Underreported Struggles #66, September 2012

In this month’s Underreported Struggles: Shipibo villagers take control of nine oil wells on their territory; The Amoonguna tell the Australian government to go away; Sixteen indigenous Nations join forces to oppose Brazil’s anti-indigenous moves; the Yoruba begin to push for regional autonomy.

Photo: Alan Berner / The Seattle Times

After standing strong for more than 140 days, the Musqueam People are celebrating a decision by the B.C Government to cancel a controversial 5-story condominium project at cusnaum, an historic village and burial site located in the heart of Musqueam’s Traditional, unceded Territory. The developers behind the project will likely challenge the basic-indigenous-rights decision.

The Yanomami organization, HORONAMI, issued its final public statement on the matter of illegal Brazilian miners in the Upper Ocamo region of Venezuela. HORONAMI was relieved to learn that massacre had not taken place, however, it rejects claims that ‘all is well’ in the region. The 16-point statement also rejects attempts to internally divide the organization, to link it to opposition actors and to exploit their previous allegations.

Five Mapuche activists entered their fifth week of an “open-ended” hunger strike at Angol Detention Center in Chile’s Araucanía region. One Mapuche, Daniel Levinao Montoya called the hunger strike after he and Paulino Levipan Coyán were convicted by a military court in mid-August. The men are protesting the militarization of their land in Chile’s south and calling for the release of all Mapuche political prisoners.

The Chumash Nation raised numerous concerns over the proposed Diablo Canyon Seismic project off the Central Coast of California. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) intends to carpet bomb approx. 580 square nautical miles of sea floor with powerful Air Cannons that will blast every 10 to 20 seconds for 42 days straight. The 260db sonic blasts, which will travel through the water and 10 miles into the earth’s crust, will devastate the local marine ecosystem and possibly destroy fragile and sensitive Sacred Chumash Cultural Sites.

The government of Indonesia responded to the UN’s recommendations to recognize the rights of its indigenous peoples by asserting, once again, that no indigenous peoples live in the country. The government recognizes exactly 365 distinct ethnic and sub-ethnic groups, however, it explicitly defines them as “komunitas adat terpencil” (geographically-isolated customary law communities). The concept of Indigenous Peoples, according to Indonesia, cannot apply to any of these communities, whether it’s the Manggarai, Leragere, Kedang or the Peoples of occupied West Papua.

Hundreds of tribal members from the Lummi Nation gathered to announce their opposition to the construction of a facility that would be used to ship coal imported from the Powder River Basin. During the gathering, the Lummi burned a symbolic check to make a statement that no amount of money could buy their support for a project that would destroy their village and burial sites.

About 200 people from all over Nova Scotia gathered to protest the imminent threat of fracking on the shores of Lake Ainslie. The action included a partial blockade led by Mi’kmaq from Cape Breton and the Nova Scotia mainland.

A group of Naso protestors blocked access to the Bonyic Hydroelectric project in Bocas del Toro province, western Panama. The protestors, who issued an urgent plea for international solidarity, say that a new road will cut through an ancient archaeological site, which has already been damaged by bulldozers. They say the site is extensive and that they have collected a variety of ceramic shards, implements, huacas (pre-Colombian ornaments) and a piece of human bone from the area, indicating it was once perhaps a burial ground.

Protests continue to challenge China’s 12th Five Year Plan, which, as of January 2011, had already forcibly moved approximately 1.43 million nomads into unfamiliar urban environments. Over the next five years, the state intends to settle another 1.5 million nomadic pastoralists in Tibet, Inner Mongolia and the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. In each concerned region, nomads are responding to the plan—to end their way of life—with resistance and protest.

The Kuki National Assembly formally requested the cancellation of a proposed Tiger Reserve on the Kuki’s territory in Assam, India. The proposed sanctuary would be placed in an area that the Kuki use for their traditional method of allied farming, which they depend on for survival.The National Assembly states that, while Tiger’s need to be protected, it is “cruel, inhuman and agonizing” to do so at the expense of the Kuki.

Several Indigenous Nations along the North and Central Coast of British Colombia, Canada, declared a ban on trophy bear hunting in their traditional territories. “We will protect bears from cruel and unsustainable trophy hunts by any and all means,” said Kitasoo/Xaixais First Nation Chief Doug Neasloss. Because the Province is negligent in their responsibility to monitor the trophy hunt the Coastal First Nations will now assume responsibility for bear management on the Coast, he added. “We will now assume the authority to monitor and enforce a closure of this senseless trophy hunt.”

Over 400 Shipibo villagers in the Ucayali region of Peru took control of nine oil wells, belonging to a company that has been exploiting Shipibo lands with impunity for the past 37 years. The action sent a clear warning to all foreign and domestic oil companies now invading indigenous homelands throughout the Peruvian Amazon: enough is enough!!

Following the Shipibo protest, though not directly related to it, Peru’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Shipibo and Ese’Eja community’s right to take control of a road that illegal miners and timber cutters were building through their territory. The ruling cited Peru’s new prior consultation law, which requires the government to consult with indigenous communities before making decisions that directly affect them.

Elsewhere in Peru, the Achuar Peoples won a major victory in their own struggle against another oil company. In a move that caught everyone off guard, the Canadian company Talisman Energy announced that it will be withdrawing from the Achuar’s ancestral territory, just as soon as it finishes some ongoing commercial transactions. Essentially, the company got sick of not making any money off the Achuar’s homeland. The company tried and failed for eight years.

Herakles Farms, a subsidiary of the New York-based investment firm Herakles Capital, withdrew its application to join the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) after a coalition of environmental and human rights organizations called attention to the reality of its proposed 73,000-hectare palm oil plantation in Cameroon. They exposed the project for what is: bad for the environment and bad for the people.

The Amoonguna people in Australia’s Northern Territory issued a statement requesting the removal of all government work­ers from their community by the end of September or face charges of tres­pass. The Amoonguna are also refusing to sign another five-??year lease after being forced to accept the first one (along with 5 dozen other communities) in 2007 as a part of the government’s draconian ‘intervention’ programme.

Several Yoruba organizations (the Yoruba General Assembly and the Yoruba Elders Forum among them) recently started to push for regional autonomy in the south-western area of Nigeria, the homeland of the Yoruba people. As observed by Aderemi Suleiman Ajala, an expert on Yoruba nationalism, the Yoruba ruled several powerful kingdoms prior to European colonization; but now that power base is all but gone.

For the first time in several hundred years, non-Indigenous peoples were invited to participate in the last two days of the week-long Wabanaki Confederacy Gathering. Speaking about the invite, Harry LaPorte, grand chief of the Maliseet First Nation, told the Media Coop, “We’re going to rebuild the Wabanaki Confederacy… We also invited some non-Natives…to come and be with us and to help us build an alliance, so that when we…come into conflict with the government and some of their decisions and policies…to have them stand beside us and to let their government know that it’s not only Native people who are worried about the water, the land, the air. But it’s also people from their nation that are concerned.”

Sixteen different indigenous Nations in Brazil came together to show their outrage against the government’s controversial Decree 303 (which essentially extinguishes indigenous rights to land) and what they are calling the “scrapping” of the FUNAI, Brazil’s Buerau of Indian Affairs. As part of the protest, the indigenous peoples blocked access to two major interstate highways, BR-174 and BR-364 - stepping on the economic nerve of the state of Mato Grosso. Sadly, there was almost no English media coverage of the protest.

Videos of the Month

The Herakles Debacle - This short film gives you a good look at Herakles Farms and their plan to destroy 73,000 hectares of rainforest in Cameroon for palm oil.

Buried Voices - provides insight into the Ohlone, Miwok and Yokut Peoples’ ongoing struggle to protect one of their most sacred places, an area near Livermore, California, now known as Brushy Peak.

The Demarest Factor - This film is part of an ongoing investigation that exposes US military mapping of communally-owned indigenous land in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Sacred Sites and Indigenous Peoples Of The Altai Back Under Threat After New Decree

The Golden Mountains of Altai (Photo by mmmAleksei on flickr. Some rights reserved)

There was a jubilant response when IC reported, in July this year, that a new decree had been passed to facilitate the listing and protection of sacred sites on the Ukok plateau. Yet, even in disseminating this good news, the article imparted a warning against premature jubilation. Caution was advised on the basis that the Russian government may well ignore this new commitment and given disturbing recent developments in the Altai Republic this trepidation now seems prophetic.

New information emerging from the Ukok Quiet Zone Nature Park suggests that the positive legal steps taken in June this year constitute only a false dawn in the fight to protect this plateau region. A sacred place to Indigenous peoples and a UNESCO world heritage site, it is theoretically protected by both international and Russian federal law; however, an old threat has returned and it has been extended to include the Uch Enmek Nature Park.

This threat comes in the form of a new decree, passed by Altai Republic authorities on the 2nd of August, which has, once again, given gas giant Gazprom permission to begin construction on the Altai pipeline. Aleksander Berdnikov, a leader in the region, recently mitigated this in a much criticized move, saying that the new listings of sacred sites must be monitored to “prevent barriers to the construction of bridges, roads and other structures.” The new decree bafflingly contradicts June’s protective decree and Russia’s assurances to several environmental organisations that the “Golden Mountains of Altai” would enjoy better protection, just months after they were made.

This pipeline, if built, will stretch from Western Siberia to China, has been threatening both the ecology and people of the Ukok plateau for some time now thanks to its stop start development. Much has been said and written about the potentially devastating environmental, social and economic consequences the pipeline could have.

Fears abound that it may degrade underground layers of permafrost vital to the above ground environment and limiting warming influences. The area is also prone to earthquakes and local peoples are rightly concerned that if the line were breached a catastrophic leak would result, profoundly damaging Indigenous livelihoods that rely on free range animal husbandry, fishing and hunting. It is also argued that increased activity in the area would negatively affect the regions endangered species such as the Snow Leopard and Steppe Eagle.

The pipeline’s proposed route through this region is also environmentally contentious on a more basic level. This point of view was expressed by head of nature protection fund Altai 21 Andrei Ivanov who stated that “since the world is concerned with stabilizing the climate, such unique and pristine territories should be protected.”

The Ukok plateau is also a profoundly important cultural zone. A sacred area to the Altai, Shor and Telengit Indigenous peoples. These groups commonly hold that the Ukok plateau is where the spirits come to hear the ‘Kai’, throat singing, of the people. It is a vital place of spiritual communion and also, for the Telengit especially, an ancestral burial ground with a history of well over 8,000 years of use. The plateau is home to countless burial chambers belonging to the ancient Pazyryk people and their descendants, noted by archeologists worldwide for their beautiful tattooing.

Today even archeologists are banned from exploring this region which, being bountiful with sites of sacred significance both natural and man-made, should be currently benefitting from greater protection. The new decree enacts a U-turn away from such protection, showing, if anything, that the regions true cultural and environmental value has yet yet to be acknowledged by authorities.

GreenPeace recently stated that the emerging plan for construction also “grossly violates Russia’s international obligations under the UNESCO convention concerning the protection of world culture and heritage.” The organization also noted that Gazprom subcontractors in the Ukok area were observed beginning exploratory drilling procedures before the new decree came into force on August 17th. Gazprom is charged with breaching terms on another level since it is clearly stated that such exploration is not to be begun without approval from the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources and a Federal Environmental Impact Report. Neither of these have been attained to date.

Thus emerges a consistent pattern of corruption and violation with Russia, the Altai Republic and Gazprom flouting regulations that have so far prevented Ukok and Uch Enmek from becoming a gas superhighway. Russia and China have not even reached an agreement over whether one will buy the gas channeled by this line and there is also strong evidence to suggest that the strife caused by the insistent and illegal efforts to disrupt the Ukok Plateau are entirely unnecessary.

In a recent statement Alexei Knizhnikov, head of WWF Russia’s oil and gas programme, revealed that “there are alternative routes that are better not only from an ecological, but also a profit perspective.” Save Ukok Coalition have echoed these sentiments calling the move “against all rational and scientific arguments.”

It is in light of these facts that the reinvigorated building programme and the decree which is allowing it have been called a “moral violence against people; ” not, it seems, that the powers care. Last year, a Gazprom representative stated that they would drive the pipeline “right through the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius if we have to!” It is also believed that Vladimir Putin insists on the pipeline cutting through the Altai.

It remains to be seen how Russian and Altai authorities as well as Gazprom responds to international declarations of their dishonesty. Given their form of the past four months alone any reparative action must once again be treated with extreme caution.

B.C. Government Cancels Housing Project at Historic Musqueam Village and Burial Site

Photo: Protect the village and midden site of c??sna??m (on facebook)

After standing strong for more than 140 days, the Musqueam People are celebrating a decision by the B.C Government to cancel a controversial 5-story condominium project at cusnaum, an historic village and burial site located in the heart of Musqueam’s Traditional, unceded Territory.

"Musqueam is pleased that the proposed development is no longer authorized by the permits issued by the Province and that the ancestral remains are to be restored to their original condition," the Musqueam said, in a September 28 Press Release. "Their disturbance caused great anguish to the community and the proposed development would have desecrated an ancient and sacred burial place and destroyed a site precious to the Musqueam as representing one of the few links to our heritage extending back thousands of years. It would also have destroyed a Canadian historic site and a heritage site that should be protected for all British Colombians."

For updates and more information, visit the facebook page Protect the village and midden site of cusnaum (Marpole).

September 28, 2012


The Musqueam Indian Band is pleased to have received today a decision dated September 27, 2012 made by the Province regarding the permits issued by the Province under the Heritage Conservation Act to permit a 5 story condominium development at cusnaum, also known as the Musqueam Marpole Village Site. As recognized in the decision, this site was declared to be a National Historic Site in 1933 as one of the largest pre-contact middens in Western Canada and it has special significance for Musqueam.

The decision refers to a statement by Musqueam elder and Councillor, Howard Grant, as effectively articulating the immutable position of the Musqueam community with respect to the sacred value of the Site as an ancestral village site. The decision also refers to the opinion of Dr. Miller, professor of Anthropology at U.B.C., that the Site remains one of the most significant archaeological sites in Canada. The recent discovery of further intact ancestral remains was noted in the decision.

In view of the evidence presented by the Band, it was decided that the permits that had been issued in December 2011 should not be extended until December 31, 2013 as requested by the developers. Instead they should be allowed to expire on September 30, 2012 except that one permit should be extended until November 1, 2012 to allow only for the mandatory return of the lots to their original condition including the covering of the intact burials and the reburial of partial remains.

Musqueam is pleased that the proposed development is no longer authorized by the permits issued by the Province and that the ancestral remains are to be restored to their original condition. Their disturbance caused great anguish to the community and the proposed development would have desecrated an ancient and sacred burial place and destroyed a site precious to the Musqueam as representing one of the few links to our heritage extending back thousands of years. It would also have destroyed a Canadian historic site and a heritage site that should be protected for all British Colombians.

Musqueam looks forward to being actively involved in the steps to be taken to restore the ancestral remains in accordance with Musqueam customs and beliefs, steps that must be taken immediately to prevent further deterioration.

Contacts: Councillor Wade Grant – 604-318-8484; wgrant@musqueam.bc.ca
Band Manager – Ken McGregor – 604-317-6078; bandmanager@musqueam.bc.ca

Yanomami issue final statement on the matter of illegal miners in Venezuela

Location of the Yanomami peoples (S. Venezuela and N. Brazil)

On Sept. 25, the Yanomami national organization, HORONAMI, issued its final public statement on the matter of illegal Brazilian miners in the Upper Ocamo region of Venezuela.

While the allegations of a massacre have now been dropped, HORONAMI wishes to make it clear that it rejects claims that ‘all is well’ in the region. As such, HORONAMI is reiterating its call for “a more careful and extensive investigation into possible acts of violence and other possible abuses of the garimpeiros in the Upper Ocamo region”.

HORONAMI goes on to explain the risks that garimpeiros pose to the Yanomami and the land they rely on. In addition to abuses and threats, there is the possibility of the outsiders spreading disease (something the Yanonami have experienced in recent history) and degrading the environment with their machinery and their use of mercury to extract gold.

In light of these very real risks, HORONAMI is also requesting a “permanent and sustained patrol for the final eviction of illegal mining camps in the Upper Ocamo and other areas of the Upper Orinoco, as Hashimu, Cerro Delgado Chalbaud and Siapa River, among others. This must be a joint effort set between the Bolivarian Armed Forces and our Yanomami organization Horonami, since we know our people and our territory.”

The 16-point statement further rejects ongoing efforts to internally divide the organization, to link it to opposition actors and to exploit their previous allegations. To be sure, the Yanomami are elated that Venezuela found no evidence of a massacre during their investigation.

Specifically, HORONAMI states:

We do not want to attack our President Hugo Chavez Frias, nor do we want our situation to be manipulated as an electoral episode. The truth is what we have to show, and our motivation is the defense of our people, our habitat and our land which is being seriously pillaged and polluted. We request that the Venezuelan State respect our Horonami Organization; we express our total willingness to collaborate with the government agencies to solve this matter. We reject the attempts of the Minister Nicia Maldonado to divide our organization and we repudiate the mass media and other people who have manipulated the information for political purposes, trying to link us with opposition actors, taking advantage of this serious situation for electioneering purposes.

HORONAMI’s final statement concludes with a message for all mass media actors: “We will not give further statements, we want that the mass media to refer just to the content of this document.”

Download HORONAMI’s Final Statement

Mapuche activists enter fifth week of ‘open-ended’ hunger strike

Photo by Carolonline. Some rights reserved.

CHILE — Five Mapuche activists are entering the fifth week of an “open-ended” hunger strike at Angol Detention Center in the country’s Araucanía region. Community member Daniel Levinao Montoya called the hunger strike after he and Paulino Levipan Coyán were convicted by a military court in mid-August. The men are protesting the militarization of their land in Chile’s south and calling for the release of all Mapuche political prisoners.

The two activists were arrested in connection to a November 2011 shooting in Chequenco that left three members of the national police wounded. The court ruled the shooting was predetermined and sentenced both to 10 years for attempted murder, along with another year-and-a-half for possession of firearms. Levinao and Levipan, whose attorney plans to appeal the convictions, are both in their late teens.

In their fifth message to supporters, the strikers include a chart of their weights before the strike and two weeks in. According to Prensa Latina, community leader Nibaldo Huenuman’s statements to the site indicated the young men “suffer physical deterioration, have lost about 10 kilograms … and can barely stand up.” Despite significant weight-loss and general poor health, the men remain steadfast in their commitment to the strike and have refused hospital treatment.

The action is the third hunger strike to be carried out by Mapuche activists in three years, following two strikes in the summer of 2010 and spring 2011. Current strikers have not received the same level of media attention as those in years past, but all three actions have targeted a common enemy: Pinochet-era anti-terrorist legislation that is used almost exclusively against Mapuche community members.

An incident in April left police sergeant Hugo Albornoz fatally wounded. Albornoz’s injuries were sustained during a firefight that began after police raided Wente Winkul Mapu. According to witnesses, police were searching for evidence related to an October 2011 attack on a nearby private estate. Two months after Albornoz’s death, Erick Montoya Montoya was beaten and sustained buckshot wounds before police arrested him in connection to the crime. At least five members of Montoya Montoya’s family were also assaulted by police; the victims ranged in age from 12 to 78-years-old.

The remaining strikers – Rodrigo Montoya Melinao and Héctor Ricardo Nahuelqueo Nahuelqueo – were arrested on charges related to the April attack. Montoya Montoya and Montoya Melinao await trial in Angol while Nahuelqueo, 19, was released on parole.

While their comrades count the hours until their own days in court, both Levipan and Levinao were tried under the anti-terrorist law, known as Chile’s Law No. 19.027. A hangover from the country’s 17-year military dictatorship, the law makes it possible for civilians to be tried in military courts and, in the event that they are not convicted, may be subject to double jeopardy in a civilian hearing.

No. 19.027’s power stems from its adaptability. The legislation redefines “terrorism” to include property violence or attacks on corporate employees and allows for the use of anonymous witnesses to convict suspected terrorists. Until recently, anonymous witnesses were not allowed to be cross-examined by the defense.

Mapuche community members argue the law and its provisions usurp due process and criminalize the group’s struggle. Daniel Melinao, a spokesperson for Wente Winkul Mapu, argued in a speech at a Mapuche Ceremonial Center in Viña del Mar that the sentences were discriminatory and racist. “It was police who testified before the judges and they did not show any paper, antecedents or medical paper showing that they had even a scratch, pellet wound or whatever,” Melinao told the crowd.

But in spite of police violence and shady trial proceedings, the Mapuche struggle is still a polarizing topic for many Chileans. Social media buzzed with news of the strike and marked two distinct sides of the debate. Some argued the Mapuche and their supporters operate on the assumption that Mapuche lives should be protected at the expense of the lives of others. To make distinctions, one man tweeted, is to “distort the value of human life.”

At least four people have died in what the Chilean government has dubbed the Mapuche Conflict – three Mapuche and one national policeman. Some sources cite a higher figure. Only one of those suspected of killing the Mapuche victims was tried and the court did not convict the alleged assassin.


Resistance to repression has a centuries’ long history in Mapuche communities. The Mapuche staved off incorporation into the Inka Empire and their lands constituted the southern border of Inka territory.

European would-be colonizers met a similar fate. The Spaniards were only able to extend the colonial project as far south as the Bío-Bío River after a protracted battle with the Mapuche. The indigenous territory south of the River was one of the last pieces of South America to be incorporated into a modern nation-state in the 1880s, when Chilean forces finally began colonizing the region a full 60 years after declaring independence from Spain.

Free from the repression of Pinochet’s military since Chile’s return to democracy in 1990, activists began to engage in increasingly radical actions in the struggles for freedom of speech and affordable education.

Mapuche militants are no different in this respect. Legal land occupations and apolitical cultural centers were cast aside in favor of forceful land reclamations, anti-police actions and anti-corporate violence. Uprooting industrial crops and replacing them with foodstuffs became common practice in some communities in an effort to reclaim ancestral Mapuche lands from private and corporate interests.

And while the Mapuche focus on local issues, radical Chilean student movements are addressing Mapuche issues and incorporating the Mapuche struggle into their battle with the Sebastián Piñera administration. In its manifesto, the student movement demanded an increase in scholarships for indigenous students and the inclusion of course content relative to indigenous languages and histories.

At the 39 anniversary memorials of the 1973 military coup that ousted the democratically elected Salvador Allende, marchers called for freedom and justice for the Mapuche, marking a shift in the way indigenous identity is imagined from an urban perspective. The Mapuche are a powerful piece of urban Chilean national identity and imagination, and after a mass migration from the south to cities like Santiago, a tangible part. Over half of all people who self-identify as Mapuche live in urban settings (44% in Santiago alone), while more still have Mapuche lineage.

In rural indigenous communities, support came in the form of solidarity strikes. Mapuche activists expressed unity with the five incarcerated youths and began a hunger strike on August 25, after 30 days of occupying UNICEF’s Santiago office. According to TeleSur, the occupiers were occupying to protest the “passivity” and “lack of support” for Mapuche youth targeted by the government’s violence and criminalization of the struggle. Organizers suspended the strike after UNICEF representative Tom Olsen agreed to meet with the occupiers.

Amidst the shows of support from around Chile, the young hunger strikers announced their own list of demands. The Aug. 29 communiqué from Angol asks for the annulment of the sentences of both Levipan and Levinao and freedom for all Mapuche political prisoners; the demilitarization of Mapuche territory; an end to the use of protected witnesses in Mapuche cases and the return of land to indigenous communities.

In a fifth dispatch released September 12, the young men wrote, “being in prison is like being dead” and asked supporters to tell their parents: “we struggle because we were born Mapuche.”