By Ashifa Kassam
As a child, Sharon McIvor spent her days roaming her grandmother’s First Nations community deep in British Columbia, learning to fish, harvest sap and pick berries, as the Nlaka’pamux Nation had done for millennia.
When the time came to teach those skills to her grandchildren, however, more than a century of gender discrimination stood in her way.
For nearly 150 years, legislation stipulating who the Canadian government officially recognises as First Nations has discriminated against women, making it more difficult for them to hold status and pass it to their descendants.
“We’re the only group in Canada that has got legislated discrimination still active, alive and well,” said McIvor.
Early versions of the Indian Act – the 1876 colonial-era legislation that attempts to wrangle Canada’s more than 600 First Nations bands into a bureaucratic category – defined First Nations as “a male Indian, the wife of a male Indian or the child of a male Indian”.
Campaigners have long challenged this definition, managing to chip away at some of the inequality.
But today – in a country with a prime minister who proclaims himself a feminist and whose government has sought to usher in feminist foreign policy around the world – the law still continues to discriminate.
Campaigners say the repercussions of that discrimination range from the denial of services and rights to a crisis in which as many as 4,000 indigenous women in Canada have gone missing or been murdered.
McIvor was not entitled to indigenous status because she had married a non-indigenous man. A 1985 change to the act eventually allowed her and her children to gain status – but prevented her from passing it to her grandchildren.
Without status, McIvor wasn’t able to live on reserve land and was excluded from hunting, gathering and fishing as well as traditional marriage, funeral and healing ceremonies.
In contrast, her brother – twice married to non-indigenous women – was able to pass his status to his children and grandchildren.
“What I lost was my community, and what I lost was my ability to feel like I belonged,” said McIvor.
She and her descendants also had no claims to the tax breaks, healthcare and education benefits accessed by some First Nations.
She began what a decades-long fight for equality, using her training as a lawyer to pursue the issue in court. Her case joined a string of others that in recent years have sought to tackle the sex discrimination in the legislation.
Last year, it finally seemed that equality was imminent, after Canada’s senate unanimously passed a legislative amendment. After initially balking at the idea, the federal government – led by the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau – eventually approved the provisions.
But no timeline has been set for thee changes, and the government now says that it must first consult with First Nations and other indigenous groups.
“There’s no way that anybody in the world should be consulting with somebody on whether or not they should continue to discriminate,” said McIvor.
Campaigners acknowledge that there are legitimate concerns over issues such as access to resources for the country’s 1.6 million indigenous peoples, but they express concerns that the consultations are being used to further delay equality.
“What we’re getting is words – nice words – but no action,” said Shelagh Day of the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action. “How could this still be happening with a government that is committed to women’s equality and that has said it’s interested in a new nation-to-nation relationship?”
Previous comments from the government hint at concerns over the costs involved. A recent report from the country’s parliamentary budget officer estimated that around 260,000 people would actually register if equality was granted – which could cost the government more than C$400m a year in health and education benefits.
Several United Nations bodies have drawn a direct line between sexual discrimination in the Indian Act and Canada’s crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.
In a 2015 report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights cited the Indian Act as “an important factor in understanding the persistence of unequal treatment and stereotyping of indigenous women, which in turn continue to place indigenous women at an increased risk for multiple forms of violence”.
The push for change comes amid a wider conversation on replacing the Indian Act with the indigenous self-government and self-determination. But as long as the act endures, it must treat men and women equally, said Day.
“When the federal government is talking about forging a new nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples, it seems critical that the pool of people with whom the new relationship is being forged not be distorted by colonial-era sex discrimination.”
In an email to the Guardian, the federal ministry responsible for the Indian Act said officials are working with First Nations communities and other partners to design consultations on eliminating the remaining sex-based discrimination in the act. The ministry declined to detail their timeline.
After more than two decades of litigation, McIvor’s grandchildren are now entitled to status but – unlike her brother’s grandchildren – will not be able to pass this to successive generations.
So her battle for equality continues.
“What I lost was a big piece of me, of who I am and how I was recognised. My people saw me as not one of them,” she said.
“People say it’s about getting your medical and your dental and your education. It has very little to do with that,” she said. “It’s the recognition that I belong to this group of people. That they recognise me as belonging – and I recognise them. That was lost.”
Published on The Guardian on April 19, 2018
In her opening remarks to the Forum in New York, the chairperson, Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, a medical doctor from Timbuktu, Mali, called the land husbandry of Aboriginal peoples “part of our history and heritage.”
But few countries have acted to defend these peoples’ collective rights, she added.
“Law enforcement is inadequate or non-existent, and other elements of Legislation goes against these rights,” she said. Measures necessary to give meaning to land rights, such as tenure delimitation and allocating title deeds, are often not implemented.
Moreover, she continued, those who defend indigenous rights continue to be targeted when they raise their voices – particularly when States or private actors seek their resources for aggressive development such as logging.
“As long as our rights over our lands, territories and resources are not recognized,” she added, indigenous people risk falling far short of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“In the same way,” she said, “the world risks losing the fight against climate change and the destruction of the environment.”
UN for all peoples
General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák reminded everyone “The United Nations is here for people. And that includes indigenous people.”
“But we cannot yet say that this Organization has opened its doors wide enough,” he said. “And so, we need to be more ambitious.”
Mr. Lajčák, of Slovakia painted a grim picture of the situation facing indigenous people today, pointing out that while they make up only five per cent of the world’s population, they comprise 15 per cent of the world’s poorest people.
“That is shocking,” he said, adding that their human rights are being violated, they are being excluded and marginalized and face violence for asserting their basic rights.
Focusing on the theme of indigenous land, territories and resources, he said: “Indigenous people are being dispossessed. They are losing the lands their ancestors called home.”
But with global attention to indigenous rights on the rise, Mr. Lajčák saw reasons for hope, as well.
“The signs do look positive,” he said, noting that the UN teams on the ground are developing stronger partnerships, determined to make these communities stronger.
“We should be hopeful. But we cannot ignore the very real, and very serious, challenges. They cast a shadow over the future of many indigenous communities. And they demand our urgent attention,” he said.
When Evo Morales Ayma, President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, spoke, he explained how for 500 years the indigenous people of America have waged a resistance campaign to defend their dignity and identity.
“We are all descendants of Mother Earth, so we are all brothers and sisters,” he underscored.
The annual Forum, the seventeenth, opened to a ceremonial cultural performance and a traditional welcome by Todadaho Sid Hill, Chief of the Onondaga Nation, located in New York.
Established in 2000, the forum provides expert advice and recommendations on indigenous issues to the UN’s Economic and Social Council as well as to specialized agencies that work on issues like development, agriculture, environmental protection and human rights.
Published on UN News on April 16, 2018
Over 30 years after their displacement, the Batwa people is still largely landless and many Twas find themselves having to re-create settlements in the forests. The article below highlights the harsh conditions of living and the consequences of climate change on the indigenous peoples of Uganda, who are for instance severely hit by malaria outbreaks since they were expelled from the areas where they used to live. In order to counter these negative effects, global strategy Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) could represent hope for the country’s indigenous. In the framework of REDD the Batwa, among others, could see their conditions of living improve thanks to the development by Uganda of a national strategy to fight deforestation and forest degradation.
This article was originally published by New Vision:
Three decades after being displaced, the Batwa and Benets also known as indigenous people are still landless. Today, climate change has created benefits to keepers of forests. Will the indigenous people benefit from this initiative?
“I had never suffered from malaria until we were evicted from Mt. Elgon,” said Batya Moya, an elder among the Benets at Suam in Bukwo district near the Uganda-Kenya border. “We have been hit below the belt by malaria outbreaks.”
Moya said they have become landless and that repeated promises by the Government to resettle Batya and thousands of his colleagues have not been fulfilled.
This is repeated at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in south western Uganda where Batwa, a group of endangered pygmies gave up their ancestral homeland-the forest for the sake of conservation. The Batwa have been wallowing in misery in attempt to live outside the forest.
Although displaced 30 years ago, Batwa and Benets are the latest victims of conservation Africa. More than half a Century ago, swathes of rangelands such as Queen Elizabeth National Park, Lake Mburo National Park, Katonga Wildlife reserve, Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park were grazing lands for pastoralist communities such as the Basongora, Bahima in western Uganda and Karimojongs in north eastern Uganda.
The pastoralists’ grounds were gazetted as protected areas where Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is in charge and the pastoralists are seen as encroachers when they stray into the national parks or wildlife reserves.
Apart from Batwa, Benets, the pastoralists are also referred to as indigenous people as they have a culture that is distinct from the rest of the tribes in Uganda.
In addition to conservation, the indigenous communities are also facing impacts such as malaria which is related to the changing temperature broadly known as climate change.
The climate change phenomenon refers to seasonal changes over a long period with respect to growing accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
It is blamed for the receding glaciers on Mountain Rwenzori, Uganda’s changing seasons, droughts and floods are some of the effects of climate change.
According to reports, providing a solution to climate change is part of the global agenda since it important for the formation of natural ecological systems as well as human economies and civilizations.
Recent studies have shown that human activities since the beginning of the industrial revolution – manifested in fossil fuel consumption for power generation, land deforestation for agriculture, and urban expansion – have contributed to an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by as much as 40%, leading to global warming.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has described climate change as “inevitable” in view of the numerous changes observed in the temperature of the atmosphere, oceans, and sea ice, in addition to some extensive changes in the climate cycle over the course of the 20th century.
The IPCC report also points out that the most vulnerable people will be hit hardest by climate change. The Batwa and Benets who were forest dwelling people became displaced more than three decades to pave way for creation of protected areas, according to Nathan Makuregye, the deputy executive director at Pro-Biodiversity.
According to Samuel Cheptoris, the Minister of Water and Environment, a fresh initiative that could help to enhance conservation and also increase forest cover also referred as Carbon sinks has come through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).
This is a global climate change effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, encouraging creation of policy approaches and positive incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands.
Uganda is developing a national strategy for addressing deforestation and forest degradation thus enabling the country to benefit from the REDD+ strategy.
As part of the preparations to implement the strategy, a study was conducted to build the capacity of indigenous people to actively participate in both preparation and implementation phases of the REDD+ process.
The researchers led by Gertrude Kenyange, a private consultant discovered that the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is not yet domesticated by Uganda. In addition, the ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, 1989 is yet to be ratified by Uganda.
When it comes to the National Tree Planting, the Forestry Committees have never been established since the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act came into force.
Also the study realizes that the Tree Fund has never been established more than 10 years after the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act came into force.
The National Forestry and Tree Planting Act does not assign any specific responsibility to local governments in the management of central forest reserves and does not provide for effective participation of Indigenous people, according to the report of the researchers.
It only calls for Collaborative Forest Management between Government and Associations of people residing near the forest, but these communities are not ideally indigenous persons. Because of education levels, neglect and non-inclusion it is always very hard for indigenous people to organize themselves in to formal associations legally binding enough to be able to enter into agreement with government for Collaborative Management of forest resources. If these gaps are not addressed, they will affect the implementation of the REDD+ strategy and participation of Indigenous people, according to the report.
The study conducted by Kenyange also noted that potential conflict over management of climate finance (including REDD+ funds) by different government agencies with conflicting institutional mandates. This is likely to frustrate the participation of indigenous people including Batya in the implementation of the national REDD+ strategy.
Published on UNPO on April 17, 2018
By Karla Mendes
Brazil’s highest court has averted a “massacre” by blocking the eviction of 5,000 indigenous people from disputed land, one of their leaders said, in a ruling that boosted ancestral claims.
Guarani-Kaiowa Indians occupied the land in the southwestern Mato Grosso do Sul state in 2016, amid rising violence and tensions following Indian affairs agency FUNAI’s pledge to return ancestral land - owned by farmers - to indigenous people.
“We were expecting a new Caarapo massacre,” indigenous leader Kunumi Apyka’i Rory said, referring to a 2016 attack on indigenous activists by farmers in the same region.
“It would be a bloodshed but because of Nhanderu and our prayers we managed,” he said in a statement by Conselho Indigenista Missionario (Cimi), a monitoring group linked to the Catholic Church.
South America’s largest country is grappling with scores of deadly unresolved indigenous land issues, in one of the world’s clearest examples of the conflict between preserving indigenous culture and promoting economic development.
Cimi says hundreds of indigenous people are killed each year in territorial conflicts with ranchers in Brazil, rich in land to be exploited and low on deeds and property records.
Brazil’s highest court on Monday overturned a removal order issued in 2016 by a lower court, following a request from FUNAI, the government agency responsible for restoring indigenous people to land that they were evicted from decades ago.
The use of police force to comply with the earlier legal order could have “serious and unacceptable consequences” and “risk to order and public safety”, Carmen Lucia, head of the supreme court, wrote in her decision.
“This scenario seems to show a risk of exacerbation between the parties in conflict and a consequent worsening situation of violence in the region,” she said.
Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people - who are disproportionately impacted by poverty and other social problems - control about 13 percent of its territory, mostly in the remote Amazon rainforest.
Numerous court battles pit native people, who say they have been denied access to their ancestral land, against powerful business interests, often soy, beef and sugar farmers holding title deeds.
The process of demarcating land to indigenous people is controversial, despite safeguards in the constitution and United Nations guidelines that are supposed to enshrine rights for indigenous people.
FUNAI is in charge of allocating land to the country’s some 300 indigenous tribes but progress has stalled amid budget cuts and proposals from powerful rural lawmakers to change the process, including opening up indigenous reserves to mining.
The Supreme Court decision paves the way for secure land demarcation for indigenous peoples throughout the country, said Rafael Modesto dos Santos, a lawyer with Cimi.
“It guarantees the indigenous people’s lives and physical integrity,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“(Otherwise) there would be a massacre, that is no doubt ... because 5,000 indigenous people with no possibility of defense (would) confront the government apparatus of war.”
Dos Santos said most land conflicts in Mato Grosso do Sul state derive from the illegal sale of indigenous land by the local government to ranchers, and the subsequent issuance of illegal titles over the last century.
A spokeswoman for the government of Mato Grosso do Sul, Beatricce Bruno, denied the accusations in emailed comments and said that it has always respected the law and court decisions.
Conflict over indigenous land in the state “is an old problem ... due to the lack of a secure legal framework”, she said.
The supreme court’s emergency decision to prevent the evictions will allow the Guarani-Kaiowa to remain on the land until the court issues a final decision on its ownership, which could take up to 10 years, dos Santos said.
Published on Reuters on April 11, 2018
by Lalini Pedris
Dwarfed both in size and fame by the Amazon rainforest, the Gran Chaco, South America’s second largest vegetation complex, is a diverse mix of thorny dry forest and palm savannahs stretching across the far reaches of Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. It is home to over 150 mammalian species, including the giant armadillo and giant anteater (both currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species).
The Gran Chaco is also home to roughly 250,000 indigenous people, stemming from around twenty different ethnic groups, who are embroiled in a bitter battle to lay claim to their ancestral forested lands – before they disappear.
Mapping deforestation and the Gran Chaco Americano
The forests and savannahs of the geographically diverse Gran Chaco Americano have been suffering a largely silent extinction – until recently.
Advanced mapping technology is bringing the Chaco into the spotlight. Indigenous groups are digitally mapping their territories in an effort to protect their forests from the encroachment of cattle ranching and soy farming, which threaten both wildlife and indigenous livelihoods.
In Paraguay, a game-changer for indigenous communities has been Tierras Indígenas(TI), an interactive map and online platform launched by Paraguay’s Federación por la Autodeterminación de los Pueblos Indígenas/Federation for the Self-Determination of Indigenous Peoples (FAPI) on November 28, 2017.
The TI platform combines Global Forest Watch’s digital Map Builder software and data and expertise from both Global Forest Watch (GFW) and thirteen different indigenous groups, the platform enables interested groups to map the extent and legal status of their lands and resources.
The Map Builder tool allows users to use the GFW data and tools to create their own interactive digital map using specified data layers and personalized styling, which can be shared over social media and submitted to the map gallery.
The software builds on GFW’s extensive data and tools to document land use change and deforestation, using interactive layers to display tree cover, land use types by industry, and other aspects of forest change on a global scale. By accessing these tools, TI users can view forest change (deforestation, forest growth, and reforestation) in particular areas within the Gran Chaco region, as well as land claims made to those areas.
Linking indigenous land rights and environmental welfare
Research shows how “tenure-secure” indigenous lands demonstrate lower rates of deforestation and can forestall conflict by demonstrating established land claims.
“Where indigenous people have rights to their land, they’re really good stewards of that land,” said Ryan Sarsfield, Latin America Commodities Manager with Global Forest Watch at the World Resources Institute. “Our research in the Amazon Basin shows that average annual deforestation rates are two to three times lower within documented indigenous forests than on similar lands that are not formally recognized by the state.”
Sarsfield described in an email the “really dynamic” changes in land use in Paraguay over the last couple of decades. “There’s been an expansion of soybeans in the east, and then movement towards expansion of cattle in the west, in the Chaco region,” he said. “And that has resulted in an explosion of deforestation, explosion of the cattle industry, a lot of which is going for export. And in the process, there’s been a lot of expansion of cleared areas within existing ranches and a lot of buying and selling of ranches, and indigenous people have been pushing back for their land rights in many of these places.”
According to Don Hipólito Acevei, President of FAPI, the groups collected tribal lands data through a series of internal coordination meetings.
“We contracted, thanks to the support of USAID and WRI, experts in GIS, who received copies of the titles and plans of the communities’ insured lands,” Acevei told Mongabay. “In the case of indigenous communities with claims procedures, their members brought copies of their efforts where the data on the property claimed were stipulated. The work was carried out through coordination of the platform…by FAPI, but with the participation of several indigenous organizations, also civil society organizations and international NGOs…” (Quote translated from Spanish by the author.)
Sarsfield and Acevei described how collaboration and standardization using clear protocols, precise data, and participatory management were key to making the smartphone-accessible map.
“The platform cannot guarantee the validity of regional territorial rights,” Acevei explained, “but I think it can serve as an inspiration so that the information is used to connect us with other [indigenous] peoples, since the borders of the countries are dividing the peoples. The people know where their ancestral territories are located, and through the platform they can see the location of the lands they have [already] legalized and they lands they claim. This information is also of vital importance for the State and for regional and local governments.” (Quote translated from Spanish.)
While several of Paraguay’s indigenous groups have taken to the courts to challenge forced displacement from their homes by cattle ranching and agricultural development, there is hope that the process of mapping territorial claims using the Tierras Indígenas platform would prevent transgressions from happening in the first place.
The interactive platform informs not only indigenous community members about their territorial rights, but also members of the government and the private sector. It is publicly accessible, which means that companies and government institutions can review land claims prior to launching prospective activities in the region.
“If land is accurately represented,” Sarsfield noted, “or at least the confusion around titling is represented, and indigenous people are better able to defend their claims and be transparent about their claims, there’s going to be better outcomes for indigenous people and for stewardship of the environment that they carry out.”
It’s still too early to analyze the effects of the Tierras Indígenas platform on forest conservation. But the project has already helped to establish transparency and legitimacy for indigenous land claims and has helped to increase visibility and community development for indigenous groups.
According to Acevei, “[The project] has impacted [indigenous communities] very positively because there was no map of indigenous communities that could show secured and claimed indigenous lands. The communities are [now] visible, and so are their rights. Also, companies and other actors will be able to show and talk about possible projects that can impact the lives of communities.” (This quote has been translated from Spanish by the author.)
“We had groups in the private sector who developed risk models for Paraguay, and they wanted to be able to fit the data into their risk models as part of their sourcing criteria,” Sarsfield said. “There was a pre-existing demand for data that could be used for those in the private sector who really are making an effort to avoid conflict involved in indigenous lands. That data’s already in their hands, and we filled that need by having the data available in the first place.”
One of the challenges of implementing the platform, according to Sarsfield, was being able to accurately and precisely display disputed land claims so that users – from government officials to corporations and members of civil society – could accurately interpret its status. The platform, launched in November 2017, is being continuously updated with new data.
Conserving the Chaco
When asked about how the platform can contribute to the conservation of the Gran Chaco ecoregion, Acevei replied, “The biggest challenge is how to protect the territories and their resources in a space where land use change for economic activity is being planned. For this reason, the real importance of indigenous lands to maintain forests and their resources is demonstrated through the platform. And you can also see where they are claiming lands to be legalized by the State as soon as possible, because it is a human right of indigenous communities.” (Quote translated from Spanish by the author.)
Published on Mongabay on March 26, 2018
By Peter Prengaman
Women cook over a dozen little open fires, while men lie on hammocks inside an adjoining building and naked children with distended bellies and dirty faces run around the shelter for indigenous Warao who have fled Venezuela's troubles.
Opened late last year with a capacity for housing about 250 people, the former warehouse in this Brazilian town now has upward of 500, and more are arriving daily. With no more space for hammocks, people are sleeping on the concrete floor.
Health workers scramble to identify children with measles — one in the shelter died this month — and address severe malnutrition and myriad other medical issues.
"All Venezuelans arriving here are in a precarious situation," said Luis Fernando Peres, one of the lead volunteers with Fraternity International Humanitarian Federation, one of the groups working at the shelter. "The Warao are arriving in even worse shape."
As Brazilian authorities scramble to accommodate tens of thousands of desperate Venezuelans crossing the country's northern border to escape their homeland's economic collapse and political unrest, the indigenous Warao are emerging as their biggest challenge.
Traditionally poor and marginalized in Venezuela, the Warao are arriving with even more health problems than other Venezuelans. Those health needs, combined with cultural and linguistic differences, mean authorities have no choice but to set up shelters just for them — and hope they can return to their home lands in Venezuela as integrating them into Brazilian society doesn't appear realistic.
Many Warao have little education and at best a shaky grasp on Spanish, which at least is related to the Portuguese spoken in Brazil. They will stay only with other Warao because they have so much distrust of "criollos," a term they use to refer to non-indigenous Venezuelans.
"We could never be with criollos because you don't know what could happen," said Teolinda Moralera, a 40-year-old Warao woman cooking chicken over a fire.
"The life of Warao is all about Warao," added Moralera, who came to the shelter two weeks ago with her husband and children, ages 15, 18, 20 and 23.
Authorities in Pacaraima, a hardscrabble dusty border town in the middle of the Amazon region, say the Warao began crossing into the region in 2016, a full year before tens of thousands of non-indigenous Venezuelans began arriving.
The "boat people," as their name denotes in the Warao language, have lived for centuries in the Orinoco Delta in northeastern Venezuela, more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) from Pacaraima.
Over the last several decades, fish supplies declined in their home territory as major rivers have been diverted and deepened for shipping, pushing many to migrate to Venezuelan cities to sell crafts and beg. When Venezuela fell into crisis, an already precarious situation was exacerbated.
Many of those interviewed said the Venezuela's socialist government led by President Nicolas Maduro abandoned them to the point that there were no services or food in areas where they lived.
"The Warao were always poor. With Maduro, we got even poorer," said Sumilde Gonzalez, 40, who came to the shelter with her husband and two young children.
The first arrivals in Pacaraima lived on the streets and begged, refusing to go to shelters with non-indigenous people. They had few work prospects. Many who could, traveled south to Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon region, or east to the city of Belem. There, as in Pacaraima, many live on the street, beg and sell handicrafts in the other cities.
Marcio Coelho, coordinator of the Pacaraima shelter, said a Warao-only shelter was the only way to get them off the streets.
"The city had no way to accommodate them," he said.
One possibility being floated is to designate a piece of land for Warao. The federal government has just announced plans to build a "base of support." The head of the government's National Indian Foundation has begun meeting with Warao leaders and with several groups indigenous to Brazil's Roraima state.
But it's unclear whether any of the Brazilian indigenous peoples would be willing to cede some of their land. In a statement, the foundation said the base would be temporary and the army would oversee it. No other details were given, and follow-up emails and calls seeking details were not answered.
While shelters are an improvement, they will work only as long as the government and volunteers continue to provide everything.
The local residents' frustration with the Warao, and the onslaught of Venezuelans in general, is palpable.
Pacaraima, which only has 11,000 people and is surrounded by indigenous lands, has many dirt roads and essentially exists to cater to travelers crossing the border both ways.
Around the corner from the shelter, Evaldo de Souza Rocha runs a fish market. He said Warao are always asking for water and dig through the trash at night, to the point that he now has locks on the cans. Some wood he had outside his house, which he planned to use for a project, disappeared one morning.
"It's a small thing, but it matters," he said, adding that he suspects the wood was burned in the open fires at the shelter.
Lizardi Reinosa, 23-year-old Warao who arrived with his younger brother a few months ago, said his attempts to find work are always met with a firm "no." In Pacaraima, many young locals earn a few dollars a day unloading cargo trucks.
"They tell me they will only give jobs to Brazilians, not Warao," said Reinosa, who on a recent day walked the town with dozens of other young men hoping to find a place for a pickup soccer game.
"Get to work, Warao!" a passing driver yelled at them.
Despite the difficulties and an uncertain future, many Warao say they are happy to be in Brazil, even going so far as to call the shelter a "paradise" compared to what they left behind.
One of those is Beodilio Zapata, a 23-year-old who recently arrived with his wife and severely malnourished sons, ages 1 and 2.
"Venezuela is misery," he said, as the boys, naked and with large bellies and blotchy spots on their heads from malnutrition, climbed on him. "Everybody who is there wants to come here."
Published on Tampa Bay Times on March 27, 2018
By Daniela Muñoz and Tim Gaynor
A joint registration campaign by Costa Rica and Panama is helping thousands of Ngäbe-Buglé at risk of statelessness to gain access to health care and education.
“I was two months pregnant when I started feeling bad, I couldn’t walk or anything,” recalls the 23-year-old, who, it emerged, had undiagnosed leukaemia that put her life in grave danger.
“From one day to the next … I couldn’t eat, I was fainting and I couldn’t even walk … I was stick-thin.”
Teresa is a member of the Ngäbe-Buglé community, a traditional indigenous people whose lands are in present-day Costa Rica and Panama in Central America.
Born in Panama, where her birth was unregistered, she had been living in neighbouring Costa Rica without documents since her family crossed the border to pick coffee when she was just 14. Weaker by the day, she did not have access to the medical care she urgently needed, but fortunately help was at hand.
An outreach team working to ensure indigenous families who span the border do not slip through the welfare net had contacted Teresa. They established she needed her Panamanian nationality to be verified and a case worker helped her obtain the documentation.
“They came to the house and helped me with the paperwork,” she says. Granted permanent resident status in Costa Rica, she was swiftly enrolled in the national health care system and treated at a hospital in the Costa Rican capital, San Jose.
After a bone-marrow transplant and course of chemotherapy, Teresa is back at home with her son, now aged two, and her extended family.
About a quarter of a million Ngäbe-Buglé members live in northwest Panama, of whom an estimated 15,000 cross the border informally to work during the coffee harvest in southern Costa Rica.
Teresa is one of thousands of indigenous people helped by the drive by the Costa Rican Civil Registry Office and its Panamanian counterpart, supported by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
Outreach workers for the drive – known locally as the ‘Chiriticos Project’ – set out on motorcycles, in cars and sometimes on foot to remote areas on either side of the border where Ngäbe-Buglé families work as migrant coffee pickers in the rich agricultural uplands.
Since its beginnings in 2014, project workers have contacted more than 19,370 people. While most were found to have Panamanian or Costa Rican citizenship, they identified and assisted more than 3,600 individuals at risk of statelessness because they were not registered in either country.
“There were so many children without the right to health care, education or an identity,” says Eduardo Salazar, a Costa Rican official who heads the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s civil registry in San Vito, which held its seventh outreach push in late 2017.
The project was intended to give them legal status by registering them in Costa Rica or Panama, so that they had access to services on one side of the border or the other, he adds.
Indigenous people have suffered generational poverty, and high rates of infant mortality and diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, health officials say.
To make them part of national life, the two governments are issuing birth certificates after the fact, sometimes using documentation such as vaccination certificates, to establish an individual’s identity.
“In Teresa’s case, registration saved her life,” says Dr. Pablo Ortiz, the former director of health in the region, who has worked with indigenous groups for more than three decades.
The programme is also vitally important to allow children to register in schools, progress through the education system, enjoy labour rights once they start to work and exercise their right to vote, Salazar and Ortiz say.
“If they don’t get these papers, they can’t get school documentation and, later, grants to continue their education. They also miss out on a programme to help those of limited resources get a deposit for a house. They get left at the margins.”
The registration drive, in its fourth year, is also helping to build trust with indigenous people, many of whom, like agricultural worker Norberto Andrade, have spent their lives on the margins. Before he received his Costa Rican identity documents, the 27-year-old says he felt “like a stray dog”.
“You had to hide yourself, in case the police asked you questions,” he says, chatting in a tin-roofed shack at a coffee farm where we he works, a few miles from the Panamanian border. “But now I have the documents, I feel free. I’ve got papers to show for work.”
He has hopes for his two daughters, aged one and three, who have birth certificates. “They were born here and they now have a future here. They can go to school, get an education and progress in life, become important people.”
His father, Don Martin Andrade, is also pleased at the opportunities that have opened up for him, his children and grandchildren, since they received their ID papers.
“They have given us a vote … we are in the electoral register,” he says, adding that he plans to vote in the next election.
There are at least 10 million people around the world who have no nationality and consequently face a lifetime of obstacles and disappointments. Salazar believes the cooperative approach adopted in the Costa Rican-Panamanian borderlands could be applied in other countries.
“All it costs is a motorbike and some fuel,” he says. “The spirit of the project could be applied anywhere. We are talking about a problem of identification, of the risk of statelessness. There are ways of tackling this problem in a systematic way.”
Published on UNHCR on January 29, 2018
By Jonathan Watts
A green-and-red flag flies over a cluster of bamboo and tarpaulin tents on the frontline of an increasingly deadly struggle for land and the environment in Colombia’s Cauca Valley.
It is the banner for what indigenous activists are calling the “liberation of Mother Earth”, a movement to reclaim ancestral land from sugar plantations, farms and tourist resorts that has gained momentum in the vacuum left by last year’s peace accord between the government and the paramilitaries who once dominated the region – ending, in turn, the world’s longest-running civil war.
The ragtag outpost in Corinto has been hacked out of a sugar plantation, destroyed by riot police, then reoccupied by the activists, who want to stop supplying coca (the main ingredient for cocaine) to drug traffickers in the mountains by cultivating vegetables on the plains instead.
Despite two deaths in the past year, the Nasa Indians – the biggest, most organised and most militant of the 20 indigenous groups in the valley – have staged waves of monoculture clearance and occupation operations. Almost every other week hundreds, sometimes thousands, of machete-bearing activists join these communal actions, known as minga, which involve burning and hacking down swaths of sugar cane, then erecting camps and planting traditional crops including maize and cassava.
The Nasa see this in historical, spiritual terms. For them, it is the latest phase in a centuries-old struggle for land and a clash between two contrasting world views: one that seeks harmony with nature, and one interested only in extracting as much profit as possible, regardless of the impact on the people and the environment.
“Liberating the earth means defending the land,” says José Rene Guetio, a Nasa elder. “You can see the blood that has been spilled in the cause for better land and a better future for our children.”
Environmental concerns are also among the motivations. The Nasa say they should not be living in such large numbers near sacred sites in the hills, particularly lakes, wetlands and waterfalls. “There are too many of us in the mountains. That’s not good because we are destroying our water source,” said Eduin Mauricio Capaz, human rights coordinator for the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (Acin). But this position has pitted them against the law, state security and some of Colombia’s biggest property owners and global sugar suppliers.
The Colombian government sees things differently. It says the state has a responsibility to protect legally recognised property ownership and that indigenous land issues should not be confused with environmental protection. However, it acknowledges that peace has brought a destructive surge into land previously deemed off-limits because of occupation by the Farc. Deforestation in Colombia rose 44% last year. Coca production has also risen rapidly. To tackle this, President Juan Santos has demarcated more conservation areas and promised to use the army and work with former Farc combatants to protect forests.
The minister for the environment and sustainable development, Luis Murillo, said the state’s security apparatus was the answer to environmental problems, not the problem. “We need to move very quickly to establish a presence in areas where we didn’t have a presence before,” he told the Observer, noting that the government is working on measures to protect human rights and environmental defenders.
The Cauca Valley has long been the base of operations for many of the most belligerent paramilitary groups in the country. Even with the demobilisation of the biggest organisation, the Farc, 12 other armed groups are still active in the valley, which stretches for several hundred kilometres. Some are armed rebels, such as the National Liberation Army, but others are little more than death squads that charge two million pesos (£500) per killing.
Drug gangs, militias and private security firms – which often overlap – have made this one of the most dangerous places in the world for indigenous rights campaigners, environmental defenders and journalists. Last year a record 37 activists were murdered in Colombia, which is second only to Brazil in a world ranking of such killings, according to the NGO Global Witness. This year looks set to be a similar story, with 28 fatalities so far.
The worst clashes have occurred at Corinto, which is about an hour’s drive from Cali airport. This is where activists from the Nasa have stepped up their efforts to occupy land within a vast plantation owned by Carlos Ardila Lülle, a billionaire sugar, bottling and media tycoon.
On 9 May, 17-year-old Daniel Felipe Castro was killed and several others injured when police allegedly opened fire during a minga. “We were cutting down cane when police drove up in a pick-up truck and opened fire. It was as though they were trying to fumigate us with bullets. Those who didn’t get on the ground fast enough were hit,” said a relative of the dead teenager, who asked to remain anonymous. “They don’t want us here and we won’t move, so they are trying to kill us.”
The Observer spoke to three other activists who said police have been using live rounds. One showed a scar near his shoulder blade where he said he was shot last month. The bullet, still lodged in his body, could be felt beneath the skin on his back.
Hermes Pilicue, a Nasa elder, blamed the violence on the rising pressure for land now that the peace deal has opened up the region. “Colombia is supposed to be in the midst of peace, but in our territories the conflict continues,” he said at Acin’s head office in Santander de Quilichao. “The peace agreement has made our lives more difficult. More people are entering our territory to claim land, partly because the government is granting more concessions for mining and water use.”
A 2,000-strong guarda indígena formed from the 20 native communities in the valley has already closed down several mines despite threats from militias who are alleged to be in the employ of the owners. The volunteer force, dressed in green-and-red uniforms, is armed only with wooden staffs decorated with coloured tassels. Now that the Farc has laid down its weapons, the guarda are becoming more assertive.
Article one of the peace accord guarantees agrarian reform and states that land taken during the conflict will be given back to its rightful owners. The authorities do not specify what this means, but indigenous groups have interpreted this as a prompt to reclaim ancestral territory. “Until recently, the Cxhab Wala Kiwe (Nasa people) were absorbed in simply saving our community from war and preventing paramilitary groups from recruiting our children,” said Capaz, who is also a senior member of the indigenous guard. “Now there is no war, we can focus more on the liberation of Mother Earth. Extractive industries and monocultures are contrary to our belief system. People here are aware of what is going on elsewhere in the world. We know how the climate is changing. We know about contamination of the land. We don’t want that.”
Their campaign to carve out territory between the coca and the sugar cane challenges the colonial hierarchies in the valley. After the white Europeans pushed the indigenous people into the mountains, they built homes in the foothills and brought in African slaves to work on sugar plantations on the plains. Today, mostly black cane workers joke among themselves as they wait for a bus home after a harvesting shift that has filled a giant five-carriage truck. They express a mix of old prejudice and new admiration for the indigenous groups who want to clear their workplace.
“The Indians have land, but they don’t work hard on it. They are coming down from the hills because the price of coca and marijuana has collapsed,” said José Milton Mosqueira. “But they are making such a commotion that I guess they must feel like they have a genuine claim to the land.”
As he and his colleagues talk, dusk darkens the sky and lights start to appear on the distant slopes. First just one or two strings, then 10, then 100, until finally the hillsides are illuminated like a giant Christmas tree. Every bulb is a grow-lamp for marijuana crops – evidence of the continued reliance of small farmers on the drugs trade.
After agrarian reform and the demobilisation of the paramilitaries, the eradication of coca and marijuana crops was one of the key tenets of the peace accord. All three have hit snags that have added to violence and pressure on the land. The tension is evident in the once small coca-growing community of Monte Redondo. Here the locals – a mix of Nasa and mixed-race farmers – are signing up to a crop-replacement scheme, with the government promising compensation if they switch from drugs to citrus or coffee.
The farmers do not need much persuading. Economic forces are driving people away from drugs and towards the plains. The price of coca – which was never high at this bottom rung of the narco industry – has plunged. Growers say they are now selling for 1,000 pesos per pound – less than half the price before the peace deal. Many farmers are tired of the violence and disruption associated with the drug business, so about 95% are willing to switch despite intimidation by narco gangs who have murdered advocates of crop substitution.
“Even though they are afraid, people are signing up because they want a change,” said Briceida Lemos Ribera, a leader of the cocaleros (coca growers). “We are betting on peace, but it has made us a target of the people who benefited from war.”
The risks take many forms in this period of transition as former adversaries are now living in close proximity. Monte Redondo used to be a no-go area for the authorities because it was controlled by drug cartels and paramilitaries. Now it is home to three new encampments that sit almost side by side on the road: a police base piled high with sandbags; an army outpost with a dozen green tents; and rows of prefabricated housing for demobilised Farc guerrillas.
“If an area isn’t occupied, armed groups will move in,” said an officer in the military camp. “We are operating in areas where the state hasn’t been before. We are just a small part and we are taking turtle steps.”
But the peace is fragile. The week before the Observer’s visit, three police officers were killed in a grenade ambush. Former Farc warriors say the tension has increased, though in the long term they express optimism about the future. They see the peace as a victory for their long campaign for agrarian reform and fairer distribution of land.
“We’d like land. We want to have a farm,” said Oscar Aragón, who has just been released from prison, where he served six months for collaborating with the Farc.
“I want to be a cowboy and raise cattle,” former Farc combatant Henry Menézez tells the Observer. After seven years in the jungle, he says he would like to write a book about his experiences and his future work to build a new community. Eight days later, he is murdered in what is rumoured to be a revenge attack for the ambush of the three policemen.
While that killing is a hangover from the civil war, others are connected to the renewed Mother Earth campaign. Ultimately, however, despite the plethora of conflicts and militias, the fundamental cause is the same as it has been for centuries – land – and the victims are those who defend it.
At the other end of the Cauca Valley, a crack of thunder rumbles through the hills as a crowd of mourners joins a funeral procession for the latest indigenous victim of the campaign to liberate Mother Earth.
Efigenia Vásquez, a radio and video journalist from the Kokonuko community – which is allied to the Nasa – was shot in Puracé on 8 October as she recorded an attempted occupation of Aguas Tibias, a farm and hot-spring resort inside the indigenous reserve, owned by a former general. The Kokonuko activists were driven back by riot police. There was an exchange of teargas, stones and, from somewhere, a gun. Vásquez was hit twice and died later in hospital. Her colleagues at the Renacer Kokonuko radio station say she was aware of the dangers, but was determined to cover a conflict that was the central concern of her community. “She used to say ‘the family grows, but the land doesn’t. We must take back the land of our ancestors’,” recalled Marcela Abirama, who was with Vásquez in hospital when she died. “Eight days earlier, she told me we must cover the Mother Earth campaign even if we might get killed.”
Who fired the gun is disputed. The Kokonuko blame the police, who they say wanted to silence the community and scare them away from the land.
During the funeral procession, the mourners express defiance as well as sadness. “Adelante compañero (forward, comrade),” they sing, then stop outside the police station to taunt the officers inside: “You kill our women, we continue our struggle. You kill our journalists, we continue our struggle. Until when? Until forever!”
The authorities have a different version of events. A police officer said Vásquez was probably the accidental victim of a homemade gun used by Kokonuko renegades to fire clusters of ball bearings. He showed a video clip on his phone of what he said was indigenous protesters using such a weapon on the day Vásquez died.
There are multiple images of them using what looks like a crude rifle, but the friendly-fire theory does not account for the fact that two other members of the community were shot and wounded on the same day at different places and different times. The father of one of them – Wilmar Yace – said a bullet entered one of his son’s cheeks and exited the other – a wound that is more likely to be caused by a high-calibre rifle than a makeshift ball-bearing gun.
The journalist’s death has resonated internationally. The director general of Unesco, Irina Bokova, denounced the killing and called for an inquiry. Vásquez’s parents hope her death can raise awareness of the indigenous cause.
“She became a journalist so she could be a voice for the voiceless,” said her mother, Hilda María Astudillo. “She was always campaigning for her family and her children so they could live in peace when they grow up.”
But the peace Vásquez hoped for remains more elusive than ever. After the burial, the Kokonuko crafted shields from plastic barrels sawn in half. Others collected bottles and fuel for petrol bombs. The following morning, the battle for Aguas Tibias recommenced. Several hundred Kokonuko men descended on the beautiful site from all sides of the valley. They were met with volleys of teargas from about 80 riot police camped at the farm who had been fighting off encroachments for four days.
The activists charged forward carrying a large wooden door as a shield against rubber bullets, so they could get close enough to throw firebombs at the police. Behind them, young and old used slingshots and a makeshift catapult to hurl stones, which were collected in satchels from the road and stacked by the Kokonuko women. The police also threw stones and bolts as their arsenal ran low.
On this occasion there were no guns, no deaths, no serious injuries, but the campaign to liberate Mother Earth shows just how violent Colombia’s peace has become.
“After 50 years of war, we still have this,” said a local government official, who was turned away as she attempted to take supplies to the besieged police officers. She departed with a warning. “If we are not allowed through, the army will get involved. They will be coming soon.”
Published on The Guardian on October 28, 2017.
Representatives of six indigenous nationalities traveled from their Amazonian communities to Quito this morning to reject plans by the new government of Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno to auction off oil blocks that overlap their titled rainforest territories.
The Ecuadorian Ministry of Hydrocarbons, the Committee of Hydrocarbon Tender, and the state-run oil company Petroamazonas is promoting the plan to tender sixteen Amazonian oil blocks in a new licensing round dubbed the Ronda Suroriente (Southeastern Round) at an annual oil and mining industry gathering today, where they hope to entice investors to bid on what have been country's most problematic oil concessions.
The proposed blocks cover nearly seven million acres of roadless, primary forest in the southeastern Ecuadorian Amazon and the titled territories of the Shuar, Achuar, Kichwa, Waorani, Shiwiar, and Sápara indigenous nations. The region is home to some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet.
Speaking outside the event, Marlon Vargas, President of CONFENAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon) said, "We reject new oil concessions in our territories. This is unconstitutional because we have not been consulted. Our people will continue to defend our spaces of life, Mother Earth, and our Pachamama. While we support the call made by President Lenin Moreno at the United Nations to protect the Amazon, it won't happen by concessioning oil blocks in indigenous territories. We will fight and resist in defense of our territories and rights."
In none of the blocks has the Ecuadorian government obtained Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the local indigenous representative federations, the internationally-recognized human rights benchmark intended to protect the rights of indigenous communities whose lives and lands are affected by extractive projects such as oil drilling. These plans and lack of consent – or even proper consultation – are also in direct violation of precedent and recent rulings from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Indigenous leaders also rejected the expansion of the mining sector in Ecuador's southern Amazon, which was touted by company executives and the Ministry of Mines at the conference. The forced removal of Shuar communities from their homes to make way for a workers' camp led to a deadly confrontation between the communities and Chinese mining company Explorcobres SA (EXSA) and a 60-day state of emergency in the Morona province last year.
"The Ecuadorian government is deceiving potential investors," said Kevin Koenig of Amazon Watch. "These blocks are, in effect, stranded assets. There is a legacy of controversy and a long list of companies who have tried to drill and failed. The government's disregard for the rights of communities is not only illegal, but it is a recipe for disaster for companies that attempt to do business in one of the most pristine regions of the Amazon. Companies should know in advance that they're potentially buying a serious problem."
This is not the first time that Ecuador has sought to tender these blocks. Previous rounds were scrapped after protests and little interest from companies. Government road shows promoting the last attempt to auction the blocks in 2013 were met with protests in Quito, Houston, Paris, and Calgary. The round only solicited three bids.
Some of the blocks now included in the Ronda Suroriente had previously belonged to several oil company majors. But ARCO, Burlington Resources, ConocoPhillips, and independent CGC (Compania General de Combustibles) all faced on-the-ground resistance to their operations, as well as lawsuits, injunctions, and protests that paralyzed the projects, leading to significant work slippages, force majeure, and ultimately they abandoned their plans and left the country.
The auction is expected to officially open for bids in early 2018.
"With studies showing that two thirds of all fossil fuels need to remain in the ground to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, why is anyone looking for more?" said Leila Salazar-López, Executive Director of Amazon Watch. "The potential carbon emissions for the oil, gas, and coal in the world's currently operating fields and mines will take us past the 2°C of warming agreed to in the Paris Accord. Drilling for new 'frontier oil' on indigenous territories would be catastrophic for the planet."
Published on Amazon Watch on October 26, 2017.
By Todd Fernando for IndigenousX
Indigenous and mainstream Australians often have very different ideas about the concept of “success”. For non-Indigenous Australians success opportunities are almost exclusively economic concepts, based on stolen and inherited resources and privilege. For Indigenous people, achieving this normative conceptualisation of success involves abandoning our home cultures and assimilating into the dominant culture, usually without any of the advantages of inherited wealth and privilege.
Indeed, success for Indigenous people involves coming face-to-face with the reality that we start out at the very bottom of the economic ladder because our assets and resources were stripped from our nations during Australia’s violent colonial history. Indigenous Australian activists have fought back against this structural disadvantage over the last century or so, particularly in more recent decades, and this has resulted in some wider recognition of this glaring economic reality.
Yet despite this transformation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders continue to experience some of the highest incarceration, suicide and ill-health rates in the world. For these Indigenous Australians, the barriers to success are still real and visceral. In many cases, exclusion is still the reality. There are all too often hidden – or not so hidden – barriers that prevent some Indigenous people from feeling comfortable in places of overwhelming whiteness.
When Indigenous people enter Australian boarding schools, universities or workforce, they often carry historical baggage. They are still often the first in their families to attend these institutions, gain formal education and participate in the Australian economy. These opportunities simply were not widely available to our older generations. And when they position their lives according to the foreign values of these institutions, many fail due to this cultural difference. That failure can produce a tension between Indigenous people and these organisations or institutions. This is how Australian nation-building can negatively impact Indigenous communities and values.
The “last of his tribe” imperialist trope has now been replaced with “the first of her tribe” as an indicator to Indigenous people entering elite institutions solely by merit and fortitude. This new narrative causes a subtle racism of low expectation in the fact that each instance of success is considered remarkable, an exception to the rule. Their accomplishments elevate them above their peers as role models and are used to send the message that any individual can succeed, so those experiencing poverty and oppression have only themselves to blame. This brand of shaming has the potential to cause more economic marginalisation and social isolation.
Framing positive narratives of Indigenous life can place pressure on an Indigenous social presence in mainstream Australian culture. When Indigenous success invokes a political or ideological agenda, tensions rise because it applies Australian mainstream’s concept of success as the roadmap. Such traps are avoided when an Indigenous concept of success is viewed equally. When considering Indigenous employment statistics in areas of health, education, business, economics, law, the presence of Indigenous participation emerges. But the other side of these statistics shows how much more work is required. When narratives lead with the latter, deficit discourse seems to always prevail.
Most Australians, and our international visitors, first learn about Indigenous people through conversations that are often grounded in disadvantage: the automatic assumption that the male Aborigine is akin to an unemployed criminal, for example, or the fetishisation of the female Aborigine as a sexually wild beast, sprawled drunk under the shade of a eucalyptus tree. These narratives draw unsettling conclusions where the blame is placed solely on the Aborigine. They also seek to elicit shock, outrage and, in a Helen Lovejoy fashion, a paternalistic concern for the vulnerable children.
Negative fantasies of Indigenous communities’ lead to destructive representations that do not help. Nigerian-born Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns that if you tell “a people what they are over and over again, that is what they become.” It is without surprise that many loathe discussions of deficit discourse that paint a picture of Indigenous communities only in a negative way.
Native Alaskan academic Eve Tuck argues “that the research on our communities has historically been damage centered, intent on portraying us [Indigenous] as defeated and broken.” Therefore, we must forge new narratives to sit alongside as indicators of achievement. But how do we shift deficit discourse and allow Indigenous success to be seen, heard and told first? While there is no one correct answer, a practical solution is the rise of an Indigenous intelligentsia.
Intelligentsia is a term to describe a collection of people who push the boundaries of critical thinking. For Indigenous Australia, this intelligentsia includes Indigenous academics, lawyers, doctors, CEOs, consultants and a lot of young leaders and entrepreneurs. Indigenous intelligentsia should be understood, at least in part, as a cure to the crisis of low expectations and an end to the thought that Indigenous anything is first and foremost deficit, damaged or broken. To do this, however, we must affirm the growth of this intelligentsia in both Indigenous and Australian cultures.
Some believe that Indigenous achievements in Australian mainstream culture are merely markers of assimilation. Some stir the pot by assuming any goal toward economic stability is to “sell out,” while others obsess over the emerging black bourgeoisie by using them to prop up their social capital. When this way of thinking is normalised, it shadows the brilliance of Indigenous success discourse by confirming disadvantage as the only margin from which Aboriginality can be performed. It redefines Australia’s tall poppy syndrome with the idea that there are too many crabs in the bucket.
This group of intelligentsia must guide and harness an archetype of Indigenous leadership in Australian society’s culture and polity to allow Indigenous people stand on the other side of the door entirely while contributing to the Australian economy. Professor Marcia Langton captures and propels the sentiment knowingly: “with one gate open, we should now think about removing the fences.”
The building of an intellectual community should be seen as an incredible and exciting journey that cultivates the thought that Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people can exist outside of deficit narratives, sporting arenas, and art exhibitions. That they too can capitalise on Indigenous ways of knowing to guide and shape the positive rather than continue the primitive, negative silhouette. These truths are not told to mask the areas of despair in Indigenous affairs, but to highlight that transformation and revolution occur when success outweighs deficit.
We must go beyond the idea that sport, art or welfare dependency is the only avenue to “success” and change the narrative through education and career-making. This logic goes beyond the superficial symbolism that sometimes results from reconciliation efforts. While it seems like an easy task to do, what makes this so complex is challenging the idea that Indigenous people are inherently disadvantaged and marginal rather than capable and successful, as, increasingly, so many are. It demands that we have to do better and it starts by challenging the notion that success is exclusively white.
Published on The Guardian on October 22, 2017.