Fifteen Indigenous Struggles You Need to Know About

Despite making up a tiny fraction of the world’s population, Indigenous Peoples hold ancestral rights to some 65 percent of the planet. This poignant fact speaks well to the enormous role that Indigenous Peoples play not only as environmental stewards, but as political actors on the global stage.

We’re seeing that role play out right now on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota; but there are hundreds of other indigenous struggles just like that almost never make headlines.

All over the world today, Indigenous Peoples are confronting the destructive practices of industry — leading the charge against climate change while defending the lakes, forests and food systems that all of us depend on. At the same time, they are blocking governments from weakening basic rights and freedoms and turning to the courts of the world to correct over 500 years of historical wrongs. And all the while, Indigenous Peoples are breathing new life into the biocultural legacies that have the potential to sustain the entire human race until the sun goes nova.

Since most media outlets have a tendency to ignore this storied legacy — to make more room for Donald Trump’s narcissistic personality disorder, among other things — we present you today with a few choice reads to help bring you up to speed.

“We Will Not Buy What Is Ours”

The Maya Q’eqchi’ recently stepped forward to legally challenge the state of Guatemala’s use of terra nullius when it appropriated 20,000 hectares of their ancestral territory in the late 1800’s. The Q’eqchi’ assembled an all-star indigenous defense team that went on to offer an impeccable argument against the colonial doctrine of terra nullius, writing a new chapter in what Manuela Picq described as “an already legendary tour-de-force of de-colonial litigation”.

Another Government Is Possible

On October 13, 2016, the 500 delegates of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) reached complete consensus on a new proposal that was presented by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). Their idea? For the CNI to collectively enter the 2018 Mexican presidential race with an indigenous woman candidate at its forefront. But the newly announced Indigenous Council of Government would be no mere political party that would try to gain power for a few short years. Rather, it would seek to takeover and, if successful, dismantle the system. The delegates are now in the process of returning to their communities to decide whether or not to approve the proposal. Emmy Keppler, who was permitted to attend the Congress as an observer, reports.

Mapuche Beyond Borders

Ever since the incursion of rampant neoliberalism in Chile and Argentina three decades ago, Mapuche territory has been subjected to immeasurable domination and constant exploitation at the hands of a diverse range of foreign and national economic interests. In this article, Alejandra Gaitan Barrera and Fionuala Cregan introduce us to the Mapuche’s cross-border struggle for justice, freedom and autonomy.

Wixarika Take a Stand

A little over two weeks ago, a contingent of at least indigenous Wixárika (Huichol) in the Western Sierra Madre of Mexico mobilized to reclaim some 10,000 hectares of land that the state started appropriating in the early 1900s. Leading up to the action, the Wixarika spent decades in court trying to get back legal control of the land using a grant from the Spanish crown that dates to 1717. The land in question is now mostly owned by ranchers and small business owners who are very outspoken in their opposition to the Wixárika’s efforts.

Thus far, cooler minds have prevailed. Instead of letting the situation decay into a racism fueled ground war, both the ranchers and the Wixarika have asked for government intervention. Whether or not the government will intervene, remains to be seen. Tracy Barnett reports.

The Guardians of Mother Earth

Earlier this year, Intercontinental Cry had the rare opportunity to enter the U’wa Resguardo, an indigenous territory in Colombia that is restricted to all outsiders. It was there that we met Berito Cobaria, an influential elder statesmen and traditional authority of the U’wa Nation who has dedicated his life to protecting and guiding his people. The U’wa, who call themselves the people who know how to think and speak, consider themselves the Guardians of Mother Nature.

In this four-part exclusive, Jake Ling takes us through the indigenous U’wa struggle to defend their territory against oil companies, to protect their water and land, to rejuvenate their language and to fend off foreign diseases that are tearing their physical health and well-being.

An Act of Genocide

There are hundreds of indigenous stores in Canada that never make headlines. Some of them are taking place right now while others stem back centuries. In the case of Canada coercively sterilizing Indigenous women, we have an ongoing and almost completely unreported story that begins before the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, before the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, even before the holocaust. Courtney Parker digs deep to uncover the truth that no Canadian ever learned about in school.

Protecting the Seas to Save the Land

An article from our ongoing collaboration with the Indigenous Environmental Network, Alison Watson and Bennett Collins introduce us to one of many struggles for climate justice in the United States. At the center of their story we find a massive auction of land in the Gulf of Mexico and Indigenous communities in southern Louisiana — such as the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw and the United Houma Nation — who are still reeling from the devastation caused by oil and gas.

An Autonomous Indigenous Government

Late last year, the Wampis Nation did something unexpected: they declared the formation of the first Autonomous Indigenous Government in Peru. Spanning a 1.3 million hectare territory – a region the size of the State of Connecticut – the newly elected government brought together 100 Wampis communities representing some 10,613 people who continue to live a traditional subsistence way of life through hunting, fishing and small scale agriculture.

The newly-formed government does not, however, seek independence from Peru. Rather, its main role is to protect Wampis ancestral territory and promote a sustainable way of life that prioritizes well-being, food security and a healthy harmonious existence with the natural world. Fionuala Cregan reports.

Behind the Miskitu Curtain

In the second installment of IC’s investigative series on the Miskitu (Miskito) of Nicaragua, Courtney Parker takes readers on a photo-journey ‘Behind the Miskitu Curtain’, introducing the hidden faces and everyday struggles of a simmering, lesser-known conflict zone in present day Muskitia.

Fourth World Under the Nuclear Cloud

Millions of Indigenous Peoples around the world have been and continue to be exposed to nuclear radiation and toxic chemicals. The United States of America, France, Britain, Russia, China, Israel, Britain, Pakistan, India, and North Korea produce these toxic materials. Other countries with electricity-producing nuclear reactors also contribute to radioactive waste. Nuclear bomb detonations, radioactive waste storage sites and toxic chemical dumps have contaminated the soils, water, air, plants, animals and people for more than 70 years.

In this ongoing four-part series, Rudolph C. Rÿser, Yvonne Sherwood and Janna Lafferty introduce us to this rarely noticed reality by drawing on preliminary results from the crowdfunded Radiation Exposure Risk Assessment Action Project by the Center for World Indigenous Studies.

Drowned Out

After years of protest marches, blockades and appeals to the international community, the Ngäbe’s worst fear came true: flood water from the Barro Blanco hydroelectric reservoir rushed into their houses, schools, farms and cultural centers along the banks of the Tabasará River in western Panama. Adding insult before injury, just days before the flooding began, Panama President Juan Carlos Varela celebrated the signing of a formal “peace agreement” that he claimed brought an end to the conflict over the Barro Blanco dam. Richard Arghiris reports.

A Legacy of Shame

While much of the controversy surrounding Canada’s extractive industry centers on oil and gas projects like SWN Resources’ drilling plans in New Brunswick, Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline and the widely felt impact of Tar Sands extraction in Alberta, there is a significant lack of debate concerning Canada’s larger and much more influential mining sector. In this featured article, Scott Price opens the door for some of that needed debate by zooming in one particularly shameful mining legacy centered on Hudbay Minerals, INCO and Skye Resources.

Beyond Flint, Michigan

Earlier this year, media coverage and spiraling public outrage over the water crisis in Flint, Michigan completely eclipsed the ongoing environmental justice struggles of Indigenous Peoples like the Navajo. Even worse, that media framed the situation in Flint as some sort of isolated incident. It is not. Rather, it is symptomatic of a much wider and deeper problem of environmental racism in the United States. In this article, Courtney Parker opens the lens, putting the Navajo’s decades-long struggle exactly where it should be.

The Death of a Dam

In a landmark victory for indigenous land rights in Brazil, the National Foundation for the Indian (FUNAI) delivered a deathly blow to a proposed hydro dam within the traditional territory of the Munduruku Peoples. The government agency decided to proceed with the official demarcation and protection of the Munduruku’s lands sparring it from the same dam-driven destruction witnessed in the Xingú region since construction work began on the controversial Belo Monte dam project. Manuela Picq brings us the full story.

Moose Cree in Context

With just 150 estimated fluent Cree speakers in a population of 3899, Moose Cree First Nation, located at the southern end of James Bay, is facing an urgent need to preserve their unique dialect — and the First Nations knows it. The Moose Cree First Nation is now engaged in an encouraging series of community-based language preservation initiatives thanks in no small part to Geraldine Govender, Director of Language and Cultural Programs for the First Nation, linguists Kevin Brousseau and Jimena Terraza and a group of elders from the community.

In this enlightening article, Lauren Wildgoose introduces to this one of many such struggles around to bring an ancient language back from the edge of extinction.