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News articles on indigenous people
Mongabay.com news articles on indigenous people in blog format. Updated regularly.
(05/11/2010) Recently, I got an invitation to attend an interesting panel dealing with indigenous issues on Earth Day. The talk, held at the Paley Center for Media in midtown Manhattan, would host a number of Native Americans but also James Cameron, creator of the blockbuster movie Avatar as well as other hits such as Terminator and Titantic. What, you might ask, was a Hollywood director doing at such an event? If you've seen Cameron's movie you know that it deals with a fictional tribe of humanoid creatures called the Na'vi who inhabit the rainforest world of Pandora. In the film, the Na'vi must fight to preserve the forest from a mineral corporation backed up by the U.S. military. Avatar, a true technological feat, brought the Pandora rainforest to movie-going audiences in 3-D. Though Avatar doesn't attempt to teach anything to the audience per se, it does convey a sense of moral outrage.
Taking back the rainforest: Indians in Colombia govern 100,000 square miles of territory
(05/10/2010) Indigenous groups in the Colombian Amazon have long suffered deprivations at the hands of outsiders. First came the diseases brought by the European Conquest, then came abuses under colonial rule. In modern times, some Amazonian communities were virtually enslaved by the debt-bondage system run by rubber traders: Indians could work their entire lives without ever escaping the cycle of debt. Later, periodic invasions by gold miners, oil companies, colonists, and illegal coca-growers took a heavy toll on remaining indigenous populations. Without title to their land, organization, or representation, indigenous Colombians in the Amazon seemed destined to be exploited and abused. But new hope would emerge in the 1980s, thanks partly to the efforts of Martin von Hildebrand, an ethnologist who would help indigenous Colombians eventually win control over 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of Amazon rainforest—an area larger than the United Kingdom.
Activists lock themselves in Cargill headquarters as new report alleges illegal deforestation
(05/05/2010) Following a damning report from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) alleging illegal clearing of rainforest in Indonesia by agriculture-giant Cargill, activists have infiltrated Cargill headquarters in Wayzata, Minnesota and refuse to come out until the CEO agrees to meet with them. According to local reports, five activists are locked inside a staircase, while others are protesting outside the building.
Can markets protect nature?
(05/03/2010) Over the past 30 years billions of dollars has been committed to global conservation efforts, yet forests continue to fall, largely a consequence of economic drivers, including surging global demand for food and fuel. With consumption expected to far outstrip population growth due to rising affluence in developing countries, there would seem to be little hope of slowing tropical forest loss. But some observers see new reason for optimism—chiefly a new push to make forests more valuable as living entities than chopped down for the production of timber, animal feed, biofuels, and meat. While are innumerable reasons for protecting forests—including aesthetic, cultural, spiritual, and moral—most land use decisions boil down to economics. Therefore creating economic incentives to maintaining forests is key to saving them. Leading the effort to develop markets ecosystem services is Forest Trends, a Washington D.C.-based NGO that also organizes the Katoomba group, a forum that brings together a wide variety of forest stakeholders, including the private sector, local communities, indigenous people, policymakers, international development institutions, funders, conservationists, and activists.
Oil company to cut 454 kilometers of seismic lines in uncontacted tribe territory
(04/21/2010) Repsol YPF, a Spanish-Argentine oil company, plans to cut 454 kilometers (282 miles) of seismic lines in a territory of the Peruvian rainforest known to be home to uncontacted indigenous peoples, according to a press release from Survival International. To construct seismic lines paths will be cleared in the forest and explosives set-off regularly. Seismic lines allow energy companies to locate oil deposits by creating a cross sectional view of the subsurface.
Off and on again: Belo Monte dam goes forward, protests planned
(04/20/2010) An auction to build the Belo Monte dam, a massive hydroelectric project in Brazil, is going ahead despite two court-ordered suspensions, both of which have been overturned. The dam, which would be the world's third-largest, has been criticized by indigenous groups, environmental organizations, and most recently filmmaker James Cameron who created the wildly popular Avatar.
New report alleges Sarawak government, police, and loggers "act in collusion to harass and intimidate indigenous communities"
(04/15/2010) A new report by JOANGOHutan, the Malaysian Network of Indigenous Peoples and Non-Governmental Organizations, paints an atmosphere of abuse and ambivalence toward indigenous communities embroiled in land disputes in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on the island of Boreno. According to the report, there are currently 140 land dispute cases in limbo in the Sarawak courts. Indigenous groups are fighting loggers, oil palm plantation developers, and the paper industry for their tribal lands, yet indigenous tribes have not found advocates in state government.
Brazil suspends Amazon dam project targeted by Avatar director
(04/15/2010) A Brazilian judge on Wednesday suspended the preliminary license for the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, a controversial project in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, citing "danger of irreparable harm," reports the Amazon Watch, an NGO that has been campaigning on the issue. The move comes just days after a high-profile visit by James Cameron, director of the box office hit Avatar, and Sigourney Weaver, one of the stars of Avatar, to indigenous communities potentially affected by the dam.
Cochabamba Climate Conference: the Coca Contradiction
(04/11/2010) In the high stakes game of geopolitics, the small and economically disadvantaged Andean nation of Bolivia has little clout. Now, however, the country’s indigenous president Evo Morales wants to establish more of a significant voice on the world stage. Recently, he has turned himself into something of a spokesperson on the issue of climate change. Decrying the failure of world leaders to come to a satisfactory agreement on global warming, he is intent on shaming the Global North into addressing climate change. Whatever Bolivia lacks in terms of political and economic muscle, Morales would like to offset through skilled use of moral persuasion.
Film Director James Cameron's Next Film on the Amazon
(04/05/2010) Fresh off his huge blockbuster success with Avatar, James Cameron is taking a commendable stand on indigenous issues in the rainforest. Flying down to Brazil’s Amazonian city of Manaus recently, the film director criticized the Belo Monte hydro electric dam project. "For people living along the river, as they have for millennia," he said, "the dam will end their way of life. I implore the Brazilian government, and President Lula, to reconsider this project."
James Cameron, in real life, fights to save indigenous groups from massive dam construction in Brazil
(04/01/2010) After creating a hugely successful science-fiction film about a mega-corporation destroying the indigenous culture of another planet, James Cameron has become a surprisingly noteworthy voice on environmental issues, especially those dealing with the very non-fantastical situation of indigenous cultures fighting exploitation. This week Cameron traveled to Brazil for a three-day visit to the Big Bend (Volta Grande) region of the Xingu River to see the people and rainforests that would be affected by the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam. Long-condemned by environmentalists and indigenous-rights groups, the dam would destroy 500 square kilometers of pristine rainforest and force the relocation of some 12,000 people.
Malaysian palm oil grower loses case over damages to rainforest community
(04/01/2010) IOI group suffered a legal setback this week when the Miri High Court — a court for Miri District in Sarawak, a state in Malaysian Borneo — ruled that the palm oil grower is liable for damages caused by the destruction of land belonging to Long Teran Kanan, a Kayan native community. The legal battle has dragged on for 12-years but now represents an important precedent for forest-dependent communities in Malaysia, reports the Bruno Manser Fund, an NGO that campaigns on behalf of Sarawak's forest people.
Spanish oil company develops own rules for contacting uncontacted Amazon tribes
(03/26/2010) Imagine you're in one of the remotest parts of the Amazon rainforest and suddenly you come across members of an uncontacted tribe. What should you do? The experts say, "Turn around. At all costs, make no attempt at contact." Repsol YPF, exploring for oil in northern Peru, has taken a different approach. Despite the extreme vulnerability of the tribes to any form of contact, the company suggests that its workers talk to them in certain instances, and even provides specific phrases to use and conversation topics to address.
Secrets of the Amazon: giant anacondas and floating forests, an interview with Paul Rosolie
(03/10/2010) At twenty-two Paul Rosolie has seen more adventure than many of us will in our lifetime. First visiting the Amazon at eighteen, Rosolie has explored strange jungle ecosystems, caught anaconda and black caiman bare-handed, joined indigenous hunting expeditions, led volunteer expeditions, and hand-raised a baby giant anteater. "Rainforests were my childhood obsession," Rosolie told Mongabay.com. "For as long as I can remember, going to the Amazon had been my dream […] In those first ten minutes [of visiting], cowering under the bellowing calls of howler monkeys, I saw trails of leaf cutter ants under impossibly large, vine-tangled trees; a flock of scarlet macaws crossed the sky like a brilliant flying rainbow. I saw a place where nature was in its full; it is the most amazing place on earth."
Under siege: oil and gas concessions cover 41 percent of the Peruvian Amazon
(02/16/2010) A new study in the Environmental Research Letter finds that the Peruvian Amazon is being overrun by the oil and gas industries. According to the study 41 percent of the Peruvian Amazon is currently covered by 52 separate oil and gas concessions, nearly six times as much land as was covered in 2003. "We found that more of the Peruvian Amazon has recently been leased to oil and gas companies than at any other time on record," explained co-author Dr. Matt Finer of the Washington DC-based Save America’s Forests in a press release. The concessions even surpass the oil boom in the region during the 1970s and 80s, which resulted in extensive environmental damage.
Canada creates massive new park in the boreal
(02/09/2010) Last Friday, the government of Canada and the governments of the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador signed a memorandum of understanding to create a the new Mealy Mountains National Park. Larger than Yellowstone National Park, the new Canadian park will span 11,000 square kilometers making it the largest protected area in Eastern Canada.
Asia's biggest logging company accused of bribery, violence in Papua New Guinea
(02/08/2010) A local organization in Papua New Guinea, known as Asples Madang, is fighting against one of the region's biggest industrial loggers, Rimbunan Hijau (RH) chaired by billionare Tiong Hiew King. Aspeles Madang has accused Malaysian company, RH, of acquiring land illegally and of using brute force and bribery in its dealing with locals.
Church of England drops mining company Vedanta due to indigenous rights concerns
(02/07/2010) The Church of England has dropped is 3.8 million pound stake (5.9 million US dollars) in controversial mining company, Vedanta Resources, citing concern over the company's human rights record. The Indian company has come under considerable criticism for its plan to build a bauxite mine on Niyamgiri Mountain, threatening the mountain, forests, and the local tribe Dongria Kondh tribe.
Extinct: last of the Andaman tribe dies
(02/04/2010) Boa Sr, the last speaker of ‘Bo’, one of the ten Great Andamanese languages, died last week, according to Survival International. She was 85.
Environmentalists and indigenous groups decry approval of massive dam in Amazon
(02/02/2010) The approval of the hydro-electric Belo Monte Dam from the Brazilian environmental agency, IBAMA, has raised condemnations from environmentalists and indigenous groups. The dam will divert the flow of the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon River, which runs through the Amazon in northeast Brazil. According to critics the dam will destroy vast areas of pristine rainforest, disrupt sensitive ecosystems, and relocate 12,000 people.
Real-life Avatar: court blocks destruction of indigenous community in Borneo
(01/27/2010) A court in the Malaysian state of Sarawak has issued an injunction to block the continued destruction of the Iban village of Sungai Sekabai, reports the Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), an indigenous rights groups. Last week Sarawak state police demolished 39 Iban homes in a dramatic escalation of land dispute between the community and a state-backed palm oil developer.
Failure of Copenhagen may spur dodgy REDD deals, says report
(01/26/2010) Lack of a clear framework and rules for a proposed climate change mitigation mechanism known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) could jeopardize its effectiveness and put forest-dependent communities at risk of exploitation, cautions a new report released by an environmental rights policy group. In "THE END OF THE HINTERLAND: Forests, Conflict and Climate Change", the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) warns that without clear rules to address land tenure and forests rights issues, REDD could increase conflict by boosting the perceived value of forest land. Forest communities — which have much to gain under a well-designed and well-implemented mechanism — are particularly at risk.
Indigenous in Borneo win "landmark" court ruling over land rights
(01/21/2010) A Malaysian court has ruled in favor of indigenous communities in a dispute over land rights just two days after authorities "arbitrarily" destroyed 25 Iban homes in the village of Sungai Sekabai in Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo), reports the Bruno Manser Fund, a rights group.
Forest-bulldozing ranchers win 'Greenwashing Award' for claiming they are creating a 'nature reserve'
(01/20/2010) Indigenous rights organization, Survival International, has awarded Brazilian cattle company, Yaguarete Porá S.A., its 'Greenwashing Award 2010' for destroying indigenous peoples' forest—including uncontacted natives—and calling it conservation.
Malaysian police destroy homes in Borneo indigenous community
(01/20/2010) Malaysian authorities yesterday destroyed two dozen homes in an indigenous Iban community near the town of Bintulu in Sarawak, alleges a human rights group.
Photos: park in Ecuador likely contains world’s highest biodiversity, but threatened by oil
(01/19/2010) In the midst of a seesaw political battle to save Yasuni National Park from oil developers, scientists have announced that this park in Ecuador houses more species than anywhere else in South America—and maybe the world. "Yasuní is at the center of a small zone where South America's amphibians, birds, mammals, and vascular plants all reach maximum diversity," Dr. Clinton Jenkins of the University of Maryland said in a press release. "We dubbed this area the 'quadruple richness center.'"
World of Avatar: in real life
(01/13/2010) A number of media outlets are reporting a new type of depression: you could call it the Avatar blues. Some people seeing the new blockbuster film report becoming depressed afterwards because the world of Avatar, sporting six-legged creatures, flying lizards, and glowing organisms, is not real. Yet, to director James Cameron's credit, the alien world of Pandora is based on our own biological paradise—Earth. The wonders of Avatar are all around us, you just have to know where to look.
Dams a 'monument of corruption': Baru Bian, new leader of Sarawak's People's Justice Party
(01/12/2010) In an interview with the Bruno Manser Fond, the new leader of the Malaysian state Sarawak's People's Justice Party (PKR), Baru Bian, spoke out against the state government's plans for mega-dams in the middle of the rainforest, as well as continued rainforest destruction and corruption.
Uncontacted natives confirmed in Brazil
(01/10/2010) An uncontacted tribe of about 60 people has been confirmed by FUNAI (Brazil's Indigenous Affairs Department) in the Indigenous Territory of Arariboia, located in the eastern Amazonian state, Maranhao.
Ecuador to be paid to leave oil in the ground
(12/23/2009) Ecuador will establish a trust fund for receiving payments to leave oil reserves unexploited in Yasuni National Park, one of the world's most biodiverse rainforest reserves, reports the UN Development Programme, the agency that will administer the fund.
Brazil establishes 20,000 sq mi of new indigenous reserves in the Amazon
(12/23/2009) On Monday, Brazil decreed nine new indigenous reserves covering 51,000 square kilometers (19,700 square miles) of the Amazon rainforest, an areas larger than Denmark or Switzerland, reports the AFP. Five of the reserves are located in the state of Amazonas, two are in Pará, one is in Roraima, and another is in Mato Grosso do Sul. The protected areas house about seven thousand Indians from 29 ethnic groups, according to FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio), Brazil's indigenous affairs agency.
The real Avatar story: indigenous people fight to save their forest homes from corporate exploitation
(12/22/2009) In James Cameron's newest film Avatar an alien tribe on a distant planet fights to save their forest home from human invaders bent on mining the planet. The mining company has brought in ex-marines for 'security' and will stop at nothing, not even genocide, to secure profits for its shareholders. While Cameron's film takes place on a planet sporting six-legged rhinos and massive flying lizards, the struggle between corporations and indigenous people is hardly science fiction.
Malaysia to allow logging in indigenous 'peace park' to proceed
(12/17/2009) Malaysia, the country with the fastest rate of greenhouse gas emissions growth since 1990 among middle and upper income countries, will allow logging to proceed in a contested rainforest area in Sarawak, on the island of Borneo.
New REDD text is weak, say activists
(12/12/2009) Activist group have condemned the latest draft text of an agreement that aims to protect rainforests as a means to mitigate climate change.
Rainforest tribe sues the Malaysian government for enabling deforestation
(12/10/2009) Five Penan rainforest communities are suing the Sarawak state government and the Malaysian timber giant Samling for violation of their native customary rights, reports the Bruno Manser Fund, a group that works on behalf of indigenous groups in Malaysia.
Cattle company bulldozing UNESCO site, threatening uncontacted natives
(12/09/2009) A Brazilian ranching company is bulldozing land within UNESCO Chaco Biosphere Reserve in Paraguay, home to the only uncontacted natives outside of the Amazon in South America. While the UNESCO status provides no legal protections to the area, it is meant as an international marker to protect the tribe of the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode and the forest they inhabit.
New tree species discovered in Guyana is rich source of oil
(12/09/2009) Botanists working have described a new species of tree with commercial significance in Guyana. The discovery is published in Brittonia, a journal put out by the New York Botanical Garden.
Brazilian tribe owns carbon rights to Amazon rainforest land
(12/09/2009) A rainforest tribe fighting to save their territory from loggers owns the carbon-trading rights to their land, according to a legal opinion released today by Baker & McKenzie, one of the world’s largest law firms. The opinion, which was commissioned by Forest Trends, a Washington, D.C.-based forest conservation group, could boost the efforts of indigenous groups seeking compensation for preserving forest on their lands, effectively paving the way for large-scale indigenous-led conservation of the Amazon rainforest. Indigenous people control more than a quarter of the Brazilian Amazon.
Malaysian land minister attacks credibility of young indigenous rape victims
(12/07/2009) Speaking to the BBC, James Masing, Sarawak Minister for Land Development, dismissed claims by Penan girls and women who said they had been sexually abused and raped by logging workers in a remote jungle area.
Paper provider for fashion gurus drops APP due to deforestation across Indonesia
(12/02/2009) One by one, the fashion industry's biggest companies are leaving Asian Pulp and Paper (APP)—and deforestation in Indonesia—behind. The newest defector is PAK 2000, a packaging company for fashion products. After a sustained campaign by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and fashion companies buying from PAK 2000, the New Hampshire-based company, has announced that it is severing all ties with APP by the end of the year. The announcement means that big famous companies—from Versace to J. Crew—will have an easier time avoiding paper products that cause rainforest destruction.
Has Canada become the new climate villain (yes, that's right, Canada)?
(12/02/2009) In 2007 American delegates to a climate summit in Bali were booed outright for obstructing a global agreement on climate change. Then in a David versus Goliath moment they were famously scolded by a negotiator from Papua New Guinea, Kevin Conrad. "If for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way," Conrad told the American delegates. However, much has changed in two years: the United States, under a new administration, is no longer the climate change pariah. The US has recently announced emissions cuts, negotiated successfully with China on the issue, and will be attending—Obama included—the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen next week. Obama and his team probably don't need to worry about being booed or remonstrated this time around, but that role may instead go to Canada.
Rainforest tribe declares 'peace park' to defend lands from logging in Sarawak
(11/30/2009) In an attempt to block destructive logging of their traditional land, a group of indigenous Penan has declared a "peace park" in the Upper Baram region of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo, reports the Bruno Manser Fund.
Ethnographic maps built using cutting-edge technology may help Amazon tribes win forest carbon payments
(11/29/2009) A new handbook lays out the methodology for cultural mapping, providing indigenous groups with a powerful tool for defending their land and culture, while enabling them to benefit from some 21st century advancements. Cultural mapping may also facilitate indigenous efforts to win recognition and compensation under a proposed scheme to mitigate climate change through forest conservation. The scheme—known as REDD for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation—will be a central topic of discussion at next month's climate talks in Copenhagen, but concerns remain that it could fail to deliver benefits to forest dwellers.
Guyana expedition finds biodiversity trove in area slated for oil and gas development, an interview with Robert Pickles
(11/29/2009) An expedition deep into Guyana's rainforest interior to find the endangered giant river otter—and collect their scat for genetic analysis—uncovered much more than even this endangered charismatic species. "Visiting the Rewa Head felt like we were walking in the footsteps of Wallace and Bates, seeing South America with its natural density of wild animals as it would have appeared 150 years ago," expedition member Robert Pickles said to Mongabay.com.
A fair deal for forest people: working to ensure that REDD forests bear fruit for local communities
(11/27/2009) As world leaders meet to thrash out the next incarnation of the Kyoto climate agreement, the world waits with baited breath to see how greenhouse gas emissions from forests might be included. Despite the high powered nature of these important global decisions, the success of REDD will ultimately be decided by humble forest dependent communities, living in developing countries and perhaps currently oblivious to the negotiations taking place. Dr Julie Fischer, Communities Specialist on Fauna & Flora International and Macquarie Capital’s Carbon Forests Taskforce, explains why REDD will fail unless it adequately accounts for, or indeed is steered by, these communities.
High gold prices, army collaboration, play role in mining invasion in southern Venezuela
(11/25/2009) Illegal gold mining involving wildcat miners, the Venezuelan army, and indigenous groups is threatening one of the country's most biodiverse river basins, according to local sources.
Efforts to slow climate change may put indigenous people at risk
(11/24/2009) Efforts to slow climate change are putting indigenous people at risk, warns a new report published by Survival International, an indigenous rights' group.
"Responsible" palm oil producers pledge not to develop endangered Sumatra rainforest
(11/13/2009) Members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an initiative developing criteria to improve the environmental performance of palm oil, agreed to declare the Bukit Tigapuluh Ecosystem in Sumatra a 'high conservation value area'. The decision, voted on by RSPO General Assembly members at the group's annual meeting earlier this month in Kuala Lumpur, effectively bans oil palm development of the endangered forest ecosystem by RSPO members.
How rainforest shamans treat disease
(11/10/2009) Ethnobotanists, people who study the relationship between plants and people, have long documented the extensive use of medicinal plants by indigenous shamans in places around the world, including the Amazon. But few have reported on the actual process by which traditional healers diagnose and treat disease. A new paper, published in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, moves beyond the cataloging of plant use to examine the diseases and conditions treated in two indigenous villages deep in the rainforests of Suriname. The research, which based on data on more than 20,000 patient visits to traditional clinics over a four-year period, finds that shamans in the Trio tribe have a complex understanding of disease concepts, one that is comparable to Western medical science. Trio medicine men recognize at least 75 distinct disease conditions—ranging from common ailments like fever [këike] to specific and rare medical conditions like Bell's palsy [ehpijanejan] and distinguish between old (endemic) and new (introduced since contact with the outside world) illnesses. In an interview with mongabay.com, Lead author Christopher Herndon, currently a reproductive medicine physician at the University of California, San Francisco, says the findings are a testament to the under-appreciated healing prowess of indigenous shaman.
Google partners with Amazon tribe
(10/29/2009) The story of an indigenous Amazon tribe that has embraced technology in its fight to protect its homeland and culture is now highlighted as a layer in Google Earth.
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