Tag Archives: Africa

UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya Addresses the UN’s 16th Plenary Meeting

James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on The Rights of Indigenous Peoples addressed the 16th Plenary Meeting on September 20, 2011.

In his opening remarks Anaya thanked the numerous states and Indigenous Peoples for their support along with thanking the council for electing him to a second three-year term as Special Rapporteur.

Anaya used his time to provide a summary of the events he has been involved with and to address a preliminary assessment of the issue of natural resource extraction on indigenous lands which is part of an ongoing study he is working on.

Before getting started in speaking on reports he addressed for indigenous communities around the world he addressed the supports over the last year from Canada and the United States of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

“Since my last report I welcome the statements of support for the declaration by the governments of Canada and the United States of America which followed similar statements of endorsement by other states that had voted against the declaration or obstained  when the general assembly adopted it in 2007,” Anaya said.

To see Anaya’s full address click here.

Are Western Conservation Efforts Causing Famine In Africa?

Reprinted with permissions from AlterNet.

As Americans anxiously watch stock market fluctuations, mothers and fathers a continent away are making choices about which of their children to save. In East Africa, worry about one’s retirement investments is a fairy tale woe compared to the daily struggle for life that many face.

You may have seen something on the television news about a drought in the horn of Africa. The worst such calamity in 60 years, the lack of rain has decimated farmers in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda. Over the last few months, 390,000 living skeletons have trekked from as far as Southern Sudan to a Kenyan refugee camp, fleeing hunger and war, deprivation and death.

What you may not have seen is that “conservation” efforts undertaken by well-meaning industrialized nations are partly to blame. To save remaining African wilderness, we’ve been impoverishing the very people who have kept it intact. First, we’ve prohibited hunter-gatherers and pastoralists from their traditional itinerant lives and then after we’ve turned them into farmers, we remove them forcibly from their lands.

The exact size of the area designated as protected in the region of this disaster is hard to assess. Somalia boasts 638,750 kilometers of such lands, 11 national parks and 23 reserves. Kenya, an eco-tourism hub, has the most in the region and perhaps the continent: 348 protected areas on 75,238 km. While these may seem happy statistics in the current ocean of tragedy, in creating these preserves, African governments consciously evicted or prohibited from farming an estimated 1.5 million African indigenous inhabitants in the 1990s alone.

Yet the United Nations reported that in Africa the very same cultivation methods these evicted indigenous people always practiced “can deliver the increased yields which were thought to be the preserve of industrial farming, without the environmental and social damage which that form of agriculture brings.” What’s now in vogue as “small-scale mixed-use organic” is just status quo to these unheralded agronomists who know that monoculture and over-cultivation strips the land, and makes communities vulnerable to starvation when their few crops no longer bear fruit.

Traditional practices combining hunting, gathering and organic farming would not have cooled the blazing sun or made the rain fall. They would, however, have ensured the land could better withstand nature’s onslaught and provided alternative sources of food. Instead, narrow-minded policies that fail to see indigenous people as vital to protecting their homes exacerbate the destruction that horrible weather has wrought. Not only do too many of our conservation efforts force whole tribes into refugee camps (or graves along the way), they make preserving lands and wildlife cost more.

Conservation experts, such as George Washington University’s Michal Cernea, have long recognized that a “park-establishment strategy predicated upon compulsory population displacement has…compromised the cause of biodiversity conservation by inflicting aggravated impoverishment on very large numbers of people.”

Scholars have a name for this: conservation-induced population displacement. That sounds euphemistically benign, but it means forcibly removing people who have lived harmoniously on lands in order to protect these lands – global-sized proof that we’ll cut off our nose to save our face.

Conservation is big business – the budgets of non-profits involved in such schemes can dwarf the GDPs of the countries in which they work. International groups receive billions of dollars every year for taking over biodiverse areas in underdeveloped regions without regard for the human diversity that is integral to these lands. The prevailing ethos of pristine wilderness may attract tourism dollars but it’s an expensive, human-rights-violating approach that has never been proven to work.

While modern-day perils, like poaching, pose threats to indigenous people, justifying business-as-usual conservation to control poachers makes as much sense as kicking owners out of homes because thieves may be on the way. In fact, despite everything stacked against them, today’s indigenous lands contain 80 percent of our remaining biodiversity even though they constitute 24 percent of the world’s surface. This is living proof that indigenous people are great stewards of land.

Nevertheless, outside the immediate famine zone, more of the same awaits these newly nomadic indigenous people. The Maasai of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania, for example, are prohibited from living off the lands that had been their home for hundreds of years. The area’s status as a world heritage site would be threatened were the Maasai to remain, so they were pressured by the government eager to collect conservation dollars to leave, and assured they would not be allowed to farm, graze livestock or gather food if they remained.

This violation of Maasai rights forced them to seek refuge in other countries even as the famine refugees begin to enter Tanzania. And this is no isolated case. Big league conservation groups are encouraging African leaders to re-create this pattern throughout the Horn of Africa and beyond. Famine is the inevitable result of a community barred from producing food and living as they have for the whole of human history.

This is not, as some may claim, “Sophie’s Choice” on a massive scale. We are not sacrificing people in order to save trees and elephants – we’re taking everything down with the same destructive policy sweep. And there’s a way to address the environmental, moral and human rights concerns all at once.

Indigenous people know how to care for their homelands; they’ve done so for centuries without the West’s well-meaning intervention. In fact, indigenous groups conserve land, purify air and protect biodiversity for $3.50 per hectare; for large organizations to administer and conserve a hectare U.S. taxpayers spend $3,500. Yet, the United States Agency for International Development or USAID, the government agency that does development work internationally, continues to award 90 percent of its conservation funding to create and maintain these impoverishing protected areas, leaving zero for the indigenous communities who’ve been silently (and effectively) doing this work against great odds.

To reverse this dangerous trend, we must first grant land tenure rights to Indigenous Peoples across the world, affirming what’s been theirs all along. Because most of these groups have lived on their land since before the advent of property regulations or even governments, they don’t hold deeds and thus have no means of legal redress in eviction attempts. Once we accomplish this, we must equitably equip indigenous people to do the work of preservation in harmony with their needs. This is the only morally defensible course of action. Of course, if this doesn’t sway you, there’s a pragmatic reason, too: it’s cheaper.

Rebecca Adamson is the president and founder of First Peoples Worldwide.

Dalai Lama Waits for Decision on Visa Issues

For the past three months a saga has been brewing between the South African government, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

The issue at hand is a visa application for the Dalai Lama to attend the Archbishop Emeritus Tutu’s 80th birthday celebrations.

“Profoundly disrespectful,” is how the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre and the Office of Tibet in Pretoria referred to the slow response from the government in a joint statement on September 28.

Tutu compared the recent situation to the way authorities handled applications by black South Africans under apartheid.

In an article at Cape Times Nomfundo Walaza, chief executive of the Desmont Tutu Peace Centre was quoted as saying, “It would have been much more respectful to have received a negative answer than no answer at all. How can we arrange the visit if we don’t know whether it will be happening? We are an NGO. Who picks up the costs?”

The celebration, scheduled for next week, is set to include an inaugural peace lecture from the Dalai Lama.

According to an article at The Globe and Mail this is the second time in two years that South Africa has been reluctant to allow a visit by the Dalai Lama.

The first visit was blamed on the World Cup events in 2009, this time an official was quoted last week saying his application was incomplete up until last week, the Cape Times reported.

Both instances appear to be due to pressure from China, South Africa’s biggest trading partner according to the Glove and Mail.

According to the Globe and Mail, “Beijing has repeatedly attacked any government that permits a visit by the Dalai Lama, whom it denounces as a ‘splittist’ and a ‘wolf in monk’s robes.’ Chinese leaders have often retaliated politically against governments that hold meetings with the Dalai Lama.”

In a blog at the Guardian, the issue stems from the current Tibetan spiritual leader’s recent announcement that he may choose not to be reincarnated. “Tradition demands he be reincarnated in Tibet, which means that the Chinese would get to coose who he was and then bring hip up as a loyal Chinese citizen,” the blog by Andrew Brown states. The blog goes on to address the Dalai Lama’s role in reducing China’s power over Tibet, a move that was also strengthened when the Dalai Lama handed over his political power to a body elected from among Tibetan exiles.

With the Archbishop’s birthday celebration less than a week away the visa situation seems to have hit a wall, with no movement in either direction maybe expected in the following days.

Dalai Lama Interview on Tolerance

It was one of those few perfect sunshine days when you can smell the summer, flowers, trees and grass, and feel the warm touch of sunlight on your skin with temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius as you expect in India, when His Holiness The XIV Dalai Lama met friends and Tibetans in the park of the Villa Goetzfried in Wiesbaden in Germany.

The introduction was a moving performance by a charming Tibetan woman named Dechen Shak-Dagsay, who is a famous mantra-vocalist from Tibet. Her songs and graceful appearance in original Tibetan dress moved the hearts of the visitors and transported their emotions from Germany to far away Tibet.

Afterwards he arrives. The Dalai Lama welcomes everybody and sits down on a small podium in front of us. There is no distance or aloofness between the Holy Man and the people. You feel his warmth and friendliness directly.

He starts his speech by underlining our own responsibility for our world: “We are the same human beings and share this small blue planet.” Therefore he demands that we forget all differences between religions and nations, find the roots of violence and also decrease the gulf between the poor and the rich. “There is no me and they,” the Dalai Lama said, “the whole world is me.”

In connection with his speech I got the chance for a unique interview with the Dalai Lama about his main ideas: to promote tolerance, learn from different religions and establish close contacts. As The Human Codes of Tolerance and Respect is the most important project of the World Security Network Foundation, I asked him about his experience and proposals.

How can we promote tolerance and respect towards other religions and ethnic minorities, Your Holiness?

I always mention that the concept of one single truth and one religion is itself a contradiction.

But on the level of the individual it is very relevant and can be very helpful. You should keep a single-pointed faith for yourself.

In the reality of different communities and religions with so many people the concept of only one religion is irrelevant.

In reality we have different religions and a concept of one truth seems irrelevant to me.

From the personal point of view everything is relative and one truth for a single person is relevant.

But when you have many people with different values and backgrounds this concept is not convincing as there are many truths and religions – and this is good so.

What can we all as simple human beings do?

We must develop close contacts with others and their traditions.

In India for over 1000 years – besides the home-grown religions – all major religions were established there as well and lived together. Generally they lived together in harmony and friendship for a long time.

One researcher found a Muslim village with a population of 2,000 with only three Hindu families there. But the Hindus had no fear and everybody was very friendly. That is India. Sometimes there are problems as in all populations. That can happen and is understandable.

Basically a spiritual sense of brothers and sisters existed. India kept 1,000 years of religious harmony – why not in other areas in the word?

What can we learn from others?

The more close contacts we have on the personal level the deeper is the understanding and mutual respect. You need close contacts to learn about the values of other religions from each other like Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindu or Buddhists.

The deep understanding of their values develops a basis of mutual respect.

We Buddhists are eager to learn more about mutual respect and the practice of tolerance and compassion.

Some Christian friends have implemented these things already in their religion.

Thus we develop a spiritual brother-and-sisterhood.

When will the situation in Tibet change for the better?

When Mahatma Gandhi and other great leaders started their work nobody gave them any guarantee of success. But they were very determined and full of will-power whatever the obstacles were.

When my Indian friends started their freedom-fight no one knew when freedom

would come – they were determined as well and advised me to follow it.

Nobody knows when things will change but you must keep your determination – that is important.

What impressed me most is that you cannot find intensive missionary thoughts in the Dalai Lama’s speech to conquer people for his Buddhist belief. He is a general missionary for humanity and the good cause of peaceful coexistence, integrating all major religions into global codes of tolerance. For him there is no right or wrong religion.

He stated: “All major religious traditions carry basically the same message: that is love, compassion and forgiveness; the important thing is that they should be part of our daily lives. We can’t say that all religions are the same, different religions have different views and fundamental differences. But it does not matter, as all religions are meant to help in bringing about a better world with better and happier human beings. On this level, I think that through different philosophical explanations and approaches, all religions have the same goal and the same potential.”

For him moral action means not to interfere in the people’s desire for happiness and joy. Everybody must also consider the interests of others. Sensitivity is needed to take care of other people.

He teaches that: “Good fortune arises from spiritual qualities like love or tolerance which make us more happy.”

Also, I like The Dalai Lama’s other ideas:

  • “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
  • “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”
  • “If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.”
  • “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
  • “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.”
  • “It is necessary to help others, not only in our prayers, but in our daily lives. If we find we cannot help others, the least we can do is to desist from harming them.”
  • “It is very important to generate a good attitude, a good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short term and the long term for both yourself and others will come.”
  • “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
  • “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness and my philosophy is kindness. This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple.”
  • “Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of universal responsibility, not only nation-to-nation and human-to-human, but also human to other forms of life.”
  • “With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world.”

The Dalai Lama grounds humanity in all of us, in our kindness and responsibility as human beings.

Anne Stiens is Vice President Media of the independent global www.worldsecuritynetwork.com, the largest social media in foreign affairs.

Canada Racks Up Fossil Awards in Durban as Rumors of Kyoto Withdrawal Swirl

As rumors swirled about Canada’s potential withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions, the nation continued its Fossil Award–winning sweep at the COP17 talks in Durban, South Africa, on November 30 as the Climate Action Network (CAN) handed out its daily dose of anti-kudos to countries that put pollution-causing development ahead of lives.

On opening day, November 29, the northern nation won both second and first place for Environmental Minister Peter Kent’s continued bashing of developing countries as well as his implication that Canada would likely not sign on for an extension of the accord on emissions targets signed in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997.

In an interview with the Canadian Press before leaving for Durban, Kent said that lesser-developed countries must stop “wielding the historical guilty card” in asking for less-stringent emissions targets just because industrial countries historically have created more greenhouse gas emissions than other nations.

Kent further fueled the fire by claiming that “from Canada’s point of view, Kyoto was the biggest mistake the previous Liberal government made,” referring to Canada’s signing of the Kyoto Protocol.

This as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in its annual report to the U.N. talks said that 2011 has been the warmest year on record as far as climate goes.

With debate still raging over the use of bituminous crude from the notorious oil sands of northern Alberta, Canada, it would seem that Kent is hardly one to talk. Even China, one of the alleged major emitters, called on Canada to set a better example vis a vis combatting climate change. A Canadian withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol would hurt the international community’s attempts to mitigate climate change, the deputy head of the Chinese delegation to Durban told the Chinese news agency Xinhua. It would “definitely add to the obstacles in our negotiation,” he said.

At the same time, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other prominent Africans took out an ad in the conference’s daily newsletter ECO with “A Message for Canada during the UN Climate Summit in Durban” that was essentially a petition urging Canada to set a better example on combatting climate change the way it had against Apartheid in the 1980s.

“Canada, you were once considered a leader on global issues like human rights and environmental protection,” the ad said. “Today you’re home to polluting tar sands oil, speeding the dangerous effects of climate change. For us in Africa, climate change is a life and death issue. By dramatically increasing Canada’s global warming pollution, tar sands mining and drilling makes the problem worse, and exposes millions of Africans to more devastating drought and famine today and in the years to come. It’s time to draw the line. We call on Canada to change course and be a leader in clean energy and to support international action to reduce global warming pollution.”

The U.S.’s decision over the Keystone XL pipeline has been postponed until after the 2012 presidential election, and Canada has indicated it will take its oil sands products to Asia if the U.S. does not allow the construction of a 1,700-mile-long pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile several First Nations are set to reiterate their major opposition to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in the wake of a report by the National Resources Defense Council, the sustainable-energy think tank the Pembina Institute, and the marine conservation group the Living Oceans Society saying that the pipeline would risk too much environmental damage to be feasible. Several First Nations of British Columbia will hold a press conference in Vancouver on December 1.

On the day that Kent’s attitude netted Canada’s two opening-day Fossil Awards, third place went to Britain—but only because of its efforts to bring Canada’s tar sands oil into Europe.

“This quotation from Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent, doesn’t even require paraphrasing in typical fossil humour—it is sufficiently outrageous on its own,” CAN said in bestowing those first Fossils.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Grad Student Plans to Reintroduce Buffalo on Reservation

A Montana State University graduate student who shares his father’s dream of reintroducing buffalo to a Wyoming Indian reservation has received a national fellowship from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Jason Baldes of Fort Washakie, Wyoming, said the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Fellowship will help him work toward bringing buffalo back to the Wind River Indian Reservation and promote both ecological and community health. Studying for his master’s degree in land resources and environmental sciences (LRES), Baldes is the 11th MSU graduate student to receive the STAR award since 1995. His fellowship amounts to $87,000 over two years.

“I was very surprised,” Baldes said. “It’s a ticket into accomplishing something we as a family have always really, really wanted.”

Baldes, 33, is an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe and long committed to improving life on the reservation. The youngest of nine children and father of four, he grew up hunting and exploring the back country with his father Richard, now retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Riding horses together in the mountains, they saw deer, elk, moose, pronghorn antelope and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, but never buffalo.

MSU Jason Baldes Father Buffalo 270x190 Grad Student Plans to Reintroduce Buffalo on Reservation

Richard Baldes is a Shoshone wildlife biologist on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. Wolves are welcome and protected on the reservation. His son Jason represents the next generation of Native biologists.

Buffalo—the term Baldes prefers over bison—is the only large ungulate missing from the Wind River Indian Reservation, which has seen a resurgence of wildlife since tribal leaders instituted game laws in 1983, said Richard Baldes, who was a leader in that effort. At age 70, he said he has never seen buffalo on the reservation. In fact, he thinks they haven’t lived there since the late 19th century.

“They deserve to be here,” Richard Baldes said. “They deserve to be respected because of what they are and what they did, especially for Native people.”

Jason Baldes said buffalo are culturally significant, and their reintroduction will improve ecological and community health on the Wind River reservation. For the portion of his project that deals with health, he plans to work with established community groups and use a holistic approach that incorporates cultural, spiritual and dietary aspects. For the portion that focuses on buffalo, he will start by analyzing habitat and its viability for buffalo. Next summer during the growing season, he will examine range conditions.

He wants to gradually build a buffalo herd of more than 1,000 animals, a number based on research by the Wildlife Conservation Society and other conservation organizations, Baldes said. The herd might originate with quarantined buffalo from Yellowstone National Park or buffalo from the Henry Mountains area of south-central Utah, and Canada. The Wind River herd should be genetically reputable, meaning that the buffalo would contain no cattle genes. It should be certified disease free and managed as wildlife.

“It shouldn’t be treated as just another cow population,” Baldes said.

Richard Baldes said, “We don’t want anything to do with pens, ear tagging, cowboys chasing them, rounding them up. That’s livestock, cowboy stuff. Buffalo are wild animals, and we want to treat them as such and give them the respect they deserve, as we do with all other wildlife.”

Baldes is proposing that the Wind River buffalo herd share 595,000 acres on the north side of the reservation with certified organic cattle owned by the Northern Arapaho.

“Studies have shown they don’t intermingle,” Baldes said.

Baldes said Shoshone leaders have already given him permission to pursue his project, but he still needs support from Northern Arapaho leaders. Shoshone and Northern Arapaho both live on the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming.

His desire to bring buffalo to the reservation began as a boy and grew stronger when he and his father traveled to Africa 15 years ago. While spending six weeks in Kenya and Tanzania, the two were caught up in a massive migration that involved an estimated 3 million wildebeests, as well as zebras, hyenas and lions.

“It was fantastic, unbelievable,” said Richard Baldes.

As impressive as it was, Jason Baldes said it made him think about the 60 million buffalo that once roamed the United States. At the same time—continuing on his own to Zanzibar and Uganda where he helped with elephant research—he compared conditions in Third World countries with those in the United States. When he finally returned home, the then-teenager had new focus.

“It became a mission of mine to work to improve the life and reservation as a whole,” Baldes said.

Baldes began working closely with his community and co-founded two nonprofit organizations. The Young Warriors Society works with the youth of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes, emphasizing cultural and traditional values to overcome socio-economic, political and environmental issues. The Wind River Alliance is dedicated to the health and protection of the Wind River watershed.

MSU Jason Baldes Dog Buffalo 270x204 Grad Student Plans to Reintroduce Buffalo on Reservation

MSU land resources graduate student Jason Baldes, shown with his dog Beah, is trying to restore buffalo to the plains in Wyoming.

Baldes also coordinated youth leadership camps to raise interest in biology, ecology and environmental sciences. He helped conduct camps on other reservations in the Missouri River Watershed. He has been involved in protecting natural areas and cultural and sacred sites that are important to the Wind River tribes.

As an MSU undergraduate in LRES, Baldes was selected for an internship with the National Science Foundation’s WildFIRE Partnerships for International Research and Education. He will travel to New Zealand for that in February and March. Baldes also studied the effects of carbon dioxide on fish survival and development with the U.S. Geological Survey. He received second place for a presentation to the 2009 Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

His future is bright, according to several mentors.

“He has strong people skills and can work successfully to bring community members together with scientists and administrators to craft solutions to community sustainability,” said Cliff Montagne, MSU professor of soil science and Baldes’ undergraduate and graduate adviser.

Peter Gogan, supervisory wildlife biologist with the USGS-Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, encouraged Baldes to work toward undergraduate and advanced degrees and identified USGS funds that were available to Native American students.

Gogan attributed much of Baldes’ success to self-motivation and the support he has received from his parents and wife.

Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer, executive director of Hopa Mountain and former director of Native Waters at MSU, called Baldes “an exceptional young scientist.” She said she recommended that he attend MSU because she knew he would find strong mentors at MSU. She also knew that he would have interdisciplinary opportunities that would build his knowledge base and help him carry out his goals.

“I think one thing that makes Jason just an outstanding young leader is that he really has a vision for his community,” she added.

Richard Baldes said of his son, “We are very proud of him.”

Note: This article was developed under STAR Fellowship Assistance Agreement No. FP917294 awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It has not been formally reviewed by the EPA. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Jason Eric Baldes and EPA does not endorse any products or commercial services mentioned in this article.”

Merry, Tarry Christmas: Canada Exits Kyoto

It’s official: Canada will not renew its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 when the existing agreement expires, becoming the first country ever to formally withdraw from the accords.

“The Kyoto Protocol does not cover the world’s largest two emitters, United States and China, and therefore cannot work,” Kent said, according to the Associated Press. “It’s now clear that Kyoto is not the path forward to a global solution to climate change. If anything it’s an impediment.”

His announcement came a day after he returned from the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP-17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which adjourned on Sunday December 11.

In being the first country to exit the Protocol—although the U.S. has never joined—Canada earned outright censure from China, Japan and other countries. Under its commitment, Canada was supposed to reduce its greenhouse gases by six percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012, but those emissions by some estimates may be more than 30 percent above that, The Globe and Mail reported.

Indeed, emissions from the Alberta oil sands, which holds the world’s third-largest oil reserves, are going in the wrong direction. With more than 170 billion barrels, by 2025 the 1.5 million barrels produced daily is slated to rise to 3.7 million, the AP said. Currently Canada’s oil sands are its fastest-growing source of emissions.

“It allows us to continue to create jobs and growth in Canada,” Kent told reporters about the withdrawal, according to the AP.

China and Japan called the decision regrettable. China, although it is one of the world’s largest emitters, has less strict requirements because of its status as a developing nation, one of the reasons Canadian leaders think the accords won’t work.

“It is regrettable and flies in the face of the efforts of the international community for Canada to leave the Kyoto Protocol at a time when the Durban meeting, as everyone knows, made important progress by securing a second phase of commitment to the Protocol,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters, according to Reuters.

A last-minute agreement at Durban extended the Kyoto Protocol commitment through 2017, with a sketch of a treaty to include all nations in binding commitments by 2020.

None of this is soon enough for countries like Tuvalu, an island nation in the South Pacific that is already affected by rising sea levels.

“For a vulnerable country like Tuvalu, its an act of sabotage on our future,” Ian Fry, its lead negotiator, told Reuters. “Withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol is a reckless and totally irresponsible act.”

Canada had already come under fire throughout the Durban talks, from censure over its harsh stance on developing nations, emissions and the Protocol, to the tongue-in-cheek but deadly serious Fossil Awards bestowed by the Climate Action Network, of which it won several.

The country is taking heat domestically too, with rising opposition to an expansion of the Alberta oil sands operations as the U.S. postpones its decision on the 1,700-mile-long Keystone XL pipeline that would wend its way to the Gulf of Mexico through environmentally sensitive areas and sacred sites.

2011’s Memorable Moments From the World

Indigenous issues were constantly bubbling over around the world, whether it was Bolivia’s fight over coca rights or the struggle to keep the Belo Monte dam from happening in Brazil, the effects on Indigenous Peoples were felt around the world and Indian Country Today Media Network is highlighting the memorable issues from 2011.

Our Coca Right

Earlier this year Bolivian President Evo Morales, the first indigenous president the country’s had, vowed to protect his country’s right to chew the coca leaf. The coca leaf is often confused with cocaine and the other negative aspects the illegal drug brings with it and is frowned upon by the United Nations. The fight continued throughout most the year, until July 7 when Morales announced he had withdrawn Bolivia from the U.N. treaty that bans chewing the leaf. The withdrawal would stand until an amendment was made on the treaty.

Dirty Hands a Sign of Guilt

In February an Ecuadorian Judge found oil giant Chevron guilty of polluting an area of the Amazon after 17 years. The landmark decision that came February 14 ordered Chevron to spend $8.6 billion to clean up the mess. Though Chevron appealed and seeing real action could be slow moving the decision marks a historic event.

Homeward Bound

In February, Yale University signed an agreement with the Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco to return 5,000 artifacts and remains to the famed citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru after a century of exile in the United States.

Dam You Belo Monte

In June the Brazilian government ignored all challengers, whether in courts or through protests, of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. As the dam that will displace at least 20,000 people and ruin the livelihoods of approximately 40,000 mostly indigenous Brazilians, President Dilma Rousseff was unveiling an anti-poverty program called “Brazil Without Misery.” Oh the irony.

Stepping Out of the Shadows

As only a few countries recognize the existence of Indigenous Peoples in Southern Africa, while many others have been willing to let them fade into the backdrop, a new Indigenous Rights Programme that was announced in July was set up by the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa to benefit the indigenous communities. Only the programme was announced to mixed emotions in the very communities it was created for. Those who aren’t supportive feel the government still needs to do more.

One Small Step for Indigenouskind

In August, the Peruvian government under new President Ollanta Humala took a step in favor of Indigenous Peoples within the country. A law was unanimously approved and then signed by Humala mandates that Native populations must first be consulted for any developments within indigenous territories.

The Road Less Traveled

In September, a heated confrontation took place in Bolivia as police fired tear gas at protestors. The indigenous marchers protesting a road that was to cut through the National Park and Indigenous Territory Isiboro-Secure (TIPNIS) were forced onto buses and told to return to their villages before they were able to reach the end destination on their 350-mile journey—the capital. President Evo Morales condemned the police for firing the tear gas, the marchers were able to continue the march and ultimately the road had been stopped, though tension is still high, before the end of the year.

Making History

In September a Costa Rican indigenous community sued the Costa Rican government successfully to recover territory that had been theirs—a first in Costa Rican history. Federal agencies were ordered to expropriate more than 11,000 acres of land to be returned to the Bribri community of the Kekoldi reservation—an area currently occupied by non-indigenous people.

Indigenous Ecuadorians Take Their Struggle Against Chevron to International Courts

The environmental lawsuit against Chevron is heading for international courts, which means wherever Chevron is operating stated the plaintiffs attorney Pablo Fajardo in a press conference in Quito, Ecuador on January 4.

On the day prior to the announcement, Tuesday, January 3, the Provincial Appellate Court of Ecuador ruled that the 2010 order against Chevron would stand and that the company had to pay $18.6 billion to remedy the environmental and health related damages caused by the firm’s oil spills and pay $860 million to the indigenous communities most affected by the disaster. Part of the order had required Chevron to issue a public apology, which the company has not issued to date. The ruling also specified that the plaintiffs can start collecting the fees associated with the lawsuit.

“We are going to initiate the actions of execution in the different continents and countries where Chevron is active, and we are going to the different courts throughout the world to urge that Chevron pay for the crimes they committed in the Amazon,” said Fajardo, who won a Goldman Environmental Prize in 2008 for his work on behalf of the mostly indigenous and rural plaintiffs.

“We are not going to back down nor pardon one cent from Chevron for the crime committed,” Fajardo continued. “This is not the end, more years of work remain for us still so that the company pays for this environmental, social and cultural crime.”

While Chevron did not respond to a request for comment, according to the Ecuadorian judicial system the company could further appeal the decision to the National Court of Justice of Ecuador.

In a press release issued after the January 3 ruling, Chevron stated, “Today’s decision is another glaring example of the politicization and corruption of Ecuador’s judiciary that has plagued this fraudulent case from the start…Chevron does not believe that the Ecuador ruling is enforceable in any court that observes the rule of law.”

Chevron maintains a page on their website that details some of the company’s responses to the suit as well as stating that Chevron went to another international court as part of their legal strategy. (This could become the third general venue for the lawsuit – it was first filed in 1993 in the U.S., and then Chevron successfully argued that the case should be heard in Ecuador, where proceedings began in 2003.)

“On February 9, 2011, an international panel of arbitrators presiding in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ordered the Republic of Ecuador to “take all measures at its disposal to suspend or cause to be suspended the enforcement or recognition within and without Ecuador of any judgment” against Chevron in the Lago Agrio case pending further order or award from the international tribunal,” said the post on the Chevron site.

In a separate interview on January 13, Fajardo noted that Chevron did have the right to appeal but that if they do, “we will defend ourselves.”

“We have the conviction that finally we will win this battle,” Fajardo asserted. “If we reach that point where they repair the damages, the indigenous nationalities of Sionas, Secoyas, and Cofanes Wuaoranis can live in an environment of respect, devoted to their cultural traditions.”

Fajardo noted that he did not have any further information about the Arbitration case that Chevron filed in The Hague.

“But it must be made clear,” Fajardo said, “that everything Chevron is doing today are attempts to deny the right of access to justice for the plaintiffs. Chevron has a hugely racist attitude, they believe that the indigenous and country people of the Amazon do not have a right to justice, that they don’t have the right to a healthy environment or to a life of dignity. Everything that Chevron is doing are acts to deny these rights to our brothers and sisters.”

The people that Fajardo was referring to are the approximately 30,000 indigenous and rural farmers living in the northern Amazonian region of Ecuador, which is home to Fajardo as well.  In 2008, the Goldman Prize Committee described the background of the case this way:

“By the company’s own estimates, it spilled nearly 17 million gallons of oil into soils and waterways, and another 20 billion gallons of formation waters…To this day, the region’s 30,000 inhabitants primarily drink water that has been deemed contaminated by experts involved in the case. According to the plaintiffs, many of the waste pits continue to pollute the rivers, streams and groundwater. In some areas, all water sources are contaminated and few fish survive in the rivers. The plaintiffs claim that prolonged exposure to toxic substances has led to a serious health crisis, and caused people living in such proximity to pollution to suffer dramatically increased incidences of skin disease, respiratory ailments, reproductive disorders and a cancer rate seven times higher than the rest of the country’s population. They also claim that the regional devastation includes more than two million acres of deforestation.”

Looking Ahead to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

In a little more than three months, thousands of Indigenous Peoples from across the world will converge on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Since 2002, the UNPFII has been the gathering place to advance the greater indigenous movement that’s spanned a 67-year legacy.

Inspired by a then-nascent human rights movement following the end of World War II, the indigenous crusade endured a long and steady climb, often times, in the face of great doubt. Even the earliest protests to pay heed to first peoples were ignored when in 1923, Cayuga Chief Deskaheh of the Iroquois Confederacy travelled to Geneva to plead for the cause of his people before the League of Nations. He would wait for an entire year before returning home, unheard.

Today, the estimated 370 million Indigenous Peoples representing approximately 90 countries are no longer a faceless, voiceless minority—rather, in the course of more than half a century, they have proved to international leaders and heads of state that the situation facing many indigenous men, women and children is of critical importance in the arena of human rights.

Earlier this month at the United Nations, an Expert Group Meeting of the UNPFII was held to confront mounting concern on violence against indigenous women. The magnitude of this problem involves places like Bangladesh where recent reports suggest sexual violence and even death are becoming chronic threats for the Jumma women living within the Chittihong Hill Tracts (CHT). There, an estimated 16 rapes occurred in 2011—five of them resulting in death. Four other Jumma women mysteriously went missing, according to a human rights report released in early January by the Oxfam-supported, Kapaeeng Foundation.

Meanwhile, a 2010 report conducted by the Native Women’s Association of Canada showed an estimated 580 Aboriginal women have disappeared or were murdered since the study began in 2005. Statistically, it puts First Nations women at 3.5 times greater risk to fall victim to violence than other women, and five times more likely to be killed.

A Canadian Member of Parliament, Rod Bruinooge, attended the three-day gathering at the U.N. in New York for the meeting and told the Vancouver Sun that there’s a “need to empower indigenous women.” A recent bill that passed the Senate and now heads to the House of Commons aims to do just that. The measure, in short, addresses the division of property of divorced First Nations couples. It seems today, under the Indian Act, First Nations women have no rights when it comes to dividing property between two formerly married spouses—things like cars, homes, and other assets. The bill passed the Senate just before the Christmas holiday and is soon to head to the House of Commons for review. It will be the fourth time the measure will be considered.

The laws are stacked against the Indigenous Peoples in most if not all of the countries they represent. Women aren’t the only ones confronted with government inequality. There are a host of major issues facing the world’s first people, including environmental concerns, dying languages, and mounting poverty.

This year’s theme for the 11th Session of the UNPFII is aptly titled, “The Doctrine of Discovery.” It’s fitting, because even in the 21st century, many of the laws that indigenous people live by are laws that were written under the auspices of Manifest Destiny; a code that seemingly gave moral legitimacy and legal standing in the conquest of indigenous cultures, all in the name of God.

This year’s UNPFII will be held May 7-18 in New York, New York, with hope to possibly deconstruct this “Doctorine of Discovery,” an outdated narrative, just as Steven Newcomb, an Indian Country Today Media Network columnist, has demonstrated in his provocative book, Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum Publishing. 2008.)