Members of the Navajo and Hopi tribes are struggling to adjust to a new way of life following the closure of the coal-powered Navajo Generating Station late last year, as leaders look for new sources of revenue and energy.
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Brazil's divisive President Jair Bolsonaro has taken another step in his bold plans to develop the Amazon rainforest.
Riches Now in Reach<p>The Amazon possesses a wealth of minerals including <a href="https://www.cell.com/one-earth/pdf/S2590-3322(19)30081-8.pdf" target="_blank">gold, diamonds, iron ore, manganese, copper, zinc and tin</a>. But the region is so remote, with its southern edge lying 1,000 miles from Rio de Janeiro, that resource extraction was <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-8306.2007.00564.x" target="_blank">long limited by transportation costs</a>.</p><p>This began to change in the 1970s, when Brazil's military government <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/btp.12610" target="_blank">built several new highways</a> through the Amazon. It paid little heed to the desires or safety of the <a href="http://www.precog.com.br/bc-texto/obras/pagliaro-9788575412541.pdf" target="_blank">140,000 Native people</a> living there.</p><p>Terrible abuses occurred, including the military's systematic killing from 1967 to 1977 of up to 2,000 <a href="https://apnews.com/9b7372ee4abc4b0aa659bdfb82492851" target="_blank">Waimiri-Atroari people</a> to make way for <a href="https://lab.org.uk/brazil-waimiri-atroari-indigenous-massacre/" target="_blank">a road to the Amazonian capital of Manaus</a>.</p><p>The territorial aggressions culminated in the 1980s, when <a href="https://pib.socioambiental.org/en/Povo:Yanomami#The_gold_rush" target="_blank">up to 40,000 wildcat miners invaded the Yanomami homeland</a> looking for gold. An estimated <a href="https://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/yanomami" target="_blank">20% of the resident indigenous population perished</a> from disease and violence over a seven-year period. Today there are about 900,000 indigenous people in Brazil.</p>
A World in Peril<p>At the turn of the millennium, Brazil was generally <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/106/26/10582.full.pdf" target="_blank">considered a good steward of the Amazon</a>.</p><p>About a decade into the 21st century, however, environmental policy <a href="https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cobi.12298" target="_blank">began to weaken</a> to allow <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-018-0179-9?proof=trueMay" target="_blank">more infrastructure development</a> in the Amazon. By 2016, some 34,000 square miles of the Brazilian Amazon had <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320716300386" target="_blank">lost its previously protected status or seen protections reduced</a>.</p><p>Indigenous sovereignty, however, was never called into question — until now. Since taking office in January 2019, Bolsonaro has also <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/01/brazils-bolsonaro-creates-amazon-council-and-environmental-police-force/" target="_blank">cut funds for the enforcement of Brazil's strict environmental laws</a>, leading Amazon <a href="https://theconversation.com/amazon-deforestation-already-rising-may-spike-under-bolsonaro-109940" target="_blank">deforestation to spike</a>.</p>
Resistance as Conservation<p>Accelerating deforestation under Bolsonaro has sparked violence in the Amazon.</p><p>Seven indigenous land activists <a href="https://g1.globo.com/natureza/noticia/2019/12/10/mortes-de-liderancas-indigenas-batem-recorde-em-2019-diz-pastoral-da-terra.ghtml" target="_blank">were killed in 2019</a>, according to the Brazilian not-for-profit Pastoral Land Commission, the most in over a decade. Indigenous environmental leaders in the <a href="https://sostenibilidad.semana.com/impacto/articulo/amenazas-a-lideres-indigenas-y-sociales-no-cesan-en-colombia/42919" target="_blank">Colombian</a> and <a href="https://es.mongabay.com/2018/07/amenazas-lideres-indigenas-de-ecuador-medio-ambiente/" target="_blank">Ecuadorian</a> Amazon have also been murdered.</p><p>Such killings mostly go unsolved. But Brazil's Indigenous Peoples Association says one indigenous activist killed in 2019, Paulo Guajajara, was gunned down by illegal loggers in November for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/02/brazilian-forest-guardian-killed-by-illegal-loggers-in-ambush" target="_blank">defending Guajajara territory</a> as part of an armed group called Guardians of the Forest.</p><p>"We are protecting our land and the life on it," Guajajara told <a href="https://fr.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSKBN1XC0GR" target="_blank">Reuters</a> shortly before his murder. "We have to preserve this life for our children's future."</p><p>Indigenous Brazilians have also defended their land in court.</p><p>In 2012, the Munduruku sued to <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/dec/22/amazon-munduruku-indians-brazil-tapajos" target="_blank">stop the construction of mega-dams and waterways</a> in the Tapajós River Valley — projects that would have ended life as they know it. Federal prosecutors agreed, filing in support of the Munduruku and calling for the suspension of the largest dam's environmental license.</p><p><span></span>Under legal pressure, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources in their <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2016/04/amazon-mega-dam-suspended-hope-indigenous-people-biodiversity/" target="_blank">April 2016 decision</a> curtailed the entire infrastructure plan, conserving <a href="https://www.cell.com/one-earth/pdf/S2590-3322(19)30081-8.pdf" target="_blank">7 percent of the Amazon Basin</a>.</p>
Amazon’s Last Hope<p>Not every indigenous Brazilian is a born environmentalist. Many mix traditional livelihoods like hunting, fishing and gathering with <a href="https://pib.socioambiental.org/en/Povo:Xavante#Economy_and_environment" target="_blank">agriculture and ranching</a>.</p><p>Like other <a href="https://theconversation.com/for-cattle-farmers-in-the-brazilian-amazon-money-cant-buy-happiness-85349" target="_blank">farmers who clear forest to plant more crops</a>, indigenous farmers stand to benefit from Bolsonaro's environmental deregulation. The president recently announced his administration would offer <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazl-indigenous/brazils-bolsonaro-offers-credit-for-indigenous-farmers-as-he-pushes-to-open-their-lands-idUSKBN20C2PQ" target="_blank">credit to indigenous soybean farmers who want to expand their operations</a>.</p><p>In Roraima state, the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/04/we-are-fighting-brazils-indigenous-groups-unite-to-protect-their-land" target="_blank">Raposa Serra do Sol people</a> live on land rich with gold, diamonds, copper and a slew of lesser-known metals that <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-election-china-niobium/hands-off-brazils-niobium-bolsonaro-sees-china-as-threat-to-utopian-vision-idUSKCN1MZ1JN" target="_blank">Bolsonaro regards as strategic to Brazil's metallurgical economy</a>. Royalty payments to Native peoples who open their land to miners could be substantial.</p><p>So far, however, indigenous <a href="https://www.ecosystemmarketplace.com/articles/indigenous-leader-aims-to-build-global-defense-against-brazils-tropical-trump" target="_blank">groups are united in their resistance to federal and corporate</a> interference. They may be the Brazilian Amazon's last hope.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jan Rocha
President Jair Bolsonaro pressed forward with a "dream" initiative sending a bill to the Brazilian Congress on Wednesday that would open indigenous reserves in the Amazon and elsewhere to development, including commercial mining, oil and gas exploration, cattle ranching and agribusiness, new hydroelectric dam projects, and tourism — projects that have been legally blocked under the country's 1988 Constitution.
A map showing indigenous reserves and conservation units in the Amazon, as well as deforestation. Mauricio Torres / Mongabay<p>Onyx Lorenzoni, Bolsonaro's chief of staff, praised the bill, claiming it was a "Lei Aurea" for indigenous people — a reference to the 1888 royal decree which freed the slaves in Brazil. From the government's point of view, the legislation is freeing indigenous people, allowing their lands to be invaded by <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/mining" rel="noopener noreferrer">mining</a>, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/oil-and-gas" rel="noopener noreferrer">oil and gas</a> companies; <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/cattle" rel="noopener noreferrer">cattle</a> ranchers; soy farmers and dam builders, while compensating indigenous communities monetarily.</p><p>Under the Brazilian constitution, demarcated indigenous territories belong to the state, and are for the permanent possession and exclusive use of the indigenous people who have always lived there. Only they can decide what activities are allowed on their lands.</p><p>Bolsonaro's new law is therefore an attempt to override the Constitution, say legal experts. It is almost certain to be greatly modified in Congress, if it passes at all. But, say analysts, the message contained in the bill — that indigenous lands are up for grabs — is what matters.</p><p>Since Bolsonaro's election, conflicts between ruralists and indigenous people have soared. The latest report from CIMI, the Indigenous Missionary Council, shows a steady growth in the number of invasions of indigenous areas, up from 111 in 2018 to 160 in 2019; indigenous leaders say Bolsonaro's speeches and comments have contributed to the increase. <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/01/five-murdered-in-2020-brazilian-amazon-land-conflicts-adding-to-2019-surge/" target="_blank">Five murders</a> due to indigenous and traditional land conflicts occurred in the first weeks of 2020.</p>
Uncontacted indigenous group in the Brazilian state of Acre. Gleilson Miranda / Governo do Acre / Mongabay
Uncontacted Indigenous Groups at Risk<p>The new bill as written would allow economic projects even in areas where there are known to be uncontacted Indians. The existence of 28 such groups in the Amazon region has been confirmed, out of 115 believed to exist.</p><p>But the bill isn't the only potential threat to uncontacted tribes. The day before Bolsonaro announced his legislation, FUNAI appointed an evangelical preacher and agency outsider to head the Department for Isolated and Recently Contacted Indigenous Peoples (CGIIRC). To accomplish this, FUNAI had to revoke its own long-established rule that only a qualified staff member could be chosen to head such a sensitive bureau.</p><p>The new head, Ricardo Lopes Dias, has <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/05/brazil-indigenous-tribes-missionary-agency-ricardo-lopes-dias-christianity-disease" target="_blank">strong views</a> regarding the conversion of indigenous people to Christianity. He is a former missionary for the controversial New Tribes Mission, a Florida-based evangelical organization, and worked from 1997 to 2007 in the Vale do Javari indigenous reserve, in Amazonas state. There, according to Matsés indigenous leaders — who protested his presence — he "manipulated part of the Matsés population to found a new village" where an evangelical church would be built. The New Tribes Mission has been accused of causing death and disease among the tribes it worked with in the 1970s, subjecting them to enforced conversion to evangelical Christianity. Lopes Dias has a degree in anthropology.</p><p>Isolated or uncontacted indigenous peoples are usually survivors of larger groups which were decimated by disease or violence when the military dictatorship (ruling from 1964-1985) forced roads through ancestral lands in the Amazon during the 1960s and 70s. In some cases up to 90 percent of local populations died. This led FUNAIi, in the 1980s, after the dictatorship ended, to introduce a policy of non-contact, designating a "no go" zone protecting the survivors, who became known as "isolated Indians."</p>
Evidence photo of Jair Bolsonaro upon his 2012 arrest for illegal fishing in a conservation area; he never paid the fine and after becoming president had the IBAMA employee who arrested him sacked. IBAMA / Mongabay
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In the wake of devastating bushfires across the country, and with the prospect of losing a billion animals and some entire species, transformational change is required in the way we interact with this land.
Not Just ‘Consultants’<p>For a little over 200 years, Country in <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/australia" rel="noopener noreferrer">Australia</a> has been predominantly managed without empowering or reflecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' cultural practices, voices or aspirations.</p><p>To meaningfully engage First Nations communities' ways of knowing and interacting with Country, they need to cease being "informants," "actors" and "consultants" which, at best, marginally inform ecological and agricultural imperatives.</p><p>The machine of colonisation continues to restrict our involvement in decision-making processes at every level. There are very few areas in Australia where Traditional Owners have succeeded in not only gaining back large land holdings, but also enjoy any real power to significantly maintain and nurture Country.</p><p>An example of this can be seen on my own Barkandji Country where in 2015, after 18 years of fighting, <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-16/nsw-largest-native-title-claim-determination/6549180" target="_blank">Barkandji people were recognised</a> as the Traditional Owners of one of the largest areas ever before granted in a Native Title determination.</p><p>And yet, our <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/26/when-they-take-the-water-from-a-barkandji-person-they-take-our-blood" target="_blank">Barka</a> (the Darling River), our Mother, is now dying. It is poisonous and foul with algae, bone dry in many areas, with millions of <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jan/28/menindee-fish-kill-another-mass-death-on-darling-river-worse-than-last-time" target="_blank">fish washing up dead</a>.</p><p>The devastation was caused by the gross mismanagement of this precious river by those in power – a destruction wrought through greed. Rights to land, with no rights to water, is a poignant example of our continued disempowerment in managing and caring for our lands in line with cultural obligations.</p><p>Our many thousands of generations of careful observations (science) and effective management and custodianship, must see us empowered to lead decision-making. Our community leaders must not only be given a seat at the table, they should set the menu too.</p>
Different Mob, Different Knowledge<p>Our mobs are extremely diverse, as are our land management practices. But some overarching beliefs sit at the core of our culture, and are important to understand.</p><p>First Peoples have a relationship with Country that is loving, reciprocal and engaged. This "kincentric" relationship includes custodianship obligations – often lacking within non-Indigenous views of Country. Instead of being seen as kin – something to be cared for, listened to, deeply respected and nurtured – Country is seen by many non-Indigneous people as a resource to be exploited and controlled.</p><p>Our custodianship of Country, our Law and our vast ecological knowledges are all attached to a place. For each area in Australia, the mob belonging to that place must be engaged, and empowered to speak for that Country.</p><p>It's time to stop seeing Aboriginal ecological knowledges as something which can exist separately from the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/11/how-first-australians-ancient-knowledge-can-help-us-survive-the-bushfires-of-the-future" target="_blank">people who are its custodians</a>. Our vast knowledges are embedded in our communities, and always have been.</p>
Aboriginal Knowledges Aren’t Lost<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2MTY0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTA4NjcyMH0.QKNCAL-bYCxdTHCyRqlGnrF4rgE6h1e4xS6cYQNwhdQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="e654a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a55655d7a018405035ceeaa05f6c9070" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Amelia Whyman, 10, poses on the dry bed of the Darling -Barka river on March 04, 2019 in Wilcannia, Australia. The Barkandji people are a part of the group who signed an open letter to the NSW Water Minister Niall Blair highlighting the social and environmental impacts throughout the Murray-Darling Basin due to floodplain harvesting. Mark Evans / Stringer / Getty Images<p>When it comes to Aboriginal agricultural and land management practices there is still so much to uncover, adopt and reinvigorate. And there are still many who do not believe in our expertise in this area.</p><p>Too many ignorantly perceive our knowledges as lost, or call for elders to hand over their knowledges as a matter of urgency, unaware that our communities still practice intricate systems of sharing knowledge across generations.</p><p>The belief that our knowledges are lost harks back to early "scientific" theories which emerged around the time of colonisation, when we were considered an <a href="https://indigenousx.com.au/indigenous-science-setting-the-record-straight/" target="_blank">inferior race which would soon die out</a>.</p><p>Our knowledges are not lost. We are very much still here, still a living culture. But many of our practices and systems need more resources to reinvigorate them.</p><p>The extraordinary lifetime work of ethnobiologist <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-art-of-healing-five-medicinal-plants-used-by-aboriginal-australians-97249" target="_blank">Dr Beth Gott</a> to reawaken Aboriginal plant knowledge is a brilliant example of this reinvigoration.</p><p>Dr Gott took a truly collaborative, respectful and empowering approach to working with Aboriginal communities. This enabled a safe space for Elders and communities to share and create a significant archive of their unparalelled knowledge of the medicinal, nutritional and cultural uses of Indigenous plants in south-eastern Australia.</p>
Agriculture and Fire<p>With temperatures rising, many of our food systems will fail. Introduced grain crops we rely heavily upon <a href="https://theconversation.com/changing-climate-has-stalled-australian-wheat-yields-study-71411" target="_blank">may not cope</a> with the fluctuations predicted.</p><p>Traditional crops endemic to Australia such as native millet (panicum) and <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2017-01-09/potential-for-farmers-to-grow-native-plants/8161212" target="_blank">kangaroo</a> <a href="https://www.smh.com.au/national/bakers-rise-to-use-of-native-grains-as-kangaroo-grass-hops-into-recipes-20181006-p50855.html" target="_blank">grass</a> will perhaps again become staple food sources.</p><p>As explored by Uncle Bruce Pascoe in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Emu_(book)" target="_blank">Dark Emu</a>, Australian crops are the most nutrient-rich and sustainable crops that can be grown here, requiring little water and no fertilisers. First Nations communities domesticated these crops over thousands of generations, and hold the best knowledge of how to grow them.</p><p><a href="https://nit.com.au/cultural-burning-boasts-range-of-benefits-for-indigenous-rangers-families-and-communities/" target="_blank">Cultural fire management practices</a> are integral to our agricultural practices and are medicine for Country. Their continued reinvigoration will undoubtedly prove an important aspect in land <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-31/indigenous-cultural-burning-to-return-to-victoria/10761772" target="_blank">management, protection and healing</a> for all communities.</p><p>The recent horrifying and unprecedented bushfires traumatrised and distressed all Australians. The loss of life, both people and animals, and the devastation wrought on Country triggered many <a href="https://theconversation.com/theres-no-evidence-greenies-block-bushfire-hazard-reduction-but-heres-a-controlled-burn-idea-worth-trying-129350" target="_blank">calls for Aboriginal management systems</a> to be more <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/19/right-fire-for-right-future-how-cultural-burning-can-protect-australia-from-catastrophic-blazes" target="_blank">meaningfully incorporated</a>.</p><p>Empowering and resourcing First Nations peoples' ecological knowledges would help address the effects of climate change on the land, through practices of care and custodianship. But it must not perpetuate well-established systems of exploitation. It must happen in true partnership.</p>
Enacting Healing<p>Finally, making Indigenous cultural practices central to Australia's ecological management could be vital to the process of <a href="https://indigenousx.com.au/remembering-and-remedying/" target="_blank">"truth-telling</a>."</p><p>Truth-telling here means acknowledging the complexity and richness of our culture, acknowledging the science we have developed over many many millennia to care for Country, and challenging still-embedded narratives which deny our diversity, our agency and most damaging, our sovereignty.</p><p>Truth-telling could not only bring long overdue public recognition of atrocities suffered and their continuing legacies, but could also finally dispense with the lie of peaceful settlement. The psychosis of denial impoverishes us all.</p><p>A process to enact a healing would begin a path to enlightened acceptance of our systems of management, opening up new possibilities for coming together to heal and enact vital reparations for both people and Country. <a href="https://www.adelaidereview.com.au/latest/opinion/2019/12/02/first-nations-knowledge-deeper-conversation/" target="_blank">Empower us</a> and our active custodianship of Country and you empower yourselves.</p><p>As long as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities continue to be <a href="https://indigenousx.com.au/luke-pearson-lest-we-forget-over-it/" target="_blank">disenfranchised</a> with our sovereignty denied, as long as we are excluded from leadership roles in meeting the challenges of climate change, we all stand to lose so much more than we can imagine.</p>
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"We see ourselves not as an owner of wild rice but a symbiotic partner and a parallel entity from the Creator," says Frank Bibeau, a lawyer from the Anishinaabe indigenous group in the U.S. and Canada.
Indigenous Approaches Written Into Law<p>"Conventional environmental laws are really about regulating how we use nature," says Mari Margil of CELDF. "The consequences of that have been so devastating that people in different parts of the world are saying we need to make a fundamental shift in our relationship with nature."</p><p>With the idea that indigenous peoples are the most reliable custodians of our planet now repeated by politicians and environmental NGOs alike, giving nature rights suggests a way their approaches might be adopted by broader society.</p><p>It was in this spirit that Ecuador became the first country to enshrine the rights of nature — personified as Pachamama, the Andean earth goddess — in its constitution, in 2008.</p><p><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Bolivia">Bolivia</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Uganda" rel="noopener noreferrer">Uganda</a> have since enshrined the rights of nature in their constitutions, and <a href="https://celdf.org/2019/10/media-release-rights-of-nature-constitutional-amendment-introduced-in-swedens-parliament/" target="_blank">an amendment</a> was recently proposed for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Sweden" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sweden</a> to do the same.</p>
A Healthier Relationship With Nature?<p>Asserting that nature has intrinsic rights isn't just a legal tool to prosecute polluters. It also challenges the "ecosystem services" approach to environmental protection that costs up the economic value of clean air, water and biodiversity — and even the concept of conservation areas.</p><p>As a national park, land surrounding the Whanganui River in New Zealand was off limits to the Iwi Maori tribe who had hunted and fished there sustainably for generations. In 2017, the dispute was resolved by making the river a person in its own right, owned by neither the state nor the tribe.</p><p>Maori law professor Jacinta Ruru sees it as a major breakthrough that New Zealand law now reflects the relationship the country's indigenous people have with the environment — one that sees no division between what's good for people and the planet.</p><p>"My tribe — we'll talk about your veins in your arms as being like the riverways of the land," explains Ruru. "So you're seeing the health and wellbeing of who you are as a person, your health, your own happiness, as entirely connected with the health and wellbeing of the environment around us."</p>
Strategic Compromise<p>Ruru says it's too soon to judge the ecological impact of the Whanganui River's change of status. And it remains to be seen if the Rights of Manoomin will be any match for the interests invested in the pipeline.</p><p>In Ecuador's case, the new constitution has been used to block plantations and road-building that threatened forest, but it hasn't proved enough to transform an entire system geared toward economic development; cases brought by indigenous activists have ended in Pachamama's rights being trumped by those of <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/55914fd1e4b01fb0b851a814/t/5748568c8259b5e5a34ae6bf/1464358541319/Kauffman++Martin+16+Testing+Ecuadors+RoN+Laws.pdf" target="_blank">businesses</a>.</p><p>Critics also <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2514848618763807" target="_blank">point out</a> that making rivers and forests honorary people owes less to any indigenous deification of nature than to the Western rights discourse.</p><p>"There is a strategic relationship between indigenous communities and the rights of nature," says Mihnea Tanasescu, a political scientist who authored a book on the subject in Ecuador, "but there is not necessarily an intrinsic philosophical affinity, because rights are a very Western legal category."</p>
Conversation-Changer<p>Last year, one such case made international headlines. Residents of Toledo, a city on the shores of heavily polluted Lake Erie in the U.S. state of Ohio, voted to give the lake rights. A local farm responded by filing a lawsuit claiming this violated the rights of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/agribusiness" rel="noopener noreferrer">agribusinesses</a>. </p><p>Since the bill was more or less quashed by Ohio state legislature, activists are fighting to revive it from legal limbo. But if nothing else, their struggle has drawn attention to the priorities of a legal system that treats nature as property but corporations as legal persons.</p><p>"Often people just don't think about these invisible systems that govern our world," Maloney says. "So as a starting point — and a conversation- and discourse-changer — the rights of nature is very powerful."</p>
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A women fills a water bottle with a filter from an alpine lake in the mountains around Pemberton, British Columbia, Canada. Canada is on the front lines of rapid climate changes that affect the water cycle. Ben Girardi / Aurora Photos / Getty Images
By Corinne Schuster-Wallace, Robert Sandford and Stephanie Merrill
In recent years, the daily news has been flooded with stories of water woes from coast to coast to coast.
Canada's water opportunities and challenges. Global Water Futures
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Study: Native Americans Barely Impacted Landscape for 14,000 Years. Europeans Came and Changed Everything
There's a theory going around that Native Americans actively managed the land the lived on, using controlled burns to clear forests. It turns out that theory is wrong. New research shows that Native Americans barely altered the landscape at all. It was the Europeans who did that, as ZME Science reported.
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Amazon in Crisis<p>After more than a decade of environmental policies that successfully slowed <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/deforestation" target="_blank">deforestation</a> <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/amazon-deforestation-unrecoverable-tipping-point-2639358982.html" rel="noopener noreferrer">in the Amazon</a>, logging and agricultural clearing have begun to increase rapidly again. The fires in the Brazilian rainforest that captured headlines in early September are <a href="https://theconversation.com/in-brazils-rainforests-the-worst-fires-are-likely-still-to-come-122840" target="_blank">symptoms of much broader destruction</a>.</p><p>Up to 17 percent of the Amazon rainforest has already been eliminated — dangerously close to the 20 percent to 40 percent <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/will-deforestation-and-warming-push-the-amazon-to-a-tipping-point?" target="_blank">tipping point that experts say</a> would lead the entire ecosystem to collapse.</p><p>Stories of deforestation can seem insignificant against the vastness of the Amazon, a region two-thirds the size of the lower 48 United States.</p><p>But for the <a href="http://www.sinodoamazonico.va/content/sinodoamazonico/en/synod-for-the-amazon/synod-for-the-amazon.html" target="_blank">390 indigenous ethnic groups</a> who inhabit the region, each burned forest grove, polluted stream or flooded dam site may mark the end of a way of life that's survived for thousands of years.</p><p>Deprived of their land, many indigenous Amazonians are forced into an exposed life on the edge of frontier towns, where they are prey to <a href="http://www.sinodoamazonico.va/content/sinodoamazonico/en/documents/pan-amazon-synod--the-working-document-for-the-synod-of-bishops.html" target="_blank">sex trafficking, slave labor and violence</a>. In Brazil alone, at least <a href="http://www.sinodoamazonico.va/content/sinodoamazonico/en/documents/pan-amazon-synod--the-working-document-for-the-synod-of-bishops.html" target="_blank">1,119 indigenous people have been killed</a> defending their land since 2003.</p><p>The Catholic Church recognizes that it still has to address the "<a href="http://www.sinodoamazonico.va/content/sinodoamazonico/en/documents/pan-amazon-synod--the-working-document-for-the-synod-of-bishops.html" target="_blank">open wound</a>" of its own <a href="https://religionnews.com/2019/09/17/synod-for-the-amazon-about-more-than-married-priests/" target="_blank">role in the colonial-era violence that first terrorized the indigenous peoples</a> of the Americas, according to the synod's working document. The church legitimated the colonial confiscation of lands occupied by indigenous peoples and its missionaries often <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-the-pope-has-yet-to-overturn-the-churchs-colonial-legacy-39622" target="_blank">suppressed indigenous cultures and religions</a>.</p><p>For this reason, according to the Vatican, organizers of the synod have sought input through <a href="https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/the-amazon-synod-by-the-numbers-11205" target="_blank">260 listening events</a> held in the region that reached nearly 87,000 people over the past two years. Indigenous leaders have been invited as observer participants in the meeting itself.</p>
Learning From Indigenous Peoples<p>As a <a href="https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/the-theological-and-ecological-vision-of-laudato-si-9780567673176/" target="_blank">theologian</a> who studies religious responses to the environmental crisis, I find the pope's effort to learn from the indigenous people of the Amazon noteworthy.</p><p>The Vatican sees that the Amazon's traditional residents know something much of humanity has long forgotten: how to live in ecological harmony with the environment.</p><p>"To the aboriginal communities we owe their thousands of years of care and cultivation of the Amazon," the 58-page <a href="http://www.sinodoamazonico.va/content/sinodoamazonico/en/documents/pan-amazon-synod--the-working-document-for-the-synod-of-bishops.html" target="_blank">synod working document</a> reads. "In their ancestral wisdom they have nurtured the conviction that all of creation is connected, and this deserves our respect and responsibility."</p><p>Pope Francis has expressed his respect for indigenous peoples before.</p><p>At a meeting of indigenous leaders in <a href="http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2018/january/documents/papa-francesco_20180119_peru-puertomaldonado-popoliamazzonia.html" target="_blank">Peru in January 2018</a> he said, "Your lives cry out against a style of life that is oblivious to its own real cost. You are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home."</p>
Global Problems, Local Solutions<p>Environmental destruction isn't the synod's only concern.</p><p>Catholicism — long the dominant religion in Latin America — is rapidly losing members to evangelical Protestantism. Evangelicals are projected to eclipse Catholics in Brazil by <a href="https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-americas/2019/09/03/evangelical-missions-a-major-threat-to-amazon-culture-catholic-leaders-say/" target="_blank">2032</a>.</p><p>One advantage evangelical churches have in Amazonian countries is that they can appoint local indigenous pastors to minister to their communities. Meanwhile, with <a href="https://www.axios.com/pope-francis-catholic-church-debates-celibacy-priests-8fb503a2-4d3b-4e00-aa12-f293f2e49d67.html" target="_blank">less than one priest per 8,000 Catholics</a> in the Amazon, some isolated communities might see a priest only once a year.</p><p>The scarcity of priests in rural Latin America is behind a proposal to the synod to <a href="https://www.axios.com/pope-francis-catholic-church-debates-celibacy-priests-8fb503a2-4d3b-4e00-aa12-f293f2e49d67.html" target="_blank">ordain older married men as priests in isolated Amazonian communities</a>.</p><p>In the the U.S., the <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-views-on-priestly-celibacy-changed-in-christian-history-102158" target="_blank">celibacy question</a> is easily mapped onto a <a href="https://www.ncronline.org/news/environment/editorial-status-quo-wont-save-planet-or-catholic-church" target="_blank">familiar divide</a>. Progressive Catholics argue that clerical celibacy should be optional, while conservative Catholics insist this discipline is fundamental to the faith.</p><p>The issue is far less politicized in the Amazon, where, in the words of one bishop, the Catholic Church remains a "<a href="https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-americas/2019/09/03/evangelical-missions-a-major-threat-to-amazon-culture-catholic-leaders-say/" target="_blank">visiting church</a>" with limited day-to-day presence in indigenous communities.</p><p><a href="https://www.economist.com/erasmus/2019/10/04/a-high-noon-moment-for-pope-francis-over-the-amazon" target="_blank">Some</a> might dismiss this synod as just a meeting. But, in my judgment, it is an attempt to apply Francis' vision of a "listening Church" to the environmental crisis. The Synod of the Amazon marks a significant shift from high-minded papal exhortations about taking climate action to a global religious community that gives voice to those living on the front lines of ecological destruction.</p>
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Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill into law Thursday banning public schools or universities in the state from using Native American mascots, names or imagery. Mills' action will make Maine the first state in the nation with such a ban once it goes into effect later this year, The Bangor Daily News reported.