Smagnis says: These words from the articles below speak volumes about what it means to be an Indigenous person.
“Rebuild yourself, your families and your nation, with your way of life the Creator has given you. Stop thinking negatively and fill your mind with positive thoughts, Depend on the land again, for all that you will need to survive. Prepare for the times when people will come looking for help. Prepare to receive the land with your leadership as the true stewards of the land. Our sovereignty comes through our relationship with the Great Spirit and Mother Earth. That is something no one can take away from us”.
“We have been warned from ancient prophecies of these times we live in today, but have also been given a very important message about a solution to turn these terrible times. In our prophecies it is told that we are now at the crossroads: Either unite spiritually as a global nation, or be faced with chaos, disasters, diseases, and tears from our relatives’ eyes”.
“Today, the question of our aboriginal rights and title are clearer than ever before. The power comes from our people and communities and the responsibility to maintain and protect the lands, water and resources within traditional territories”.
“Imagine that your survival depended on defending your right to live where you are standing right now”.
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Prepare for Hard Times, Rebuild Yourself, Be Stewards: Turtle Lodge’s Dave Courchene
‘Don’t waste time in trying to fight a system that will not change. Rebuild yourself, your families and your nation, with your way of life the Creator has given you.’ “Stop thinking negatively and fill your mind with positive thoughts, Depend on the land again, for all that you will need to survive. Prepare for the times when people will come looking for help. Prepare to receive the land with your leadership as the true stewards of the land.”
Our allegiance has always been with the land. This must not change.
We must not be drawn into a world that supports man’s self-importance, through his ideologies, and his concepts of owning and controlling the land through his politics. His ideologies work to ensure his dominance and control over continued exploitation of the land for the sake of his economy.
In their world, they will not listen to reason. They will continue to rationalize their position of exploitation, and no one will get in the way of their understanding of progress.
Recently, I sat alone by the river surrounded by the trees, with the sounds of the geese, the seagulls and the crows. I felt the peace of the land, and I reflected…
What have we done to ourselves? What have we done to the land?
And I ask myself with a sense of hopelessness, what can I do? What can I do to help change the current path of destruction??
Then the land tells me: it begins with me.
Then it dawns on me. I remember the teachings I was given from the Knowledge Keepers of our nations, the teachings that came from the lodges, that were filled with sacred songs from the drum. They always reminded me to stay true to my spirit. I was told, “Through your spirit you will find yourself. You will find your true identity that will define your true purpose and meaning to life.”
Through the lodges we are encouraged to stay in alignment with nature’s laws and not to leave the sacred fires of our lodges.
The spirit and the land advise us to stay true to our alignment and allegiance to the earth. They remind us it will be the power of the earth that will stop the invasion of the earth.
The day will come… No one can beat you, when you show kindness and respect.
So when that day comes, and it will come, we can stand without shame that we have stayed true and loyal to the ancestral ways.
We need to reflect on our own history beginning with knowing our own creation, and knowing our beginning.
We need to remember how our ancestors lived so close to the land without destroying her.
We need to acknowledge those that helped us survive the dark times of colonization.
In the beginning we were given instructions on how to be a human being—a human being that would take care of the land, and love the land. We were given teachings to act as a foundation to having a good life. These teachings would be connected to a sacred relationship with the land. These teachings would support the natural laws of Mother Earth. For thousands and thousands of years, our ancestors lived by those teachings and original instructions.
Then the invasion began. What is important for us to realize today is to acknowledge what helped us endure and survive these dark times, and still today we must continue to endure. Colonization is very much a continued imposition in our lives.
During the darkest times of our history, it was our way of life that helped us survive to this day.
It was the ones who remained loyal and true to the original instructions we were given as a people by our Creator…
Those who kept the ceremonies going underground…
Those that kept the sacred fires burning…
Those that continue to speak the languages of our people…
Those that sang the songs of the land, of the ancestors.
And so it is today, that we must rely on those who have kept the sacred fires burning…
Those that keep our lodges going…
Those that speak the languages of our people…
The language is really the language of the land itself.
We need to reflect on what has always helped us to survive, and it has always been our way of life. It has kept us closely connected to the land, and as long as we maintain that alliance, that closeness to the land, we will survive the changes that are coming.
What we should be concerned about is carrying out our duties and responsibilities and being stewards of the land. We cannot live out that stewardship without understanding, that knowing and understanding the stewardship that comes with responsibility.
Our efforts should be put into preserving this knowledge, protecting the Knowledge Keepers of our nations, offering support to our Knowledge Keepers who take care of the knowledge in our lodges.
Trying to convince those that are destroying the earth is a wasted effort, when our efforts should be in restoring and reviving our way of life.
As we do this, we must put full effort in teaching our children, our youth about this way of life, that carries duties and responsibilities.
We are told that it will be the forces of nature herself, that will stop the abuse that is inflicted on her.
With the earth wants are messengers to share her laws, to share and to teach the youth, of all nations.
What Mother Earth wants is to have her children to love her and to respect her, and to be instruments of peace.
So many of our young people are lost, and we continue to encourage them to accept a way of life that is destroying their beautiful little spirits.
And how they deal with this is that they resist; they rebel, some with anger, addiction, and at worst, suicide.
We have failed the youth. But we can still do them proud.
Bring them back to the lodges, to the land for the healing that will help them find themselves… find their dreams again. Heal the hearts that have been broken. Give the spirit and the land the opportunity to guide our people again. She will never betray us, as she has consistently shown us over and over again.
Nature’s laws are self-enforcing. No law of man can prevent or have power over the power of nature. Allow the earth to take its natural course in correcting those that have put themselves above the natural laws.
Let us work with Mother Earth again, beginning with our children. There should be no doubt that the earth with its power will bring balance and harmony to the earth again.
No one has the human power, the political power, to overrule the forces of nature and her laws.
The future should be one that invests in our children by making access to the traditional knowledge and the lodges of the nations – preparing them to be the leaders of their people.
I often ask myself, what would the ancestors think of what is happening to our world being destroyed, and what would they have advised us to do to deal with all of this?
It’s so easy to get caught up in the politics and the confusion and the anger, that we lose sight of the truth. Feeling helpless and hopeless only makes things worse, making us numb and wanting to withdraw from all this madness, this insanity, and you want to escape. And some have chosen drugs in this escape. Some have chosen just to leave this world; suicide has become too common in our communities.
There I hear the voice of the ancestors:
“Come home, come home now, follow and we will take you home. What you look for is right in front of you, it is right inside of you. It is just that you have strayed from the path of your ancestors, the path your ancestors have left you.”
The ancestors say, “We will help you get on the path again, follow us through your dreams, through your heart, through your spirit. Follow those that have not strayed, those that have kept the ceremonies alive, the Knowledge Keepers of our nations.”
Years ago an elder said to me:
“Go home and start your sacred fire, and don’t ever leave it. Through the fire you will be guided, through the fire you will learn about the sun. Through the fire you will be given many teachings. Dreams will be sent to you to guide you towards your own awakening and healing. There will be dreams of ceremonies you must do. Follow these dreams, have faith in the spirit, and have faith in yourself.”
As I reflect on what the elder had said, it all came to be true. And his advice applies today more than ever:
Light the sacred fires. This is part of coming home. This is what will help us to awaken from this nightmare. The warmth of the fire will comfort us. Guide us. The fire will strengthen our spirit. We will see our ancestors in the fire. The fire will lead us into the lodges, into the ceremonies, and onto the land, to the sacred sites that have been left for us.
When we have done this, we will be given guidance and direction. And we will become strong again in our faith. We will know what to do in any given situation, because we will be connected to the spirit.
In any confusion or doubt, all we need to do is return back to the lodges for direction.
The answers we are looking for today have already been given, and they are held within the hearts of the Knowledge Keepers of our nations. Seek them out, find them and they will guide you to find yourselves. Then you will know your destiny and your gifts. Then you will be in a position to help fulfil the prophecy of your ancestors. You will be one of the few who believed, who follow the ancestors – to claim our rightful place in our homeland, to be the true leaders of our homeland.
It will be the forces of the land that will secure our leadership, simply because we have stayed aligned with her and her natural laws. She in the end will bring a halt to all of this insanity. All we have to do is stay close to the sacred fires, go to the lodges, learn more from the spirit, and spend more time on the land.
Prepare for the hard times that are coming. Don’t waste time in trying to fight a system that will not change. Rebuild yourself, your families and your nation, with your way of life the Creator has given you.
Stop thinking negatively and fill your mind with positive thoughts. Depend on the land again, for all that you will need to survive. Prepare for the times when people will come looking for help. Prepare to receive the land with your leadership as the true stewards of the land.
The real significance and meaning of the treaties was to allow us to claim our true identity as a people. And we have survived some really hard times, but it has made us stronger, and now we are ready to restore and rebuild our nations. As we do, help them to join us in our efforts and taking care of the land, for we must teach them to love the land as we do.
As we do all of this, it will be in alignment with nature. She will prepare us, take care of us, and love us as she always has. And no one can prevent this alliance – it is only ourselves who may lose faith and continue to rely on a system that does not honour spirit or the land.
We have a choice. Let’s make that choice now…
The longer we engage in their politics, the more time that we have wasted, when we could have put more effort in reclaiming and restoring our identity as a people.
And we go to the land who is the real force of change.
I remember being in the ceremony when the question was asked, how can we stop the pulp and paper mill that is destroying the environment, the land, the water and the air?
Through the elder, the spirit responded, “Don’t worry about the mill—we will take care of it. All you need to do is concern yourselves with living the way of life that the Creator has given. Continue to show gratitude for all that nature has to offer. Talk to the spirit of the water, the trees and the animals. All your survival and direction will come from the land.”
During a recent ceremony of blessing of the land, this message came from the spirit of the Thunderbirds:
“Don’t worry yourselves on what man is doing destroying the earth, because we will help put a stop to this. As the Thunderbirds we will use the fire, the wind and the water. Stay true to your way of life as real stewards of the land. And stay close to us, with your offerings. ”
In the 60s, there was this resurgence across the country and I was fortunate to be within the presence of those leaders at that time – George Manuel from BC, Harold Cardinal from Alberta, Walter Dieter from Saskatchewan, Andrew Delisle from Quebec, and of course my own father.
I witnessed and heard their discussions as they struggle to take us out of the imposition and colonial structures we were living in. What I remember the most was their passion to claim a right to live our sovereignty as a people. They spoke of removing the barriers that prevented us as people to live our true identity as a people.
Through all of their efforts, they opened the door for future generations to claim their right of identity. Unfortunately not many returned to the ancestral way of life of their people.
Assimilation continued to be the norm, education became the continued tool to assimilate. It was easy to be distracted from claiming our own right to define the true education that our children deserve. Today our children suffer from an identity crisis that has created many negative symptoms, for example, children in foster care, suicide, incarcerations, and many other health problems of our people. We did not seize on the opportunities created by those leaders of that time, even though our leaders of that time open the doors for us to reclaim our right of identity.
It was not easy. Our people have been like birds, cage for so long, that even once the doors were opened, it was as though these birds had forgotten how to fly. What has held them back and held our people back has been the fear to be themselves; to follow our beautiful and ancient way of life, because of the fear that was instilled into their minds.
Once again we are forced to reflect on deciding on what direction we should work on to claim our right of identity, our rights of sovereignty, our right of leadership in our homeland.
When our ancestor signed the treaties, they did it in the fullness of their identity, which was reflected in the gift of the pipe, the rattle and the drum. And through their great wisdom they saw that the reserves we live on would be reserved for us to retreat, to rebuild, and to continue to live the ancestral ways of our people, with no interference from the colonizer.
Our struggle to break free from the colonizer and his structures is still our current struggle. Decolonization is very much a challenge.
When we refer to the treaties we must first of all understand clearly who we are, beginning with our own creation stories, complete with our own history, and our duties and responsibilities that our Great Creator gave to us.
One of these responsibilities is to be caretakers of our homeland.
To reflect stewardship.
To live our way of life as a people.
To speak our languages.
To follow the fullness of our culture.
Why are we not embracing that opportunity our leaders of the past have opened?
The laws that prevented us from living our identity have been removed. There is nothing that can stop us from living our culture and our identity as a people now. All we need is the faith and courage to do so. Within the territories, granted as limited as they are, we must regroup and rebuild the spirit of our nations. Putting up our lodges is paramount in claiming our right of sovereignty.
Our sovereignty comes through our relationship with the Great Spirit and Mother Earth. That is something no one can take away from us.
When we are living our way of life we are not bound by colonial laws or structures. Our way of life is not defined by political influences. We simply be who we are – a kind, caring, loving and humble people.
Our way of life defines our original instructions that we were given by our great Creator, how to be Anishnabe. We were given duties and responsibilities in taking care of our children, our families and our elders. We were given instructions and responsibilities in taking care of the land.
This is what we should be concentrating on, and giving more support to—our way of life.
There has to be an investment in securing our culture, which includes our languages, our teachings, our songs, and our ceremonies.
Our treaties have secured that for us, and the colonizer will never and should never be in a position of teaching us our way of life. Their concern is to assimilate us, and it is working quite well for them. But it will never work completely, as long as we have those amongst our nations who continue to be faithful and loyal to our way of life. These are whom we must turn to, for their help to return to our way of life our ancestors have left us. Support those lodges that have kept our way of life alive.
Within the sacred lodges of our nations, wait for our ancestors, to help guide us, to help us remember, to help heal us, and to decolonize our minds.
With the colonizer, we encourage them to help support our autonomy that defines our solutions, our resolve to finding ourselves again. They have a shared responsibility to help bring back what they took away. That would be real reconciliation.
As an autonomous, self-determining people, it will be our elders and our Knowledge Keepers that we will depend upon to bring back that knowledge, that understanding of our identity.
What is treaty? To me, it is how we treat ourselves, our children, our mothers, and fathers, our elders, our friends and neighbours, and how we treat the land. A treaty is a covenant – it is a commitment. This is what our ancestors, I believe, meant, that defined our identity and relationship.
That relationship has also included the newcomers. We would share not only the land, we would share the values, the teachings, the protocols in taking care of the land. It is never too late for them to change – to join us in taking care of the land.
We must teach the youth, as much as we must teach our own. Our survival depends on everyone. And we must express our leadership and making welcome to those who want to learn.
And finally, I am going to humbly propose that we set up a group or Knowledge Keepers Council, because they are the ones that we need the help from the most. Because they are the ones that hold the knowledge, they hold the protocols, they hold the closeness to the ancestors through ceremony.
When the treaties were signed, when our people could not understand the language that was being spoken, what did they do? They went to the elders, to go into ceremony to seek guidance on what they must do. Should they sign those documents that they call treaties? And for days they gathered, waiting for the answer that would come through ceremony.
And it was the spirit itself that gave the approval for the leaders at that time to sign the documents. They saw something that maybe we don’t see today, but they saw the future. And it was only through the spirit that the future is revealed.
We need to call our Knowledge Keepers back. I propose that from every treaty area, that we select those Knowledge Keepers, and that we call a gathering as soon as possible. I am prepared to host this gathering at the Turtle Lodge, and we must do it from our own efforts. It cannot be done through applying for a grant, or assistance from the government, from the colonizer. It has to come from ourselves. That each treaty area take the responsibility to support their elders, and that the elders go for the guidance and the direction that we need today more than ever.
Our young people deserve the right to be guided by the Knowledge Keepers. So many of our young people have become angry, and as a result they have become very politicized. Through the lodges of our people we are told that we are a peaceful people; that our strength comes from being a kind, caring, humble and giving people.
It is through the connection to our ancestors and the spirit that we will move beyond this current world, a world that does not understand who we are, that we still continue to live marginalized in our homeland and not understood.
So many of our young people today do not know who they are. That is our responsibility, no one else’s. No one can come to heal us. No one can give us that life that we all want and expect. Only the Creator can give us that. That is what you will hear in the lodges of our people.
If we are serious about loving our children, then please consider what I am proposing, to call upon the elders and the Knowledge Keepers of our nations – the opportunity to come together so they can seek guidance and direction for all of us through ceremony itself.
Thank you so much for showing patience as I shared my own thoughts and feelings. In keeping with the spirit of the lodges, we are told:
“May your life be filled with the fullness that your life deserves, that your life be filled with all the love and all the respect and all the kindness, and all the love that the land continues to give to us.”
May we feel that love.
I, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Nations, ask you to understand an Indigenous perspective on what has happened in America, what we call “Turtle Island.” My words seek to unite the global community through a message from our sacred ceremonies to unite spiritually, each in our own ways of beliefs in the Creator.
We have been warned from ancient prophecies of these times we live in today, but have also been given a very important message about a solution to turn these terrible times.
To understand the depth of this message you must recognize the importance of Sacred Sites and realize the interconnectedness of what is happening today, in reflection of the continued massacres that are occurring on other lands and our own Americas.
I have been learning about these important issues since the age of 12 when I received the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle and its teachings. Our people have strived to protect Sacred Sites from the beginning of time. These places have been violated for centuries and have brought us to the predicament that we are in at the global level.
Look around you. Our Mother Earth is very ill from these violations, and we are on the brink of destroying the possibility of a healthy and nurturing survival for generations to come, our children’s children.
Our ancestors have been trying to protect our Sacred Site called the Sacred Black Hills in South Dakota, “Heart of Everything That Is,” from continued violations. Our ancestors never saw a satellite view of this site, but now that those pictures are available, we see that it is in the shape of a heart and, when fast-forwarded, it looks like a heart pumping.
The Diné have been protecting Big Mountain, calling it the liver of the earth, and we are suffering and going to suffer more from the extraction of the coal there and the poisoning processes used in doing so.
The Aborigines have warned of the contaminating effects of global warming on the Coral Reefs, which they see as Mother Earth’s blood purifier.
The indigenous people of the rainforest say that the rainforests are the lungs of the planet and need protection.
The coastal plain is the birthplace of many life forms of the animal nations. The death of these animal nations will destroy indigenous nations in this territory.
As these destructive developments continue all over the world, we will witness many more extinct animal, plant, and human nations, because of mankind’s misuse of power and their lack of understanding of the “balance of life.”
The Indigenous people warn that these destructive developments will cause havoc globally. There are many, many more indigenous teachings and knowledge about Mother Earth’s Sacred Sites, her chakras, and connections to our spirit that will surely affect our future generations.
There needs to be a fast move toward other forms of energy that are safe for all nations upon Mother Earth. We need to understand the types of minds that are continuing to destroy the spirit of our whole global community. Unless we do this, the powers of destruction will overwhelm us.
Our Ancestors foretold that water would someday be for sale. Back then this was hard to believe, since the water was so plentiful, so pure, and so full of energy, nutrition and spirit. Today we have to buy pure water, and even then the nutritional minerals have been taken out; it’s just empty liquid. Someday water will be like gold, too expensive to afford.
Not everyone will have the right to drink safe water. We fail to appreciate and honor our Sacred Sites, ripping out the minerals and gifts that lay underneath them as if Mother Earth were simply a resource, instead of the source of life itself.
Attacking nations and using more resources to carry out destruction in the name of peace is not the answer! We need to understand how all these decisions affect the global nation; we will not be immune to its repercussions. Allowing continual contamination of our food and land is affecting the way we think.
A “disease of the mind” has set in world leaders and many members of our global community, with their belief that a solution of retaliation and destruction of peoples will bring peace.
In our prophecies it is told that we are now at the crossroads: Either unite spiritually as a global nation, or be faced with chaos, disasters, diseases, and tears from our relatives’ eyes.
We are the only species that is destroying the source of life, meaning Mother Earth, in the name of power, mineral resources, and ownership of land. Using chemicals and methods of warfare that are doing irreversible damage, as Mother Earth is becoming tired and cannot sustain any more impacts of war.
I ask you to join me on this endeavor. Our vision is for the peoples of all continents, regardless of their beliefs in the Creator, to come together as one at their Sacred Sites to pray and meditate and commune with one another, thus promoting an energy shift to heal our Mother Earth and achieve a universal consciousness toward attaining Peace.
As each day passes, I ask all nations to begin a global effort, and remember to give thanks for the sacred food that has been gifted to us by our Mother Earth, so the nutritional energy of medicine can be guided to heal our minds and spirits.
This new millennium will usher in an age of harmony or it will bring the end of life as we know it. Starvation, war, and toxic waste have been the hallmark of the great myth of progress and development that ruled the last millennium.
To us, as caretakers of the heart of Mother Earth, falls the responsibility of turning back the powers of destruction. You yourself are the one who must decide.
You alone – and only you – can make this crucial choice, to walk in honor or to dishonor your relatives. On your decision depends the fate of the entire World.
Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of humankind.
Did you think the Creator would create unnecessary people in a time of such terrible danger?
Know that you yourself are essential to this world. Understand both the blessing and the burden of that. You yourself are desperately needed to save the soul of this world. Did you think you were put here for something less? In a Sacred Hoop of Life, there is no beginning and no ending.
Chief Arvol Looking Horse is the author of White Buffalo Teachings. A tireless advocate of maintaining traditional spiritual practices, Chief Looking Horse is a member of Big Foot Riders, which memorializes the massacre of Big Foot’s band at Wounded Knee
For almost two decades the First Nations on B.C.’s central and north coast and Haida Gwaii have been working toward rebuilding a healthy coastal economy.
Coastal First Nations — Great Bear Initiative (CFN) was established to help create a turning point in the environmental and economic relationship between First Nations and non-indigenous society.
What progress has been made over this period?
Today, the question of our aboriginal rights and title are clearer than ever before. The power comes from our people and communities and the responsibility to maintain and protect the lands, water and resources within traditional territories.
Today, the question of our aboriginal rights and title are clearer than ever before. The power comes from our people and communities and the responsibility to maintain and protect the lands, water and resources within traditional territories.
We have strengthened the connections between our communities, our environment, and our economy. Coastal First Nations support the re-emergence of a conservation-based economy while taking into account the cultural and ecological diversity of our territories.
Our communities led the campaign to protect the Great Bear Rainforest and plans are well advanced to similarly protect the ocean environment from northern Vancouver Island to Alaska.
Each of the First Nations have stewardship staff and guardian watchmen who are working to protect our land, waters, cultural sites and resources. They are doing it by working with the governments of Canada and B.C. to monitor compliance with laws and regulations, and through Indigenous laws. Most importantly, as both Canada and B.C. have reduced staff in field offices, it is the First Nations staff who are interacting with the public, educating them and doing the front-line monitoring of our waters and our lands.
Ending the trophy bear hunt, protecting whales, counting salmon escapements and monitoring water levels are all part of an ecosystem-based management system that our First Nations have championed.
We have created a shellfish corporation that has worked hard to build a scallop aquaculture industry. The goal is that several more communities will have grow-out sites in their territories.
Having saved trees in the Great Bear Rainforest, several communities have established an essential oils company that only uses sustainably harvested conifer boughs. They have successfully test marketed oils that can be used in aromatherapy, perfumery and personal body products.
Working with all of its communities, CFN is a leader in carbon offset protocols and sales. Indeed a good portion of First Nations stewardship departments are paid for by the revenue generated through offset sales. In a carbon conscious world, there is tremendous opportunity for future sales.
Our modeling indicates that between the member Nations, we need to create almost 5,000 new jobs between today and 2038. We will be both strategic and forward-looking as we move forward with this ambitious goal.
CFN communities are supporters of clean and renewable energy in a climate-changing world. We are working to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, manage community energy demand, increase clean energy opportunities, and increase reliability of electricity in communities.
There has never been a more important time for conservation in British Columbia. We are working closely with the Federal and Provincial governments as we build a culturally, ecologically and economically sustainable coast.
Canada is committed to reconciliation and new comprehensive fish and fisheries and ocean management framework agreements are being negotiated.
Similarly, we have developed a positive working relationship with the province. In 2009, we signed a “reconciliation protocol” with B.C. The new B.C. NDP government through its mandate letters to ministers is giving every indication that reconciliation with First Nations is an accountability measure it is prepared to be judged upon.
But the real credit goes to our communities and our leadership. We are still here and absolutely stronger; populations have grown, and community services have improved. Now the task is to make advances on training and education, to develop governmental capacity and have good jobs for the next generation.
Chief Marilyn Slett is president of Coastal First Nations
Imagine that your survival depended on defending your right to live where you are standing right now.
Any day, the government could decide to start extracting oil or constructing a highway, exactly where your family goes to sleep every night, without consulting you. Just picture the mine or highway polluting the water you drink and poisoning the soil so completely that crops can’t even grow. On top of this, every day you are pushed to speak a foreign language in a country that endangers your culture and way of life.
This scenario is not fictitious. It is a reality for many of the 370 million people worldwide who identify as Indigenous Peoples. If there could be a simple way to define them, we can agree that they are the living descendants of the pre-colonized inhabitants of lands now dominated by others.
It was only 10 years ago, when Indigenous Peoples around the globe achieved the most substantial victory in a century of demands: the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
The adoption of this declaration has been a breaking point, given the fact that 144 countries reaffirmed that Indigenous Peoples are entitled without discrimination to all human rights recognized in international law. Since 2007, the UNDRIP has guided global efforts to overcome and repair the historical denial of their most fundamental rights, including the most basic right to self-determination.
UNDRIP brought the concept of collective rights to the table. This means that as a group, Indigenous Peoples possess rights that are indispensable for their existence, well-being and integral development as a distinct society. This is perhaps the reason why many find it difficult to relate to their struggles, since dominant societies base policy making and development actions on the protection of individual rights, such as the right to property or privacy.
Representing 5 percent of the world’s population, today many Indigenous Peoples are still excluded from society and deprived of their rights as equal citizens of a state. Living in 70 countries and speaking more than 4,000 native languages, they have gained increasing visibility for raising their voices on aggressive development policies that threaten the world’s remaining ecosystems and the biodiversity that depends on them.
As the world moves fast to explore and exploit these ecosystems to meet increasing consumption, Indigenous Peoples are at the top list of those murdered for defending their land.
Almost 130 environmental activists have been killed so far in 2017. Another four are expected to be killed in the next week.
This global trend is not a coincidence. Indigenous territories are the richest in biodiversity and today more than ever they are becoming the new battleground for human rights and the environment.
“Even though violence against Indigenous Peoples is increasing, the Declaration should be celebrated. Without this Declaration, Indigenous Peoples wouldn’t have a chance to fight”, describes Julie Koch, Director of International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).
The main driving force for the global assault on indigenous land is that state governments have largely failed to establish constitutional rights and protections for Indigenous Peoples. UNDRIP provides states with a legal framework to establish these rights and protections.
The increasing rates of criminalization of indigenous leaders and the murder of environmental defenders shows us just how much work states have to do for the Indigenous Peoples of the world. It is also a strong reminder that the world’s Indigenous Peoples are key to saving our planet.
The global trend of attacks on Indigenous Peoples takes different shapes on different continents. Let’s go through some of it.
Latin America: Where the extractive agenda threatens indigenous victories
Even though Latin America has a favourable legal framework to rely on, it is often reported as the most dangerous continent for environmentalists. Many of the reported killings were of people trying to combat illegal logging in the Amazon.
It only takes a quick look into Brazil to understand what the fight is all about. Here is where the highest number of environmental defenders have died on Earth. Since 2013, 900 indigenous leaders have been killed for defending their lands, despite legally owning 12.2 percent of the country’s territory and living peacefully in 704 collective territories.
Another eye-opening case is Venezuela, where actually the land demarcation process has only met 13 percent of the cases in the last 17 years, neglecting the urgent call to action stated in the Constitution. Just to make things more complicated, the government recently approved the creation of the AMO (Orinoco Mining Arc) region, a mega mining project that will give 150 companies from 35 countries access to 12 percent of the national territory. Once again, national policies seem to forget how illegal mining has already driven aggressions and threats towards the Yabarana, Hoti and Panare peoples close to the border with Brazil.
The race for water is also affecting Guatemala, where hydroelectric projects are quickly on the rise. Groundwater recharge areas are located on indigenous land and indigenous communities have constantly denounced the theft of river water. Various companies and private landowners illegally divert rivers to sugar cane, banana and palm oil plantations and cattle ranches during dry seasons.
Surprisingly, Bolivia does not escape from this pattern. With a controversial political decision, Evo Morales gave the green light to construct a highway on indigenous land. This development project has for several years been opposed by environmentalists and the indigenous movement since it cuts through Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (well-known as TIPNIS). The construction of this highway is part of a bigger plan. The highway aims to extend the existing Brazilian-led effort commonly known as IIRSA (Initiative for the Regional Integration of South America). This entails a network of 531 mega-projects that include hydroelectric dams, highways, bridges, and electrical power systems that seek to ease the flow of transportation of soybeans and coca across the region. But the impacts are not only economic. The highway will considerably affect the traditional way of life of three indigenous groups: the Tsimanes, Yuracarés and Mojeño-Trinitarios.
But the fight back seems promising. Indigenous autonomous governments are representing much more than a trend in the region. Self-governance is one of the most significant claims made by Indigenous Peoples in this part of the world and it seems to be on its peak of realization with the two first indigenous governments settled in Peru and Bolivia. The Wampís Nation’s Parliament and the Charagua government took office last year and made their goals clear: they aim to control how to administer the future of their ways of life within the territory they inhabit.
Asia: where discrimination pairs with militarization
Asia is home to 260 million Indigenous Peoples, making it the most culturally diverse region in the world. The land dispute pattern in this region is significantly worse due to heavy assimilation pressure and violent repression by state security forces. As Indigenous Peoples in other countries, they face the routine denial of self-determination, loss of control over their land and extreme discrimination.
One of the most clear examples of the lack of respect for indigenous land rights is the conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region in Bangladesh, where approximately 600,000 Indigenous Peoples live. Ever since the creation of Bangladesh, the elected representatives of the CHT have demanded regional autonomy. Being trapped between demilitarization and displacement, gross human rights have been committed and documented over the last 10 years. The most affected by the conflict are indigenous women. Being under the review of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), several reports highlight cases of gender-based violence against indigenous women connected with land grabbing.
Indigenous Peoples and minority populations in the Philippines are also hit by militarization. The “war on drugs” and the fight against Maoist rebels now led by President Duterte has led to many political extrajudicial killings in their communities. Indigenous Peoples are also cornered by the aggressive expansion of monocrop plantations, especially oil palm plantations in Mindanao. Community members from the municipalities of Bataraza and Española in Palawan have reported how their rights had been violated by several companies that continue to expand on community lands with the complicity of government officials.
The situation in Nepal follows the course of aggressive development. During 2016, many protests against road expansion and electricity transmission lines intensified. The common picture that local indigenous communities paint is that bulldozers enter their land to ensure infrastructure developments go according the plan.
Perhaps the most illustrative situation of discrimination comes from Japan. The huge gap in public awareness shows the long lasting effects of systematic discrimination. A national survey released by the government in 2016 showed that 72.1 percent of Ainu people agreed that “discrimination against the Ainu people exist”, meanwhile 50.7 percent of the general public stated that “discrimination does not exist”.
Africa: where Evictions are driven by conservation and agribusiness
Laws protecting Indigenous Peoples are weak or nonexistent throughout continental Africa. With very little political support and space for critical NGOs and media that can effectively report on human rights violations, conservationist and agribusiness agendas frequently push Indigenous Peoples from their homelands.
In Loliondo village in Tanzania, indigenous communities suffer from a systematic attack that aims to reduce their number of livestock, which is vital for their survival. Increasing tensions and clashes with farmers and ranchers are usually driven by recurrent drought. Another common tactic used by the military is to burn houses, which speeds up illegal evictions.
Just last month, Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority rangers, with the support of Loliondo police, burned down about 185 Maasai bomas (homesteads). The evictions left approximately 6,800 people homeless, with most of their property destroyed.
Evictions are also a current challenge for Indigenous Peoples in Kenya, where the definition of community lands is not in place to allow the urgent need to formalize land ownership. Earlier this year, drought caused traditional herdsmen to steal pasture from landowners, burning down tourist lodges and grabbing the attention of the world media in the process. Laikipia, meanwhile, has experienced unprecedented grazing pressure and the Maasai have been forced to endure limited access to water. This is not the first time that climate shock has systematically triggered violence over land rights in Northern Kenya. The chain of events is pretty straightforward: when there is no water, no grass grows and pastoralists’ cattle starve to death.
The other side of the coin is that Indigenous Peoples are gaining recognition in the courts. Against all odds, we saw an historic land ruling in Kenya this year in the hands of the Ogiek. The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights set a vital precedent, recognizing that as Indigenous Peoples the Ogiek have the right to reparations from the Kenyan government for the suffering they have endured from forced evictions.
We are all fighting the same fight
If Indigenous Peoples remain unprotected, it will continue to have a direct impact on the shape of our planet and its capacity to sustain life. Many would think this gap has nothing to do with protecting the environment, but it absolutely does.
The fight for indigenous land rights is not just about rights, but about securing a sustainable future for everyone.
If states and corporations fail to protect those who are putting their lives on the line to defend the diversity we depend on, it may only be a matter of time before resource scarcity leads them to turn on everyone else.
Indigenous Peoples have pursued environmental justice since long before climate change became a mainstream issue. Ten years after their biggest victory, it is time we take indigenous land rights seriously to ensure we all continue to have water to drink, air to breathe, and even land to call home.
International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA)