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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to Indian Country Today

News from around the world: The New Zealand Indigenous foreign minister hits back at a racial attack, the first Indigenous police officer in Australia is celebrated, six Indigenous Greenlanders seek compensation from Denmark, more than 100 Indigenous people run for political offices in New South Wales and the Ogiek people of Kenya work with the government to restore the forest.

NEW ZEALAND: Indigenous foreign minister hits back 

We kick off this week’s column with New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, who hit back at racist social media posts about her moko kauae from a dairy company director as "not a true reflection of who New Zealanders are," Te Ao Māori News reported on Nov.24.

Mahuta became the first Indigenous woman to be appointed New Zealand’s foreign minister last month.

A moko kauae is a tattoo and an ancestral symbol that is worn on the chin by Māori women in New Zealand. Tatua Dairy director and Groundswell organizer Ross Townshend attacked Mahuta with now-deleted racist rants on Facebook.

Ta Ao Māori News declined to share the language used in the post, which was widely criticized. Townshend has since resigned. Tatua Dairy Chairman Stephen Allen condemned the posts and said they were incompatible with the company’s culture and values.

Mahuta accepted an apology from Allen but said she is too busy to give time to the outburst.

“I give nothing to racism,” she said. “I'm not going to waste my breath on it.”

AUSTRALIA: First Indigenous police officer celebrated

A Kombumerri man of the Yugambeh nation who became Australia’s first Indigenous police officer more than 50 years ago has been named Queensland’s Senior Australian of the Year, the National Indigenous Times reported on Nov. 22.

Colin Dillon was just 20 years old when he entered the Queensland Police Force in 1965, not knowing he had made history. He stepped in two years before gaining citizenship in a 1967 referendum that added Aboriginal people to the country’s census.

“That was the reality,” he told the National Indigenous Times. “I didn’t even exist as a human being because we had no status as human beings.”

Dillon is credited with overthrowing corrupt leadership within the department and political system with his testimony during the 1987 Fitzgerald Inquiry into Police Corruption. His testimony brought down the police commissioner, several politicians and corrupt police officers.

“Once I finished telling my part of what I knew of corruption and so forth, I thought well, that could very well be the end of my days,” he told the National Indigenous Times. “The end of my career, and yeah, it could be the end of me too.”

He is now 77 years old and serves as a member of the Queensland Parole Board.

GREENLAND: Six Inuit people seek Denmark compensation

Six Inuit people taken as children from Greenland to Denmark in a failed social experiment in 1951 are demanding compensation from the Danish government, the BBC reported on Nov. 23.

Now in their 70s, they are the only remaining members of a group of 22 children who were taken away from their families to be educated as "little Danes." When they later returned to Greenland, they were put in an orphanage, and many did not see their families ever again.

The Danish prime minister formally apologized last year on her country’s behalf.

"We cannot change what happened. But we can take responsibility and apologize to those we should have cared for but failed to do," the prime minister said, according to the BBC.

Helene Thiesen, one of the remaining six, who in 2015 told her story to the BBC, said that the apology meant everything.

Greenland is a self-governing territory within the kingdom of Denmark and relies on Copenhagen for management of currency, foreign relations and defense, as well as the provision of a large annual subsidy.

Each of the six survivors want about £28,200 ($37,800 USD) as compensation.

AUSTRALIA: Indigenous candidates seek office in New South Wales

Back in Australia, Indigenous people are vying for a greater say at the local government level with more than 140 candidates offering themselves for positions across New South Wales, National Indigenous Television reported on Nov.26.

According to the New South Wales Electoral Commission, the percentage of Indigenous candidates has increased from 2.6 percent to 3.7 percent since the 2016 election.

Change is coming to the remote town of Brewarrina, where a record number of seven Indigenous people are running. The local government is set to have an Indigenous-majority council for the first time in its history. About 70 percent of Brewarrina’s population identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, but only three of its councillors currently are Indigenous.

“Throwing my hat into the ring is my action for making change,” Lily Shearer, who is Murrawarri Ngemba, told NITV News. “We outnumber white fellas here, and they’ve been making decisions about our future without yarning to us.”

KENYA: Ogiek people partner with government to restore forest

The Indigenous Ogiek community of Nakuru County in Kenya have partnered with government rangers to restore the Mau forest, Mongabay.com reported on Nov.24.

For more than a century, the Ogiek people have faced expulsion from their ancestral lands in the Mau Forest, on which they have long depended for their material and traditional needs.

Three years ago, some community members started working with the Kenyan Forest Service for conservation and promotion of sustainable livelihoods such as beekeeping.

Today, using this approach, volunteer community members have planted more than 60,000 Native trees in four different blocs within the forest, including the endangered parasol tree (Polyscias kikuyuensis) and African cherry tree (Prunus Africana), Mongabay.com reported.

For Joseph Lesingo, a member of the Ogiek community, witnessing the rejuvenation of formerly degraded sections of the Mau Forest has been one of the most fulfilling moments in the past five years.

“When I see the expansive lush green over there, I see life,” he told Mongabay.com.

About 900,000 hectares (222,000 acres) of the Mau Forest had been destroyed through illegal logging and charcoal burning since 2018, officials with the Kenya Forest Service said.

My final thoughts

My final thoughts are with the Ogiek Indigenous people of Kenya who are working with the government to ensure that their ancestral homelands in the Mau Forest is restored. Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is on their side. Till next week.

Article 25
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.

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