The struggle to protect a tree at the heart of Hopi culture

By Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa and Chip Colwell

A rumbling, low boom unfurled over the land like a current of thunder. But it was a clear, cloudless day in northern Arizona. We realized the reverberation was the echo of an explosion—dynamite loosening the earth—and that the strip mine was finding its way toward a colossal seam of coal.

It was the fall of 2015, and the Kayenta Mine’s owners, Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, had proposed to expand the mine into neighboring areas. If that were to happen, then the place we were standing on would one day be peeled open like a can of sardines to reveal the prize of shiny, midnight-black coal.

The Kayenta Mine has long been a source of controversy. Every year it ships millions of tons of coal by rail to the Navajo Generating Station northeast of the Grand Canyon. The power plant keeps air conditioners humming in Phoenix and Los Angeles, and lights shimmering in Las Vegas and beyond.

We were there as anthropologists with a team of researchers and Hopi elders to study the project’s potential impact on religious sites, archaeological remains, springs, and more. But at every stop, the elders talked about the juniper tree. The trees were so abundant—blanketing every hill that hasn’t been mined—that at first it seemed strange to be concerned about the potential loss of this plant. There were ancient Pueblo villages and graveyards to worry about. There were precious springs and rare songbirds.

But the elders kept returning to their fears for the junipers.

[Read more…]

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How I got arrested while reporting on the Dakota Access pipeline

Jenni Monet writes: The morning after I was bonded out of the Morton County jail, I took to Twitter and posted a detail that I only could have known from actually being on the inside.

“#MniWiconi is inscribed everywhere,” I tweeted. And it’s true.

The signature slogan of the movement to try and stop the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline has been scrawled, carved and etched throughout the jail  — on cinderblock walls, paint-chipped tabletops, cold metal doors. In Lakota, it loosely translates to “Water is Life.”

Since August, hundreds of protesters, known as water protectors, have passed through those cellblocks as a form of punishment for their unwavering commitment to protect the Missouri River from a potential oil spill. According to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, it has processed a total of 696 protest-related arrests.

On Wednesday, February 1, I became one of them. [Continue reading…]

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Dakota Pipeline greenlighted as fossil fuels move to fore

Climate Central reports: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is cancelling an environmental review of the Dakota Access Pipeline and will grant approval of an easement that allows the final link in the pipeline to be constructed.

The decision on Tuesday makes good on President Trump’s executive order advancing the controversial project, which has been the subject of months of protests at the construction site in North Dakota.

The Obama administration shelved or postponed both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines because of public outcry about their environmental, cultural and climate impacts.

Though they will tap different oil fields, both pipelines will have a measureable effect on the climate because they will make it cheaper and easier to send crude oil to refineries — fuel that will reach consumers’ gasoline tanks in the U.S. and abroad.

In the U.S., the use of crude oil for transportation is now a larger source of the carbon dioxide emissions driving climate change than electric power generation, which has long been the country’s largest source of climate pollution.

Building oil pipelines may help companies tap more oil, but to prevent global warming from exceeding levels that scientists consider dangerous — 2°C (3.6°F) over pre-industrial levels — at least one-third of the world’s oil deposits need to remain untapped, said Jonathan Koomey, an earth systems scientist at Stanford University.

“Anything that makes extraction and transportation of oil easier and cheaper like building more pipelines to landlocked high-emissions oil sands, makes it harder to achieve that goal,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s pipeline and America’s shame

Bill McKibben writes: The Trump Administration is breaking with tradition on so many fronts — renting out the family hotel to foreign diplomats, say, or imposing travel restrictions on the adherents of disfavored religions — that it seems noteworthy when it exhibits some continuity with American custom. And so let us focus for a moment, before the President’s next disorienting tweet, on yesterday’s news that construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline will be restarted, a development that fits in perfectly with one of this country’s oldest cultural practices, going back to the days of Plymouth Rock: repressing Native Americans.

Just to rehash the story briefly, this pipeline had originally been set to carry its freight of crude oil under the Missouri River, north of Bismarck. But the predominantly white citizens of that town objected, pointing out that a spill could foul their drinking water. So the pipeline’s parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, remapped the crossing for just north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. This piece of blatant environmental racism elicited a remarkable reaction, eventually drawing representatives of more than two hundred Indian nations from around the continent to a great encampment at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, near where the pipeline was set to go. They were joined, last summer and into the fall, by clergy groups, veterans groups, environmental groups — including 350.org, the climate-advocacy organization I co-founded — and private citizens, who felt that this was a chance to begin reversing four centuries of literally and figuratively dumping on Native Americans. And the protesters succeeded. Despite the German shepherds and pepper spray let loose by E.T.P.’s security guards, despite the fire hoses and rubber bullets employed by the various paramilitary police forces that assembled, they kept a nonviolent discipline that eventually persuaded the Obama Administration to agree to further study of the plan. [Continue reading…]

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Tribes and lawyers are vowing to fight Trump’s pipelines

BuzzFeed reports: President Trump resurrected two massive pipeline projects on Tuesday, drawing ire and threats of legal action from the movement that fought to keep them off US land.

“We will see his administration in court,” Trip Van Noppen, president of the non-profit group Earthjustice that represented the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in challenging the Dakota Access Pipeline, said in a statement. “[Trump] should brace himself to contend with the laws he is flouting, and the millions of Americans who are opposed to these dangerous and destructive projects.”

“We are opposed to reckless and politically motivated development projects, like DAPL, that ignore our treaty rights and risk our water,” the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault II, said in a statement. [Continue reading…]

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With new monuments in Nevada, Utah, Obama adds to his environmental legacy

The Washington Post reports: President Obama on Wednesday created new national monuments in a sacred tribal site in southeastern Utah and in a swath of Nevada desert, after years of political fights over the fate of the areas.

The designations further cement Obama’s environmental legacy as one of the most consequential — and contentious — in presidential history. He has invoked his executive power to create national monuments 29 times during his tenure, establishing or expanding protections for more than 553 million acres of federal lands and waters.

Environmental groups have praised the conservation efforts, but critics say they amount to a federal land grab. Some worry that the new designations could fuel another armed protest by antigovernment forces inspired by the Cliven Bundy family, such as the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon this year.

Obama’s newest designations include two sprawling Western landscapes that are under threat, yet also where local residents are deeply divided on how the land should be used.

In Utah, where the federal government owns about two-thirds of the land, the designation of another 1.35 million acres to create the Bears Ears National Monument undoubtedly will prove polarizing.

For the first time, Native American tribes will offer management input for a national monument through an inter-tribal commission. Five tribes that often have been at odds — the Hopi, Navajo, Uintah and Ouray Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Pueblo of Zuni — will together have responsibility for protecting an area that contains well-preserved remnants of ancestral Pueblo sites dating back more than 3,500 years.

“We have always looked to Bears Ears as a place of refuge, as a place where we can gather herbs and medicinal plants, and a place of prayer and sacredness,” Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, said in a call with reporters Wednesday. “These places — the rocks, the wind, the land — they are living, breathing things that deserve timely and lasting protection.” [Continue reading…]

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Will the victory at Standing Rock outlast Obama?

Rozina Ali writes: Late Sunday afternoon, protesters at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, in North Dakota, received unexpected and welcome news. Jo-Ellen Darcy, the U.S. Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, had announced that her department would not be approving the easement required for construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline to continue. The pipeline, which has been the cause of a months-long standoff involving the Standing Rock Sioux, their allies, the state government, and Energy Transfer Partners, Dakota Access’s parent company, was slated to carry crude oil beneath Lake Oahe, the reservation’s main source of drinking water. Instead, according to Darcy, the Army Corps of Engineers will now conduct a thorough environmental assessment and work with E.T.P. to “explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.” The decision came just in time: after weeks of confrontation between law enforcement and protesters, tensions had been expected to rise on Monday, when two thousand military veterans were to join the demonstrations, and when a mandatory evacuation order, issued by Governor Jack Dalrymple, was to take effect. When I spoke with Dave Archambault II, the tribe’s chairman, on Tuesday morning, the previous day’s revelry had given way to relief. “We told congressmen, senators, the company, everybody, that it infringes on our rights, but it seemed like no one heard us,” he said, referring to the pipeline. “I never believed the easement would be stopped.”

Yet the protesters’ celebrations have been tempered by concern over whether the decision will outlast President Obama’s tenure in office. Soon after the Army’s announcement, House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted, “This is big-government decision-making at its worst. I look forward to putting this anti-energy presidency behind us.” Last month, Kelcy Warren, E.T.P.’s chief executive and a personal donor to Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign, told NBC News that he was “a hundred per cent sure that the pipeline will be approved by a Trump Administration,” and that “we will have a government in place that believes in energy infrastructure.” (E.T.P. declined to speak to me for this story.) Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the environmental-law nonprofit Earthjustice, which represents the Sioux, told me that the Army’s move “could be of limited durability in light of Trump’s unabashed embrace of fossil fuels.” Until recently, the President-elect also had a financial stake in the pipeline. Trump has not yet made any statements about the latest Dakota Access development — his transition team did not respond to my requests for comment — but last week a spokesman indicated Trump’s support for the original pipeline route, and specified that it “has nothing to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans.”

But who decides what policies benefit Native Americans? For the Standing Rock Sioux, that issue — not energy infrastructure but the flawed process of consultation between the tribe, the Army Corps of Engineers, and E.T.P. that caused the impasse in the first place — was at the crux of their protest. [Continue reading…]

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Chip Ward: Peace pipes, not oil pipes

In our new political world, the phrase “follow the money” has real meaning.  Consider the $1,530,000 that, according to OpenSecrets.org, billionaire Kelcy Warren has personally given away in the 2016 election cycle to influence your vote (or someone’s vote anyway).  One hundred percent of his dollars, just in case you were curious, have gone to “conservative” candidates, including key congressional Republicans.  Warren is a Texas oil pipeline magnate who’s wildly rich.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “his 23,000-square-foot Dallas mansion, bought for $30 million in 2009, includes a bowling alley and a baseball diamond that features a scoreboard with ‘Warren’ as one of the teams.”  As Sue Sturgis of the Institute for Southern Studies wrote recently, “With business partner Ray Davis, co-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, Warren built Energy Transfer Equity into one of the nation’s largest pipeline companies, which now owns about 71,000 miles of pipelines carrying natural gas, natural gas liquids, refined products, and crude oil. The company’s holdings include Sunoco, Southern Union, and Regency Energy Partners.”

And as Dr. Seuss used to say, that is not all, oh no, that is not all!  Don’t forget Energy Transfer Partners, part of the Energy Transfer Equity empire.  It’s building the embattled Dakota Access Pipeline, which is supposed to bring fracked oil from North Dakota to the Gulf Coast.  Through a PAC, it has given at least $288,000 to a bevy of Republican House and Senate candidates.  In other words, election 2016 will, among other things, be an oil spill of an election.  And should Donald Trump, a man who gives “conflict of interest” new meaning, take the Oval Office by storm and so ride to the rescue of the oil and coal magnates of America with his drill-baby-drill environmental policies, that “investment” will matter even more.

In the meantime, Warren’s latest project — that pipeline across the Dakotas — has run smack into resistance of an unexpected kind as it approached the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.  Faced with the prospect of fracked oil in their drinking water, the tribe rallied other tribes (including tribes of environmentalists) and, as of this moment, has miraculously stopped the pipeline dead in its tracks.  Think of what’s been going on as an Indian version of Occupy Wall Street.  As environmentalist and TomDispatch regular Chip Ward points out today, Native Americans, long ago discarded as the dispossessed and forgotten losers of American culture, have returned with a vengeance to protect not just the last wild places on our continent but the rest of us as well.  It’s one hell of a story and on an overheating planet that, as is increasingly said, needs to “keep it in the ground,” it’s not just a heartwarming tale, but a matter of life or death. Tom Engelhardt

Indians and cowboys
The 2016 version of an old story on a new planet
By Chip Ward

Cowboys and Indians are at it again. 

Americans who don’t live in the West may think that the historic clash of Native Americans and pioneering settlers is long past because the Indians were, after all, defeated and now drive cars, watch television, and shop at Walmart.  Not so.  That classic American narrative is back big time, only the Indians are now the good guys and the cowboys — well, their rightwing representatives, anyway — are on the warpath, trying to grab 640 million acres of public lands that they can plunder as if it were yesteryear.  Meanwhile, in the Dakotas, America’s Manifest Destiny, that historic push across the Great Plains to the Pacific (murdering and pillaging along the way), seems to be making a return trip to Sioux country in a form that could have planetary consequences.

Energy Transfer Partners is now building the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.7 billion oil slick of a project.  It’s slated to go from the Bakken gas and oil fracking fields in northern North Dakota across 1,100 miles of the rest of the Dakotas and Iowa to a pipeline hub in Illinois. From there, the oil will head for refineries on the Gulf Coast and ultimately, as the emissions from fossil fuels, into the atmosphere to help create future summers so hot no one will forget them.  Keep in mind that, according to global warming’s terrible new math, there’s enough carbon in those Bakken fields to roast the planet — if, that is, the Sioux and tribes allied with them don’t stop the pipeline. 

This time, in other words, if the cavalry does ride to the rescue, the heroes on horseback will be speaking Lakota.

[Read more…]

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This nation was founded on genocide

 

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Schooled in nature

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Jay Griffiths writes: In Mexico City, the cathedral – this stentorian thug of a cathedral – is sinking. Built to crush the indigenous temple beneath it, while its decrees pulverised indigenous thinking, Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral is sinking under the weight of its own brutal imposition.

Walking nearby late one night, I was captivated by music. Closer, now, and I came upon an indigenous, pre-Hispanic ceremony being danced on the pavement hard by the cathedral. Copal tree resin was burning, marigolds were scattered like living coins, people in feather headdresses and jaguar masks danced to flutes, drums, rattles and shell-bells. While each cathedral column was a Columbus colonising the site, the ceremony seemed to say: We’re still here.

A young man watched me awhile, as I was taking notes, and then approached me smiling.

‘Do you understand Nahuatl?’ he asked.

Head-shaking smile.

‘Do you want me to explain?’

Yes!

He spent an hour gently unfurling each word. Abjectly poor, his worn-out shoes no longer even covered his feet and his clothes were rags, but he shone with an inner wealth, a light that was his gift, to respect the connections of the world, between people, animals, plants and the elements. He spoke of the importance of not losing the part of ourselves that touches the heart of the Earth; of listening within, and also to the natural world. Two teachers. No one has ever said it better.

‘Your spirit is your maestro interno. Your spirit brought you here. You have your gift and destiny to complete in this world. You have to align yourself in the right direction and carry on.’ And he melted away, leaving me with tears in my eyes as if I had heard a lodestar singing its own quiet truthsong.

A few days earlier, I’d been invited to the Centre for Indigenous Arts in Papantla, in the Mexican state of Veracruz, 300km east of Mexico City. The centre was celebrating the anniversary of its founding (in 2006), and promoting indigenous education: decolonised schooling. Not by chance, it is 12 October, the day when, in 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived in the so-called New World. Here, they come not to praise Columbus but to bury his legacy because – as an act of pointed protest – this date is now widely honoured as the day of indigenous resistance. [Continue reading…]

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Lakota lead the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline

Jason Coppola reports: As the start of 2016 shatters last year’s record as the hottest year on record, the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation) once again find themselves on the front lines of the battle against the fossil fuel industry.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have established a Spirit Camp at the mouth of the Cannonball River in North Dakota as a means of bringing attention and awareness to a proposed pipeline and act as an enduring symbol of resistance against its construction.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is set to cut through several US states, delivering hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil from the Bakken and Three Forks oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois.

The Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners pipeline will cross the Ogallala Aquifer — a million-year-old shallow water table spanning eight US states, which provides fresh water for drinking and agriculture — while twice crossing the Missouri River and running alongside the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

A spill could contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the worlds largest, which is already in crisis and under threat of running dry in the coming decades. [Continue reading…]

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Women of the Amazon defend their homeland against new oil contract

Emily Arasim and Osprey Orielle Lake report: In late January 2016, the government of Ecuador signed a controversial contract with Chinese oil company Andes Petroleum, handing over rights to explore and drill for oil deep in the country’s pristine southeastern Amazon Rainforest, known and revered by many as “the lungs of the Earth.”

For decades, Indigenous communities of the southern Ecuadorian Amazon have successfully fought to protect their land from encroachment by oil companies, engaging in local action and international policymaking and campaigns with a powerful message of respect for the Earth’s natural laws and the rights of Indigenous peoples.

At the forefront of this ongoing struggle are courageous Indigenous Amazonian women leaders who have declared, “We are ready to protect, defend and die for our forest, families, territory and nation.”

In marches, protests, conferences and international forums, the women of the Ecuadorian Amazon are standing with fierce love and conviction for the forests and their communities, and navigating a brutal intersection of environmental devastation, cultural dislocation and violence and persecution as women human rights and land defenders.

The women have repeatedly put their bodies on the frontline in an attempt to halt oil extraction across the Amazon, often facing harsh repression by the state security. [Continue reading…]

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When languages die, we lose a part of who we are

By Anouschka Foltz, Bangor University

The 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) is in full gear and climate change is again on everyone’s mind. It conjures up images of melting glaciers, rising sea levels, droughts, flooding, threatened habitats, endangered species, and displaced people. We know it threatens biodiversity, but what about linguistic diversity?

Humans are the only species on the planet whose communication system exhibits enormous diversity. And linguistic diversity is crucial for understanding our capacity for language. An increase in climate-change related natural disasters may affect linguistic diversity. A good example is Vanuatu, an island state in the Pacific, with quite a dramatic recent rise in sea levels.

There are over 7,000 languages spoken in the world today. These languages exhibit enormous diversity, from the number of distinctive sounds (there are languages with as few as 11 different sounds and as many as 118) to the vast range of possible word orders, structures and concepts that languages use to convey meaning. Every absolute that linguists have posited has been challenged, and linguists are busy debating if there is anything at all that is common to all languages in the world or anything at all that does not exist in the languages of the world. Sign languages show us that languages do not even need to be spoken. This diversity is evidence of the enormous flexibility and plasticity of the human brain and its capacity for communication.

Studying diverse languages gives us invaluable insights into human cognition. But language diversity is at risk. Languages are dying every year. Often a language’s death is recorded when the last known speaker dies, and about 35% of languages in the world are currently losing speakers or are more seriously endangered. Most of these have never been recorded and so would be lost forever. Linguists estimate that about 50% of the languages spoken today will disappear in the next 100 years. Some even argue that up to 90% of today’s languages will have disappeared by 2115.

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Peru’s untold stories of forced sterilisation are being heard at last

By Matthew Brown, University of Bristol and Karen Tucker, University of Bristol

During the 1990s, thousands of Peru’s citzens were sterilised without their consent as part of a National Population Programme. Brought in by President Alberto Fujimori, this programme was supposed to offer all Peruvians access to a range of contraception options. But it also extended to mass forcible sterilisations. At least 17 people subjected to sterilisation died as a result of botched operations carried out with indifference or without adequate care.

For the last 15 years these abuses have been known only to a small group of people, even as Peru has taken pains to face up to the violence of its recent history.

The Peruvian state spent the 1990s waging a merciless war against guerrilla groups that sought to destroy it – among them the radical Marxist group Shining Path – and hundreds of thousands of civilians were caught in the crossfire or deliberately targeted.

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Indigenous Canadians take leading role in battle against tar sands pipeline

The Guardian reports: Chief Na’Moks stood in the dark of a small smokehouse nestled in the Coast range of British Columbia. Hanging above him were nearly a thousand fish which glinted over the fire below.

“For us, it’s one of the most highly prized commodities that we have,” he said, pulling one of the glistening candlefish off the rack. “People don’t get why we want to keep what we have. We don’t want anything from anyone. We just want to keep what we have.”

Not so long ago, the chief’s ancestors traded fish oil along the grease trails up and down the coast of British Columbia. Today, however, Chief Na’Moks and many other First Nations leaders are at the forefront of a struggle against a very different kind of oil business: Canada’s largest proposed tar sands pipeline, the Northern Gateway.

It is the country’s environmental battle of the decade, uniting a wide variety of citizens’ groups against the billions of dollars of investment by oil companies and millions in secret funding from the government. First proposed in 2004, the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline was planned for a 731-mile (1,177km) stretch from the center of Alberta to the coast of British Columbia. [Continue reading…]

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The Amazon tribe protecting the forest with bows, arrows, GPS and camera traps

The Guardian reports: With bows, arrows, GPS trackers and camera traps, an indigenous community in northern Brazil is fighting to achieve what the government has long failed to do: halt illegal logging in their corner of the Amazon.

The Ka’apor – a tribe of about 2,200 people in Maranhão state – have organised a militia of “forest guardians” who follow a strategy of nature conservation through aggressive confrontation.

Logging trucks and tractors that encroach upon their territory – the 530,000-hectare Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Land – are intercepted and burned. Drivers and chainsaw operators are warned never to return. Those that fail to heed the advice are stripped and beaten.

It is dangerous work. Since the tribe decided to manage their own protection in 2011, they say the theft of timber has been reduced, but four Ka’apor have been murdered and more than a dozen others have received death threats. [Continue reading…]

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After centuries of colonial violence, a resurgence of indigenous language learning

Jason Coppola reports: It’s a crisis point in history for Native American languages. Without a concerted effort to revitalize them, many will soon go extinct, succumbing to the generations-long effort to destroy them.

“You could reasonably say every single Native American language, including the large ones, are endangered,” said linguist K. David Harrison, a National Geographic fellow teaching at Swarthmore College. “There’s no room for complacency whatsoever.”

The Maori people of New Zealand are one of many groups that have struggled against the violent effects of colonization on their languages. In 1840, the Maori came under the rule of the British Crown as more and more European settlers arrived and more land was needed to accommodate them. Land conflicts eventually broke out into all-out war, ending with huge tracts of Maori land being confiscated by the government. Displacement, poverty and racism became commonplace. Their struggle now reflects that of other Indigenous peoples and nations across the globe fighting to preserve their knowledge, culture and traditional way of life. [Continue reading…]

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Alaskan villages imperiled by global warming need resources to relocate

Victoria Herrmann writes: The Arctic is warming at a rate almost twice the global average, making climate change’s effects there far more intense and rapid than any other ecosystem in the world. While nature photographs of polar bears and melting ice dominate media narratives, the top of the world is home to 4m people who face an uncertain future.

Coastal erosion, forest fires and storm surges are threatening the physical and economic safety of settlements across the Arctic Ocean shoreline. Further inland, thawing permafrost is compromising the stability of transportation, sanitation and public service infrastructure built upon once-sturdy foundations. In Alaska alone, 31 villages face imminent threat of destruction from erosion and flooding. Many of these villages have 10 to 20 years of livability before their streets, schools and homes become uninhabitable. At least 12 have decided to relocate – in part or entirely – to safer ground to avoid total collapse.

This week, the United States approaches the First Hundred Days mark of its leadership of the Arctic Council, a high-level governmental forum for the world’s eight Arctic nations to act on circumpolar challenges. Leadership gives the US a two-year opportunity to lead the international community in confronting climate change there. Though the US, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, has seen some successful polar initiatives implemented in the past few months, there is much more work to be done. [Continue reading…]

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Tribes in peril

Heather Pringle writes: In a spacious, art-filled apartment in Brasília, 75-year-old Sydney Possuelo takes a seat near a large portrait of his younger self. On the canvas, Possuelo stares with calm assurance from the stern of an Amazon riverboat, every bit the famous sertanista, or Amazon frontiersman, that he once was. But on this late February morning, that confidence is nowhere to be seen. Possuelo, now sporting a beard neatly trimmed for city life, seethes with anger over the dangers now threatening the Amazon’s isolated tribespeople. “These are the last few groups of humans who are really free,” he says. “But we will kill them.”

For decades, Possuelo worked for Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), the federal agency responsible for the country’s indigenous peoples. In the 1970s and 1980s, he and other sertanistas made contact with isolated tribespeople so they could be moved off their land and into settlements. But Possuelo and others grew alarmed by the human toll. The newly contacted had no immunity to diseases carried by outsiders, and the flu virus, he recalls, “was like a suicide bomber,” stealing into a village unnoticed. Among some groups, 50% to 90% died (see sidebar, p. 1084). In 1987, Possuelo and fellow sertanistas met to try to stop this devastation.

In Brasília, a futuristic city whose central urban footprint evokes the shape of an airplane, the frontiersmen agreed that contact was inherently damaging to isolated tribespeople. They drew up a new action plan for FUNAI, based solidly on the principle of no contact unless groups faced extinction. They recommended mapping and legally recognizing the territories of isolated groups, and keeping out loggers, miners, and settlers. If contact proved unavoidable, protecting tribespeople’s health should be top priority.

The recommendations became FUNAI policy, and a model for other countries where isolated populations are emerging, such as neighboring Peru (see companion story, p. 1072). In remote regions, FUNAI has designated a dozen “protection fronts” — official front lines in the battle to defend isolated groups, each dotted with one or more frontier bases to track tribes and sound the alarm when outsiders invade. In an interview in February, FUNAI’s interim president, Flávio Chiarelli, told Science that his agency is “doing great” at protecting the country’s isolated tribes.

But some experts say that as the pace of economic activity in the Amazon accelerates, the protection system that was once the envy of South America is falling apart. [Continue reading…]

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