Skip to main content

Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to Indian Country Today

Around the world: Pope Francis apologizes to First Nations people for residential school abuses, a study finds Indigenous lands are key to achieving the Paris climate agreement, portions of Brazil’s Amazon are facing decimation in the next 30 years, and Indigenous people win awards for business in New Zealand and music in Australia

ITALY: Pope apologizes for residential school abuses

This week starts in Italy, where Pope Francis finally said the words the First Nations people of Canada have been waiting to hear for more than a century.

“I am sorry,” the pontiff said during an in-person meeting with First Nations, Inuit and Métis members of a delegation to Vatican City, APTN News reported on April 1.

The Catholic Church played a key role in running Canada’s residential school system, which pulled children from their families and forced them into residential schools, where they cut ties with their families, culture and language.


Indigenous people have for many years called on various popes to apologize for the church’s role in the abuse in Canada and in the United States, where the Indian boarding schools became an ugly model for the schools in Canada. More than 150,000 children were shipped to boarding schools, and many of them never returned home. Their remains are now being discovered at former boarding school sites – some in unmarked graves – in Canada and the United States.

The Pope said he listened to the group over numerous days as they told about the system and “intergenerational trauma.”

“All of this made me feel two things very strongly, indignation and shame. Indignation because it is not right to accept evil and worse, to grow accustomed to evil as it was an inevitable part of the historical process,’’ he said. “I also feel shame … sorrow and shame for the role that a number of Catholics, particularly those with educational responsibilities, have had in all these things that wounded you, and the abuses you suffered and the lack of respect shown for your identity, your culture and even your spiritual values."

He continued, “For the deplorable conduct of these members of the Catholic Church, I ask for God’s forgiveness and I want to say to you with all my heart, I am very sorry. And I join my brothers, the Canadian bishops, in asking your pardon.”

REPORT: Indigenous lands key to Paris climate goals

The Paris climate agreement will be impossible to achieve without acknowledging the role of Indigenous people and local communities in protecting lands around the world, reported on April 1.

The conclusion was reached in a new Forest Declaration Assessment study that found Indigenous people played a critical role in protecting the environment, according to the report.

The report, “Sink or Swim,” by Climate Focus and the World Resources Institute, analyzed Indigenous lands and local communities in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, and found that 90 percent of them were considered “carbon sinks” – areas that absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than they release.

The release of the report comes days before the United Nations is set to issue an assessment on climate mitigation with proposals on how best to cut carbon emissions and maintain global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

NEW ZEALAND: Kaupapa Māori businessman wins award

Ezra Hirawani, the founder of the Kaupapa Māori electric company, Nau Mai Rā, has been named Young New Zealander of the Year, Te Ao Maori News reported on April 1.

“I haven’t won many awards in the past so to be recognized in this way is quite overwhelming but just a really good opportunity to get our Kaupapa with more people who might be able to help us achieve what we’re trying to do, so we’re really grateful,” Hirawani said, according to the report.

Hirawani is also leading a new crusade for Nau Mai Rā to gain 10,000 more clients before winter, which aims at changing from “power poverty to a position of power.”

BRAZIL: Best-preserved parts of Amazon face ‘decimation’

The central Purus River Basin – one of the best-preserved regions of the Brazilian Amazon – could be devastated over the next 30 years by deforestation, according to a new report by several civil society organizations.

The report concluded that by 2050, the lands lost – which are home to isolated tribes – would be larger than England, reported on March 31.

“The region of the Middle Purus has a series of Indigenous territories, extractive reserves and national forests that are connected to each other, forming large mosaics of protected forests,” Antonio Oviedo, the monitoring program coordinator for Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of the groups involved, told

The report said deforestation, illegal occupation of public lands and logging are currently threatening parts of the Middle Purus, as well as protected areas.

The Middle Purus region is home to two areas where remote Indigenous people were recently discovered, the Jacareúba-Katawixi Indigenous Territory and the Mamoriá Grande River region. Both have been formal protection since temporary decrees were allowed to expire last year.

AUSTRALIA: Indigenous talent shine at music awards

Aboriginal musicians grabbed the spotlight at the Queensland Music Awards, known as the QMAs, National Indigenous Television reported on March 30.

Sasha McLeod, a young Aboriginal musician, won Song of the Year and the Pop Award for the second consecutive year, and another young artist, Cloe Terare, was awarded a $10,000 scholarship as an Indigenous emerging artist.

The awards were held at Brisbane’s Fortitude Music Hall on the birthday of late music legend Billy Thorpe. The scholarship was handed out in Thorpe’s honor and was presented by Thorpe’s widow, Lynne, and arts state minister Leanne Enoch.

The scholarship includes the potential to record with a local producer and to receive mentoring from industry experts.

Sharing in the success was Miiesha, from the Aboriginal community of Woorabinda, who won the Soul/Funk/R&B award for the second year in a row, and Jem Cassar-Daley, who followed in her father’s path to take home the Indigenous Music Award, for her song, “Letting Go.”

It was the largest number of Indigenous nominees in the QMA’s history, officials said.

Final thoughts

My final thoughts are on the new Forest Declaration Assessment report, which concludes the Paris Agreement will be impossible to fulfill without acknowledge Indigenous efforts to protect the land. The Indigenous people and local communities have unique knowledge in these matters, and I hope all stakeholders will take note of this important report and put their money where it matters.

And finally, let me share with you Article 31 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Article 31
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.
2. In conjunction with indigenous peoples, States shall take effective measures to recognize and protect the exercise of these rights.

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.

Our stories are worth telling. Our stories are worth sharing. Our stories are worth your support. Contribute $5 or $10 today to help Indian Country Today carry out its critical mission. Sign up for ICT’s free newsletter.

Indian Country Today - bridge logo