WikiCommons/André Schütte
House with family in a small mountain village in the mountains of Copan, Honduras, at the border to Guatemala.

Indigenous Land Rights Fight Builds Momentum in 2015


Indigenous communities around the world continued to push to have their voices heard when it came to pressures from non-indigenous mostly moving into territories. The headlines throughout 2015 highlighted indigenous land rights, lawsuit settlements, indigenous recognition in law, and even mandatory inclusion for college credits. The following is a look at some of the top indigenous stories from around the world in 2015:

Helping Defend Land Rights

Indigenous land rights continued to be an issue throughout 2015 and not just in North America. Indigenous communities from around the world fought and protested encroachment by legal and illegal means and in November ICTMN reported about a new map that could assist in the fight.

The online interactive map focused on indigenous and community lands was designed to help communities defend their land rights and help stop land grabs by outsiders.

“We think that shining a light on these lands is an important part of the process of protecting (them),” Pete Veit, director of the Land and Resource Rights Initiative at the Washington-based World Resources Institute said in a telephone interview.

RELATED: New Interactive Map Helps Tribes Defend Land Rights

Indigenous Hondurans Threatened

Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People completed a nine-day visit to Honduras in November – a visit that was sparked by protests in March as reported by ICTMN.

Following her visit, Tauli-Corpuz spoke about issues of miners, logging, industrial agribusinesses, ranchers and corruption impeding on the fundamental rights of indigenous people to their land and territory.

She recommended the country strengthen its government office that handles indigenous affairs while improving access to justice for indigenous people.

RELATED: Corruption, Land Takeovers Threaten Indigenous Hondurans

Indigenous Autonomy Law Pressure in Costa Rica

There are about 63,000 indigenous living in Costa Rica and the Costa Rican government may be heading towards granting greater self-determination ICTMN reported in November.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the government to take precautionary measures to protect Bribri and Teribe indigenous from non-indigenous settlers.

The U.N. followed the IACHR report in July with it’s own report addressing the continual violation of Indigenous Peoples’ rights creating what many hope will be enough pressure to finally pass an Indigenous Autonomy Law that has been stalled in congress for 20 years.

RELATED: Costa Rican Government to Push for Indigenous Autonomy Law

Indigenous Studies Now Required

In 2015 there were plenty of stories addressing the lack of indigenous history being taught throughout schools in North America, but in mid-November two Canadian universities created a buzz when they announced indigenous studies would be required for graduation.

The University of Winnipeg in Manitoba Province and Lakehead University in Ontario announced that beginning September 2016, students would need to pass a three-credit course in indigenous history or culture as reported by ICTMN in December.

RELATED: Indigenous Studies Now Required at Two Canadian Universities

Call to Protest ‘Controlled Contact’

This summer an editorial from two United States anthropologists in Science magazine created a stir among indigenous organizations from Brazil, Paraguay and Peru, along with Survival International.

The anthropologists argued that “a well-designed contact can be quite safe” compared to the disastrous interactions that have occurred over the last couple of years as reported by ICTMN in October.

The open letter by the indigenous groups was an outright call to protest the anthropologists’ idea due to the idea of controlled contact being illegal and dangerous.

“We the undersigned organizations wholeheartedly reject the proposal… [It’s] both dangerous and illegal, and undermines the rights that Indigenous Peoples have fought long and hard for,” the groups letter stated.

RELATED: ‘Controlled Contact’ Illegal and Dangerous Say Indigenous Leaders

Achuar Lawsuit Ends With Settlement

On March 5 it was announced that five Achuar communities had reached a settlement with Occidental Petroleum following a decade-long legal battle over pollution from oil drilling along the Corrientes River in the northern Peruvian Amazon.

The settlement was actually reached in 2013 but the court records were sealed until this year, however the deal prohibits publicizing details of the settlement, but stated communities would receive an undisclosed amount of money for community development.

RELATED: Achuar Lawsuit Against Occidental Petroleum Ends With Settlement

Indigenous Wayuu Children Dying in Colombia

In February the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights was petitioned to issue emergency cautionary measures to the Colombian government to allow the Wayuu community to regain access to the Rancheria River.

The Colombian government damned the river diverting the water to big farms, mines and wealthier areas of the country in return left thousands of Wayuu children starving and dying of thirst according to a 2014 study commissioned by the Ombudsman of the region according to an ICTMN story from April. At least 5,000 Wayuu children died of starvation, with more than 37,000 suffering malnutrition over the last three years in the desert area of La Guajira the study said. Others put the death toll closer to 14,0000.

RELATED: Indigenous Wayuu Children Dying From Corruption and a Stolen River in Colombia

Indigenous Warriors Arrested in January

The Waorani warriors of Ecuador made their presence known in early January along with their disdain of oil production near their communities.

The warriors attacked and shut down a Petrobell oil field on January 7, leading to the arrest of seven warriors. The attacks caused enough damage to shut down 11 oil wells at the facility and left six Ecuadorean military soldiers wounded as reported by ICTMN.

RELATED: Indigenous Warriors Who Shut Down Oil Facility in Ecuador Arrested

Isolated Awá Forced Out

Indigenous communities in the northern region of Brazil began the year being forced out of their territory due to illegal logging according to Survival International and other advocates ICTMN reported in January.

Two Awá-guaja women and an adolescent boy first came into contact with local Awá people outside the indigenous Maranhao village and it was reported that sounds of chainsaws and tractors could be heard in the area of contact.

The contact follows a SI  campaign in 2014 to pressure Brazil’s government to evict loggers from Awá land and in January it was reported checkpoints were being set up at the request of the government to impede illegal loggers.

RELATED: Isolated Awa in Brazil Forced Out of Their Lands Again by Illegal Loggers

Mapping Brazil’s Sacred Sites

The Socio-environmental Institute (ISA in Brazil) began its second phase of mapping sacred indigenous sites along the Black River (Rio Negro) in Brazil’s Amazon in January.

The first phase of the project took place in January of 2013 and covered almost 500 miles of the Black River to track the route of origin of sacred sites of the Indigenous Peoples of eastern Tucano language group as reported by ICTMN.

This year’s team registered close to 40 sacred sites in 12 days and at the completion of phase two more than 100 hours of film had been recorded with plans to produce a series of videos about the sitesand their history.

RELATED: Mapping Sacred Indigenous Sites Along the Black River In Brazil

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