5 Ways Indigenous Groups Are Fighting Back Against Land Seizures
By Peter Veit
Much of the world's land is occupied and used by Indigenous Peoples and communities—about 50 percent of it, involving more than 2.5 billion people. But these groups are increasingly losing their ancestral lands—their primary source of livelihood, income and social identity.
Governments, corporations and local elites are eager to acquire land to extract natural resources; grow food, fibers and biofuels; or simply hold it for speculative purposes. Most communities hold land under customary tenure systems and lack formal titles for it. While national laws in many countries recognize customary rights, the legal protections are often weak and poorly enforced, making community land especially vulnerable to being taken by more powerful actors.
Communities, however, are not standing by idly. They're increasingly taking action to protect their lands.
Here are five ways communities are defending their land rights:
Children living in Kenya's Mau ForestPatrick Shepherd / CIFOR
As Indigenous Peoples and communities learn of their rights, more are turning to the courts to help realize them. In 2008, the Kenyan government began a campaign to evict the Ogiek, an indigenous group of hunters and gatherers, from their ancestral home, the Mau Forest in the Rift Valley. The following year, the Ogiek filed a complaint against the government to the African Commission on Human and People's Rights which referred it to the African Court on Human and People's Rights, a continental court based in neighboring Tanzania. Last month, the Court delivered its judgment, ruling that the government had violated several articles of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, of which Kenya is a signatory. It recognized the Ogiek's indigenous status and their right to the forest, and awarded reparations for forcible evictions. The ruling from Africa's highest institutional human rights body sends a powerful message to all African governments of the need to respect indigenous rights.
Protestors in Ecuadorpato chavez / Flickr
2. Demonstrations and Protests
Community members are marching to state capitals, staging protests and meeting directly with government leaders. In December 2017, following a two-week march by hundreds of indigenous people in Quito, Ecuador, President Lenin Moreno agreed to a moratorium on new auctions of oil and mining concessions without the consent of local communities. When the government then announced a new oil auction and handed out several new mining concessions in February 2018, protestors returned. In March, nearly 100 indigenous women camped out for five days in front of the government palace in Quito's central plaza. Moreno granted them a meeting, and the women pressed him again to limit oil drilling and mining in their territories, and to combat the violence that often accompanies the industries. Moreno assured them he would heed their demands. The women vowed they would return if the matter is not addressed.
Aerial view of the Brazilian AmazonNeil Palmer / CIAT
3. Monitoring and Patrolling
In the absence of government support, many communities have organized their own patrols to monitor their land and evict intruders. Brazil and other countries have long struggled to contain illegal logging. In the state of Maranhão in northeastern Brazil, only 20 percent of the original forest cover remains. Nearly all of this forest is in indigenous territories and protected nature reserves where commercial exploitation is banned, but loggers linked to criminal syndicates continue to cut trees. In 2014, after repeated calls to government went unheeded, indigenous Guajajara and Ka'apor communities organized their own patrols to rid their land of illegal loggers. They have captured loggers cutting timber or setting fire in their lands, confiscated their chainsaws and seized their trucks. The Maranhão government has praised the work of the indigenous patrols and offered to train and equip them to help enforce environmental regulations.
Logging in East Kalimantan, Indonesia.Josh Estey / AusAID
4. Mapping Land
Much community land is not represented on any official government maps and, as such, is essentially invisible. Many communities are therefore preparing precise maps of their land using hand-held Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and other tools. These maps are challenging official government narratives. In Indonesia's Malinau District, East Kalimantan, loggers and palm oil companies have long sought the customary forests of the indigenous Dayak. When one palm oil company began to log the forest of Setuland village, villagers jumped into action. After threatening to force the company off their land, the company withdrew. The Dayaks realized they needed a map of their land that documented their boundaries, customary forest, homes and longhouses, as well as the damaged forests where the company had illegally cut their trees. With the help of an Indonesian geographer, villagers used drones to map and then monitor their lands. Now, if a logging or palm oil company enters onto their land, Setuland will be armed with their own map to help them confront the challenge.
Community members in the Philippines detail documentation of their Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim. Jason Houston / USAID
5. Registering and Titling Land
Indigenous Peoples and communities are also registering their customary land rights into a government cadaster and obtaining a formal land titles or certificates. Doing so integrates their customary rights into the legal system, establishes formal land rights and helps communities protect their lands. The Higaonon, an indigenous group in the Mindanao region of the Philippines, holds its land under customary tenure systems. The lack of clear boundaries, however, has led to conflicts with neighbors who have extended their plots onto Higaonon land. In response, the Higaonon applied for a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT), a formal land ownership title. Despite a 1997 law requiring the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples facilitate the demarcation and registration of ancestral lands, the agency has only issued 182 CADTs with many more applications waiting to be processed. Moreover, fewer than 50 CADTs have been formally registered, limiting their effectiveness to protect indigenous land.
A woman in Indonesia's Dayak community weaves a basket. Rainforest Action Network / Flickr
While no measure can guarantee land security, these actions have helped communities protect their homes. Scaling these measures, however, has proven challenging.
Communities need help securing the appropriate technologies like GPS devices or navigating often complex land titling processes. And governments must reform and better implement the laws to better protect indigenous and community land.
Being assertive in protecting their lands has also exposed community members to new risks. Clashes between communities and those seeking their land have escalated in recent years. Last year, 197 land and environmental defenders were killed, the bloodiest year since Global Witness began keeping records on this issue. We all need to do a better job of protecting not only community land, but also land defenders.
Pope Francis: Indigenous People Should Have Final Say About Their Land https://t.co/YJMNM5Sha5 (@EcoWatch) #NoDAPL— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1487554202.0
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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