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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to ICT

Around the world: Canada gets its first Indigenous Supreme Court justice, the Māori king warns politicians to stop using race issues for political gain, Indigenous fashion designers are drawing international attention, more than 50 environmental defenders have died in the Amazon, and a new trust will help Māori horseback riders.

CANADA: First Indigenous woman named Supreme Court justice

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed Ontario Judge Michelle O’Bonsawin to the Supreme Court of Canada, making her the first Indigenous woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, APTN News reported on Aug. 19

Before the appointment, she had served five years as a judge on the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa and had taught law at the University of Ottawa. O’Bonsawin also served as the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group’s general counsel for eight years.

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According to a biography released by the Prime Minister’s office, O’Bonsawin identifies as a bilingual Franco-Ontarian and an Abenaki member of the Odanak First Nation. A requirement for a bilingual English-French justice had been cited previously as a complicating factor in finding Indigenous candidates for the court.

Her appointment takes effect Sept. 1 when Justice Michael Moldaver takes his retirement.

NEW ZEALAND: King warns politicians to stop using Māori 

Kiingi Tūheitia, who has been king of the Māori people in New Zealand since 2006, called upon the nation’s political leaders to stop using Māori race issues for political gain, Te Ao Maori News reported on Aug. 20.

He delivered the message at the annual Koroneihana celebrations at Tūrangawaewae in Ngāruawāhia last week.

The king challenged leaders to rise above populist rhetoric while addressing such issues as co-governance.

“The king believes our leaders need to step up in this time of great change and uncertainty," Ngira Simmonds, Kīngitanga Chief of Staff, said in a statement Saturday, according to Te Ao Maori News.

“Aotearoa stands at a crossroad, and our leaders need to decide what path to take," Simmonds said. “Do we stay on the current path of growing inequality, poor education, severe health problems, youth suicide and runaway inflation? Or do we choose a different path? … Do our leaders have the courage to address iwi Māori issues without turning them into clickbait for political gain?”

CANADA: Indigenous fashion draws worldwide attention

A Canadian nonprofit organization is helping Indigenous designers break into the mainstream fashion industry worldwide, CBC News reported on August 21.

International Indigenous Fashion Week Inc. was started to help Indigenous designers take the spotlight, said founder and executive director Chelsa Racette.

“I was working multiple fashion shows in the United States and Canada, and they would only feature one or two Indigenous designers,” Racette said. “So I figured we need our own."

Blackfoot designer Melrene Saloy, of the Kainai Nation, was recruited to take her collection of beaded jewelry and accessories to Paris Fashion Week in September.

"Everybody working with me there is Indigenous,” she told CBC News. “So my hair, makeup, models, photographers, everyone is Indigenous."

Saloy started her business, Native Diva Creations, eight years ago to make culturally appropriate First Nations jewelry and accessories.

She got her interest in fashion as a child, making clothes for her dolls after her grandmother and aunts taught her to sew, CBS New reported.

She did her first fashion show in 2015 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and saw her creations on the runway during New York Fashion Week last year.

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"I literally was crying the whole time," Saloy told CBC News. "It was so hard for me to just sit there because it was like, 'Look at my culture. Look at all of this just happening.'"

BRAZIL: More than 50 Amazon defenders killed in five years

At least 58 Indigenous people were killed in the Brazilian, Colombian, Ecuadoran and Peruvian Amazon between 2016 and 2021, according to an investigation by 11 environmental and human rights organizations.

The perpetrators are largely linked to unlawful activities such as drug trafficking, mining, land grabbing and illegal logging, though in some cases the government is also involved, Mongabay.com reported on Aug. 17.

“We receive reports of murders, crimes and threats every day,” said Esneda Saavedra, counselor for the rights of Indigenous peoples, human rights and peace with the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia.

She said the victims are often young people trying to protect water, life and forest, and many of the cases are unlikely to be solved.

“The reports arrive and are archived,” she said. “We live in a continuous violation of our rights.”

International organizations such as Global Witness and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have identified Latin America as one of the regions where Indigenous environmental defenders are most threatened.

The most recent Global Witness report shows that most of the killings of land and environmental defenders in 2020 occurred in Latin America, with every three out of four attacks that year in Peru and Brazil taking place in the Amazonian regions.

“The Amazon has become a disputed territory with armed, illegal groups and the state itself attacking leaders and environmentalists,” said Leonardo Gonzales, project coordinator at the Colombian Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Indepaz), according to Mongabay.com.

NEW ZEALAND: New trust aims to help out Māori horse riders

The newly formed National Māori Horse Association Aotearoa Trust – which provides financial support for competitions and teaching about horse care – has appointed a new vice-chair to help lead the organization, Te Ao Māori News reported on Aug. 15.

“We've got good horses and riders to compete but no money to get there,” new vice-chair Puni Tiakiwai, who hails from the Ruātoki Valley, told Te Ao Māori News.

The foundation was established by Brent Job and his wife, Michelle Lee, to advance the opportunities and standards of horse riding, breeding and employment in the industry across the nation.

Māori riders often did not have the resources to enter competitions or travel to shows, and sometimes lack knowledge about breaking or training.

“That is one reason why we have created this community trust, to help those wanting to reach excellence in horse competitions and riding, Tiakiwai said. “We will try to find the money for them.”

About 600 people, mostly Māori, live in Ruātoki, Tiakiwai said, and about 597 of them ride horses.

"The other three had their horses taken off them," he said.

My final thoughts

My final thoughts are with the families of 58 Indigenous environmental defenders who were murdered in the Brazilian, Colombian, Ecuadoran and Peruvian Amazon between 2016 and 2021. They died while protecting water, life and the forest, some with government involvement. It’s so ridiculous that governments cannot see the future of their people, instead they are killing, or condoning the killing of those who see into the future of their children. I hope their deaths will never be in vain.

Lastly, let me share with you Article 9 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Article 9
Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an Indigenous community or nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nation concerned. No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such a right.

Global Indigenous is a weekly news roundup published every Wednesday by ICT (formerly Indian Country Today) with some of the key stories about Indigenous peoples around the world.

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