In Brazil’s burning rainforest, Indigenous women lead the battle against ecocide, genocide

The Indigenous Women’s March

It only took three weeks or so for the world to take note that Brazil’s Amazonian rainforest is on fire, a fire whose smoke turned Sao Paola’s midday to midnight, a fire that from deep space portends an immediate threat to all living beings on the planet Earth. According to those watching the Amazon, the rainforest has suffered close to 73,000 fires this year alone. In the past week, around 10,000 fires have erupted. This represents a 70% increase in fires since January 2018. This sudden peak in rainforest fires is directly attributable to the policies of the Bolsonaro government. The Amazon is on fire, the Earth is on fire. Amazonian Indigenous peoples warned us that Bolsonaro, and the system of which he is a part, would do this to the forests and to the Earth. Few listened. In this struggle, Indigenous women lead the effort to liberate the Americas and the world. From the outset, they argued the struggle for Indigenous and environmental autonomy was and is a liberation struggle. Maybe now, maybe, more of us will listen. 

On August 13, 2019, Indigenous women converged on Brasilia for the first Indigenous Women’s March. Under the banner “Territory: our body, our spirits”, thousands of Indigenous women from hundreds of different Indigenous populations gathered and filled the streets for days. Sônia Guajajara, leader of the Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation), APIB, explained, “We came to denounce the president’s hateful discourse, which has increased violence and destruction in our territories, which directly impacts us, women. We are counting on international solidarity to advance this movement for our future.” Her colleague, Célia Xacriabá added, ““For the first time in history, the indigenous women’s march convenes more than 100 different peoples in Brasilia with more than 2,000 women present. This is a movement that is not only symbolically important but also historically and politically significant. When they try to take away our rights, it’s not enough to only defend our territories. We also need to occupy spaces beyond our villages, such as institutional spaces and political representativity. We call on the international community to support us, to amplify our voices and our struggle against today’s legislative genocide, where our own government is authorizing the slaughter and ethnocide of indigenous peoples. This is also an opportunity to join our voices to denounce this government’s ecocide, where the killing of mother nature is our collective concern.”

At one level, as in the past, the real tragedy in Brazil is that there is no tragedy. There is only redundancy, murmurs of complicity, and, then, as in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the inconceivable: “It was inconceivable that they would suddenly abandon their pastoral spirit to avenge a death for which we all could have been to blame.” However, today, as in the past, Indigenous women are organizing, refusing to accept that script that renders them abject and renders the world as empty and farcical. They are demanding that we, all of us, recognize we have the possibility of liberation. As Tamikua Faustino explained, “Deforestation is a killer. If we don’t stick together, in the near future we’ll be eliminated.” It’s time to reject those who would impose a death sentence on all living beings, to refuse the vampire thirst for the blood of all living creatures. It’s time to see the sun at midday, the moon at midnight. Eight years ago, in a different environment crisis in Brazil, Indigenous woman organizer Juma Xipaia declared, “We will not be silent. We will shout out loud and we will do it now.” Another world is possible. Shout out loud, do it now.

(Photo Credit: CIMI / Tiago Miotto)

Yukon First Nation women water protectors organize to save the Peel Watershed, the planet … and our soul

Protect the Peel

Today, March 22, World Water Day, Canada’s Supreme Court heard a case concerning the fate of the Peel River Watershed and of the three Yukon First Nations who live with the river. This case has gone through the courts for three years, but it has gone through the land for centuries. First Nation women water protectors decided enough was way too much, and they’ve organized, for the water, for their nations and communities, for the planet, and for our soul.

For Roberta Joseph, Chief of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the struggle engages betrayal and redemption: “Six rivers flow from the Yukon’s northern mountains down through boreal forest, tundra and wetlands to the Peel River, which runs north to the Arctic Ocean. Along the way, these rivers drain 68,000 square kilometres, an area larger than Nova Scotia. The Peel Watershed is intimately known by three Yukon First Nations—the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation—and the Tetlit Gwich’in in the Northwest Territories, who have hunted, harvested, and lived on the land and the rivers for millennia. The parties ended up in court due to the Yukon government’s betrayal of its agreements with the three First Nations. In 1973, Yukon Chiefs presented Canada with the historic document Together Today For Our Children Tomorrow, convincing the federal government to begin negotiating a modern-day treaty with Yukon First Nations.

“Today, most Yukon First Nations have reached agreements with the Yukon and Canadian governments. The First Nations whose traditional territory includes parts of the Peel River watershed signed their Final Agreements in the 1990s. In these agreements, First Nations yielded control of much of their traditional territory in exchange for a meaningful role in land-use planning for these settlement lands and guaranteed surface and subsurface rights to smaller fractions of their traditional territory.”

In 2004, the Yukon government established a land use commission to consider the disposition of the Peel Watershed. In 2011, the commission issued its final report. According to Roberta Joseph, “The ‘Final Recommended Land Use Plan’ called for 80 per cent protection of the watershed (55 per cent permanent protection, 25 per cent interim protection), with 20 per cent open to roads and industrial development. First Nations have always called for 100 per cent protection of the watershed, but accepted this compromise. Then, the betrayal occurred.”

In July 2014, the Yukon government released its own report, without consultation with First Nations, and it called for 29 per cent protection, and leaving the remaining 71 per cent open to “development”. There are currently nearly 8000 mining claims waiting for the floodgates to open. In 2014, the Yukon First Nations joined with conservationist groups CPAWS Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society and sued the government.

As Roberta Joseph explains, “We do not want the government to carve up the Peel Watershed with roads and industry. We do not want the government to be rewarded for betrayal with a second chance to overturn the collaborative, democratic land-use planning process. The Final Agreements are supposed to be a meaningful partnership, and the Yukon government did not honour the spirit of these agreements. That is why we appealed to the highest court in the land.”

Elaine Alexie, a Tetlit Gwich’in First Nation member, adds, “What’s most precious to us is the water. If anything should happen to that water, it will directly affect us … I spent half my childhood in the Peel. I see it as a place that I have a connection to as a Tetlit Gwich’in woman. Once a year I go up the Peel, because it’s such a part of who we are.”

Roberta Joseph agrees, “The Peel Watershed is a place where the rivers run clear, the herds of caribou are healthy, and grizzlies have the room to roam. Please visit www.protectpeel.ca to learn more about this irreplaceable landscape and how you can help support the campaign to protect it.”

Roberta Joseph

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Tyler Kuhn) (Photo Credit 2: CBC News / Cheryl Kawaja)

In Panama, Ngäbe-Buglé women lead the fight to protect the waters

From Canada to the United States to Panama, and beyond, indigenous women are leading major campaigns to protect the purity and health of the rivers. In Panama, Ngäbe-Buglé women have been organizing for over a decade to shut down the Barro Blanco Hydroelectric Dam. Women like Clementina Pérez, Weni Bagama, and Silvia Carrera have led the charge not only to stop the dam and to insist on real and proper negotiations before changing the entire regional ecosystem but to think and act deeply and respectfully about development models based on mutuality, respect and sustainability.

Panama has five comarcas indígenas, or Indigenous administrative zones. Of the five, three are substantial and large enough to be fairly autonomous, on the order of a province or state. Of the three autonomous comarcas indígenas, the comarca Ngäbe-Buglé is the largest. After decades of Indigenous organizing and mobilizing, the comarca Ngäbe-Buglé was established in 1997. From its inception, the comarca Ngöbe-Buglé ran up against the national government’s model for national economic expansion, which relied heavily on mining and, more recently, big dams. The Barro Blanco dam project, begun in 2006, would seriously affect the Tabasará River, a mainstay of Ngäbe-Buglé economic and social life: “The Ngäbe’s way of life is threatened by the ongoing construction of the Barro Blanco dam. This dam would displace the Ngäbe by threatening to flood several homes, schools, and farms. The free-flowing Tabasará with its abundant fish and crustaceans would be converted into a pool of standing water, breeding bacteria, mosquitos and, ultimately, disease.”

Ngäbe and Buglé women decided that they had had enough. Life for women on the comarca has been hard. Rudimentary health care is barely accessible. The national government builds the odd clinic, but doesn’t staff it or provide materials. There are no ambulances, and besides the roads are perilous. For women, this has a particular impact: “Pregnant women had to walk as many as five hours to give birth and often ended up having to stop to have the baby before arriving to a health center or midwife’s house.” The women also know that poor roads means children can’t get to school, and so they are condemned to poverty. Meanwhile, the few good roads that do exist in the comarca serve the mines and the hydroelectric dams. It’s a familiar situation for Indigenous peoples around the world.

The Ngäbe and Buglé women saw the Barro Blanco dam is the signature of their marginalized, diminished and disrespected personhood, citizenship and humanity. And so they organized. They established a protest camp on the bank of the river and got to work. For twenty years, they watched as the national government voted in law after law that allowed for, and encouraged, direct foreign investment into Indigenous lands. During the same period, Indigenous peoples’ leadership was increasingly feminized, and in 2012, Silvia Carrera, a prominent anti-mining activist, became the first woman elected chief of the Ngöbe-Buglé.

For the past two decades, Ngäbe-Buglé women activists have been systematically assaulted. They have been imprisoned, beaten, raped and killed, and throughout they have continued to lead the movement for dignity and autonomy. They have watched entire villages swept away by the waters, and refused to accept that fate. They have faced down dogs and riot squads. Today, they are still on the move. They have stopped construction of the Barro Blanco Dam, temporarily, but they know that the violence will continue until violation of their land as part of national and regional development is finally rejected.

Silvia Carrera explained, “Look how they treat us. What do we have to defend ourselves? We don’t have anything; we have only words. We are defenseless. We don’t have weapons. We were attacked and it wasn’t just by land but by air too. Everything they do to us, to our land, to our companions who will not come back to life, hurts us. … The government says Good, Panama is growing its economy. Yet the economy is for a few bellaco [macho men]. But progress should be for the majority and for this we will go into the street, and from frontier to frontier, to protest … We are not violent. We just want to reclaim our rights and justice. Above all, we want to live in peace and tranquility.”

And the people respond, “No to the miners! No to the hydroelectric!” From North Dakota to the northwest of Panama, women water protectors are saying YES to the dignity of earth, of their people, of all people, of justice, peace and tranquility.

 

(Photo Credit: Telesur / ESCRIBANA / CONAMUIP)

Judy Da Silva: “The bottom line is the river has to be cleaned up”


Judy Da Silva is the environmental health coordinator for the Grassy Narrows First Nation, also known as the Asabiinyashkosiwagong Nitam-Anishinaabeg, in northern Ontario. Judy Da Silva is 54 years old, a mother, grandmother, and activist. Her story is the story of contemporary Grassy Narrows, a tale of industrial violence followed by State brutality with a stream throughout of community activism, organizing and hope.

In 1962, the year Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published, Reed Paper, in Dryden, Ontario, began dumping untreated mercury waste into the Wabigoon River. By 1970, the mill had dumped more than 9,000 kilograms, or close to 10 tons (US), of untreated mercury into the waters. Just downstream lay Grassy Narrows, an Ojibwa community that had been on the Wabigoon and English Rivers for centuries. For centuries, they had relied on fishing as a food source and a cultural and economic base. For centuries, the people of Grassy Narrows had prospered. Then the mercury came, the fish turned to poison, and the mercury levels of the Grassy Narrows First Nation population hit astronomical heights. Members of the community recognized early on that they were suffering new and catastrophic symptoms.

Judy Da Silva is 54 years old, and so she was born in that fateful year, 1962. In an interview this week, Judy Da Silva noted: “I have mercury poisoning. It affects me physically. I’m like the age of the mercury poisoning. I was in my mother’s womb when the poison was being poured into the river … It’s like a slow degenerative form of dying … My mom is still alive and she says they roamed the land freely. They fished, they hunted, they lived off the land. They hardly went to the store. They were very independent economically and socially. Now, it’s like our hands have been severed.”

Since the 1970s, a team of Japanese scientists has been studying and documenting the mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows. Others have as well. The contamination is considered “a prominent example” by scholars, activists, and just plain folk. And since the 1970s, the Canadian government and the provincial government of Ontario have done absolutely nothing to clean up the river. This week a new report said that the river can be and should be cleaned up. Ontario has a new regime, which seems to be more committed to the rights of indigenous populations, and to the need to address the centuries long violence committed against indigenous people. Will the new provincial government clean up the river?

Thursday, over a thousand people, led by Grassy Narrows teenagers, marched through Toronto, demanding justice. Judy Da Silva was among them, having returned from Geneva where she made a case before the United Nations, arguing Canada had violated the Grassy Narrows First Nation’s right to access to clean water. Back in Toronto, Da Silva is of two minds. On one hand, “We are not valuable enough to be considered. We, as Indigenous people, are expendable. And that’s why the poison is allowed to be still in the river. Money is more important than us.” On the other hand, “I always gotta be hopeful. I can’t be a victim. I gotta be a powerful person.”

In the end, “the bottom line is the river has to be cleaned up.” Judy Da Silva joined the women, elders, teenagers, and everyone in the Grassy Narrows First Nation to say: “No more fancy words, no more studies”. They say NO to the murderous racist devaluation of their lives. They say the time is NOW.

(Photo Credit: Legal Defense Fund for Judy Da Silva)

Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, Teresa González Cornelio demand justice!

Jacinta Francisco Marcial

Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio are Otomí-speaking ñhäñhú women street vendors who have struggled for the past decade to force the Mexican government to do more than `stop oppressing’ indigenous women. Asserting their dignity as indigenous women, they have demanded justice. This week they may have moved a step closer to that goal.

Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio were arrested, charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced to decades in prison for a crime that never occurred. On March 26, 2006, members of the now-defunct Federal Investigation Agency (AFI) of the federal Attorney General’s Office showed up at the town plaza of Santiago Mexquititlán in the state of Querétaro. Never identifying themselves as police, they began to shake down the local street vendors, the vast majority of whom were ñhäñhú women. The women massed around the agents and demanded they stop their extortion. The agents’ superiors arrived and offered to pay for damages, and that should have been that.

Four months later, Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio were arrested and charged with having kidnapped six agents. The evidence was allegedly a newspaper photograph that showed the three women somewhere in the vicinity of the crowd of indigenous women. The trial dragged on for two years. Not a single federal agent ever showed up or gave testimony, and yet all three women were sentenced to 21 years in prison. That’s justice in Querétaro for the crime of being a working poor, indigenous woman.

At the time of her imprisonment, Jacinta Francisco Marcial was 43 years old. She was married and the mother of six children. She sold juices and ice cream in the town square. Jacinta Francisco Marcial was guilty of the crime of survival with a modicum of dignity.

When she was sent to jail, the Centro Prodh took up her case. Soon after, Amnesty began investigating and campaigning as well. In September 2009, Jacinta Francisco Marcial was released from prison. The Attorney General’s Office had dropped the charges, but never declared her innocent. In April 2010, Alberta Alcántara Juan and Teresa González Cornelio were also released. At the time of their release Alberta Alcántara Juan was 31, and Teresa González Cornelio 25 years old. Teresa González Cornelio gave birth to a baby girl while in prison.

The three women had been released, but Jacinta Francisco Marcial had not been exonerated, and so she sued the State for damages and demanded an apology. In May 2014, in a groundbreaking case, Jacinta Francisco Marcial won, the first time a Mexican citizen sued the State for wrongful incarceration and was awarded reparations and a public apology.

The State refused to pay up or apologize. This week, the earlier judgment was confirmed, and there’s no chance for the State to appeal the decision. The State must compensate and formally apologize, and it must do so by September 2016.

Mexico currently holds over 9000 indigenous people in its prisons. The prisons are hellholes generally, and for indigenous people, even more so. There are little to no language services either in the courts or in the prisons, and so many indigenous people are left to fend for themselves, which is to say disappear. As Jacinta Francisco Marcial has explained on more than one occasion, she didn’t know what kidnapping was when she was charged with that crime.

According to the Mexican National Commission on Human Rights, the conditions of women’s prisons are deplorable. Querétaro’s Centro de Reinserción Social Femenil San José El Alto offers threats, humiliation, discrimination; toxic maintenance conditions; unregulated and irregular application of solitary confinement; overcrowding; and more. According to the Commission, Querétaro’s Centro de Reinserción Social Femenil San José El Alto is not one of the worst women’s prisons in Mexico, not by a long shot.

The State tried to crush Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio, because it considered three working poor indigenous women as so much dust. From the streets to the courts to the prisons to the highest offices in the land, State agents thought they could abuse such women with impunity. But when they struck Jacinta Francisco Marcial, Alberta Alcántara Juan, and Teresa González Cornelio, they hit and dislodged a boulder that will continue to roll and pound until the State of impunity is crushed. There are many Jacintas in Mexico and beyond.

 

(Photo Credit: Centro Prodh) (Video Credit: Amnesty / YouTube)

After COP 21, the murders that hide behind international treaties

The Women's Global Call for Climate Justice

At COP 21, Grace Balawag, member of the IIPFCC (the International Indigenous People’s Forum on Climate Change) told us her concerns as the language of the treaty being negotiated started to exclude indigenous people. She talked about indigenous right to land, about indigenous peoples’ knowledge and expertise and how, instead of being respected, they were excluded from negotiations while the world’s largest corporations were ubiquitous throughout those discussions.

Three months after the agreement, women and men environmental activists from indigenous communities are still being murdered by hit men working for vested interests often supported by governments, as was recently the case in Honduras and South Africa. Countries like Honduras with its violent repressive regime are just proxies for the violent global market.

As Billy Kyte from Global Witness said, “Indigenous people are being killed in alarming numbers simply for defending rights to their land.” Land means subsistence for indigenous people certainly, but also for the human population as a whole. However, land means carbon exchange market for vested interests. For instance, the REDD program (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is actually a carbon market mechanism that treats the business-made environmental deficiencies as more business and speculative opportunities. Indigenous people see carbon exchange value programs like REDD made by and for unscrupulous corporations as a land grabbing mechanism, a new form of colonialism, “Yesterday’s genocide was done with guns and blankets with small pox. Now they are using carbon trading and REDD.” All this entails murders, and fabricates aggressive justifications for “potentially genocidal policies.” Shouldn’t we all see that?

It is women who have suffered and are still suffering the most under this oppressive system. And so it is indigenous women who show the way toward real solidarity for transformative actions for “Climate justice and women’s rights.”

Why has this market mechanism superseded legally binding resolutions? For the first time, the Paris Accord recognized the climate catastrophic disruption, but by not expressing strong support for indigenous rights, the signers have been complacent with those powers that order the murder of people who fight against the causes of this environmental and human disaster. Therefore, it has failed to propose meaningful solutions.

Grace Balawag reminds us how difficult it is to negotiate under this corporatization and financialization of “nature” and the importance of collaboration.

(Photo Credit: Brigitte Marti) (Interview filmed by Joachim Cairaschi, conducted by Brigitte Marti)

End State terrorism: Free Nestora Salgado now!

 


Women are organizing a revolution in the highlands of Guerrero, in southwestern Mexico. They are mobilizing and militating in self-defense. They are organizing to protect and extend women’s rights and power at home, in the streets, in the State. They are saying, “¡Ya basta!” Enough is way too much. They are calling women from across Mexico to join with them. These are the rank and file and the comandantes of the Community Police Forces. Nestora Salgado is one of the many women in this growing revolution.

At the age of 20, Nestora Salgado left her home town of Olinalá, Guerrero, and moved to the United States. She left for a better life for herself and her three daughters, and she left to escape a physically abusive husband. Ending up in Renton, Washington, Salgado worked as a domestic worker, at first; sent her daughters to school; divorced her husband; obtained U.S. citizenship; remarried.

At a certain point, Salgado started returning, twice a year, to Olinalá. Initially, she returned to maintain family ties, and to bring material goods to the family, and then to the community. In Olinalá, Nestora Salgado witnessed the ravages of the so-called War on Drugs, which had translated much of the narco-violence to the countryside. She saw the government collude with drug cartels. She saw her community crushed by a political economy of violence, consisting of murder, rape, kidnappings, and wall-to-wall terror and intimidation. She saw violence intensifying, poverty deepening and expanding, and a pervasive sense of abandonment.

Nestora Salgado declared, “¡Ya basta!” She joined a local indigenous community police force. While many in the international press refer to such forces as “vigilante”, in fact their existence is codified in the Mexican Constitution and Guerrero legislation. Initially, Salgado’s security force received major funding from the State of Guerrero. Salgado was elected regional comandante.

Within the first ten months of her tenure, the community police broke the hold of the ruling local gang. Homicide, and most crimes of violence, dropped drastically. Kidnapping practically vanished. And women joined the struggle and moved up through the ranks. Women changed both the war zone of the everyday and the social relations of their own communities.

Then Salgado began investigating and arresting local officials, for their criminal involvement with the cartels. Suddenly, Nestora Salgado went from hero to `terrorist.’ On August 21, 2013, she was arrested and charged with kidnapping. She was carted off to the federal maximum-security prison in Tepic, Nayarit, hundreds of miles away. Despite having been acquitted of those charges, she has been held in Tepic, often in solitary, for almost two years. She has had no trial. She has been denied access to medical treatment.

On May 5, Salgado began a hunger strike. After much dithering and handwringing, and no acknowledgment of the previous two years’ ordeal, the National Commission on Human Rights weighed in, and the so-called Human Rights division of the Ministry of the Interior announced, yesterday, that Salgado would be moved out of Tepic and to a prison closer to her lawyers, family, and comrades.

Nestora Salgado is one of many. Every day, Olinalá and the mass grave of Ayotzinapa grow closer. The number of political prisoners rises as violence against journalists intensifies.

As the violence intensifies, so do the demands for freedom and justice. Nestora Salgado has put it succinctly, “They will not break me and I will not ask forgiveness of anyone.” Indigenous women are organizing and militating. #NestoraLibre appears everywhere. Freedom for Nestora Salgado! Freedom and justice for all indigenous women!

I’m not afraid of the hired guns or of organized crime. I’m afraid of the State, for the State will disappear me. It’s the State that attacks us.” Nestora Salgado understands that when “organized crime” attacks Olinalá, it’s the State attacking. And when the State attacks … it’s time to fight back. The women of Olinalá demand freedom for Nestora Salgado and for all who stand with her: Release from prison, freedom from State terror and violence … now!

 

(Photo Credit: La Jornada / Sanjuana Martinez)

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have decided to stay

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe is an indigenous small hold farmer, a woman from the highlands of northern Peru. She lives in the department of Cajamarca. In 1994, she and her husband Jaime Chaupe bought a small parcel of land to farm and to live on. They began building their home, clearing the land, preparing for the future. In 1994, Cajamarca also `welcomed’ the Yanacocha Mine, the largest open-pit gold mine in Latin America and the second most `productive’ gold mine in the world. Yanacocha is owned by Newmont Mining Corporation, a US-based company and the largest gold mining company in the world; Buenaventura, a Peruvian company; and the World Bank. Newmont owns more than half the mine. Here’s Yanacocha, 2010: “Yanacocha is Newmont’s prize possession, the most productive gold mine in the world. But if history holds one lesson, it is that where there is gold, there is conflict, and the more gold, the more conflict.” More gold, more conflict, and more company and State violence.

This is a story of the largest assaulting the smallest, and the smallest fighting back.

Although Yanacocha is the largest, Newmont wasn’t satisfied. The owners knew there was more gold, just up the road a pace. And so they launched the Conga Mine project, which would be bigger than Yanacocha. Conga promised, or threatened, to be the largest single investment in Peruvian mining history. The mine owners approached Maxima Acuña de Chaupe with an offer, which she refused. She and her family liked their farm, the region, the community, and had no interest in leaving.

That is when the assaults began. In May 2011, company representatives and police tore down the fences and smashed the Chaupe home. The family stayed. In August company representative and riot police bulldozed the Chaupe’s new home and seized all of their possessions. The family stayed. Then private security guards and police beat Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her daughter unconscious, and took her husband and son to jail. The family stayed.

And so, of course, Yanacocha sued the Chaupe family, charging them with illegal occupation. From Indonesia to South Africa to Canada to Peru, the one constant in mining is there is no irony in those killing fields. The family decided to stay: “I may be poor. I may be illiterate, but I know that our mountain lakes are our real treasure. From them, I can get fresh and clean water for my children, for my husband and for my animals! Yet, are we expected to sacrifice our water and our land so that the Yanacocha people can take gold back to their country? Are we supposed to sit quietly and just let them poison our land and water?”

In August, a judge found for the mining company, but in December, an appeals court struck down the lawsuit. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe won the battle! The small woman on her small piece of land had stopped the largest mine, one of the largest mining corporations, and one of the most intensive forms of industrial violence against people, the environment, and democracy. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe was supported by many women: her lawyer, Mirtha Vasquez; the members of Asociación de Mujeres en Defensa de la Vida (Association of Women in Defense of Livelihood) and of the Unión Latinoamericana de Mujeres – ULAM, the latter of whom named Maxima Acuña de Chaupe as the Defender of 2014.

That was December. This week, over 200 fully armed private security guards and police entered the Chaupe farm, again without any warrant or formal authorization, and tore down a second small shack the family was constructing. They held the family hostage for hours. The struggle continues. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have decided to stay.

 

(Video Credit: Vimeo / Alexandra Luna, congaconflict.wordpress.com) (Photo Credit: CommonDreams.org / Jorge Chávez Ortiz)

 

In Canada, Native women disappear, bodies never counted!

In 2008, Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander, two young indigenous women, disappeared in the Maniwaki area in Quebec. Their wallets and clothes were found but not their bodies. Despite claims to the contrary, the indigenous and Quebecois authorities took very little action to find them. Meanwhile, at the same time in the same area, the resources to find a young white runaway boy addicted to video game were easily gathered with Microsoft offering $50 000. There were no such resources available for two young indigenous women.

Last July, James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People, released a report that exposed the “unresolved” issues at the basis of the socio economic gap between the non-indigenous and indigenous populations in Canada. Among these issues lies the increasingly precarious situation of Native women and their high vulnerability to sexual violence and murder. The report denounces the lack of “effective actions to address the problem of missing indigenous women and girls.” The report also points out the current issues of treaty negotiations as the indigenous land has become the target of non-indigenous mining and dam building.

About 2 000 indigenous young women have disappeared or been killed between 1980 and 2012 in Canada in the authorities’ indifference. The bodies of 90% of them have been found; still the code of silence prevails. It would be as if 55 000 women in France had disappeared or been murdered and the State did absolutely nothing. According to French journalist Emmanuelle Walter, that would not be tolerated. In her recent book, she describes Canada’s policy toward missing and murdered indigenous women as femicide.

Walter’s investigation took her back into the history of conquest and destruction of the Amerindian communities. She notes that the European patriarchal misogyny has contaminated Native men. Indian laws dictated by the colonizers affected the status of indigenous women. Moreover, the politics of assimilation that the Canadian government implemented in the 19th century were politics of elimination. In Canada, like in the United States, boarding schools were in charge of removing the indigenous culture with extreme violence, including sexual violence. It is estimated that 150 000 indigenous children were boarded in these schools during 150 years. This colonial past is not resolved and allows this indifference to the fate of indigenous women and girls.

In her book Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, Andrea Smith established the correlation between land conquest and sexual violence as a genocidal instrument. With the ongoing conquest of underground lands in Canada by energy and mining special interests, Smith’s argument that “sexual violence is a tool by which certain peoples become marked as inherently “rapable” is most important to remember.

When Stephen Harper became the prime minister of Canada in 2006, he immediately abolished social programs for indigenous people. Then, his C45 Law project to modify the environmental laws that protected the indigenous land and populations was introduced. The same government downplayed the attacks on indigenous women, treating them as isolated crimes. These connections must be recognized to allow a better understanding of the situation of indigenous people in Canada and elsewhere. Indigenous people are fighting on every front.

Indigenous women don’t want to be the victims and live in fear. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has organized actions to expose this femicide. After the murder of another young indigenous woman last summer, indigenous women defied the Prime Minister Harper with a series of photos of women holding a sign that says “Am I next?”

They demand a nationwide inquiry with financial means attached to it and in consultation with indigenous women. But, as Michelle Audette from NWAC underlined, “The government refused the visit of the UN Rapporteur. Do you think it is going to receive our demands?”

That is why the organizing and actions to break the code of silence and recognize this femicide are not weakening and must be made visible.

(Photo Credit: Humber News)

In Chile, women shut down Monsanto’s Law

Good news! Women across Chile organized, mobilized and shut down, at least for now, the dreaded Monsanto Law. The law would have given multinational corporations the power to patent seeds they discover, develop or modify. For small and mid-sized farmers, which is to say for the rural 99%, this would have been catastrophic. It would have been disastrous for Chile’s `seed heritage’ as well. Women lead the campaign to stop the law, and last week, the government withdrew the bill.

On Monday, March 17, Secretary General to the Presidency Ximena Rincón announced the withdrawal. Rincón had long been a leading critic of the bill, both in Parliament and in government more generally.

ANAMURI, Asociación Nacional de Mujeres Rurales e Indígenas or the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women, was a central organizer and mobilizer in the campaign. ANAMURI co-director Alicia Muñoz explained, “All of the resistance that rural organizations, principally indigenous communities, led during these past years was a success. We were able to convey to the parliament how harmful the law would be for the indigenous communities and farmers who feed us all. Big agriculture, or agro-business is just that, a business. It doesn’t feed our country.” In their organizing and mobilizing, ANAMURI explicitly linked the capitalization and commoditization of food and of seeds to capital and to patriarchy. Repeatedly, they stressed that the right to food and the struggle for biodiversity is part of the women’s liberation struggle in Chile and everywhere.

Camila Montecinos, of GRAIN, focuses on biodiversity and food sovereignty. Her organization worked with CLOC, la Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo, to organize rural women, workers, and indigenous communities to educate the members of government and the general population as to what is at stake, and again not only for Chile: “This struggle has not ended. Certainly the agrobusiness sector is going to lobby fiercely. We’re ready for that. Sometimes Chile looks like one of the most submissive countries, but if we can win here, others can win elsewhere where similar laws are in place.” In Argentina, for example, women like Sofía Gatica are leading a similar campaign against Monsanto and Monsanto Laws.

Lucía Sepúlveda, of Rapal, la Red de Acción en Plaguicidas y sus Alternativas or Alliance for a Better Quality of Life/Pesticide Action Network, has been organizing to stop the destruction of small farms and the resultant production of rural food deserts, in the heart of the farmlands. At the same time, when the bill was pulled, Sepúlveda reminded the women around her that it was originally Michelle Bachelet, in 2009, who originally presented the bill to Parliament.

After years of organizing, cajoling, mobilizing, and meeting, Bachelet’s emissary pulled the bill for reconsideration. At the same time, Bachelet announced this week her intention to establish a Ministry for Women and Gender Equality. Alicia Muñoz noted that ANAMURI has been organizing and lobbying for this Ministry since the advent of democracy in Chile.

In Chile, women are on the move: in the government, the fields and factories, the schools, the households and the streets: “We won because we organized an enormous collective effort and massively broadcast and shared our position.” In the words of an earlier Chilean popular movement, “¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!”

 

(Image Credit: ANAMURI)