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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to Indian Country Today

Around the world: Pope Francis will visit Canada in July, the Aboriginal Land Council urges an electoral commission to improve Indigenous enrollment, the first Māori is appointed to UN's Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the first federal Indigenous research garden opens in British Columbia, and Native title is recognized in southern Queensland after 25 years.

CANADA: Pope Francis to meet school survivors in July visit

The week starts with news that Pope Francis is expected to meet with residential school survivors during his upcoming four-day visit to Canada in July, CBC News reported on April 15.

The Pope is expected to visit at least three cities, likely Edmonton, Quebec City and Iqaluit, according to sources who did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to speak about the matter.

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The Pope originally announced plans for the visit during his Vatican meetings on April 1 with Indigenous delegates from Canada, where he gave an initial apology for the activities of individual Roman Catholic Church members in Canada's residential schools.

The Indigenous delegates who went to Rome expect the Pontiff to apologize on Canadian soil for the church's role in running residential schools.

AUSTRALIA: Low voter enrollment in Northern Territory

The Northern Land Council, one of the country's most powerful Aboriginal Land Councils, has called for urgent action to address the low number of First Nations voters, particularly in remote parts of the Northern Territory, National Indigenous Television reported on April 12.

The Northern Territory has one of the lowest voter involvement rates in the country, with just 69.6 percent of First Nations people enrolled to vote in the territory compared to a nearly 86 percent registration rate for others in the territory and 96.5 percent nationwide.

Samuel Bush-Blanasi, chairman of the Northern Land Council, said the low participation is caused by the lack of amenities in Aboriginal communities outside of major towns and cities.

"We are being discriminated (against) because of where we live in the communities and in the outstations, and I think that it's so isolated they can't get out there to enroll to vote,” Bush-Blanasi told NITV.

The Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said the commission is working with Indigenous communities and leaders to raise the enrollment rates of voters nationwide but is concentrating on secluded areas in the Northwest Territory and Western Australia.

"That is a really critical issue for us," Rogers told NITV.

NEW ZEALAND: First Māori appointed to UN advisory group

A law professor at Waikato University has become the first Māori and first New Zealander to be appointed to the United Nations’ Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which provides expertise and advice about Indigenous issues to to the UN’s Human Rights Council, Te Ao Maori News reported on April 15.

Dr. Valmaine Toki, Ngāti Rehua, Ngāti Wai, Ngāpuhi, was appointed by the Human Rights Council president after previously serving two terms as an expert on the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

“I am hoping to raise the platform of our Pasifika people and provide an opportunity to understand and promote their rights,” Toki said, according to Te Ao Maori News. “I’m an Indigenous wahine, so these issues have been continually on my mind. As a former member of the UN Permanent Forum, this work is a continuation of that.”

The Expert Mechanism, as it is called, meets once a year in Geneva. Toki’s selection will mean invitations to specific countries to learn more about Indigenous peoples' challenges and how states implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

CANADA: First Indigenous research garden opens in Okanagan

Scientists at the Summerland Research and Development Centre in British Columbia are opening the first-ever federal Indigenous research garden to learn about food plants that are important to the Syilx Okanagan Nation and other First Nations people, CBC News reported on April 12.

It is the first of 20 research centers owned by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to create a garden rooted in Indigenous knowledge and to study what effect climate change will have on plants such as chokecherries, soapberries, Oregon grapes, fireweed and rabbitbrush, according to Mehdi Sharifi, the project's chief scientist.

The venture will also be used to teach students, employees and the public about the plants' significance to the environment and to Indigenous communities. Indigenous students will be employed to preserve the site, Sharifi said.

For 108 years, scientists at the centre in the Okanagan region have been learning how to sustainably grow common food crops such as wine grapes and fruit trees, CBC reported.

Sharifi said he hopes the garden will illustrate how a landscape can change over time "from a degraded to a healthy ecosystem," and that people will be inspired to use Indigenous approaches to restore land wrecked by Western farming practices.

AUSTRALIA: Native land title recognized in Queensland

After 25 years of waiting, the Wakka Wakka people and the Cherbourg community celebrated a momentous federal court decision recognizing their Native title to more than 700 square miles of land in southern Queensland’s Burnett River catchment, National Indigenous Television reported on April 12.

The federal court’s decision gives the Wakka Wakka people exclusive Native title to most of the Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council.

"It is important to emphasize that the court is not giving the Wakka Wakka people anything, the court is simply recognizing that which the Wakka Wakka people have always known — that this has always been and will always be your land," Justice Darryl Rangiah said, according to NITV.

Una Appo, a Wakka Wakka woman, celebrated the decision but noted that some elders who launched the fight in 1997 did not live to see the victory.

“We are standing here today, and we are able to say, ‘We are Wakka Wakka people, we are descendants of this land,’’ Una Appo said, according to NITV.

More than 100 years ago, Cherbourg was the location of the infamous Barambah mission where hundreds of Aboriginal people from all over Queensland were sent after being forced off their traditional lands or removed from their families.

Final thoughts

In my final thoughts, I celebrate with the Wakka Wakka people whose land title was recognized after 25 years of waiting. All Indigenous people whose lands have been denied them celebrate with you as an indication of the hope they have.

Lastly, let me share with you Article 34 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples.

Article 34
Indigenous peoples have the right to promote, develop and maintain their institutional structures and their distinctive customs, spirituality, traditions, procedures, practices and, in the cases where they exist, juridical systems or customs, in accordance with international human rights standards.

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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