The land is…
A history of the world’s tribal lands in under 60 seconds.
Latin American indigenous groups join forces to fight dams
© BBC Brasil
When Brazilian indigenous leader Tashka Yawanawa saw the news on television that communities from Peru were campaigning to prevent the construction of dams close to their land, he had no doubt about how he could help.
He turned on his computer, and using Skype, he contacted indigenous movements involved in the protest to offer both his support and to publicise the cause in Brazil.
“Today, indigenous groups can no longer escape the white man’s technology,” says Mr Yawanawa.
“We have to update ourselves, and prepare to face this new world.”
He belongs to the Yawanawa people, who live in the Brazilian Amazon, an area where indigenous communities have also fought many battles against hydroelectric dams.
He leads an organisation that seeks to build links with similar movements in other Latin American countries so they can learn from each other’s campaigns.
His initiative reflects an unprecedented effort among the region’s indigenous groups, as they join forces to resist major projects which they see as damaging to their territories.
It is part of a growing conflict as governments, seeking what they say is badly needed economic growth, build roads and hydro-electric dams, and exploit natural resources such as oil, copper and gold.
At the same time, indigenous groups say they are fighting to ensure that their traditional way of life is preserved.
Skype is one tool they are using to co-ordinate campaigns, alongside more traditional tactics such as adopting a unified position in international organisations including the UN and the Organisation of American States (OAS).
“We are mapping all the achievements of our fellow indigenous peoples in the continent in order to use their experiences here in Brazil,” says Marcos Apurina from the Co-ordination of Indigenous Organisations of the Brazilian Amazon (Coiab).
“Our problems are almost identical to the native peoples of other countries.”
This approach has been led by large national indigenous organisations and regional movements such as the Co-ordination of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon Basin (Coica).
Coica operates across national boundaries, helping groups in Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Guyana, French Guiana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.
Coica’s work also involves organising meetings and workshops to help indigenous communities learn about international conventions, and also tips on lobbying and dealing with people in positions of power.
These gatherings allow indigenous leaders to discuss ways of putting pressure on governments to demarcate their territories.
They also discuss how international bodies can help guarantee indigenous rights or prevent major economic projects from having a detrimental impact.
“We are concerned about the new form of development known as the ‘green economy’. We understand this as an effort to exploit natural resources in indigenous territories,” says Rodrigo de la Cruz from Coica.
Several projects in the Brazil-Peru border region aim to expand the economic and transport integration between the two countries in the coming years.
The Inter-Oceanic Highway, connecting the north-west of Brazil to Peruvian ports on the Pacific coast, was inaugurated in 2011.
According to indigenous movements, this has brought several problems to the region, such as deforestation and illegal mining.
Jaime Corisepa, president of the Native Federation of Madre de Dios River and Tributaries (Fenamad), says that conditions may worsen if other projects go ahead.
One is the planned construction of six hydro-electric dams in Peru to supply the Brazilian market.
Protests forced the Peruvian government to suspend this project and to start a process of local consultation.
Using new technology and holding regional summits are ways to co-ordinate protests, but indigenous campaigners are also building on relationships that existed long before national boundaries and laws were established.
Marcela Vecchione, from the Pro-Indian Commission (CPI) in the Brazilian state of Acre, in Brazil, says that in many areas, indigenous communities are divided by artificial boundaries.
That is the case of the Manchineri people, divided by a border in 1904 when Brazil annexed the state of Acre.
“I often visit my family on the other side of the border. For me, travelling from Peru to Brazil means only crossing a river,” says Geraldo Manchineri.
But thanks to technology, communication across much longer distances has become easier.
Indigenous leaders hope to take advantage of this new way of co-ordinating and gather 1,200 people in Rio de Janeiro this June when world leaders will come together for the Rio+20 meeting.
In today’s ‘No shit, Sherlock’: UN body says that Brazil is violating indigenous rights
© Survival International
The International Labour Organization (ILO), part of the UN, has criticized the Brazilian government for failing to respect indigenous peoples’ rights.
The ILO has stated that by failing to consult Indians about the construction of the Belo Monte mega-dam, Brazil has violated the ILO’s Convention 169 on indigenous peoples’ rights, to which the country is a signatory.
Brazilian Indians have held several large-scale protests against the dam, which will bring devastation to their rainforest. The uncontacted Indians living in the area could suffer the greatest impacts.
Whilst visiting Europe to raise awareness about the dam’s dangers, indigenous spokeswoman Sheyla Juruna said, ‘The dams will bring irreversible cultural, social and environmental damage. We are being treated like animals – all our rights are being violated’.
Brazil’s Public Ministry and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have ordered the government to suspend the dam construction until the Indians’ rights are respected, but the works continue.
The ILO has urged that the Indians be consulted ‘before the possible harmful effects [of the dam] are irreversible’.
Survival is urging all governments to ratify ILO 169, the only international law for tribal peoples.
[ A dark skinned woman crouches in the middle of an autumnal forest, her eyes cast upwards towards the viewer in a confident manner. Her long brown hair is styles in a rope-like braid that coils across the back of her neck and hangs almost to the ground. She wears boots, pants and a strapless bodice all made from fur-lined brown animal hide and held together with lots of straps and buckles. An exotic sword is held behind her in her right hand. Her left hand is extended downwards into what looks like water that has a huge pseudo-Celtic design covering its surface in magical looking silver; the energy from that is flowing up her arms, making the swirling tattoos that cover her exposed skin glow in a similar manner. ]
[Image description: Paul Raffaele said a Suruwaha girl refused to shake his hand because she wanted to kill him. In fact, he was wearing so much sun cream the Suruwaha thought he had a skin disease.]
Outrage at ‘Freakshow TV’ as reporter brands Amazon tribe child murderers
© Survival International
An Australian TV report which branded an Amazon tribe as child murderers; a ‘suicide cult’ from the ‘Stone Age’; and the ‘worst human rights violators in the world’ has become the first target of a new Survival campaign against the racist depiction of tribal people on TV.
The ‘Freakshow TV’ campaign aims to challenge the depiction of tribal people on TV as primitive, backward savages.
The broadcast on Australia’s Channel 7 Sunday Night show featured ‘adventurer’ Paul Raffaele and reporter Tim Noonan visiting Brazil’s Suruwaha tribe.
The Suruwaha have already been targeted by fundamentalist missionaries, who falsely say they regularly kill newborn babies. The missionaries have lobbied Brazil’s Congress to pass a law allowing Indian children to be removed from their families.
The Indians allowed the Channel 7 team into their territory after Mr Raffaele said he wanted to film a ‘positive report’.
But their report has generated a firestorm of protests, with Survival International’s Director denouncing it as ‘one of the most biased, misleading and disgusting reports we’ve ever seen’.
The broadcast described the Indians as ‘a true suicide cult’; a ‘Stone Age’ people; and ‘lost in time’. The tribe is said to ‘encourage the murder of disabled children…in the most gruesome way possible’; take ‘poor little innocent babes into the jungle to be eaten alive by wild beasts’; and to be responsible for ‘one of the worst human rights violations in the world’.
The report’s website is also openly fundraising for an evangelical organization associated with the anti-Indian campaign.
Survival wrote to Channel 7 outlining the many errors and distortions in the report, but the Channel has rejected all the accusations. Australia’s broadcasting regulator ACMA has now opened a formal investigation.
Raffaele, previously a writer for Smithsonian Magazine, has been in trouble before – for a very similar Channel 9 report in 2006, in which he claimed a Papuan boy was in danger of being eaten by his tribe, who Raffaele described as ‘Stone Age cannibals’. The broadcast was widely attacked by experts, with Mr Raffaele reportedly admitting later that he had even misidentified the boy’s tribe.
Web giant Yahoo! is in partnership with Channel 7 in Australia. Survival has written to Yahoo! urging them to remove the report from their website, but has received no reply.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘It’s freakshow TV at its very worst. The Indians are made out to be cruel and inhuman monsters, in the spirit of 19th century colonialist scorn for ‘primitive savages’. It’s clearly designed to have the same effect – to suggest that they don’t deserve any rights. The idea that such nonsense is supposed to help tribal children is breathtaking.’
Survival has written a set of ethical guidelines to help filmmakers work responsibly with tribal peoples. It is also using its Stamp it Out campaign to challenge racist depictions, however unwitting, in the media.
Download a Survival briefing sheet on the proposed ‘Muwaji’s law’, the result of a campaign in Brazil by the fundamentalist missionary organization JOCUM (pdf, 70 KB). JOCUM are the Brazilian branch of the US organization Youth with a Mission.
Download a briefing sheet on what experts and Indians say about JOCUM’s infanticide allegations (pdf, 49 KB).
Download Survival’s letter to Channel 7 (pdf, 217 KB).
Download statements from Suruwaha Indians about the Channel 7 report (pdf, 33 KB).
Download a Survival briefing sheet on the Suruwaha tribe (pdf, 37 KB).
[Image: Portrait photo of Xoroxloo Duxee died of dehydration after the Bushmen’s water borehole was disabled.]
© Survival International
Ten hidden abuses against indigenous peoples
Survival is releasing ten tribal rights abuses ahead of UN Human Rights Day this Saturday, to expose violations that still pass largely unnoticed.
Signed 63 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the first global expression of the rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled.
Yet despite its creation in 1948, systematic abuses against the rights of tribal peoples have remained hidden, or continue to occur far from the public eye.
- Aboriginal Australians only gained voting rights at both federal and state level in 1965. It took another two years to include them in the national census.
- Australia’s ‘Stolen Generation; children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent were forcibly removed from their families by authorities, until as recently as the 1970s.
- In 2010 tourists in Botswana relaxed around a swimming pool in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, whilst Bushmen were refused access to water, despite having secured historic rights to their land.
- Uganda’s Batwa pygmies never hunted gorillas, but were evicted from their forest in 1991, under the pretense of protecting the primates. The pygmies are now refugees.
- The stuffed body of a Bushman, known as ‘El Negro of Banyoles’, was displayed in a Spanish museum until 1997, when widespread protests led to its removal. The remains were buried in Botswana in 2000.
- Gunmen with hit lists are executing high-profile Indian leaders in Brazil. Cattle ranchers employ them to stop the Guarani returning to their land.
- Massacre and disease killed one in every five Yanomami in Brazil during the 1980s, until international pressure forced Brazil to evict gold miners.
- In what are now recognized as ‘Human Safaris’, tourists treat the indigenous Jarawa of India’s Andaman Islands like animals by throwing them food.
- ‘Potlatch’, a gift-giving custom practised by indigenous peoples in Canada and US, was outlawed as ‘contrary to civilised values’ in 1884. It took until 1951 for the law to be repealed.
- Under Stalin’s Soviet rule, Siberian shamans were actively persecuted. By 1980, some believed they had disappeared altogether.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘One of the reasons for the continuing human rights abuses of tribal peoples is that the UN’s Declaration is not legally enforceable. That’s why all those who oppose these crimes against humanity should vigorously campaign for the worldwide ratification of the international law ILO 169, which is binding.’
Big banana jook.