining multinational Cosigo Resources started trying to exploit a legal loophole in Colombia that would let them mine for gold inside the resguardo. The Constitutional Court’s decision brought a welcomed end to that dishonest effort.

4
Indigenous Passports

On October 12, 2015, the day of Indigenous Resistance, Kichwa lawyer Carlos Pérez Guartambel entered Ecuador with a Kichwa passport, sending out a clear reminder to the international community that indigenous nations are not simply “bands” or informal groups whose rights stem from the good graces of UN member states, but actual nations.Ecuador’s immigration authorities did not know what to do. After 30 minutes of hesitation, they decided to accept the Kichwa passport as a form of ID, stamped Guartambel’s immigration card (not the passport) and allowed him to enter Ecuador. Within a few hours, however, Ecuadoran state officials reversed themselves and denied the validity of the Kichwa passport. This can be seen in a video released by the Department of Immigration in the Ministry of the Interior. Minister Serrano ridiculed the Kichwa passport as a “fantasy” on Twitter, posting a montage of the Kichwa passport with the portrait of a cartoon character.

Later that afternoon, the Council of Government of ECUARUNARI, an organization founded in 1972 by 18 Indigenous Peoples and representing 14 different nationalities, met in Quito to distribute over 300 passports, including one to Salvador Quishpe, the Governor of the Amazon Province of Morona-Chinchipe. During the passport ceremony, the Kichwa leadership insisted that Indigenous passports were as valid as ancestral medicine, inter-cultural education, and Indigenous justice–all recognized in Ecuador.

5
“Not Guilty”

Not Guilty (Photo: Ruben Curricoy Nañko)

After more than three years of preparation, an Argentinian court vindicated three Mapuche land rights defenders in a first-of-its kind inter-cultural trial.

The case began in the Mapuche community of Winkel Newen on December 28, 2012, when Officer of the Court Veronia Pelayes, representatives of the Apache Oil Company and a contingent of police arrived with an eviction notification. The community defended itself by throwing stones, one of which hit and injured Pelayes and damaged a vehicle. It was this incident that lead to an accusation of “attempted homicide” against Relmu Ñamku and charges of “serious damages” for Mauricio Rain and Martin Velasquez Maliqueo. In the case of Ñamku, the public prosecutor called for a 15-year prison sentence — disproportionate given that eight years is the norm for manslaughter cases.

“The public prosecutor and oil companies in Zapala had a clear political intention with this trial, for it to be an ‘ejemplary punishment’ to intimidate and discipline other indigenous communities who defend their rights against the advance of oil exploitation in their territories,” said writer Maristella Svampa and law professor Roberto Gargarella.

Their attempt failed and instead this historic trial marks an important step in curbing attempts to criminalize indigenous leaders defending their territory.

6

What’s in a name?

The highest mountain in the United States recovered its original indigenous name, Mount Denali, for all official purposes, after a decades-long dispute. The name “Denali” has its origin in the language of the Koyukon people, who inhabit the area north of the summit. In the Koyukon language, “Denali” means “the tall one.” The 6,168-metre high mountain was officially known until now at federal level as Mount McKinley, in honor of an American president assassinated in 1901.It is hoped that the U.S. government will restore the indigenous names of other monuments, parks and places including Devil’s Tower, the Yosemite National Park, the Grand Canyon, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Rainier to name a few.

7
Biocultural Rights

Sacred site custodians from Bale Ethiopia. (Photo: Tamara Korur)

Indigenous custodians from Benin, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia issued a challenge for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to protect sacred sites, governance systems and custodians in a ‘decisive policy and legislative response’ to the new scramble for Africa and its impact on Indigenous territories.

In their statement, the custodians describe the centrality of sacred sites to their existence, writing that “Sacred natural sites are where we come from, the heart of life. They are our roots and our inspiration. We cannot live without our sacred natural sites, and we are responsible for protecting them.”

“We are deeply concerned about our Earth because she is suffering from increasing destruction despite all the discussions, international meetings, facts and figures and warning signs from Earth… the future of our children and the children of all the species of Earth are threatened. When this last generation of elders dies, we will lose the memory of how to live respectfully on the planet, if we do not learn from them now,” say the custodians.

Please continue reading at Intercontinentalcry.org.

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