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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to Indian Country Today

Around the world: First Nations leaders want Pope Francis to visit former residential schools during his upcoming trip to Canada, a top UN Indigenous rights body makes its first visit to Australia, a study finds that Indigenous control helps stop deforestation, leaders praise a new chief minister in Australia’s Northern Territory Chief Minister and Indigenous comedians share laughs at a Canadian festival.

CANADA: First Nations leaders tell Pope to visit residential schools

First Nations leaders are calling on Pope Francis to visit former residential school sites when he visits Canada in July, CBC News reported on May 13.

The Pope is scheduled to make stops in Quebec City, Edmonton and Iqaluit when he visits Canada July 24-29, but Chief Ghislain Picard of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador said his itinerary for Quebec is unsatisfactory.

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"We've made repeated calls that the Pope take the time to visit at least one of the sites where unmarked graves were discovered and well, so far, it doesn't seem to be in the plan," Ghislain said, according to CBC News.

"To me, if a formal apology has to take place in Canada, then obviously it would be very significant that this happens on the site of one of those hundreds of schools that existed in the last century."

The Vatican responded with a statement saying it would work with Indigenous leaders when making plans to visit particular sites or communities, adding that the Pope's agility and health issues may play a part in the planning. According to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, more details will be released six to eight weeks before the papal visit.

More than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced into residential schools between the 1880s and 1996; more than 60 percent of the schools were operated by the Catholic Church.

AUSTRALIA: UN turns attentions to human rights issues

The United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will put a spotlight on human rights issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in an upcoming visit to Australia, National Indigenous Times reported on May 15.

Indigenous human rights lawyer Hannah McGlade said she asked for the visit to address those issues.

“I originally requested the visit on behalf of the Noongar Family Safety and Wellbeing Council five years ago… in the context of the high rate of child removals and the lack of self-determination in government responses,” she said, according to National Indigenous Times.

“Self-determination is recognized in legislation but not given meaningful effect in the actual systems and processes. “We need this addressed now.”

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues gathered earlier this month in New York, where First Nations leaders from around the world called on governments, courts, and UN agencies to protect Indigenous peoples’ lands and lives.

The forum also suggested that Indigenous peoples be given more chances to participate in the UN’s General Assembly process, a move that could raise the forum to a level on-par with member states.

In 2007, the Australian government was among only four national governments to vote against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

BRAZIL: Indigenous control halts deforestation

Protected areas and lands managed by Indigenous and traditional communities have been critical in preserving and restoring forests in the Brazilian Amazon in recent years, according to a new study reported by Mongabay.com on May 13.

The study noted that rates of native vegetation loss between 2005 and 2012 were 17 times lower in Indigenous territories than in unprotected areas of the Amazon. In conservation units and lands managed by Quilombolas, the offsprings of Afro-Brazilian slaves, deforestation rates were almost six times lower than in unprotected areas.

Restrictions on land use are largely responsible for the lower rates of deforestation in the conservation units, according to Helena Alves-Pinto, the study’s lead author, from the Department of Ecology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

“Activities in conservation units face a series of restrictions,” Alves-Pinto said. “In some units, for example, only educational or research activities are legal. Others allow sustainable extractive activities, but not agriculture, as it is related to deforestation.”

The study observed a range of conservation units set up in the Brazilian Amazon — from sustainable-use models such as national forests and extractive reserves, to fully protected areas with natural sites and biological reserves.

In the case of Indigenous and Quilombola territories, Alves-Pinto said the degree of forest protection comes from the fact that entry to outsiders is highly restricted.

“Our study confirms that demarcation helps to keep invaders from entering Indigenous and Quilombola lands,” she said, “and that these peoples preserve biodiversity.”

AUSTRALIA: Indigenous leaders praise new chief minister in NT

Indigenous leaders in Australia’s Northern Territory welcomed the promotion of Natasha Fyles as the Labor party’s pick to take over as the territory’s chief minister after the sudden resignation of Michael Gunner, National Indigenous Times reported on May 13.

Northern Land Council Chairman Samuel Bush-Blanasi said he respected Fyles’ strong links to the territory.

“Ms. Fyles is Territory-born, with solid connections throughout the NT, including with Traditional Owners,” he said, according to NIT. “We need someone in the NT’s top job who will respect us and understand our communities and I’m confident that the new Chief Minister will listen to our mob when it comes to land rights, housing, health, justice and education and employment.”

Fyles’s work as health minister during the COVID-19 pandemic also drew praise from Indigenous leaders, who said she had a close working relationship with the health sector controlled by the Aboriginal community.

CANADA: Indigenous comedians cheer ‘big auntie laugh’

Indigenous comedians shared how laughter is integral to their lives during a Winnipeg Comedy Festival last week, CBC News reported on May 13.

"Indigenous woman laughter will literally shake a room," Jasmine Tara, a citizen of Peguis First Nation near Winnipeg, told the audience, according to CBC News.

"Any time me and my family go out for dinner anywhere, I know patrons are either happy around us or a little annoyed because we're so loud with our laughing,” Tara said. “I just love when you hear that, like, big auntie laugh, you know you're near somebody comfortable and good."

Teasing is another thing Tara loves about Indigenous humor.

"If you're getting teased, it's a good thing," she said. "It's a way to show that someone actually enjoys your company.”

Joyce Delaronde, Métis, a sketch comedy veteran also known as "Skinny Kookoo," said she gets inspiration from her family, according to CBC News. She grew up in Duck Bay, Manitoba.

"One of the best memories for me growing up is just going to my family's house and just sitting around the kitchen table, and talking and laughing for hours on end about absolutely nothing whatsoever," Delaronde said.

"I just love it. I think it's an endearing trait as well that a lot of people don't get to see."

My final thoughts

My final thoughts are about the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues that gathered earlier this month in New York, where First Nations leaders called on governments, courts and UN agencies to support and protect Indigenous peoples’ lands and lives. These high-level statements should not end up on the shelves, as usual, but should be enforced by all the stakeholders. Study after study has demonstrated that the world will not win the climate change fight and conservation if it continues ignoring calls to protect Indigenous peoples, their lands and their contribution to humanity.

And lastly, let me share with you Article 38 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Article 38
States in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, shall take the appropriate measures, including legislative measures, to achieve the ends of this Declaration.

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

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