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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to Indian Country Today

Around the world this week: Indigenous communities in Ecuador celebrate a momentous court ruling, Black and Indigenous inmates face hard time in Canada, the Tseshaht First Nation in Canada is searching for unmarked graves at a residential school site, and an Indigenous community in Guatemala takes a land rights fight to international court.

ECUADOR: Court affirms right to reject drilling projects

This week starts in Ecuador, where the Constitutional Court ruled that oil projects violated the rights of Indigenous communities to free, prior and informed consultation, Mongabay.com reported on Feb. 9.

The judges unanimously ruled that Indigenous communities must give their consent about any extractive projects on or near their lands, and called for tougher protections to affirm those rights, Mongabay.com reported.

The news brought celebrations among Indigenous communities.

“This has been a very big news, very important for the community, for all of us who have been on this path,” said Nixon Andy, from the Kofan community of Sinangoe in Ecuador’s northern Amazon rainforest, according to Mongabay.com.

Oil and mining projects across the country will now be required to request the consent of Indigenous communities who might already be affected by their projects.

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CANADA: Black, Indigenous inmates face brunt of prison force

Canada’s prison watchdog said Black, Indigenous and other people of color are more likely to undergo the use of force from federal guards while serving prison time, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network reported on Feb. 10.

Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger said a recent report found that inmates of color make up 60 percent of the cases in which force is used, the network reported.

“Black and Indigenous individuals accounted for just over half of all persons involved in the use of force, while representing 37 percent of the federal prison population,” Zinger said.

Of the 9,633 recorded use-of-force cases from 2015 to 2020, Indigenous men were subjected to 50 percent of them. Zinger called that a “systemic concern” in Correctional Services of Canada.

“Indigenous individuals, who, on average, experienced more uses of force per person than any other group, were also more likely to be involved in a use-of-force incident,” the network reported. “Specifically, Indigenous individuals accounted for nearly 40 percent of all individuals involved in uses of force, despite representing, on average, 28 percent of the incarcerated population,” APTN News reported.

CANADA: First Nation searches for graves at residential school

The Tseshaht First Nation on Vancouver Island is taking the first steps to search for human remains at the former site of the Alberni Indian Residential School, the Canada Broadcasting Corporation reported Feb. 10.

Initial work to use ground-penetrating radar is underway but the radar won’t be used until the soil conditions are ideal, according to a statement from the Tseshaht First Nation.

All those who attended the school have been asked to share information with the search teams, Tseshaht leaders said.

The government has announced that $1 million would be available over two years to support the Tseshaht work with survivors to locate and honor children who never returned home from the school.

The Alberni Indian Residential School was in operation from 1900 to 1973. The investigations began after the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc in Kamloops, British Columbia, declared last spring that 215 burial sites had been discovered at the site of a former residential school there.

GUATEMALA: Land rights case goes to international court

The Maya Q’eqchi’ community of Agua Caliente Lote 9 has taken its long struggle for land rights in Guatemala to an international court in a case that could have sweeping consequences for Indigenous rights and mining activity, Mongabay.com reported on Feb. 9.

A ruling is expected in about a year from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The case from Agua Caliente Lote 9 raises questions about collective land rights and a nearby nickel mining project that has been a source of conflict for decades. The region is about 190 miles northeast of Guatemala City.

Leonardo Crippa, a senior attorney at the U.S.-based Indian Law Resource Center, said the court will have a chance to rule on recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights to their ancestral resources, Mongabay.com reported.

“We hope the court orders the state to establish legislative and other measures to recognize the right of communities to collective property over lands they possess, and to use, develop, control and benefit from the natural resources that are in their territories,” he said.

Final thoughts

In my final thoughts, I would like to congratulate the Indigenous people of Ecuador as well as Ecuador’s Constitutional Court for ruling that Indigenous people must be consulted and must give their consent to any extractive project on or near their lands. This ruling is an eye-opener for governments the world over, that Indigenous peoples have full sovereignty over their lands. The sooner this is realized and recognized the better for the world.

I also want to stand with the Indigenous people of Guatemala who have taken their land rights fight to an international court. I say to them that Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is on their side.

Article 10
Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.

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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