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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to ICT

Around the world: Big wins for Indigenous activists in Brazil, Manitoba elects its first woman as grand chief, an Indigenous birthing center will be built in Australia and New Zealand works to improve water quality for remote Māori communities.

BRAZIL: Elections bring wins for climate, Indigenous activists

Brazil’s President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — who defeated far-right President Jair Bolsonaro in a tight election Oct. 30 — brought reassurances to Indigenous people in the

Amazon rainforest by pledging to fight deforestation and protect environmental activists, The Guardian reported on Oct. 31.

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Lula, who significantly reduced deforestation while previously serving two terms as president, promised to make the environment one of the government’s top priorities, saying he would crack down on illegal mining, logging and ranching.

“We are going to fight for zero deforestation in the Amazon,” he said, according to The Guardian. “Brazil and the planet need the Amazon alive. One standing tree is worth more than tons of wood that are illegally extracted by those who think only of easy profits.”

He said he is open to international partnerships and is expected to send a high-level delegation to the United Nations COP 27 climate summit in Egypt in November.

He also offered support for Indigenous people, who have been on the frontlines in the fight to protect the rainforest.

“When an Indigenous child is murdered because of the greed of environmental predators, part of humanity dies, too,” Lula said, according to The Guardian.

Marina Silva, the politician tapped to become Brazil’s new environment minister, said Lula will also honor the memories of rainforest martyrs killed trying to safeguard the Amazon, The Guardian reported.

Silva paid tribute to murdered British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, who were killed in the Amazon in June in a case that drew international attention.

The election of Lula came on the heels of the election of Brazil’s largest-ever Indigenous caucus, with five Indigenous candidates elected as federal deputies and two as senators in the Oct. 2 election, Mongabay.com reported on Oct. 25.

Among those elected were Indigenous activists Sônia Guajajara and Célia Xakriabá, who were elected as federal deputies. They have vowed to halt the worsening anti-Indigenous and anti-environmental agenda in the legislature since Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, Mongabay.com reported.

“Brasília, we are coming to Indigenize politics!” Guajajara posted on Twitter after being elected federal deputy for São Paulo state.

CANADA: First woman elected Manitoba grand chief

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in Canada has elected its first woman grand chief just a few months after the previous chief was removed from office, APTN News reported on Oct. 26.

Cathy Merrick, former chief of Pimicikamak Cree Nation (Cross Lake), beat six other challengers to win the election.

“We should all be proud,” Merrick said during her victory speech, according to APTN News. “We have the first woman chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.”

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Merrick replaces Arlen Dumas, who was removed in August — part-way through his second, three-year term — amid allegations of harassment and sexual assault. He has denied the allegations, APTN News reported.

The assembly advocates for 62 First Nations in Manitoba, with 59 chiefs registered to vote for the new grand chief.

Merrick defeated George Kemp, former chief of Berens River First Nation, on the second ballot 37-22 during a three-day annual general assembly in Winnipeg, Canada. Five other candidates were removed from consideration after they failed to draw at least 20 percent of the vote on the first ballot.

AUSTRALIA: Indigenous birthing center gets funding

Australia’s first Indigenous birthing center will be built in New South Wales with more than $22 million in federal funding, National Indigenous Television reported on Oct. 27.

The center will be built in Nowra, which has an Indigenous population of more than 10 percent, and will be run by the Waminda Women's Health and Welfare Aboriginal Corporation and Charles Darwin University.

The funding will allow Indigenous women to give birth from their ancestral country with Indigenous midwives, officials said. The maternal death rate among Indigenous women is 4.6 times higher than for non-Indigenous women, and perinatal and preterm deaths are more than 1.5 times higher, NIT reported.

"There's a lot of fear and unsafe practices within the hospital system that highlights the need for a standalone Aboriginal-led and designed center that will accommodate culture and clinical practice," senior midwife Mel Briggs told NIT.

Construction of the center is set to start next year.

NEW ZEALAND: Clean water for Māori communities

A pilot program aimed at improving the drinking water of Māori communities in the East Coast and Northland regions of New Zealand will serve as a model for other communities in rural and remote areas, Te Ao Maori News reported on Oct. 28.

The program will eventually spread to other remote community meeting grounds, known as marae, according to the local government minister, Nanaia Mahuta, during a recent visit to see the progress.

“It allows them to fix their pipes and those sorts of things, and so they have clean water provided for the marae so the water can run for their families,” Mahuta said.

She said the funds have been set aside for families who live near marae because it has been difficult to fix some aspects of the tribal meeting grounds.

“We hope this can be rolled out across the country," she told Te Ao Maori News.

My final thoughts

This week I am excited about the win of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s new president-elect, over incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro, who caused a lot of pain to many families because of his policies. Lula has promised to end deforestation and by extension the death of environmental activists who were being murdered for defending their environment.

Congratulations to Lula. I hope that he will be a man of his word and stand up for his people, especially those who defend their ancestral lands from being desecrated.

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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