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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to Indian Country Today

Around the world this week: Indigenous communities in South Africa protest against oil and gas exploration, a trade arrangement is announced in New Zealand, a United Nations committee raises concerns over new Indigenous heritage laws, and people in southern Colombia have learned to fish and farm with the floods.

SOUTH AFRICA: Indigenous protests against oil, gas exploration

Indigenous communities and thousands of other South Africans marched in protest and sued over Shell’s planned seismic survey of oil and gas reserves off the country’s eastern Wild Coast, Mongabay.com reported on Dec. 10.

Two applications were submitted to court in early December challenging the government’s license for oil and gas exploration, and demanded a constitutional right to a safe and healthy environment, as well as free, prior and informed consent.

Activists and communities fear the surveys would lead to oil extraction that would impact marine life and pollute coastal ecosystems, which the Xhosa people depend on for their livelihood and traditional rituals.

Officials with the minister of minerals resources and energy, however, stressed the government’s support for oil exploration, criticizing environmental protesters for actions seen as “apartheid and colonialism of a special type.”

Protesters said otherwise.

“Our argument is about the lack of consultation — there was not even one single meeting where people were told about how Shell is going to drill gas and oil,” Nonhle Mbuthumba, a local resident and spokesperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee told Mongabay.com. The committee is an organization defending the customary rights of Indigenous communities and opposing destructive mining projects.

The demonstration, one of the biggest in recent times, consisted of nearly 1,000 people and took place at the mouth of River Mzamba where oil activities are going to take place.

NEW ZEALAND: Indigenous trade agreement announced

A new initiative to "strengthen economic empowerment" for Indigenous peoples in New Zealand has been announced by Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Trade Minister Damien O’Connor, Te Ao Maori News reported on Dec.11.

"The Indigenous Peoples Economic and Trade Cooperation Arrangement is a first-of-its-kind plurilateral arrangement that will enable economies and Indigenous peoples to work effectively together, ” Mahuta said in making the announcement.

The move comes after the foreign minister completed a 17-day world tour that included discussions about "deepening links" between Māori and Canada's Indigenous peoples.

“This arrangement is an important step toward harnessing the unique potential of Indigenous peoples and creating connections amongst these communities," Mahuta said.

Mahuta, who is Māori, became the first Indigenous woman to serve as New Zealand’s foreign minister.

"Unlocking the economic potential of Indigenous economies to enable more effective trade and addressing some of the key challenges that Indigenous peoples face, will be a focus of the IPETCA," Trade Minister Damien O’Connor said, according to Te Ao Maori News.

AUSTRALIA: UN questions proposed ‘cultural heritage’ laws

A United Nations committee has raised fears that Western Australia's proposed new cultural heritage laws will "maintain the structural racism" of the system that permitted the destruction of 46,000-year-old, culturally significant rock shelters at Juukan Gorge, National Indigenous Television reported on Dec.11.

The demolition of the shelters in the Pilbara region caused an international outcry. Eighteen months later, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has written to the Australian government raising concerns about the proposed laws.

The Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance made an official protest to the UN body about the laws in September, concerned they will be incompatible with Australia's international obligations on racial discrimination.

In response, the UN committee has called on the Australian government to plan for an engagement with the UN to facilitate dialogue with Indigenous peoples.

"The draft bill allegedly fails to respect, protect and fulfill the right to culture of Aboriginal people who strongly oppose it, due to the serious risk it poses to their cultural heritage," according to the letter from the committee's vice chair, Marc Bossuyt.

The Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance had raised worries the consultation process had been insufficient, and the laws would give the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs too much power with no option for review and no requirement for free, prior and informed consent of Aboriginal traditional owners.

COLOMBIA: Indigenous groups fish and farm with the floods

At the actual southern tip of Colombia, Indigenous communities operate a sustainable food system that includes artisanal fishing and rotating crop structures within cycles of flooding periods, allowing them to live sustainably in a biodiverse part of the Amazon largely untouched by commercial agriculture, Mongabay.com reported on Dec.8.

The food systems have allowed the 22 communities of the Tikuna, Cocama and Yagua peoples of Puerto Nariño to sustain themselves with handmade arrows, hooks and spurs to practice artisanal fishing in local rivers while also growing cassava, pineapple, corn, rice and chestnuts on communal land, according to a report from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

The communities have faced some challenges in recent decades from outside pressures to commercialize their activities, raising doubts about how to maintain sustainable practices.

The new report delivers the most thorough and comprehensive account to date of the sustainable food systems of these Indigenous communities, Mongabay.com reported.

The report recommends that local communities like those in Puerto Nariño should be key players in the 2030 agenda to end poverty, food insecurity and promote responsible forest management, among other things.

“Indigenous peoples’ wisdom, traditional knowledge and ability to adapt provide lessons from which other non-Indigenous societies can learn, especially when designing more sustainable food systems that mitigate climate change and environmental degradation,” said Anne Nuorgam, chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Final thoughts

My final thoughts are with the Indigenous people of South Africa who are protesting the exploration of oil and gas on their territories because of what will happen to their environment once the extraction starts. Article 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is on their side. Till next week

Article 32
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.
2. States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.
3. States shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.

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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