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Pope Francis: Indigenous People Should Have Final Say About Their Land

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Pope Francis defended the rights of indigenous tribes at the Indigenous Peoples Forum in Rome Wednesday. As part of a UN International Fund for Agricultural Development meeting, he spoke in Spanish with 40 representatives of the 300 largest indigenous groups in the world.


“The particular characteristics of indigenous peoples and their territories," must be protected, Francis said, according to Reuters. He stated this was especially true "when planning economic activities which may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship to the earth." He also promoted the full participation of indigenous peoples in local and national government.

"The right to prior and informed consent should always prevail, as foreseen in Article 32 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," he added, according to US News. "Only then is it possible to guarantee peaceful cooperation between governing authorities and indigenous peoples, overcoming confrontation and conflict."

The 2007 UN Declaration the Pope referenced was opposed by the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Pope Francis has a record of defending the environment. His 2015 encyclical on the environment and human ecology shared a prayer for the earth: "Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction."

While he didn't specifically mention the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), many news outlets picked up on his suggestive and timely focus on indigenous land rights and reported the connection. Reuters described his actions as backing "Native Americans seeking to halt part of the Dakota Access Pipeline, saying indigenous cultures have a right to defend 'their ancestral relationship to the earth.'"

"Evidently, he's informed of the numerous problems that affect indigenous peoples, but there's no element in his words that would give us a clue to know if he was talking about any specific cases," Paloma Garcia Ovejero, a Vatican representative, told the Catholic News outlet, Crux.

On Jan. 24, President Trump signed two executive orders calling for the approval of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. On Feb. 13, a federal judge denied a temporary injunction against DAPL construction, requested by the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux tribes. The judge plans to reconsider this case Feb. 27.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.