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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to Indian Country Today

Around the world: In Queensland, Indigenous peoples' title rights are recognized after 117 years, illegal mining threatens Indigenous lands in the Philippines, Māori people with disabilities face violence and neglect, Neskantaga First Nation sues northern Ontario over lack of consultation about mineral mining and Otago University names its first Indigenous female dean.

AUSTRALIA: Woppaburra people win back 13 islands

The Woppaburra people are celebrating the recognition of their Native Title rights to 13 islands off the coast of Queensland after fighting 117 years to regain their homelands, National Indigenous Television reported on Dec.4.

Justice Darryl Rangiah recognized Woppaburra Traditional Owners Native Title rights over 567 square kilometers off the coast of Yeppoon, Queensland, during a hearing on Konomie. The recognition covers 13 islands, of which Konomie (North Keppel Island) and Woppa (Great Keppel Island) are the largest.

"It's exciting,” Woppaburra Elder Uncle Bob Muir told NITV News. “It's something that I'll certainly remember for the rest of my life, that's for sure.”

The Woppaburra were removed from the island in 1902, dividing many families for generations. The Native Title application was first filed in 2013.

PHILIPPINES: Illegal mining threatens Indigenous lands

Mount Apo, a protected area on the southern Philippine Island of Mindanao that is home to the Obo Monuvu people, is threatened by small-scale illegal mining, Mongabay.com reported on Nov. 30.

Mount Apo is the tallest peak in the Philippines at 10,312 feet high and spans 64,000 hectares, or about 158,000 acres. It was declared a protected area about two decades ago and is one of the most popular nature-based tourism sites in the country, according to Mongabay.com.

But small-scale gold mining that continues illegally has left its mark on a remote village of the Obo Monuvu people.

“The operator did not seek permission from the tribal council to mine the area,” the tribal chieftain, Joel Buntal, told Mongabay.com. “They conducted their operations during the nighttime.”

Philippine environmental secretary Roy Cimatu ordered the mine’s closure in December 2020 after a raid in the area.

NEW ZEALAND: Disabled Māori people face violence, neglect

Two scathing reports by New Zealand’s Human Rights Commission have concluded that Indigenous people living with disabilities face dangerous levels of harm, Te Ao Maori News reported on Dec. 1.

One of the reports, titled “Whakamanahia Te Tiriti, Whakahaumarutia Te Tangata (Honour the Treaty, Protect the Person),” says the harm has reached “epidemic proportions.”

It cites systemic failures and says the government has breached the rights of people living with disabilities.

The report recommends changes in the way properties are allocated and the ways to encourage the whānau, hapū, and iwi communities to get more involved. The reports are founded on the organized voices of members of the disability community who want to lead their own lives.

“The intersectionality of being Māori and disabled is that we fall through the gaps,” said Ruth Jones, Ngāti Porou/Rongowhakaata, a social worker who is a member of the commission.

She is also co-director of Kanohi ki te Kanohi Consultancy and Hei Whakapiki Mauri, a service provider that she and her husband, Gary Williams, run that supports more than 100 people with disabilities.

CANADA: Neskantaga Nation sues Ontario over mining

Neskantaga First Nation in northern Ontario has launched a lawsuit against the province for what it calls a failure to consult them on mineral mining on their land, APTN news reported on Dec. 4.

The community — which sits in an area that has been dubbed the “Ring of Fire,” a 5,000-square-kilometer strip of land west of James Bay — holds the largest deposits of chromite, nickel, copper and platinum in the country. It sits about 270 miles northeast of Thunder Bay.

“For too long, our community’s laws and protocols have been disregarded by an Ontario government focused on economic development at the expense of Aboriginal, Treaty, and inherent rights,” Chief Wayne Moonias said in an online statement.

On Dec. 1, three chiefs in the Ring of Fire area issued an open letter calling out Premier Doug Ford over operating in a “colonial” way to get work done without consultation. Ford indicated during the last provincial election that the Ring of Fire would go ahead and that he would drive the bulldozer himself.

NEW ZEALAND: University names first Indigenous female dean

A Wahine Māori has been appointed dean of Otago University’s medical school, in what the university has heralded as a ‘historic day’ for Wahine Māori leadership within the institution, Te Ao Maori News reported on Dec. 5.

Professor Suzanne Pitama, Ngāti Kahungunu/Ngāti Whare, becomes the first Māori female dean and head of campus at the University of Otago in Christchurch.

Pitama, the former director of the Māori Indigenous Health Institute and an associate dean at the university, said the new role is an opportunity to help tackle health inequities and responsibilities under the Ministry of Health’s Te Tiriti o Waitangi (Te Tiriti) Framework, which outlines the government’s obligations within the health and disability system.

“I’m feeling excited about the opportunities we have to move forward on some really key initiatives,” Pitama said, according to Mongabay.com.

Pitama was the Hauora Māori Faculty Lead in the Otago Medical School and one of the Māori sub-editors for the New Zealand Medical Journal. In 2015,she won the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award for Tertiary Teaching Excellence.

My final thoughts

In my final thoughts, I would like to congratulate the Woppaburra people in Queensland, Australia, who won a legal battle and had their Native title rights recognized after 117 years. It is an encouragement to all other Indigenous peoples to keep up the fight for rights to their lands, and Article 27 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is on their side. Till next week.

Article 27

States shall establish and implement, in conjunction with Indigenous peoples concerned, a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process, giving due recognition to Indigenous peoples’ laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems, to recognize and adjudicate the rights of Indigenous peoples pertaining to their lands, territories and resources, including those which were traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used. Indigenous peoples shall have the right to participate in this process.

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