Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Save the Sacred Sites Alliance in Dire Financial Straits

Protection of Native American Graves Put at Risk for Lack of $1,800 and $100 per Month

Editor's Note:  A few days ago, I received this message from Dave Kitchen, cofounder and codirector with his wife Sharon, of Save the Sacred Sites Alliance. The core purpose and work of the Kitchens and Save the Sacred Sites Alliance is to protect Native American graves and gravesites from being disturbed or destroyed.   Following Dave's letter is my initial response.  I am including an image and both online and mailing addresses for anyone who may wish to keep this extremely important work going.

Dave Kitchen's Letter

Hi everyone,

Well we gave it our best shot. But since they have raised our taxes and the county has done something that cut Sharon's salary in half, and we tried everything to get the money, but failed, it looks like we may be off the internet and it looks like we are going to lose the farm and may have to return the animals to the local humane society.

I just wanted to say what a pleasure it has been being you guys online friend.

I realize that the Creator/ God that I serve is stronger than I can ever know. But I also know that sometimes the answer to our requests is NO.

So have a good Christmas and pray for us.



Our Response to Dave (edited to protect the privacy of certain individuals)

Dear Dave and Sharon,

This is a heartbreaking thing to hear. You have been doing such good and important work. How much do you need to stay on the Internet? If you tell me, I will publicize it and try to raise it, but I can’t promise that it will happen. I am facing a similar situation with the work I am doing to publish the Native Rights News and to help the Modoc people reestablish their own government after 136 years of exile and subjugation to the Klamath Tribe: everyone praises it, but they just won’t part with any money to support its continuation. My wife is similar to Sharon in that she works and gives a goodly portion to keeping our website and blog on the Internet. But this year, her employer ended all quarterly bonuses and didn’t give its annual cost of living raise of about 2 percent. So here we are, living in one of the most expensive areas of the country, with less money to pay bills and buy food than before.

Just over a year ago, I was extremely privileged to be one of the very few white men ever allowed to take part in the sacred Lakota Yuwipi Ceremony. Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse, the current carrier of Chief Crazy Horse’s pipe, said to the small group of us gathered in the Inipi (sweat lodge) for purification prior to the Yuwipi Ceremony:

"We do this [the Inipi (sweat lodge) ceremony] because we must learn to endure difficulties in life. When we go through this ceremony, we are reborn, and we acquire wisdom from the Creator. Some of you may make this your way of life. You may decide to dedicate your life to the Creator and to these ceremonies, but if you do, you will be changed by this, and your path will become more difficult. So you must learn to endure the heat and not leave the lodge no matter how difficult it becomes." – Nathan Lee Chasing His Horse, Lakota Holy Man

It is a tragic reality that the Creator’s work is done by only a few, and in almost every circumstance He requires us to struggle mightily. We pray and wonder why the Creator won’t help, but the fact is that if He made things easier for us, we would slack off in our work to manifest His Supreme Will in this world. The Creator knows His Creation, and He makes our path more difficult in order to keep us closer to Him and His Will. I prefer that to the view that God’s motives and actions are always inscrutable, as taught by the Jewish Rabbis, based on this verse in the Torah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts; My ways are not your ways.”

We must not forget that the Creator made everything – not only good, but evil and indifference as well. The Creator is in everything, and especially in each one of us. In some of us, the impulse to do good, to make the world a better place, to seek justice is the dominant force. And we walk the good red road of righteousness, light and life. Regrettably, it seems that in this country especially, more and more people are choosing to follow the black road of darkness and death. And so, every day, our country gets closer to the edge of the abyss.

As I said, please tell me how much you need to stay on the Internet and by what deadline, and I will publicize it and we’ll see what happens. Keep hope alive. Perhaps the Creator will lead us to someone who will listen to to the still, small Voice in his or her heart and do the right thing. After all, it’s not you or me that their donation will help – it’s the indigenous people who benefit from the work we give our lives to doing.

Your steadfast friend and spiritual brother,

Yahoshua Nesher ben Yakov Leib (Reb YaNYaL)
(Two Eagles, Perry Chesnut)

To learn more about the extremely important work that the Save Our Sacred Sites Alliance has been doing for more than thirty years, click here:  Save Our Sacred Sites Alliance

Email addresses include: savethesacredsites@gmail.com and savethesacredsites@myspace.com

If you wish to donate to Save the Sacred Sites Alliance, please mail your check or money order to:

Save The Sacred Sites Alliance
C/O Dave & Sharon Kitchen
P.O. Box 324
Townsend, Ga. 31331

Sources: Save the Sacred Sites Alliance and Modoc Land Recovery Project

Native Rights News is making this material available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.
Native Rights News (NRN) is published by the Alliance for Indigenous Rights, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Temple Beit Shem Tov as part of its Social Justice Ministry.

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Ninth Circuit Court Blocks Open Pit Gold Mine on Sacred Mount Tenabo

For Immediate Release:
Larson Bill, South Fork Western Shoshone, 775-397-6726, 775-744-2537
John Hadder, Great Basin Resource Watch, 775-722-4056
Julie Cavanaugh-Bill, Western Shoshone Defense Project, 775-397-1371
Roger Flynn, Western Mining Action Project, 303-823-5738

Western Shoshone Prevail at Ninth Circuit Court on Mt. Tenabo – Court Issues Ruling Enjoining Cortez Hills Open Pit Gold Mine

Court Agrees with Western Shoshone and Allies that the Interior Department’s Approval of the Mine Likely Violated Federal Law

December 3, 2009: San Francisco,CA and Crescent Valley, NV In a major ruling, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today issued its ruling enjoining the construction and operation of the Cortez Hills gold mine, proposed by Barrick Gold Corporation. The Ninth Circuit reversed the decision of the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, which had denied the motion for preliminary injunction filed by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs in the case are: the South Fork Band Council of Western Shoshone, the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians, the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, the Western Shoshone Defense Project, and Great Basin Resource Watch (the “Plaintiffs”). The Plaintiffs challenged the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) decision to approve the Cortez Hills Mine in November of 2008.

In overturning the District Court’s decision, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their legal arguments that BLM violated federal environmental and public land law in approving the Mine. The Ninth Circuit also found that enjoining the Mine was in the public interest due to the “irreparable environmental harm threatened by this massive project.” Among other issues, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their claims that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act in failing to properly analyze the environmental impacts from the Mine on groundwater, air quality, and other resources. “Suspending a project until that consideration has occurred thus comports with the public interest.”

The Cortez Hills Mine would be one of the largest open pit cyanide heap leach gold mines in the United States. It would be located on the flank of Mount Tenabo – an area well-known for its spiritual and cultural importance to the Western Shoshone. The area is home to local Shoshone creation stories, spirit life, medicinal, food and ceremonial plants and items and continues to be used to this day by Shoshone for spiritual and cultural practices. Over the years, tens of thousands of individuals and organizations from across the United States and around the world have joined with the Shoshone and voiced their opposition to this mine. The proposed mine area has been found by the BLM, in repeated ethnographic studies, as being of extreme spiritual and cultural importance to the Western Shoshone. One report says: “Mt. Tenabo is … considered a traditional locus of power and source of life, and figures in creation stories and world renewal. As the tallest mountain in the area – the most likely to capture snow and generate water to grow piñon and nourish life – it is literally a life-giver. Water is to earth what blood is to the body, and these subterranean waterways are likened to the earth’s arteries and veins.”

The Mine is proposed by Barrick Gold Corporation, the world’s largest gold mining company, headquartered in Toronto, Canada. The Mine would blast and excavate a new massive open pit on Mount Tenabo over 800 acres in size, with a depth of over 2,000 feet. It would include several new waste disposal and processing facilities (including a cyanide heap-leaching facility), consisting of approximately 1,577 million tons of waste rock, 53 million tons of tailings material, and 112 million tons of spent heap leach material. The Mine would include an extensive groundwater pumping system to dewater Mount Tenabo (in order to keep the open pit and mine workings dry during mining) and associated water pipelines that will transport the pumped water away from Mount Tenabo. In total, the mine would permanently destroy approximately 6,800 acres land on and around Mount Tenabo, over 90% of which is classified as federal “public” land. Despite the pending case before the Ninth Circuit appealing the District Court’s denial of the Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction in January, 2009, Barrick decided to begin construction of the Mine. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling today orders the District Court to issue an injunction against the Mine.

“We are pleased with the Ninth Circuit’s ruling,” said Larson Bill, Tribal Council Member of the South Fork Band Council and Te-Moak Tribe. “This is a result of Western Shoshone people remaining committed to protecting our land and environment. It is unfortunate that the company decided to push this forward without addressing all concerns, especially those of the Shoshone people. Barrick operates world wide and is well-versed on these issues – they knew that an injunction was a possibility – especially where there has been continuous opposition and litigation.” continued Larson Bill.

Carrie Dann, a world renowned Western Shoshone grandmother, and recipient of the Right Livelihood Award (known as the “alternative Nobel Peace Prize”) has been among those to lead the fight to protect Mount Tenabo from mining for over 15 years. “Mount Tenabo should be left alone – no further disturbance. This mine will drain the water from Mount Tenabo. They will be sucking the water out of the mountain forever. The destruction of the water is like the destruction of the blood of the earth; you are destroying life of the earth and the people and wildlife that depend on it. Dewatering is taking the life of future generations. Water is sacred, all life depends on it,” says Carrie Dann.

“None of us are opposed to mining, if it is done responsibly, however this project is as irresponsible as it gets. The BLM has a legal responsibility to protect the air, water, and ecological values of the area as well as the religious freedom of Western Shoshone, and to fully analyze the impacts of a proposed project. The Ninth Circuit correctly found that BLM failed in its legal responsibilities,” said John Hadder, Executive Director of Great Basin Resource Watch.

The Plaintiffs are being represented in court by Roger Flynn of the non-profit legal firm, the Western Mining Action Project, based on Colorado, which specializes in mining, public land, and environmental law.

For more information on the Cortez Hills Project, Mount Tenabo, and the legal challenge go to http://www.gbrw.org/ and http://www.wsdp.org/. The Ninth Circuit Decision can be downloaded at: http://www.gbrw.org/images/stories/publications/tenabo/Ninth_Circuit_injunction_ruling_12-3-09.pdf

Source: Western Shoshone Defense Project

Native Rights News is making this material available as the result of a general press release received from the source cited above.
Native Rights News (NRN) is published by the Alliance for Indigenous Rights, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Temple Beit Shem Tov as part of its Social Justice Ministry.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Congressional Apology to Native Americans Is Just Cheap Talk

October 8, 2009

Apology Op-Ed
Robert T. Coulter
Executive Director, Indian Law Resource Center

‘No Thanks’ to Congressional Apology

This week the U.S. Senate passed a resolution apologizing to Native Americans for the wrongs done by citizens of this country. Robert T. Coulter, Executive Director of the Indian Law Resource Center, says what happened is a failure on the part of Congress to really acknowledge what it has done in the past.

The Senate has just passed a resolution that apologizes to American Indians and other Native Americans for the wrongs done by citizens of this country. But a genuine apology means you won’t do it again, and this resolution does nothing at all to stop or correct the on-going wrongs that the federal government inflicts on Indian and Alaska Native nations. Unfortunately our government still takes Indian land without paying for it, still refuses to account for the Indian money it holds, still violates its treaties with Indian nations without making amends, and still maintains a body of policy and law that is so discriminatory and racist that it should have been discarded generations ago.

To make a real apology, Congress needs to stop doing the things that it is apologizing to Indian nations and other Native peoples for. Americans generally do not know that the federal government continues to treat tribes and Alaska Native nations this way, and the evidence is that the public does not support or condone this mistreatment.

It is astonishing to most Americans that the federal government is still taking Indian land and resources – without due process of law and without fair market compensation, sometimes with no compensation at all. Of course, the Constitution says that Congress may not take anyone’s property except with due process of law and with fair market compensation. But these rules are not applied to most land and resources owned by Indian tribes, and the government takes the land and resources at will. Obviously, this is wrong. Today, the government is trying to drive Western Shoshone Indians off their homelands in Nevada without a semblance of due process and with a payment of about 15 cents per acre. This is gold mining land, but that doesn’t make it alright to take it from its Indian owners. There are other present day cases. A few years ago, Congress confiscated part of the reservation that was shared by the Yurok Nation in California and turned it over to another tribe. Congress gloated at the time that it could do this without paying compensation because of Congress’ so-called “Plenary Power” over Indians and their property.

A few years ago, Congress passed a law that orders a fund of money belonging to nine Western Shoshone tribes to be taken from the tribes and handed out by the Interior Department to some but not all individual tribal members. The bill was passed over the objections of most of the tribes.

The Interior Department still will not fully account for Indian funds that it holds. This national shame is reported regularly in the press. The Department is defying the law, as it has done for generations. The United States still insists that Indian tribes and in some respects Indian individuals, are in a state of permanent, involuntary trusteeship, with the federal government as trustee. No one else in the US is subject to such unaccountable “trusteeship.”

Congress today insists it can put Indian nations and tribes out of existence at any time. Indian nations and tribes still have no real right to exist in US law. The threat of termination is very real. Some small Native tribes in Alaska have recently heard this threat from congressional sources.

Congress also insists that it may freely violate treaties made with Indian nations. Sadly this is not a thing of the past. It does this today – regularly. Treaties are contracts, and the government cannot freely violate its contracts with others, but it does so – often – in the case of Indian treaties.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, an international legal body that is officially recognized and supported by the United States, recently concluded that US policies regarding Indian lands are discriminatory and constitute a violation of human rights. But the Bush Administration defied the Commission and the present Administration is still refusing to change the discriminatory laws it applies to Indian tribes.

This on-going pattern of lawless and arbitrary congressional power over Indians has resulted in a negative, risky, unpredictable business climate on Indian reservations that inhibits needed economic development.

To be clear, many of the things Congress is considering apologizing for are still being done to Indian and Alaska Native tribes and to Native Hawaiians as well. Sadly, the United States, especially the US Congress, has never given up its insistence on treating Indian and Alaska Native nations with injustice and discrimination. This is not only wrong but very bad public policy and wholly out of keeping with American values.

Congress should conduct hearings and adopt a resolution promising never again to take Indian or tribal property without due process of law and fair market compensation. The resolution should promise that Congress will never again terminate any Native American tribe or its government and never again violate or abrogate a treaty with an Indian nation without making full compensation and correcting all resulting harm to the Indian nation. Congress must examine and change all federal laws, regulations, and courtmade law that deprive Indian nations and tribes of constitutional rights. Congress must pass legislation to assure that the government accounts fully for the Indian money and property it holds.

Without such commitments from Congress, an apology will be just another offense against Native Americans. Until the government changes its ways, things cannot be expected to improve much in Indian country. This is a good time to make the changes.


Source: Indian Law Resource Center

Native Rights News is making this material available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.
Native Rights News (NRN) is published by the Alliance for Indigenous Rights, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Temple Beit Shem Tov as part of its Peace and Justice Ministry.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Oregon Modocs Reassert Unique Identity & Right to Self-Government: to Separate from the Klamath Tribes

Modoc Land Recovery Project
Press Release: October 15, 2009

Oregon Modocs Take First Step to Separate from Klamath Tribes and Form Own Government — Issue Country's First Tribal Declaration Based on UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Approximately thirty Modoc Indians attended a meeting last Friday evening (10-09-2009) in the Klamath County Commissioner's Hearing Room in Klamath Falls, Oregon, where they listened to a presentation by Perry Chesnut in which he urged them to join the movement to reestablish Modoc self-government and sovereignty over their ancestral homelands by signing the Declaration of the Rights of the Free and Sovereign People of the Modoc Indian Tribe .

Chesnut, whose Indian name is Two Eagles, is a life-long social activist and champion of indigenous rights. In 1992, the late Miller Anderson adopted Chesnut into his family and made him a member of the Modoc Tribe. Miller Anderson is a direct descendant of Sloc-a-lot (known to white settlers as Chief George), who at the time of the Modoc Indian War of 1872-73 was the acknowledged La̕qi (Modoc for "Leader") or Headman of the Kokiwas Band of the Modoc Tribe.

The 11-page Declaration contains 46 Articles setting forth various inalienable rights preceded by a preamble containing 30 statements as to the reasons why the Declaration has been issued. It is believed to be the first such declaration issued by any Native American tribe or nation that is based on the provisions of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP) approved by the UN General Assembly in September of 2007.

We must take decisive action to reassert our unique tribal and cultural identity

Mr. Chesnut opened the meeting by noting that the Modoc Indians of southern Oregon and northern California are living in a time of crisis. He stated that just two days before the meeting he had received a phone call from a Klamath Indian who "angrily told me that the Klamath Tribes are one people — that the Modoc Indians have no separate identity or culture, that they and the Klamaths are culturally indistinguishable."

"What could be more sacred to us than our unique identity as an Indian people? Yet that identity has been slowly slipping away for the last fifty or more years, being eroded and submerged into a mishmash of Indian peoples enrolled in the political organization known as the Klamath Tribes. And make no mistake, the Klamath Tribes is not a tribe. It is a political organization, an affiliation of three separate tribes, to which no law or moral imperative requires us to remain tied. Today very few people draw a distinction between the Klamath and Modoc peoples. Yet our Creator did distinguish between all other people and us, making us unique and giving us our own unique homeland and culture. We must take decisive action to reassert our unique tribal and cultural identity. And we must do it now, before it is too late."

Indisputable evidence of the unique identity and culture of the Modoc Indians

Mr. Chesnut noted archaeological evidence showing that the Modoc Indians have occupied southern Oregon and northern California continuously for the last 12,000 to 15,000 years and stated that there is no scientific evidence showing a similar history for the Klamath Indians. "Compared to us the Klamaths are relative newcomers to this region," Chesnut said.

Chesnut also cited ethnological field research by the University of Washington Laboratory of Anthropology in 1934 that concluded that the belief systems, values, patterns and practices of the Modoc Indians up to the time of the Modoc Indian War of 1872-73 "set their culture clearly apart from any other in the world, even from their immediate California neighbors."

Chesnut also cited a book titled Myths of the Modocs published in 1912, containing a large number of myths related to Jeremiah Curtin in 1884 by Ko-a-lak'-ak-a, a Modoc woman who was part of the group of Modocs exiled to Oklahoma at the close of the Modoc Indian War in 1873. According to the author's introduction to the 389 page book, "In childhood her grandfather had instructed her in the religion of her people, in other words, taught her all the myths of the Modocs, and to old age her tenacious memory retained many of them."

Chesnut stated that this book is "absolute proof" of the separate identity and culture of the Modoc people. As an example, he read from a passage in the story called "Kumush [Modoc for Creator] and His Daughter" that describes how the Creator made, named and gave to each of the Shasta, Pitt River, Warm Springs, Klamath and Modoc peoples their own lands and unique characteristics. Chesnut stated that the book is filled with mythical events that occurred at such places as Mt. Shasta, Lost River, Tule Lake, the Sycan River and Marsh, and Glass Mountain. "These references to culturally significant events associated with places can be used to verify and validate the extent and boundaries of our ancestral homelands," Chesnut said.

Chesnut also referred to the unique style and quality of Modoc baskets, which are prized by museums and collectors around the world. "It is not Klamath baskets that enjoy this distinction, but Modoc baskets."

Chesnut concluded this portion of his talk by stating: "It is beyond dispute that our people are a unique people with our own unique identity and culture. I have shared this with you because before we can do, we must be."

Declaration of the Rights of the Free and Sovereign People of the Modoc Indian Tribe

Holding up a copy of the Declaration, Chesnut stated that the document "is not a petition asking for relief from some higher authority, but a declaration of our fundamental rights as a people that reasserts our status as a unique tribe independent of any other." He said that it enumerates "specific God-given rights inherent to us as a tribe, including, but not limited to:

  • the recognition of our political sovereignty,
  • political and economic self-determination,
  • the restoration and control of our homelands, which cover an area of between 5,000 and 6,500 square miles and include three national forests
  • the right to protect our homelands and their resources from the detrimental actions of third parties,
  • the right to preserve and protect our culture, including our language, arts, religion and sacred places;
  • the right to bring home and reunite with our brothers and sisters who are living in exile in Oklahoma.
All of these rights can be boiled down to one overarching right — the RIGHT TO SELF-GOVERNMENT."

Chesnut declared, "Those who sign this document will be declaring their identity as a Modoc Indian, and they will be preparing the ground for the reinstitution of our own tribal government through the drafting, ratification and, if legally necessary, U.S. Government approval of our own constitution."

Constitution of Klamath Tribes 'fundamentally and fatally flawed'

Chesnut stated that the Constitution and Bylaws of the Klamath Tribes is "fundamentally and fatally flawed, and we will never be able to convince the ethnic Klamaths to fix it." He said that it is modeled on the constitutional framework offered to Indian tribes by the government under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1834. "What true government has 'bylaws'? Bylaws are something a club or a corporation have." He said that the Klamath Constitution creates a government with a weak single legislative body (General Council), a strong, directly elected executive body (Tribal Council) and a recently added Judicial branch. Chesnut stated that over the last ten years there has been a nationwide movement of tribes to reform their governments and rewrite their constitutions, moving away from the IRA model still in use by the Klamath Tribes.

Chesnut said that while such an IRA type constitution "might work" for some tribes, it has never worked for the Modocs. "As you all know, with the Lakes Treaty of 1864, the government forced the Modocs and Yahooskin Snake Band of Paiutes to remove to the Klamath Reservation, which was located entirely within the territorial boundaries of Klamath ancestral lands. This itself was a formula for failure, and, in fact was the most important cause of the [Modoc Indian] war and subsequent exile of our people to Oklahoma. But added to this is the fact that the three tribes, all of which have very different histories, beliefs, values and cultures, have been merged by this faulty constitution into a single General Council, in which all decisions are made or ratified by a simple one man one vote majority. The more than ten to one numerical superiority of the ethnic Klamaths over the ethnic Modocs and Yahooskins operates to effectively disenfranchise and subjugate them to ethnic Klamath rule."

A simple analogy

Chesnut asked those gathered at the meeting to imagine what would have happened if the founding fathers of the United States had not had the wisdom to create a bicameral legislative branch, "that is, if the Constitution did not provide for a U.S. Senate to act as a check on the power of the U.S. House of Representatives. Without a Senate, in which each state, regardless of population, has two senators, New York, California, Texas and two or three other states would make all the decisions, rendering the smaller population states effectively powerless, with representation in name only."

"This is the situation we Modocs and our Yahooskin brothers have faced for 136 years, and many of us, perhaps most, are tired of trying to work within a system that is structurally designed to make us powerless against the tyranny of the majority, who are the ethnic Klamaths."

The next step: 'our own constitution'

Chesnut said that after the Modoc people gain sufficient signatures on the Declaration, the next step will be to "draft and ratify our own constitution for the Modoc Tribe." He said that this process must be careful and deliberate because "if we just slap something together, we are likely to end up with a constitution just as bad or worse than the Klamath Tribes constitution we have now. We will need to hold numerous meetings to decide many difficult issues, such as how traditional and decentralized our government should or should not be, what particular governmental structures we need, and what our citizenship criteria will be. Above all, the constitution must reflect the values and culture of our people in order to have the legitimacy and stability necessary to promote political self-determination and healthy economic development."

The difficulty of our task — the inevitability of our freedom

During the question and answer session, Chesnut was told that many Modocs were afraid to sign the Declaration because officials of the Klamath Tribal government would retaliate by taking away their federal benefits or fire them from tribal jobs.

Chesnut responded, "This is going to be a long and difficult process. An independent self-governed Modoc Tribe will be opposed not only by the Klamath Tribal government but by many of the white owned farms and businesses that are making money off of our land. They want things to remain as they are. To the Klamaths our independence will mean a loss of federal dollars which are allocated on the basis of head count. So they see us only as so many dollars. Local farms and businesses are likely to fear that our independence will result in changes that will adversely affect them. So it's going to be hard, and we must expect vigorous opposition to what we are doing."

" But we can also expect support and help from various sources, including other Indian tribes, major university projects and institutes, environmental and human rights organizations, and even from individual white persons in this very community, who want to see the injustices of the past righted. Now that this movement has started, it cannot be stopped so long as we pursue our goal. Our liberation from 136 years of exile and oppression, the reestablishment of Modoc self-government and restoration of our ancestral homelands is inevitable."

"As to your specific concerns about retaliation against those Modocs who sign or promote the Declaration, let me point out that nothing in the Lakes Treaty of 1864 or the Klamath Tribes Restoration Act of 1986 took away our sovereignty as a tribe separate from the Klamath Tribe or Yahooskin Snake Band of Paiutes. In fact, both the Treaty and the Restoration Act list and recognize our tribes separately. Further, what we are doing now is exercising rights to self-government and self-determination authorized and encouraged by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1834, as amended in 1988, and by the Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975."

"Until our new constitution is ratified and, if necessary approved by the Interior Department, we will all remain enrolled members of the Klamath Tribes, entitled to receive all the federal benefits we are receiving right now. When our new constitution goes into effect, the BIA and IHS will be required by law to administer these same benefits to our people through our own government instead of the Klamath Tribal government. This transition should be seamless, with no interruption in the flow of benefits."

"In 1968, Congress enacted the Indian Civil Rights Act, which protects political activity and speech such as we are engaging in now. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also has jurisdiction over Indian tribes and nations and enforces regulations designed to prevent and punish discrimination in employment on the part of a dominant band or group."

"One can never prevent another person who is committed to violating the law from doing so, but any retaliation by the Klamath Tribes or its officials against the Modoc People will be immediately be reported to the federal government, and appropriate legal action will be taken. As a tribe we must protect and support each other. We must make the commitment now to financially support any Modoc who is fired from a tribal job in retaliation for exercising his or her right to free speech and political organization, while legal steps are taken to obtain that person's reinstatement and back-pay. And I can assure you, if anything like that happens, there will be serious legal consequences for the Klamath tribal officials involved."

Signatures obtained and Declaration Bearers

At the close of the meeting, thirteen adult Modocs signed the Declaration, bringing the current total number of signers to just over fifty. Additionally, four individuals volunteered to act as Declaration Bearers, that is, to carry and promote the Declaration to other Modocs and to obtain their signatures. These individuals include John Slaughter, Preston Miles and Diana Wright. Modocs wishing to learn more about or sign the Declaration of Rights and the movement to enact a Modoc constitution, or who wish to become Declaration Bearers themselves should contact any of the following persons.

Robert Wayne Anderson, 541-591-2956
John Slaughter, hatchat@charter.net
Preston Miles, 541-274-1330, 929miles@gmail.com
Diana Wright, 541-273-8874, dianawright1@charter.net
Perry Chesnut, 425-770-7345, pchesnut@indigenous-rights.org

A copy of the Declaration of the Rights of the Free and Sovereign People of the Modoc Indian Tribe is attached as a Microsoft Word .doc file. For more information concerning this press release, contact:

Perry Chesnut
Modoc Land Recovery Project

Copyright 2009: Modoc Land Recovery Project

Native Rights News is making this material from [name of news source] available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.
Native Rights News (NRN) is published by the Alliance for Indigenous Rights, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Temple Beit Shem Tov as part of its Peace and Justice Ministry.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Failure of Peruvian Government to Recognize Indigenous Rights to Ancestral Lands at Heart of Recent Massacre

SOUTH AMERICA: Calls for Justice for Peru's Native Peoples
By Franz Chávez*

LA PAZ, Jun 12 (IPS) - Social organisations in South America are backing the struggle against opening up Peru’s Amazon jungle to mining and oil companies, which resulted in clashes in which at least nine indigenous people and 25 police officers died.

The recent violence near the town of Bagua, in the northern Peruvian province of Amazonas, is seen by indigenous organisations in Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador as an attack on people who are defending life, nature, human rights and the rational use of natural resources.

Native communities in the Peruvian rainforest are demanding the repeal of a series of decrees issued by the García administration to promote foreign investment on indigenous lands, in the framework of the free trade agreement signed with the United States.

A two-month protest by indigenous people outside the northern Peruvian town of Bagua ended in bloodshed on Jun. 5, when the police violently broke up a roadblock there.

A multi-party parliamentary committee declared in December that the decrees in question are unconstitutional, as the native groups argue.

In an open letter to the region's presidents, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) called on them to defend native peoples and confirm their commitment to peace and justice in South America.

A congress of the Indigenous Confederation of Indigenous People of Bolivia (CIDOB) urged the United Nations and the Organisation of American States to send a team of investigators to Bagua to verify what happened there on Jun. 5.

While official accounts say that nine indigenous people and 25 members of the police were killed, eyewitnesses who have spoken to the press say the bodies of indigenous protesters were thrown into the river from a helicopter.

"We consider this violent action by the Peruvian government to be a massacre and a flagrant violation of the life, integrity and fundamental rights of indigenous communities," said the Colombian National Authority of Indigenous Government (ONIC) in a letter to President García.

"We join our voices to the Amazonian indigenous communities who are demanding an end to the violation of their rights and the repeal of the free trade agreement decrees that open the doors to the invasion and plundering of their territories.

"We condemn the violent actions of the Peruvian government against our peoples," says the letter, which also calls for medical attention for the injured and policies to prevent a repeat of the incident.

García's response to the violence was to allege that "foreign meddling" was behind the protests in the Amazon. He later specifically mentioned Bolivia’s left-wing president, the first indigenous leader of that country.

In the midst of the political crisis triggered by the violent incident, García accused Morales of inciting the protests by means of an "inflammatory" letter sent to the Fourth Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples, held May 29 in the Peruvian city of Puno, on the border with Bolivia.

Although he was the most important guest invited to the summit, Morales merely sent a letter by the hand of Senator Leonilda Zurita of his governing Movement to Socialism (MAS), who is an activist for women's rights and political and trade union freedoms.

The meeting, held on Peruvian soil but only 200 km west of La Paz, brought together native leaders of the Americas, called Abya Yala in precolonial times.

"That meeting discussed uprisings and insurgency," García maintained. "A president of a neighbouring country sent messages about our countries being governed by indigenous peoples, who are victims of exploitation and utterly neglected, which is not true, because the statistics on employment and welfare have improved in the jungle areas."

In La Paz, Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera, a recognised champion of indigenous rights, said in reply that "letters do not kill," referring to the violence unleashed in the Peruvian Amazon.

"We confirm the contents (of the letter) and we are proud of every word and every letter in it," said the deputy minister for coordination with social movements, Sacha Llorenti, one of Morales’ closest associates.

"From resistance we have gone on to rebellion, and then to revolution. This is the second independence," said Llorenti, in support of Morales' policy of nationalising Bolivia’s abundant natural gas reserves, which were handed over by previous governments to foreign companies.

"It is difficult to rebuild what has been destroyed over 25 years of neoliberal, free market policies," Llorenti said.

Morales' letter to the indigenous leaders' summit also says "free trade agreements break up harmonious human relationships with nature; they commodify natural resources and national cultures; they privatise basic services; they try to patent life itself."

"Some people think globalisation means they have a right to interfere in the politics of neighbouring countries, "said García. "That is regrettable. If they wish, I can interfere too (in Bolivian affairs) and I know how to do so. I don't think it's democratic or legal or positive for international relations."

Sociologist Carlos Laruta, the head of the Centre for Research and Advancement of Peasant Farmers (CIPCA) in the impoverished city of El Alto, Bolivia, said that it is up to Morales to explain the intention of his letter, because he is the representative of a state and therefore subject to the rule of international law.

"A president cannot do things that run counter to international law," Laruta said.

Anthropologist Martín von Hildebrand, winner of the 1999 Alternative Nobel Prize, said the root problem is that the rights of Peruvian indigenous peoples to their ancestral territories have not been recognised in practice, as they have in other countries that share the Amazon basin: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador.

"When you look at a big map of the Amazon basin, you can see that Brazil has given indigenous peoples a territory as large as Colombia itself (1.1 million square kilometres)," he said, while Colombia has given them 27 million hectares, and Bolivia and Ecuador have also made progress.

"If you look at a government map of Peru, marking potential lumber, oil, gas and mineral extraction, the country's Amazon area is completely covered with marks," said von Hildebrand, who is also head of the Gaia Amazonas Foundation, which works to strengthen indigenous culture and autonomy as a strategy for preserving the rainforest.

* With additional reporting by Constanza Vieira (Bogotá) and Ángel Páez (Lima).


Copyright 2009: IPS-Inter Press Service

Native Rights News is making this material from [name of news source] available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.
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Peruvian Government Massacres Indigenous Protesters Prior to Conclusion of Negotiations

PERU: Native Protesters Search for Their Dead
By Milagros Salazar / IPS

BAGUA, Peru, Jun 11 (IPS) - Indigenous people taking part in protests near this town in the northern Peruvian province of Amazonas that ended in a bloody clash with the police last week are now focusing on drawing up a list of the dead and missing, amidst a climate of fear and mistrust.

Several eyewitnesses said they saw police load the bodies of dead protesters into a helicopter and dump them into the Marañón river, after the Friday, Jun. 5 incident in which both demonstrators and policemen were killed. But authorities from the prosecutors office failed to find any more bodies on their third search in the area, carried out on Wednesday.

For the past two months, native protesters have been blocking roads and access to oil industry installations to demand the repeal of a series of government decrees that violate their land rights, which are protected under the constitution and by international conventions signed by Peru.

"The helicopter stopped at least three times to pick up bodies," Luis Padilla, a member of the Awajun ethnic group from Río Santiago in Amazonas province, told IPS. "That was between eight and nine in the morning on Friday," added Padilla, who said it took three days to reach the town of Bagua from his village.

Padilla, who was wary of the camera, said that on Friday, Jun. 5 the police opened fire on the protesters manning the roadblock at a spot along the highway into Bagua called Curva del Diablo (Devil’s Curve), at around 6:00 AM, and that in response the indigenous demonstrators used their spears. "We defended ourselves," he said.

The police "picked up the bodies of our brothers and sisters and dumped them into the Marañón river," added Joel Tupicá, from the district of Nieva, who along with Padilla and another 24 Indians, including two women, were on their way back to their home villages on Wednesday, five days after the violent incident that left at least 30 protesters and policemen dead.

The number of victims is in dispute, with the authorities saying 10 civilians – including protesters and local residents - were killed and indigenous groups putting the total much higher.

A climate of fear and tension

Oswaldo Bautista, chief prosecutor of Amazonas province, told IPS that around 1,000 indigenous people have returned to their villages over the past few days, and that most of them had taken refuge in local churches for fear of reprisals by the state security forces.

Lawyers with the non-governmental Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos human rights group, who have come to Bagua to verify what happened last week, said more than 50 protesters are still under arrest in four different towns.

The incident, described by Amazon Watch programme coordinator Gregor MacLennan as a "massacre" of peaceful protesters, some of whom were still asleep at the roadblock when the police showed up, while others were shot as they fled, has heightened the tension in the area, because the army and police are still posted here and a curfew remains in place.

Several "apus" (traditional leaders of indigenous communities) have decided not to return to Curva del Diablo, for fear of being arrested. The authorities have blamed the violence on the leaders of the Peruvian Rainforest Inter-Ethnic Development Association (AIDESEP), an umbrella group of 28 federations of indigenous peoples that has led the protests.

AIDESEP’s top leader, Alberto Pizango, has been given asylum in the Nicaraguan Embassy in Lima.

"They burned the bodies of some protesters, over there," said Padilla, who was unable to provide the names of victims due to the chaos and confusion that reigned on Friday and the fact that the demonstrators came from more than 356 different villages and communities.

AIDESEP has set up committees in each community tasked with drawing up lists of people who have not returned to their homes, in order to demand that the state provide information on their fate.

"We want to recover the bodies of our missing people," said Edwin Montenegro, the local leader of Río Kanus in the Amazon district of Condorcanqui, who was directly involved in the Jun. 5 incident.

At the Curve of Death

Some 3,000 indigenous protesters were blocking the Fernando Belaúnde Terry highway at the Curva del Diablo when the police showed up to dismantle the roadblock early that morning and told them, just before opening fire, "you’ll leave here dead or alive," said Montenegro.

He told IPS that in the days leading up to the events of Jun. 5, protesters and local authorities had met with General Víctor Uribe, who was in charge of the operation to break up the traffic blockade, with a view to reaching a peaceful agreement.

Montenegro said a Thursday, Jun. 4 meeting with General Uribe failed to produce results. However, they had agreed to continue the talks on Friday at 10:00 AM – a meeting that never took place, because the attack on the protesters occurred four hours earlier.

The mayor of Condorcanqui, Héctor Requejo, confirmed to IPS that on Thursday they met with Uribe in the camp at the Petroperú oil refinery, and that the general said he himself could not make any decisions, but merely followed orders from Lima.

Montenegro said that when they opened fire on the crowd, the police aimed directly at the protesters, and that people were shot from a helicopter as well, which also launched tear gas canisters.

In the confusion, he was able to save his brother-in-law, prominent Aguaruna leader Santiago Manuin, president of the Condorcanqui Provincial Protest Committee (Comité de Lucha Provincial de Condorcanqui), who was seriously wounded.

Three young indigenous men who are being treated for bullet wounds at the Gustavo Lanatta Hospital in Bagua confirmed that the police launched the attack, without warning.

The three young men are all former members of the army. One of them, 24-year-old Paulo Bitap López from the village of Shusug, told IPS that a group of former soldiers decided to approach the police before the operation to break up the roadblock, to attempt to dissuade them, but that they found themselves caught up in a rain of bullets.

Rosa Mondragón, a 54-year-old woman who lives near the spot where the incident took place, said she saw tear gas being thrown from a helicopter, and showed prosecutor Bautista bullet marks on the walls of her house, as well as more than 20 backpacks and bags of utensils of indigenous protesters who slept overnight at her house for a week but fled after the attack.

The prosecutor searched gullies and ravines near the Curva del Diablo on Wednesday, after doing the same in other areas on Sunday and Monday in response to reports by local residents that bodies had been hidden there.

Bautista told IPS that no bodies were found in the latest search, only clothing and bottles of chicha, a traditional corn liquor.

Shots in the square

One of the wounded interviewed by IPS in the hospital was Daniel Torres Manay, a 55-year-old resident of Bagua who was hit in the stomach by a police bullet on Friday Jun. 5 when he was near the square where the police station is located.

Torres and his wife Amelia Delgado said the police began to shoot that day at around 11:00 AM when a group of people gathered outside the police station, after they heard that the indigenous protesters had been attacked.

According to the head of the Amazonas ombudsman’s office, Roberto Guevara, five of the nine victims acknowledged by the authorities were local residents, not indigenous people, killed by police bullets in the streets around the square.

"President Alan García committed this crime," complained Torres, who has undergone two unsuccessful operations to extract the bullet, and is waiting to be transferred to the northern city of Chiclayo for life-saving surgery.

"After we draw up a list of our brothers and sisters who were killed, we will continue our protest," said Montenegro. "The government thinks that we have chickened out, but that will never happen. The blood of their brothers and sisters is an incentive to the Awajun people. The state has provoked us. We don’t want to talk to either (Prime Minister) Yehude Simon or (Interior Minister Mercedes) Cabanillas."

Two decrees suspended

In a 57 to 47 vote Wednesday, Congress decided to suspend the implementation of two of the decrees protested by the native groups, which according to experts and legislators affect the rights of indigenous people and violate the constitution and International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 on indigenous people.

The government decrees, which are aimed at promoting foreign investment in the framework of the free trade agreement signed with the United States, open up indigenous land to private investment by oil, mining and logging companies.

Indigenous people in Peru’s Amazon jungle region, where oil companies are increasingly active, began last year to hold protests to demand that the decrees be revoked.

A multi-party legislative committee also recommended last December that they be overturned.

But AIDESEP vice president Daysi Zapata criticised the legislature’s decision to suspend the two decrees, because her organisation is demanding that they be struck down.

On Thursday, social movements held national demonstrations in solidarity with the indigenous protesters, and an indefinite strike was declared in several areas in the country’s northeastern Amazon region.

"The Amazon represents our market, our pharmacy, our home, our survival; we are defending it for the good of our people and of humanity," said Montenegro.

Copyright 2009: IPS-Inter Press Service

Native Rights News is making this material from IPS: The Story Underneath available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.
Native Rights News (NRN) is published by the Alliance for Indigenous Rights, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Temple Beit Shem Tov as part of its Peace and Justice Ministry.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Opinion: Australian Government Swimming in Circles When It Comes to Indigenous Affairs

BLACKCURRENT: Lost in a sea of d-words
Opinion by Amy McQuire
National Indigenist Times, ISSUE 181 - 09 Jul 2009

ISSUE 181, July 9, 2009: AMY MCQUIRE laments that Australian governments keep swimming in circles when it comes to Indigenous affairs.

Devastating (Rudd).

Distressing (Gillard).

Disappointing (Abbott).

The three politicians above all used adjectives beginning with 'd' to describe this year's annual Productivity Commission report into Indigenous disadvantage. I have one too: disgusting.

Of course, it is not directed at the report, but rather at our nation's leaders.

For what word is there to describe how those in power repetitiously indulge in lamentations on the plight of Indigenous Australia, and then do nothing about it?

Last Thursday marked the Council of Australian Government (COAG)'s meeting in Darwin.

It was touted that the meeting would place Indigenous affairs on top of the list of priorities, and it did. But by far the most interesting news to come out of the meeting was the Commission's report.

It found the following:

INFANT/YOUNG CHILD MORTALITY: Indigenous infants and young children are still 2-3 times more likely to die than other children, despite improvements in infant mortality rates (young child mortality rates remain constant).

READING, WRITING, NUMERACY: No change in Indigenous student performance over the past 10 years. No closing of gaps between black and white students.

YEAR 12: While the proportion of Indigenous year 12 graduates has increased from 31 to 36 percent between 2001-2006, the fact the non-Indigenous rate also increased from 68 to 74 percent means the gap remains the same.

UNEMPLOYMENT: The Indigenous employment to population ratio has increased to 48 percent as of 2006, but the gap is still the same, as the non-Indigenous ratio has also increased.

CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT: Indigenous children are now 4-6 times more likely to be abused or neglected than non-Indigenous children.

IMPRISONMENT/JUVENILE DETENTION: Imprisonment rate increased by 46 percent for Indigenous women and by 27 percent for Indigenous men between 2000-2008.

Indigenous adults are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned in 2008. The Indigenous juvenile rate increased by 27 percent between 2001-2007.

Indigenous juveniles were 28 times more likely to be detained than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

For once, news.com.au decided to give an important issue precedence over their usual coverage of female body parts and crazed criminals, placing the story at the top of their website.

The Australian newspaper, who to its credit often keeps up with Indigenous affairs (although, controversially) also gave the report prominence online.

All stories included comments by the Prime Minister, who called the report "devastating" and said it meant "we have to redouble and treble our efforts to make an impact".

Thanks Mr Rudd. It's nice to see that you have reacted with such passion to the statistics.

Except, the report is hardly an 'expose'. It says nothing new.

The report is released every second year with almost identical results, and every second year prompts a similar reaction from politicians and media.

Take this news story I found on NIT online. It is from June 2005:

"The report into Aboriginal disadvantage released early today backs the Howard government's decision to make dramatic changes to Indigenous affairs in order to achieve better outcomes, Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone has claimed.

'Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2005' from the Productivity Commission reveals Indigenous Australians have made no improvements in all the key social and economic areas in the past two years.

It also found that between 1994 and 2002, rates for victims of crime, child protection notifications and imprisonment worsened.

In response, Senator Vanstone said she planned to ask state and territory governments what they were doing about continuing violence within Indigenous communities."

Four years on, and the 2009 report confirmed that there are still hardly any improvements for Indigenous people, and Indigenous incarceration rates continue to skyrocket.

Two years ago, NIT again filed a story (June 2007): "Poverty and unemployment have been blamed for a dramatic rise in the number of Indigenous people in Australian jails."

A new report reveals a 32 percent jump in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders imprisoned between 2000 and 2006. The bleak statistics are contained in the latest Council of Australian Government-commissioned report into Indigenous disadvantage [the Productivity Commission]."

Of course, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs at the time - Mal Brough - did the politically smart thing. He just blamed it on ATSIC.

"ATSIC was an abject failure... it was almost a fraud perpetrated on the Indigenous people and the Australian population," Mr Brough told ABC radio, acknowledging that although John Howard had been in government for 11 years, blackfellas were still to blame.

Although Mr Rudd is slightly more astute to realize ATSIC had nothing to do with entrenched Indigenous disadvantage, I doubt he also has the political will to make the changes Indigenous Australia so desperately needs.

His first report card on Indigenous disadvantage, which he promised on the first sitting day of Parliament each year and which was he delivered a month late, made no mention of any real progress government was making.

Instead, the report was full of rhetoric and spin, and simply recycled tired press releases stuffed with self-praise for apologising to the Stolen Generations.

If a government has to ride on the coat-tails of its first and only major movement in Indigenous affairs to justify its will in other areas of policy, then it really isn't taking many steps forward.

The Rudd government says it is going to 'reset the relationship' with Indigenous Australians, but its insistence on the NT intervention; on compulsorily acquiring the Alice Springs town camps; on linking welfare quarantines to school attendance; on refusing to boost Aboriginal legal aid wile incarceration rates sky-rocket; on refusing to provide reparations to the Stolen Generations; on scrapping CDEP regionally; on linking housing reform to land tenure while opposing against it in Opposition; on axing bilingual education; on refusing to properly support the homelands and outstations; shows that Mr Rudd is not being truthful when he says he will 'double' or 'treble' his government's efforts.

Australian governments, Labor and Liberal, are not just devastated, distressed, disappointed and disgusting.

They are also delusional.


* Amy McQuire is a Canberra-based journalist with the National Indigenous Times. She is of Darumbal and South Sea Islander descent, and hails from Rockhampton in Central Queensland. Amy is the current National NAIDOC Young Apprentice of the Year.

National Indigenous Times (no copyright listed)

Native Rights News is making this material from the online version of The National Indigenous Times available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.
Native Rights News (NRN) is published by the Alliance for Indigenous Rights, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Temple Beit Shem Tov as part of its Peace and Justice Ministry.

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Havasupai Announce Gathering to Protest Resumption of Uranium Mining at Grand Canyon Sacred Site

Havasupai Conference: Oppose uranium mining in Grand Canyon

Havasupai Conference July 25 -- 26, 2009: Govinda at Earthcycles,
www.earthcycles.net, and Brenda Norrell of Censored news, will team up
again to broadcast live from this gathering of the Havasupai to oppose
uranium mining in the Grand Canyon. We hope to see you there, or you
can listen live around the world on the Internet. We'll be updating
the issues from the Longest Walk as well, on the issues of protecting
Mother Earth and international Indigenous human rights. Radio stations
can use the audios for broadcasts, in any country in the world.
Conference news release contacts:
Matthew Putesoy, Vice Chairman, Havasupai Tribe, (928) 448-2731

Grand Canyon Threatened by Uranium Mining

Havasupai Tribe Announces Protest Gathering to Rally Support

The gathering will be held on July 25-26,

South of the Grand Canyon at the Sacred Red Butte

Supai, AZ – Today, the Havasupai Tribe announced a protest gathering
at their sacred site Red Butte, which is threatened by uranium mining
located near the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The public is invited
to attend and add their voices in support of saying, "no to uranium

"On behalf of the Havasupai Tribe, I urge everyone to join us at the
foot of this sacred Red Butte to unify our voices and call on the
Federal Government to work with the Havasupai Tribe to protect these
sacred lands from any further uranium mining," stated Don E.
Watahomigie, Havasupai Tribal Chairman. "We are proud to host this
historic gathering as our ancestors have done for generations at Red

A Canadian company, Denison Mines is threatening to reopen the Canyon
Mine, which is just miles from the sacred Red Butte, as a full mining
operation. The Havasupai Tribe and others have been actively opposing
Denison Mines seeking Groundwater Aquifer Permits from the ADEQ
(Arizona Dept. of Environmental Quality) to operate Canyon Mine and
extract uranium.

The Havasupai Tribe, who have inhabited the Grand Canyon region for
many centuries, fear that contamination from uranium mining could harm
the animals, air, water, and people. The Havasupai religion is also
being directly affected by the uranium mines. Long time Havasupai
leader Rex Tilousi says, "We believe Red Butte is the lungs of our
Grandmother Canyon." Canyon Mine is located right next to the
Havasupai's most sacred site, Red Butte."

The Havasupai Tribe, in alliance with Sierra Club, Center for
Biological Diversity, and Grand Canyon Trust are opposing any uranium
mines on or around the rim of the Grand Canyon. This gathering will be
held twenty miles south of the Grand Canyon National Park on July 25 -
26, 2009. Members of the public will be invited to join the Havasupai
on Saturday for a free public concert at 6:00 pm and for a public
forum on uranium mining and protecting sacred lands on Sunday, July
26th. The media is welcomed to attend at any time during the events on
Saturday and Sunday and a news conference will be held Friday, July
24th, at 4pm at the conclusion of the private Havasupai prayer
ceremony. Directions to the gathering as well as a detailed agenda for
the event can be found at http://www.arizona.sierraclub.org

Brenda Norrell, Censored News
Censored Blog Talk Radio
Earthcycles Longest Walk Radio:



Native Rights News is making this material available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.
Native Rights News (NRN) is published by the Alliance for Indigenous Rights, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Temple Beit Shem Tov as part of its Peace and Justice Ministry.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Peruvian Army Sent to Suppress Peaceful Indigenous Protests Against Resource Extraction in Amazon Basin

Amazon Watch: Oil Production Interrupted as Peru Sends in Army to Suppress Peaceful Indigenous Protests

LIMA, Peru, May 19 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Peruvian government Saturday authorized the intervention of armed forces in the Amazon to crack down on growing indigenous protests against new decrees aimed at facilitating the entry of oil, mining, logging and agricultural companies into indigenous lands without prior consultation or consent.

On Monday, sustained protests led the state oil company, Petroperu, to shut down its main oil pipeline. This shutdown comes after a month of protests by more than 30,000 indigenous peoples. Indigenous communities have engaged in peaceful actions and blockades of roads and rivers throughout the Amazon protesting new legislation passed to facilitate the Free Trade Agreement with the USA that undermines their rights.

Videos and photos available on http://www.amazonwatch.org/ show police beating peaceful protesters and firing rubber bullets to break up peaceful Awajun and Huambis demonstrators last week when they blockaded the Corral Quemado Bridge near the northern town of Bagua, resulting in dozens injured and one person missing, who is feared dead.

In a statement, Alberto Pizango, president of the national indigenous rights organization AIDESEP who was criminally charged today for his role in the nationwide protests, stated: "The extraction of gas and oil, logging and the dredging of rivers in search of gold are destroying in a few years social structures, indigenous customs and coexistence strategies that date back thousands of years."

International and Peruvian human rights organizations are widely criticizing the Peruvian government's backward policies on indigenous peoples. In a recent statement President Alan Garcia said that every Peruvian should be entitled to benefit from the nation's natural resources, and not just a "small group of people who had the fortune to be born there."

Atossa Soltani, who heads the human rights and environmental organization Amazon Watch, commented, "Indigenous Peoples are asserting their collective right to determine how and under what conditions 'development' is carried out on their traditionally owned and legally recognized homelands."

"The Garcia Administration is clearly out of step with international conventions on indigenous rights that have been ratified by Peru, not to mention aspects of country's own Constitution. We urge the government of Peru to use restraint and avoid bloodshed, seeking meaningful dialogue to resolve the conflict instead."

© 2000-2009 Amazon Watch

Native Rights News is making this material from Amazon Watch available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.
Native Rights News (NRN) is published by the Alliance for Indigenous Rights, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Temple Beit Shem Tov as part of its Peace and Justice Ministry.

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NRN to Resume Publication: Thanks for Your Patience

One should never underestimate the difficulty of upgrading to a new computer, and migrating one's software applications and data files to the new computer - especially when one is upgrading from Office 97 running on Windows XP-Pro to Office 2007 running on Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit. It was very difficult, and although not all of our apps are installed or running as they should, we are pleased to announce that we are now able to resume publication of our blog.

We apologize for the longer than anticipated down-time, and really appreciate your patience.

Onward and upward,

Perry H. Chesnut, Editor NRN


Copyright 2009 Native Rights News (NRN)

This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.
Native Rights News (NRN) is published by the Alliance for Indigenous Rights, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Temple Beit Shem Tov as part of its Peace and Justice Ministry.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

NRN To Install New Computer System: No New Posts for About One Week

We have just purchased a new dual core 64-bit computer with a Vista Home Premium 64 operating system to replace the computer we purchased in 2000 (about time, right?). Over the next few days (hopefully no more than that), we shall be backing up our existing applications and data files and then migrating them onto the new computer. During this time, no articles will be posted to Native Rights News. We anticipate being able to resume our regular schedule sometime next week (May 17 to May 23). -- Perry H. Chesnut, Editor NRN

Copyright 2009 Native Rights News (NRN)

This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.
Native Rights News (NRN) is published by the Alliance for Indigenous Rights, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Temple Beit Shem Tov as part of its Peace and Justice Ministry.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

U.S. Position On UNDRIP Under Review By Obama Administration

U.S.: Obama Urged to Sign Native Rights Declaration

By Haider Rizvi
IPS - Inter Press Service

UNITED NATIONS, May 6 (IPS) - The United States is considering whether to endorse a major U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for the recognition of the rights of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples over their lands and resources."

The position on [this issue] is under review," Patrick Ventrell, spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the U.N., told IPS about the Barack Obama administration’s stance on the non-binding U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Approved by a vast majority of the U.N. member states in September 2007, the General Assembly resolution on the declaration was rejected by the George W. Bush administration over indigenous leaders’ argument that no economic or political power has the right to exploit their resources without seeking their "informed consent."

Three other "settler nations" of European descent, namely Canada, New Zealand and Australia, also voted against the declaration, which states that indigenous peoples have the right to maintain their cultures and remain on their land.

However, last month, the new left-leaning government in Canberra reversed its position, announcing support for the declaration.

"We show our respect for indigenous peoples," said Jenny Macklin, a member of the Australian parliament. "We show our faith in a new era of relations between states and indigenous peoples in good faith."

The new government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has also offered an apology to the indigenous communities who suffered at the hands of European settlers for decades.

Indigenous rights activists in the United States say they want the new liberal democratic government in Washington to make a similar move to address the grievances of native communities who have long been subjected to abuse and discrimination.

"The U.S. [should] become a resolute supporter of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," argued James Polk, who writes for Foreign Policy in Focus, a progressive periodical published by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.

"It’s a comprehensive document that affirms that indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples, and that, in the exercise of their rights, they should be free from their discrimination," he added.

The declaration reflects growing concerns of aboriginal communities about the continued exploitation of their resources and suppression of their cultural vales and practices by commercial concerns and governments that are alien to their cultures.

According to many scientists, the traditional knowledge and cooperation of indigenous communities are vital elements in the global fight against climate change and loss of biodiversity.

During his election campaign, President Obama repeatedly said that he cared about the issues facing Native American communities and insisted that they could trust him – pledges that are now being watched closely.

As [he] reached out to new voter blocs last summer, Obama made a campaign stop at an Indian reservation in Montana, where he told the audience, that, as an African American, he identified with their struggles.

"I know what it’s like to not have always been respected or to have been ignored and I know what it’s like to struggle and that’s how I think many of you understand what’s happened here on the reservation," Obama said.

In his speech, Obama added: "A lot of times you have been forgotten, just like African-Americans have been forgotten or other groups in this country have been forgotten."

In the Nov. 4 presidential elections, a vast majority of Native people voted for Obama, according to Frank LaMere of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, who led the American Indian delegation to the Democratic Convention.

On the campaign trail in Montana, Obama was adopted as an honourary member of the Crow Tribe, a ceremony that natives say is reserved for special guests. On that occasion, he was given a new name, "Barack Black Eagle."

Before Obama became the first-ever non-white president of the United States, the country faced scathing criticism from a Geneva-based U.N. rights body for its treatment of the indigenous communities and objectionable use of their traditional lands and resources.

In March 2006 and again in 2008, a panel of U.S. experts analysed the U.S. government’s treatment of indigenous citizens and ruled that it was guilty of racial discrimination.

Canada, another settler-nation founded on the indigenous territories in North America, has also been scolded by the U.N. Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) for its abusive and discriminatory treatment of acts of native communities.

The right-wing government in Ottawa continues to justify its current policies towards the native population as just and fair with no indication whatsoever of a willingness to sign the U.N. document on indigenous peoples’ rights.

In the United States, there appears to be some signs of policy shift with regard to the U.S. government’s relations with the American Indian communities. Some representatives of indigenous tribes are currently working with Obama as advisors.

However, it remains unclear when and if the Obama administration would sign the declaration. "I can’t comment further," said Ventrell about the outcome of discussions on possible U.S. support.
Article: Copyright © 2009 IPS-Inter Press Service
Image: Copyright 2009 TPM Media LLC

Native Rights News is making this material available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.
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Social Justice and Food Security at Heart of Bolivian and Venezuelan Land Reform Measures

Analysis by Adam Kott and David Rosenblum Felson

The Cutting Edge News
May 5, 2009

Latin America’s battalion of left-leaning leaders has been in full voice as they turn to achieve the land reform goals of the Bolivarian Revolution. This oft-quoted but somewhat vague social ideal is loosely centered on populist measures such as the equitable distribution of private land and the abatement of poverty. The tenets of this revolution are best seen today at work in Venezuela and Bolivia, where Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales attempt to achieve their objectives through vigorously promoted land reform initiatives.

Historically, much of the land parcels in these Andean nations has been under the tight control of a relatively select few multinational corporations, as well as elite European-descended land-holding families. Many of the latter were for decades, often sanctioned by corrupt officials to use coercion or other unscrupulous practices, including counterfeit land titles, to wrest land with murky legitimacy from the indigenous population. Today, leaders like Chávez and Morales are striving to rectify history’s injustices by returning the property back to its original owners. These grassroots initiatives on the part of the indigenous have been controversial, to say the least, and have repeatedly brought both nations to the brink of class warfare.

Repercussions of the January 25th Referendum

Since the enactment of the January 25, 2009 constitutional referendum, in which 61 percent of Bolivians voted in favor of ratifying, President Evo Morales has initiated a series of measures aimed at improving the rights of the 4 million indigenous peoples who make up nearly two-thirds of his country’s total population.

In addition to increasing the autonomy of provincial governments, as well as granting designated indigenous representation in congress, the referendum results also will limit individual private landholdings. This stand-off undoubtedly will perpetuate an already existing tense situation between the wealthy landowners of the eastern lowlands and the pro-indigenous Morales administration. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) stated that in the eastern region of Bolivia, 25 million hectares (62 million acres) of top-quality agricultural land is managed by a mere 100 select families. The remaining 5 million hectares (12 million acres) of arable land in the country are shared among 2 million campesinos.

Now coming off a big win, Morales will have the theoretical ability to remain in power until 2014, which is not likely to diminish the opposition’s hostility towards him, but rather intensify it. In this milieu, social harmony is bound to be more difficult to obtain. This is due to the deeply rooted social conflict which for years has been besieging Bolivia and the growing political and economic influence being sought after by the indigenous majority. Whereas a triumphant Morales and his indigenous supporters may view the new constitution as an egalitarian and empowering document, the white Europeanized opposition understandably perceive it as discriminatory and insensitive to their special needs. One thing is for certain, land distribution in this Andean nation has long been a source of strained relations between the indigenous majority and the elite minority.

Morales, of the Aymara ethnic group, appears determined to drastically restructure and democratize Bolivia’s historically unequal agrarian land holding patterns. "The concentration of land in Bolivia appears to be among the worst in the entire world," contend Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "The largest farms, although only 0.63 percent of the total, encompasses more than 66 percent of all agricultural land. At the other end of the spectrum, 86 percent of farms account for just 2.4 percent of agricultural land, and many other rural farmers own no land at all."

Bolivian Land Reform

In the first of what would be a number of attempts at reorganizing land usage patterns, former president, Victor Paz Estenssoro, led the fight to enact the 1953 Agrarian Reform Law. The measure, which is largely seen as an underlying cause for the present tension over land ownership, granted indigenous peoples modest plots of land while massive landholdings were bestowed upon the non-indigenous fraction of the population in an attempt to develop the country’s fading agricultural sector. According to a 2007 COHA report by research associate Laura Starr, "the Bolivian reform being promoted at that time affected 32 million hectares (79 million acres) of land, which were distributed to 40,000 medium and small-sized family farmers. At the same time, more than half a million indigenous and peasant families divided up only about 4 million hectares (10 million acres), almost exclusively in the less favorable western highlands of the country." In 1996, former president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, initiated a would-be land reform measure that defined itself as seeking to boost national productivity levels. As a result of the law, land had to serve a social or economic purpose.

Douglas Hertzler, a highly-regarded anthropologist working in Bolivia, asserts that, "the law made large speculative landholdings subject to redistribution to the landless, but it failed to establish adequate criteria to regulate this process, so that land redistribution did not move forward." Initially paying little attention to the strong opposition movement emanating from the eastern provinces, Morales now appears eager to make lasting changes to Bolivia’s traditionally preferential and asymmetrical land distribution policies.

According to the World Bank, the richest 10 percent of Bolivians consume 22 times more than the poorest 10 percent. Morales observed this during a speech he gave in March to a group of Guaraní Indians, "Private property will always be respected but we want people who are not interested in equality to change their thinking and focus more on country than currency." He continued, "Today, from here, we are beginning to put an end to the giant landholdings of Bolivia." That same day, Morales granted over 38,000 hectares (94,000 acres) of land to indigenous communities. But lowland elites, like Ronald Larsen, have vehemently opposed such measures. Larsen, an ardent opponent of Morales’ policies, purchased vast land holdings in the southeastern region of the country. Although he has spent the last 40 years working the land, recent Morales-inspired measures may well lead to the expropriation of the majority of it. "They’re taking it away over my dead body," said Larsen.

The January constitutional referendum curbs landholdings to 5,000 hectares (12,400 acres) as well as requires land to serve at all times a social or economic function. While Morales’ latest initiatives certainly have provoked uproar as well as praise, the efficacy of such reforms remains a serious question. Meanwhile, Bolivia is not the only country in the region attempting to overhaul its land tenure system.

A Look at Recent Venezuelan Land Reform Attempts

It was soon after Chávez took office in 1999 that he began to reorganize Venezuela’s agricultural land use policy under the label "Vuelta al Campo" (Return to the Countryside). This should come as no surprise, as Venezuela has had a long history of unbalanced land ownership. For example, in 1937, large haciendas of 1,000 hectares or more were owned by only 4.8 percent of landowners, but comprised 88.8 percent of all cultivatable land. In 2001, Chávez initiated progressive legislation entitled the "Law on Land and Agrarian Development." This measure allowed for the Chávez government to seize large tracts of land and redistribute them as it deemed appropriate. The measure was enacted by the government in an attempt to bridge the vast inequality gap in Venezuela, a nation where much of the wealth traditionally remained in the hands of a select few.

According to the CIPE Development Institute, prior to the 2001 reforms, 5 percent of the Venezuelan population owned 80 percent of the land. What is more shocking is that 60 percent of agricultural laborers have no ownership over the land they work. As a result, since the passing of the law eight years ago, Venezuelans have witnessed tensions rise between the landed elites and the landless working-class population.

President Chávez worked quickly to redistribute land holdings once land reforms had been passed. In 2003, he assigned his older brother, Adán Chávez, to head the process. Adán enacted the "Plan Ezequiel Zamora," which, over a one year period, redistributed nearly 1.5 million hectares of land to 130,000 families. Over the next year, the Chávez government distributed another 500,000 hectares to poor farmers throughout the nation.

While there has been a degree of success in the implementation of land redistribution programs, it has come at no small cost. Campesino leaders who have been trying to enforce the new land reform measures for years, have had to face violent oppression at the hands of the land owners and their private forces. According to Venezuela Analysis, more than 200 rural leaders have been murdered since the reforms passed, and the true number may be twice that figure. The murders are thought to have been carried out by thugs hired by the elite, whose land is now under threat of seizure by the government. These forces are often unorganized, but nonetheless, have been able to bring terror to Venezuela’s countryside much like the paramilitary vigilante forces that were formed to protect threatened land barons in Colombia.

Chávez’s Recent Initiatives

In the past several months, Caracas has been unusually active in putting its mind to accumulating land for redistribution and for public infrastructural purposes. In an unusually forceful manner, the government’s National Land Institute (INTI) recently expropriated one parcel of over 2,800 hectares (7000 acres) with the help of National Guard troops for fear that recent clashes between the entrenched landowners and the landless peasants would spiral out of control. In some cases, such land holdings have been largely idle despite their rich soil and great potential for agriculture. Despite ample arable land, Venezuela has historically imported the majority of its food supplies. With the advent of its growing wealth from oil drilling royalties, Venezuela shifted away from using its landholdings for subsistence agriculture in favor of growing cash crops. This meant that while the middle class could readily pay for imported produce, the same could not be said about the poor. Thus, characteristically, land has been held by affluent Venezuelans as a symbol of prestige rather than a source of food production.

A 2005 BBC report made the point that the Chávez administration, "insists it is impossible for Venezuela to grow enough food for the poor, as long as so much land is in the hands of so few." This is a principal force behind Venezuela’s current land redistribution initiative. The government is now in the process of taking over some of Venezuela’s largest and most profitable farms as well as estates that have been either ignored or underused. Venezuela’s president undoubtedly has the best of intentions in carrying out these actions, most notably the creation of sustainable development. This effort is in stark contrast to the current agricultural situation in much of the nation, where international companies, such as Ireland’s Smurfit Kappa have grown crops on Venezuelan acreage that didn’t offer long term sustainability, but drained the soil of precious minerals. After taking control of 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) that belonged to the Dublin based group, Chávez explained, "We are going to use all the eucalyptus wood sensibly and harvest other things there, beans, corn, sorghum, cassava and yam."

Despite his push for land reform, Chávez has not found universal solidarity behind it within his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Governor of the state of Portuguesa, Wilmar Castro, a member of PSUV, has publicly criticized recent expropriations of land for use by landless peasants, blaming the government for its failure to redistribute land through proper legal channels. Governor Castro’s policy is strongly at odds with federal law that allows peasants to utilize unoccupied private land. Another incident that shows the increasingly fractured nature of Venezuelan society occurred on April 17. Authorities in the state of Portuguesa evicted more than sixty landless farmers and three INTI workers from privately owned land that state officials had marked for appropriation and redistribution. With local authorities completely disregarding the policies emanating from Caracas, it is unclear how Chávez will be able to enforce his policies at the provincial level.

If the state achieves its goal, land that has been expropriated will be turned over to what, in many cases, are newly formed agrarian communes that will specialize in cultivating crops native to the region. Such measures will ensure the long-term viability of the land, encourage the employment of local campesinos, and supply food to subsidized markets all over the country. According to a 2006 report entitled "Land Reform in Venezuela," Chávez also hopes to build a food processing plant and research center on some of the expropriated government land to ensure that Venezuela’s facilities remain on par with other agricultural nations in the region.

Food security has been a recent hot-button issue in Venezuela. Under Article 305 of the constitution, the president has the authority to seize any land he sees fit if it is in the interest of food security. This was most recently reflected when Chávez ordered the expropriation of U.S. food giant Cargill on claims that the company was selling rice at prices that exceeded the legal limit for the country. Chávez has good reason to be worried about his nation’s food supply, as it currently imports 70 percent of Venezuelan food that is consumed from abroad. With rising import costs, it has been wise of him to bolster Venezuela’s self-sufficiency by allocating unused land to farmers who have a demonstrated zeal for producing crops. A 2005 land reform law decreased the amount of idle land one could hold. As a result of this, one could allow high quality land to be idle only if it was 50 hectares or less in size, which cut the original figure that one had to meet in half. The limits on unused, low quality holdings were also lowered, decreasing from 5000 hectares to 3000 hectares. Any idle lands above these two limits were subject to peasant invasion and eventual redistribution by the National Land Institute.

According to Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Elias Jaua, land reform already has allowed for a massive increase in national food production. Almost 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres) of the redistributed land are now producing food for domestic consumption, including meat, grain, and vegetables. This staggering amount accounts for nearly 90 percent of the total land appropriated for redistribution.

If those whose lands were expropriated by the government wish to legally challenge the authorities, they will face a long and arduous process. According to Cort Greene, a Latin American political analyst, in 2005 the government legalized preemptive occupation by giving the peasants who storm large estates cartas agrarias. Such documents dictate nothing in terms of formal ownership rights, but nonetheless grant peasants the right to use the land and profit from it until all legal disputes are finalized. The distribution of these cartas essentially ignores prior legal contracts and land deeds and grants the property to whoever professedly will make the best use of it.

The Future of Land Ownership

Having never fully recovered from the declination brought about by the Spanish conquest, the indigenous of South America have, to a large degree, experienced systematic inequality, often being viewed as little better than chattel. The issue of land reform is not peripheral to this process. In Bolivia, two-thirds of the land is owned by one percent of the population. Prior to Morales’ recent reforms, indigenous peoples, who represent the country’s clear ethnic majority, controlled under 10 percent of the land.

In contrast to Bolivia, the indigenous population of Venezuela only accounts for a mere 2 percent of the total population. While Chávez has not made land reform an entirely indigenous-focused issue, he certainly has done his part in trying to ensure that Venezuela’s first people get their due compensation. However, many of Venezuela’s indigenous do not think of land as a top priority, and disagree with policies emanating from Caracas. In a January 15 article in the Economist titled "Venezuela’s Indigenous People: A Promise Unkept," Rosario Romero, an indigenous Yukpa, explains, "Invasions are very bad. The ranchers worked for what they have." She adds that, contrary to what radical Yukpa leaders say, her parents never suggested these lands were theirs. Romero’s perspective offers an interesting look into the dichotomy that helps explain Venezuela’s land reform. Although she may have a minority opinion, it is important to note that there is more to this issue than meets the eye.

Yet Chávez and Morales are not the only Latin American governments reworking land titles. The Movimiento Sem Terra, or Landless Peasants Movement, established in 1980, has attempted to dramatically alter Brazil’s historically unjust system of land distribution. At times, however, the movement’s supporters have had to pressure an occasionally reluctant Lula administration. Moreover, in 2008, Raul Castro initiated a land reform program that sought to redistribute unutilized state-owned land to cooperatives.

Land reform historically has been one of the fundamental activities on any "must" list of progressive governments. In an attempt to secure a guaranteed food supply, former Chilean president, Salvador Allende, initiated a sweeping land reform. This came at a time when only 8 percent of Chile’s gross national product (GNP) came from the countryside. From 1971 to 1972, 3,282 farms were expropriated by the Allende administration. While the reform initiatives were largely popular, they did polarize the electorate into two bitterly divided sides. Harvard research fellow, Thomas John Bossert argues that, "the revolutionary effect of such [agrarian] reforms is usually seen as coming not from beneficiaries of the reform, but rather from those frustrated by the failure of the reform to grant them land."

Both Chávez and Morales have taken worthy first steps towards a less discriminatory distribution of land, but both leaders still have much work yet to be done with those who they have since agitated. Nevertheless, a wave of optimism has swept across the affected region, where steps have been taken to grant more equitable land rights to a rural population which historically has been discriminated against. While Chávez and Morales are gaining political capital by distributing land to the masses, they also risk alienating some of the most productive sectors of society. In the end, and with the best of intentions, they may be doing harm to both of the countries’ long-term political and economic stability. But the concern of an equitable reform of the land remains an issue calling out for redress.

Adam Kott and David Rosenblum Felson are Research Associates at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Copyright © 2007-2009 The Cutting Edge News

Native Rights News is making this material from The Cutting Edge News available in accordance with the Fair Use Doctrine codified at Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107: This article is distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information. Distribution of this material is for research and educational purposes that will promote social and economic justice and benefit society.
Native Rights News (NRN) is published by the Alliance for Indigenous Rights, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by Temple Beit Shem Tov as part of its Peace and Justice Ministry.

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