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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to Indian Country Today

Around the world: A tribe in Brazil is displaced yet again by heavy rains, a Māori broadcasting legend joins conservation efforts, a Sydney reserve is handed back to Aboriginal ownership, gold mines in Bolivia may be poisoning Indigenous people, and in Uganda, an oil pipeline is approved by legislators despite secret terms.

BRAZIL: Heavy rain leaves Indigenous homeless again

We start in Brazil where an Indigenous tribe got displaced again due to heavy rain, Reuters reported on Jan. 12.

Three years ago, the Pataxo-Hahahae tribe in Sao Joaquim was displaced due to the collapse of the tailings dam at an iron ore mine that forced them to move their homes to higher ground. Now the Paraopeba river has flooded from heavy rains and made them homeless again, Reuters reported.

Some 50 Pataxo-Hahahae people from the village of Nao Xoha took shelter in a local school.

"We lost houses. We lost bathrooms. We lost our medical center. We lost furniture. Our community is all flooded," Chief Sucupira Pataxó-Hahahae told Reuters. "It makes your heart bleed."

For the past two weeks, the mining region of Minas Gerais in southeastern Brazil has been pounded by heavy rains, flooding towns and roads and causing more than 20 deaths. In January 2019, a dam owned by the mining giant Vale SA near Brumadinho, warped and released a mudflow that buried houses and farms, killing 270 people.

NEW ZEALAND: Māori broadcaster joins conservation efforts

Wena (Tait) Kingi, a former reporter, presenter and executive regarded as a Māori broadcasting icon, has joined the fight for conservation and environment in her home region of the Bay of Plenty, Ta Ao Māori News reported on Jan. 15.

“I threw my hands up and thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way,’” Kingi said, according to Ta Ao Māori News. “That’s when I realized it would be a whole lot easier if all of these different systems talked to each other.”

Kingi, who is of Tūhoe and Te Arawa descent, became a partner to the Kaitohu Matua Treaty in Rotorua District for the Department of Conservation. She will lead the often-tense relations between the government department and local iwi, who include Ngāti Awa, Te Arawa and also Ngāi Tūhoe.

“if we want to have a better and brighter future where the two different sides meet, then the Department of Conservation needs to win the hearts and minds of iwi," she said.

Kingi said she wants the Māori to have a bigger say in issues concerning environment and conservation.

AUSTRALIA: Reserve returned to Aboriginal ownership

The Talus Street Reserve, a reserve surrounded by multi-million homes on Sydney, Australia’s exclusive north shore region, was handed back to the Local Aboriginal Land Council, National Indigenous Television reported on Jan. 15.

The decision to hand back the land under the New South Wales Aboriginal Lands Rights Act was made by Rob Stokes, former Minister for Planning and Public Spaces.

‘‘The hand back represents the realization of Aboriginal Land Rights,” said Nathan Moran, chief executive of the Metropolitan land council, according to NITV. “Returning crown land is recompense for loss of all freehold, leasehold and or state-owned and used land as well for not getting royalties for mining"

Tanya Taylor, Willoughby mayor, defined the reserve as "beautiful land" and stressed the council’s strong support for the decision.

"Council acknowledges the rich Indigenous history of the Gammeraygal people in the area,” Taylor said. “The transfer will embed this significant Indigenous heritage, drive cultural and social outcomes as it affirms Aboriginal Land Rights and supports reconciliation,” she told NITV.

BOLIVIA: Gold mines may be poisoning communities

Indigenous leaders of the Eyiyo Quibo village on the Beni River in northern Bolivia suspect that water contamination from the mercury found in mining waste could be causing disease to the community, The Guardian reported on Jan. 12.

Mercury is used throughout the country in mining projects in the cordilleras of the Andes and on dredgers mining gold from the bottom of waterways. The uncontrolled dumping of mercury waste generates toxic flows in Bolivia’s river systems.

‘’People of all ages suffer from debilitating head and body aches, bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, memory loss and tiredness. Some children show signs of cognitive development delays,” town leader Oscar Lurici told The Guardian. “We do not know for sure what causes these sicknesses. We are starting to think this is all because of water contamination from the mercury found in the mining waste.”

A Brazilian Amazon study published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2020, concluded that fish-based diets in mining areas are causing increased mercury levels in Indigenous people.

UGANDA: Oil pipeline approved with secret terms

The parliament of Uganda hurriedly passed a bill approving construction of a contentious pipeline that will pass through high-biodiversity areas and dislocate thousands of people, Mongabay.com reported on Jan. 14.

The $3.5 billion heated oil pipeline, operated by the French oil giant TotalEnergies, will run nearly 900 miles from Uganda’s Lake Mwitanzige in the Albertine Rift, to the Indian Ocean port of Tanga in Tanzania.

The new bill, which has been described as secretive, holds “supremacy” over all existing laws except Uganda’s Constitution, a scenario that will make it very hard for other laws that offer environmental and social protection to be sustained in case of conflict.

‘The public was only given five days to comment,” said Diana Nabiruma, senior communications officer of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance in Kampala, according to Mongabay.com. “It was difficult for affected communities to input.”

Last year, lawyer Male Mabirizi demanded that the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development make the agreement public under the Access to Information Act, but it as rejected on grounds that it contained confidential commercial information.

“Without access to those agreements, small-scale farmers, tourism operators, foresters, fisherfolk and others in the green economy and the general public cannot be sure that their interests will be served by the EACOP Bill or make appropriate comments to ensure a good EACOP law,” according to a statement made to Parliament by the Inclusive Green Economy Network–East Africa.

Final thoughts

In my final thoughts, let me congratulate the Local Aboriginal Land Council in Sydney for winning return of ancestral lands along the city’s 's exclusive to Aboriginal ownership. I also congratulate the leadership of that region for doing the right thing. And let this be an example for all other regions around the globe, that handing back lands to their rightful owners is the right thing to do.

Finally, and not least, let me share with you Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Article 19
States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

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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