The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrote a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers last week to say that it would not oppose or put a stop to a huge copper and gold mine near the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery, as The Washington Post reported.
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By Samantha Hepburn
In the expansion of its iron ore mine in Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto blasted the Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 — Aboriginal rock shelters dating back 46,000 years. These sites had deep historical and cultural significance.
The destruction of a significant Aboriginal site is not an isolated incident. Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation
Not an Isolated Incident<p>The history of large developments destroying Indigenous heritage sites is, tragically, long.</p><p>A $2.1 billion light rail line in Sydney, completed last year, <a href="https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/this-is-a-tragic-loss-sydney-light-rail-construction-destroyed-heritage-site-20190322-p516qk.html" target="_blank">destroyed a site</a> of considerable significance.</p><p>More than 2,400 stone artifacts were unearthed in a small excavated area. It indicated Aboriginal people had used the area between 1788 and 1830 to manufacture tools and implements from flint brought over to Australia on British ships.</p><p>Similarly, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/27/the-rocks-remember-the-fight-to-protect-burrup-peninsulas-rock-art" target="_blank">ancient rock art</a> on the Burrup Peninsula in north-western Australia is under increasing threat from a gas project. The site contains more than one million rock carvings (petroglyphs) across 36,857 hectares.</p><p>This area is under the custodianship of Ngarluma people and four other traditional owners groups: the Mardudhunera, the Yaburara, the Yindjibarndi and the Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo.</p><p>But a <a href="https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/BurrupPeninusla/Report" target="_blank">Senate inquiry</a> revealed emissions from adjacent industrial activity may significantly damage it.</p><p><span></span>The West Australian government is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jan/29/australia-lodges-world-heritage-submission-for-50000-year-old-burrup-peninsula-rock-art" target="_blank">seeking world heritage listing</a> to try to increase protection, as the regulatory frameworks at the national and state level aren't strong enough. Let's explore why.</p>
What Do the Laws Say?<p>The recently renamed federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is responsible for listing new national heritage places, and regulating development actions in these areas.</p><p>At the federal level, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (<a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/cth/consol_act/epabca1999588/" target="_blank">EPBC Act</a>) provides a legal framework for their management and protection. It is an offence to impact an area that has national heritage listing.</p><p>But many ancient Aboriginal sites have no national heritage listing. For the recently destroyed Juurkan gorge, the true archaeological significance was uncovered <em>after</em> consent had been issued and there were no provisions to reverse or amend the decision once this new information was discovered.</p><p>Where a site has no national heritage listing, and federal legislation has no application, state laws apply.</p><p>For the rock shelters in the Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto was abiding by Western Australia's <a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/wa/consol_act/aha1972164/" target="_blank">Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972</a> — which is now nearly 50 years old.</p>
No Consultation With Traditional Owners<p>The biggest concern with this act is there's no statutory requirement ensuring traditional owners be consulted.</p><p>This means traditional owners are left out of vital decisions regarding the management and protection of their cultural heritage. And it confers authority upon a committee that, in the words of a <a href="https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/getmedia/11dd5b41-fcf9-4216-a1ac-06ece672c087/AH-Review-Position-Comparison-for-Aboriginal-People" target="_blank">discussion paper</a>, "lacks cultural authority."</p>
Weak in Other Jurisdictions<p>The WA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 is <a href="https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/aha-review" target="_blank">under review</a>. The proposed reforms seek to abolish the committee, ensuring future decisions on Aboriginal cultural heritage give appropriate regard to the views of the traditional Aboriginal owners.</p><p><span></span>NSW is the only state with no stand-alone Aboriginal heritage legislation. However, a <a href="https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/researchpapers/Documents/aborigines-land-and-national-parks-in-nsw/02-97.pdf" target="_blank">similar regulatory framework</a> to WA applies in NSW under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.</p><p>There, if a developer is likely to impact cultural heritage, they must apply for an Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permit. The law requires "regard" to be given to the interests of Aboriginal owners of the land, but this vague provision does not mandate consultation.</p><p>What's more, the burden of proving the significance of an Aboriginal object depends upon external statements of significance. But Aboriginal people, not others, should be responsible for determining the cultural significance of an object or area.</p><p>As in WA, the NSW regulatory framework is weak, opening up the risk for economic interests to be prioritized over damage to cultural heritage.</p>
Outdated Laws<p>The federal minister has discretion to assess whether state or territory laws are already effective.</p><p>If they decide state and territory laws are ineffective and a cultural place or object is under threat, then the federal <a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/cth/consol_act/aatsihpa1984549/" target="_blank">Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984</a> can be used.</p><p>But this act is also weak. It was first implemented as an interim measure, intended to operate for two years. It has now been in operation for 36 years.</p><p>In fact, <a href="http://ymac.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Extracts-from-Evatt-Review-of-the-Aboriginal-and-Torres-Strait-Islander-Heritage-Protection-Act-1984.pdf" target="_blank">a 1995 report</a> assessed the shortcomings of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act.</p><p>It recommended minimum standards be put in place. This included ensuring any assessment of Aboriginal cultural significance be made by a properly qualified body, with relevant experience.</p><p>It said the role of Aboriginal people should be appropriately recognized and statutorily endorsed. Whether an area or site had particular significance according to Aboriginal tradition should be regarded as a subjective issue, determined by an assessment of the degree of intensity of belief and feeling of Aboriginal people.</p><p><span></span>Twenty-five years later, this is yet to happen.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Peter Yeung
From the skies above Creporizao, a remote town in the south of the Brazilian Amazon, the surrounding area looks like a vast blanket of dark green rainforest. But along the dirt roads and rivers that run through it like arteries are telling patches of muddy brown: illegal gold mines.
'Full-scale gold rush'<p>About 13% of Brazil's territory is classified as indigenous land, spread across more than 400 reserves. But <a href="https://www.amazoniasocioambiental.org/en/" target="_blank">according to the Amazon Geo-Referenced Socio-Environmental Information Network</a>, there are more than 450 illegal mining sites in the Brazilian Amazon, where most of those reserves are located.</p><p>The proposed law would likely lead to a dramatic rise in the level of mining activity.</p><p>"Once you open the door, it will become a flood," Glenn Shepard, an American anthropologist who works with indigenous populations affected by illegal mining, told DW. "The law will create a precedent for miners to go in. It's already a full-scale gold rush going on, and these indigenous groups are losing control."</p><p>Greenpeace's journalism team, Unearthed, has reported that <a href="https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2020/04/03/coronavirus-brazil-amazon-gold-rush-indigenous-groups-deforestation/" target="_blank">gold miners planned to continue working through the coronavirus pandemic</a>, increasing fears of spreading the disease to indigenous groups. </p>
The deforestation issue<p>Environmentally, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/amazon-sees-alarming-rise-in-deforestation/a-51668498" target="_blank">one of the biggest impacts of mining is logging.</a> A 2017 report published in the journal Nature Communications found that mining accounted for 9% of all forest loss in the Amazon between 2005 and 2015.</p><p>Satellite <a href="https://maaproject.org/2020/gold_brazil/" target="_blank">analysis </a>published by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project revealed that 2,000 hectares of gold mining-related deforestation occurred in 2019 across the Munduruku indigenous reserve, more than double the amount recorded the year before.</p><p>Last November dozens of tribal leaders from the Amazon met with officials in Brasilia to file claims and report serious threats to their territories.</p><p>Alessandra Korap Munduruku, a leader from Para state who attended the meeting, says the legalization of mining would "be the death of our people."</p><p>Besides bringing "disease and prostitution to our people, drug addiction to our children, and violent conflict to the Munduruku men," she said gold mining activity is also killing fish through mercury poisoning.</p>
Problematic legal trade<p>Even the legal gold trade in Brazil is largely unregulated, which facilitates illegal business and plays a significant role in the destruction of the Amazon. Prosecutors in Para state say the lack of regulation in the legal trade and the fact that receipts are paper-based carbon copies make it easy for criminals to thrive and illegal gold to enter the legal system.</p><p>"The practice of fraud in the sector is quite easy, and the investigation of illegalities becomes an almost insurmountable obstacle," Luis de Camoes Lima Boaventura, public prosecutor in the Amazonian city of Santarem said.</p><p>"Until a computerized system is installed, the authorities cannot check, in real time, the legality of the transactions. To make a transaction of illegal gold, all you currently need is a pen and paper."</p><p>According to National Mining Agency estimates, around 30 tons of gold worth some 4.5 billion reals ($1.1 billion, €900 million) are illegally traded in the state of Para annually. That is around six times more than the amount legally declared.</p><p>When miners like Jose Maria return to Creporizao at the end of what can be days away, they come to one of a dozen gold shops that line the main drag to melt what they have mined into standardized bars. Once that is done, illegally-mined gold, which is responsible for widespread deforestation, pollution and violence in the Amazon, has entered the system and can no longer be traced.</p>
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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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While keeping track of the new trends in the diamond industry can be hard, it is still an essential task of any savvy consumer or industry observer. Whether you are looking to catch a deal on your next diamond purchase or researching the pros and cons of an investment within the diamond industry, keeping up with the trends is imperative.
New Trends in the Diamond Industry<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjgzMjk0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5MTgzNDIyNH0.XD6EqVbZNvkRmcIM4aSv1UNtrmu58HvD71pkHyvBP2c/img.jpg?width=980" id="8c7d9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0bc6479bac5e6e069b4407382db706a3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Rose gold lab-created diamond solitaire engagement ring. Clean Origin<p>2020 will be a big year for the diamond industry and we've got you covered. Here are the top trends in the diamond industry that you need to know about.</p>
Millennials Are Shaping the Industry<p> Love it or hate it, <a href="https://www.cleanorigin.com/blog/millennials-choosing-lab-grown-diamonds/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">millennials are changing the diamond industry</a>. However, while millennials have a reputation for "killing" industries, it would be a mistake to believe that the diamond industry is dying simply because the customer base is changing. </p><p> Millennials are making more financially conscious decisions regarding diamond purchases. Many Millennials regard diamond purchases as an investment into the future just as equally as they look at it as an investment into the relationship. </p><p> That said, millennials are looking for the most cost effective options that fit within their budget and lab-grown diamonds fulfill all of their needs. So, while the industry is changing, it's not dead. In fact, it might experience its highest growth ever in the coming years, so long as manufacturers consider new trends and act accordingly. </p>
Non-Traditional Options<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjgzMjk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDM4MzMzM30.S_S3UO7uYloBcZ3LYGfMzgLudZUA0VxabH4qKGPvIBU/img.jpg?width=980" id="95e68" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="82d0b538a79d970200037f0e2e90f831" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
White gold lab-grown diamond classic engagement ring. Clean Origin<h4>Lab-Grown Diamonds</h4><p> It's already been said, but it's worth repeating — millennials are the future of the diamond industry. As with every demographic before them, in order to survive, the industry must make some changes according to the issues of the day. </p><p> Many millennials regard climate change and eco-friendly practices as a top deciding factor in their purchases. If your company or brand has environmentally unfriendly practices or is simply towards the end of its mining life, it's imperative to consider making some eco-friendly changes. </p><p> <a href="https://www.cleanorigin.com/about-lab-created-diamonds/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">Lab diamonds have a significantly lower impact</a> on the environment than mined diamonds. Not to mention, lab-grown diamonds don't differ from mined diamonds in the eyes of a consumer. In fact, mined diamonds and lab-grown diamonds differ only in the eyes of an experienced jeweler who is able to read the microscopic inscription on the bottom of the lab diamond. </p><p> Overall, lab-grown diamonds have not only increased in popularity, but they are also on the verge of changing the industry. As a less-expensive option that is on par with even the most expensive diamonds, lab-grown diamonds offer the eco-friendliness and affordability that most consumers are looking for. </p><h4>Other Diamond Alternatives</h4><p> Outside of lab-created diamonds, <a href="https://betches.com/diamond-alternatives-engagement-rings/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">other alternatives</a> have popped up as options for couples who'd like to opt out of going with a traditional mined diamond. Although man-made stones are leading the charge in terms of popularity, salt & pepper diamonds, moonstones, and moissanite have also gained traction for being "outside the box" and "non-traditional." </p>
Key Takeaways<p> Whether you're an industry observer or a savvy consumer, it's important to pay attention to the trends in the diamond industry. Following these trends can help you to prepare for anything from stock drops and saving big on your next jewelry purchase. As the purchasing demographic changes, so will the industry. <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/research/millennials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">Millennials are coming out</a> in a big way and shaking up the industry. The need for new mines, lab-grown diamonds, and other diamond alternatives are all big things to look out for in the diamond industry in 2020. </p>
Scars from large mining operations are permanently etched across the landscapes of the world. The environmental damage and human health hazards that these activities create may be both severe and irreversible.
Catastrophic Failures Renew Old Worries<p>Tailings dam failures range from the 1966 <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-150d11df-c541-44a9-9332-560a19828c47" target="_blank">Aberfan disaster</a> that buried a Welsh village to multiple spills over the past decade in <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2017/12/mine-tailings-dam-failures-major-cause-of-environmental-disasters-report/" target="_blank">Canada, China, Chile and the United States</a>. The <a href="https://www.icold-cigb.org/" target="_blank">International Commission on Large Dams</a>, a nongovernmental organization, warned in 2001 that the frequency and severity of tailings dam failures was <a href="http://www.unep.fr/shared/publications/pdf/2891-TailingsDams.pdf" target="_blank">increasing globally</a>.</p><p>Two catastrophic and highly publicized failures at the <a href="https://www.mountpolleyreviewpanel.ca/" target="_blank">Mt. Polley dam in Canada</a> in 2014 and the <a href="https://theconversation.com/dam-collapse-at-brazilian-mine-exposes-grave-safety-problems-110666" target="_blank">Brumadinho dam in Brazil</a> in 2019 finally catalyzed a response. The <a href="https://www.icmm.com/" target="_blank">International Council on Mining and Metals</a>, the <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/" target="_blank">United Nations Environment Programme</a> and the independent organization <a href="https://www.unpri.org/" target="_blank">Principles for Responsible Investment</a> drafted a "global standard for the safe and secure <a href="https://globaltailingsreview.org/" target="_blank">management of mine tailings facilities</a>." The first public review of the standard was completed in December 2019, and its authors plan to finalize their recommendations by the end of March 2020.</p>
International Rivers at Risk<p>Today these decisions loom large in the Golden Triangle, home to the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers – three of the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1111-9" target="_blank">longest undammed rivers in North America</a>. Salmon from these rivers have supported indigenous communities for millennia, generate <a href="https://www.mcdowellgroup.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/FINAL-Southeast-Alaska-Transboundary-Watershed-Economic-Impacts-10_10red.pdf" target="_blank">tens of millions of dollars in economic activity annually</a> and provide a dependable source of food for organisms ranging from insects to brown bears.</p><p>We calculate that 19% of the total drainage area of these three rivers is staked with mineral mining claims or leases. This includes 59% of the Unuk River watershed, along with the entire Iskut River corridor, the largest tributary to the Stikine River.</p><p>We have identified <a href="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1ipseXInQJTFPt1wtac431c9AEmDHJqb05qqRwFTOlNU/edit#gid=0" target="_blank">dozens of mines in exploratory or production phases</a>. Some industry representatives call these statistics irrelevant because only a small portion of the claims will convert to economically viable projects. But from our perspective, the fact that vast areas of these watersheds are included in initial explorations implies that few rivers in this region are safe from potential mining development.</p>
Accurately Assessing Risk<p>Rivers are the arteries of coastal Alaska and northwestern Canada, draining pristine snow and ice-covered mountains and pumping out cold, clean water to support fish, wildlife and people. Here and elsewhere, we believe that regulators should take a measured and cautious view of current and planned tailings facilities.</p><p>Dam failures are <a href="https://doi.org/10.3390/environments4040075" target="_blank">increasing in frequency</a>, and often are so large that true cleanup or reclamation is not possible. Before more are built, we see a need for independent science to provide a means of honestly assessing the risk of storing mining waste.</p>
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Pope Francis, in an effort to reignite his influence as a global environmental leader, released an impassioned document Feb. 12 entitled Dear Amazon — a response to the historic Vatican meeting last autumn regarding the fate of the Amazon biome and its indigenous people.
Defending Nature — Again<p><em>Dear Amazon</em> stands as an emphatic complement to <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2016/02/top-vatican-official-climate-change-action-is-a-moral-imperative/" target="_blank"><em>Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home</em></a>, a papal encyclical released in June 2015 with the express purpose of spurring a positive outcome to the United Nations negotiations that resulted in the landmark Paris Agreement that December. An encyclical is a Catholic teaching document of the highest order, possessing "moral authority."</p><p><em>Laudato Si</em> established Francis on the world stage as an ecumenical leader and advocate for environmental protection. He bluntly blamed human activity for global warming and castigated rampant consumerism and unbridled capitalism as hastening the destruction of the earth.</p><p>Myriad faith communities around the globe were inspired to organize and act on the pope's urgings. However, the controversial manifesto met with <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2015/08/popes-environmental-encyclical-arrives-in-peru-to-mixed-reviews/" target="_blank">mixed reviews</a> in Latin America where some see conservation as a hindrance to economic growth and the relief of the poor in developing nations. Vatican officials have since touted climate action as a "<a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2016/02/top-vatican-official-climate-change-action-is-a-moral-imperative/" target="_blank">moral imperative</a>."</p><p>The message of<em> Dear Amazon</em> seems even more urgent than the 2015 encyclical<em>, </em>coming in response to the rapidly worsening Amazon emergency: "We are water, air, earth and life of the environment created by God," Francis writes. "For this reason, we demand an end to the mistreatment and destruction of mother Earth. The land has blood, and it is bleeding; the multinationals have cut the veins of our mother Earth."</p><p><em>Laudauto Si </em>was released when the progressive pope was at the height of global popularity, and it was heralded and cited for months by international media. But the urgent call of <em>Dear Amazon</em> has so far been largely ignored. Mainstream media accounts in the past week instead focused almost exclusively on Francis' decision to not allow the marriage of priests serving in the Amazon as a way of boosting their dramatically diminished numbers.</p><p><a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/12/world/europe/pope-married-priests.html?searchResultPosition=1" target="_blank">The New York Times</a> — which like other accounts stressed the Catholic church's progressive and conservative political divide — went so far as to report that "his closest advisers have acknowledged that the pope's impact has waned on the global stage, especially on core issues like immigration and the environment."</p>
People of Faith Respond<p>Francis won't likely be standing down without a fight. He calls on Latin American governments to enforce their environmental protection laws, return land rights to indigenous peoples, and recognize that Amazonian rainforests are more than an economic resource to be monetized for "extraction, energy, timber and other industries that destroy and pollute."</p><p>"The equilibrium of our planet depends on the health of the Amazon region," Francis writes. "Together with the biome of the Congo and Borneo, it contains a dazzling diversity of woodlands on which rain cycles, climate balance and a great variety of living beings also depend."</p><p>Faith leaders contacted by Mongabay looked past Vatican politics and cheered the pope's message in <em>Dear Amazon, </em>saying that it is invigorating their conservation work and strategies.</p><p>"Protecting rainforests is fundamentally an ethical issue, where care for creation and the realization of social justice for indigenous peoples and forest communities are part of one moral fabric," said Joe Corcoran, the UN project manager for the <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/09/interfaith-leaders-step-up-to-protect-the-worlds-sacred-rainforests/" target="_blank">Interfaith Rainforest Initiative</a> (IRI), an NGO which lobbies for governmental climate action in six rainforest countries.</p><p>"Through IRI, we are seeing that not only is the leadership of Pope Francis rallying Catholics to act, but [it is] also inspiring religious leaders from other faiths to protect rainforests around the world," Corcoran said.</p>
Seeing the Amazon gravely at risk, the Vatican has called on governments and the people of the world to protect the world's largest remaining rainforest. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay<p>Laura Vargas leads IRI's <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/12/cop25-laura-vargas-inspires-with-power-of-faith-in-defense-of-forests/" target="_blank">initiatives in Peru</a>: "I believe <em>Dear Amazon</em> marks a turning point for the whole life of the church in the Amazon and beyond its borders. If we believe everything is interconnected, we realize that what happens to the largest tropical forest in the world affects the entire planet."</p><p>Meanwhile, at London-based Christian Aid, a global environmental activism organization, spokesman Joe Ware said, "The pope remains one of the most popular and loved pope's with significant influence not just over one billion Catholics, but of many others, too."</p><p>Ware stressed that 2020 is a crucial year, the year the Paris Agreement <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">goes into force</a>. The agreement remains dangerously <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/12/cop25-self-serving-g20-spites-youth-humanity-world-at-climate-talks/" target="_blank">incomplete</a> as leaders of the industrialized world continue dragging their feet to establish aggressive carbon emission-reduction policies, even as time runs short to dramatically begin decarbonizing the global economy — the UN itself <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/" target="_blank">warned</a> in 2018 that the world's nations have just 12 years to act to avoid climate catastrophe.</p><p>"It's vital," Ware said, "that we have the voice of the Catholic Church and people of faith around the world pushing political leaders this year to make the boldest decisions possible."</p>
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Well, he told us he would do it. And now he's actually doing it — or at least trying to. Late last week, President Trump, via the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management, announced that he was formalizing his plan to develop lands that once belonged within the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in southern Utah. The former is a stunningly beautiful, ecologically fragile landscape that has played a crucial role in Native American culture in the Southwest for thousands of years; the latter, just as beautiful, is one of the richest and most important paleontological sites in North America.
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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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