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.

[Read more…]

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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.

[Read more…]

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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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Fort McKay: The Canadian town that sold itself to tar sands

The Guardian reports: Amid the strip mines and steam plants sprawled across the northern Alberta wilderness, Fort McKay is just a tiny dot on the map.

It is also one of the single biggest source sites of the carbon pollution that is choking the planet.

This tiny First Nations community grew rich on oil, and was wrecked by oil. Local Cece Fitzpatrick grabbed what she saw as a last chance for Fort McKay and decided to run for chief, promising to stand up to the industry which came here 50 years ago. [Continue reading…]

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Village of Bedouins faces eviction as Israel envisions a village of Jews

The New York Times reports: Salim al-Qian settled back on his white faux leather couch strewn with pink cushions and took a sip of tea, clearly comfortable in his tiny home in this ramshackle hamlet in the dusty hills of southern Israel. The sense of permanence suggested by his comfort, however, looks to be short-lived.

Mr. Qian and the other members of some 70 Bedouin families are likely to be evicted soon from their homes in the hamlet of Umm al-Hiran, where they have been living since the 1950s. In their place, the Israeli government plans to build a community with nearly the same name, Hiran — but its expected residents will be religious, Zionist Jews.

The government says Umm al-Hiran is on state-owned land that it would like to develop, and it has fought a long legal battle to have the Bedouin families, about 1,000 people, relocated. This month, the Supreme Court ruled in a 2-1 decision that the families would have to leave. The court gave no date for when evictions could begin, and residents intend to appeal the decision.

The Bedouins say they do not want to leave land on which they have been living for more than half a century after being resettled there by the Israeli military. The government has promised compensation in the form of cash and land elsewhere, but the Bedouins say the decision to move them reflects discriminatory policies.

“It is not possible to order one home demolished because it belongs to an Arab and build another for a Jew,” said Mr. Qian, 57, a trader and community leader. [Continue reading…]

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The new coal frontier

The Guardian reports: Around 27bn tonnes of coal are thought to be locked under the ground of the Galilee Basin in the outback of Queensland. A huge proposed complex of coal mines is planned here, including the world’s largest thermal coal project.

So are railway lines and a massive expansion of the Abbot Point port on the Great Barrier Reef.

What will this mean for the Aboriginal community, the Great Barrier Reef and the world’s climate?

Adrian Burragubba is a strong man. His people, the Wangan and Jagalingou, have called this flat, arid outback in central Queensland home for tens of thousands of years, but now all that is under threat.

When the white man first came here in his great-grandfather’s time, Adrian, 54, a tribal elder and ‘law man’, says they were thought of as ghosts – strange, but welcome enough. But later generations were to bear the brunt of the interlopers’ greed. His grandfather and his father were both removed from the land and put on church-run properties to make way for a gold rush.

“Those places were like concentration camps,” he explains. “They wanted Aboriginal people out of the way, so you couldn’t leave them. The police would take you back if you did.”

Now the rapacious outsiders are back. Massive mining operations are looking to plunder a gigantic new coal frontier in the Galilee Basin. There are 247,000 sq km (95,400 sq miles) of coal: a land mass the size of Britain. [Continue reading…]

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Suicide crisis: The intergenerational trauma of Native Americans

Jason Coppola reports: Suicide arrives in waves on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

On Christmas Day, a 15-year-old Lakota girl took her own life. Soon afterward, a boy, just 14, took his.

Since then, a young man and six more girls, one as young as 12, have followed as this current wave continues to swell. There have been numerous additional attempts in the last few months on this South Dakota reservation of about 28,000 people.

The rate of suicide among Native youth in the United States is more than three times the national average. Very often that rate climbs even higher.

In March 2010, then president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Theresa Two Bulls declared a suicide state of emergency after a rise in the number of suicides. Current President John Yellow Bird Steele has now declared one yet again.

There are many difficult issues facing the Oglala Lakota people of Pine Ridge. Stories about alcohol and drug abuse, poverty and depression attract much attention. But to some, these are just parts of a much larger picture.

“I think of suicide in Native communities as an extension of the genocide that occurred against Indigenous peoples starting back in 1492,” said Ruth Hopkins, a chief tribal judge for the Spirit Lake Nation, and tribal judge for the Yankton Sioux and Crow Creek Sioux Tribe. “And I think there’s evidence to show that it’s still continuing to this day.” [Continue reading…]

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Conservation and the rights of tribal people must go hand in hand

Jo Woodman writes: Evidence is growing that conservation – enforced by the creation of protected areas and policed by anti-poaching squads – leads to the eviction and abuse of vast numbers of people, especially tribal peoples, and is also failing to check the deepening environmental crisis. A new approach is urgently needed. Conservation should centre on protecting the land rights of the peoples to whom these vitally important areas are home.

Tribal peoples are better at looking after their environments than anyone else – their survival depends on it. When the Maasai were removed from Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania in 1974 , poaching increased; the eviction of indigenous people from Yellowstone Park in the United States in the late 19th century led to overgrazing by elk and bison; Aborigines in Australia have used controlled burning to protect forests from devastating conflagrations… the list goes on.

South Asia’s tribal peoples have coexisted with the tiger for thousands of years, but now they are facing eviction in the name of protecting the animal. There is evidence, for example, from Chitwan national park in Nepal, that tiger densities can actually be higher in the areas where people live than in those from where they have been evicted. People provide a variety of different habitats and eyes and ears to detect and deter poachers. [Continue reading…]

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‘We’re going to resist’: Brazil’s indigenous groups fight to keep their land in face of new law

Claire Rigby reports: From downtown São Paulo, the Pico do Jaraguá – the crest of a mountain ridge on the city’s north-western horizon – looks like a broken tooth, crowned by a towering TV antenna. Just beyond the rocky peak and down a steep, deeply rutted, unmade road, lies the nascent village of Tekoa Itakupe, one of the newest fronts in Brazil’s indigenous people’s struggle for land to call their own.

Once part of a coffee plantation, the idyllic 72-hectare plot is currently occupied by three families from the Guarani community who moved onto the land in July 2014 after it was recognised as traditional Guarani territory by Funai, the federal agency for Indian affairs.

The group had hoped that would be a first step on the road to its eventual official demarcation as indigenous territory, but they now face eviction after a judge granted a court order to the landowner, Antônio ‘Tito’ Costa, a lawyer and former local politician.

Ari Karai, the 74-year-old chief or cacique of Tekoa Ytu, one of two established Indian villages at the base of the peak, says the group intends to resist. “How can they evict us when this is recognised Indian land?” he asks.

The dispute comes at a crucial time for Brazil’s more than 300 indigenous peoples. Earlier this month, more than a thousand indigenous leaders met in Brasília to protest and organise against PEC 215, a proposed constitutional amendment that would shift the power to demarcate indigenous land from the executive to the legislature – that is, from Funai, the Ministry of Justice and the president, by decree, to Congress. [Continue reading…]

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Chevron whistleblower videos show deliberate falsification of evidence in Ecuador oil pollution trial

DeSmogBlog reports: Chevron has already lost the lawsuit filed against the company by a group of Indigenous villagers and rural Ecuadorians who say Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, left behind hundreds of open, unlined pits full of toxic oil waste it had dug into the floor of the Amazon rainforest.

That hasn’t stopped the oil titan from attempting to retry the case, though, in both the court of public opinion and a New York court, where it counter-sued the Ecuadorian plaintiffs under the RICO Act, claiming their original lawsuit was nothing more than extortion.

But new videos released by an anonymous Chevron whistleblower undermine the company’s entire defense in the original suit as well as its RICO counterattack.

Chevron’s defense in the Ecuador pollution case hinges on the company’s assertion that, before leaving the country when its partnership with state-owned Petroecuador ended in the early 1990s, Texaco remediated a portion of the 350 drill sites and more than 900 associated waste pits, as per its agreement with the Ecuadorean government.

The Ecuadorian plaintiffs argue that, as the sole operator of those drilling operations, Chevron/Texaco is liable for the carcinogenic oil contamination of watercourses, soil and groundwater that leached out of the waste pits and overflowed into local streams and rivers. After inheriting Texaco’s liability, Chevron countered that it had fulfilled its obligations per the terms of its partnership and that the plaintiffs’ real target should be Petroecuador, which Chevron blames for the pollution.

In 2011, Chevron lost the court battle in Ecuador — the venue Chevron itself chose — and was ordered to pay $9.5 billion to clean up its oil pollution in the Amazon. But Chevron had already infamously vowed “We will fight until hell freezes over and then fight it out on the ice,” and the company has been true to its word. Only now has evidence emerged to show just how dirty Chevron was fighting.

“These videos prove Chevron knew full well their ‘remediated’ sites were still contaminated before the trial in Ecuador had even finished,” Amazon Watch’s Paul Paz said in a statement to DeSmogBlog. “Rather than admit that and help people who would be affected, they hid what they knew and denied it to the courts and to the world. Worse than that, they went on to blame the very same people affected by their waste as making it all up to extort money from Chevron.” [Continue reading…]

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