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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to Indian Country Today

Around the world: An Indigenous author in Australia wins the nation's top literary prize, a hotel in Canada's Northwest Territories will be converted into housing for the homeless, Indigenous communities in Paraguay are being hit by drought, the fallout continues in Western Australia where a sacred tree was used without consultation, and Indigenous communities in Cameroon have been forced to change their lifestyle.

AUSTRALIA: Indigenous author wins top literary prize 

We start in Australia where Veronica Gorrie, a Gunai/Kurnai woman, won Australia’s top literary prize for her book, “Black and Blue: A Memoir of Racism and Resilience,” The Guardian reported on Feb. 3.

Gorrie, who spent a decade as a police officer in Victorian and Queensland, won the $100,000 prize for literature at the Victorian Premier’s literary awards for her book, which tackles corruption, racism, domestic failures in Australian policing. It also describes her early life as a struggling single mother and rookie cop.

The book, which was chosen by Guardian Australia as one of the top 25 Australian books of 2021, also won another $25,0000 in the Indigenous writing category.

“Truly wasn’t expecting this … I truly don’t feel like I deserve it,” Gorrie in her acceptance speech, according to The Guardian.

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During her speech, she appealed to the Victorian state government to raise the age of criminal responsibility, The Guardian reported. “No child should be locked up,” she said. “It breaks my heart to know that it’s kids as young as 10 caged up right now without their family.”

Melbourne-based writer Melissa Manning won the fiction category for her book, “Smokehouse,” a collection of interconnected stories set in southern Tasmania.

CANADA: Small hotel to be converted to affordable housing

The Canadian government will provide $15 million to a homelessness advocacy group to convert a small hotel in Whitehorse in Canada’s Northwest Territories into 55 housing units, APTN News reported Feb. 2.

The funds will go to the Safe at Home Society, and at least 75 percent of the units will be given to Indigenous people in need of housing, according to the announcement by Ahmed Hussen, the minister of housing, diversity and Inclusion. Fifty percent of the housing will go to women.

“Affordable housing should not be a luxury,” Hussen said, according to Mongabay.com. “It’s how parents can plan for the future of their kids and raise their children. It’s the difference between really making ends meet and getting ahead.”

The Safe at Home Society recommended converting the hotel into supportive housing to help with the shortage of affordable housing. The Whitehorse City Council supported the project by applying for and receiving $5 million through a housing initiative.

PARAGUAY: Indigenous communities hit hardest by drought

Unprecedented heat in Paraguay have resulted in water shortages and forest fires that are threatening local biodiversity and the Indigenous communities that look after it, Mongabay.com reported on Feb. 3.

Indigenous communities including the Aché and Ava Guaraní have lost their crops and will be facing food uncertainty if the drought continues throughout 2022.

Marine animals, turtles, and fish that normally live in already dried-up wetlands have been pushed into the main rivers, where they encounter bigger perils from overfishing.

The drought in Paraguay is now going on its third year, putting pressure on conservation efforts to strengthen local communities and safeguard the environment.

“It’s extreme. It’s so extreme that even wells have started drying up,” said Luis Recalde of Paraguay’s Organization for Conservation and Sustainable Development, according to Mongabay.com.

Grasslands, savannas and tropical and subtropical forests are grappling with high temperatures, absence of rainfall and escalating numbers of fires.

AUSTRALIA: Sacred tree apparently used without consultation

A Western Australia distillery is being accused of using a sacred tree to flavor its gin without consulting with the Noongar people, and of blocking social media users who condemned the move, National Indigenous Times (NIT) reported on Feb. 1.

The SouWester Spirits distillery, located in Margaret River in the southwest,is believed to have flavored a batch of gin with Nuytsia floribunda, also known as the moojar or Australian Christmas tree. The tree has spiritual and cultural importance to Noongar people, who consider it to be home to spirits of the ancestors.

“I’m not an Elder, but it is a significant tree for Noongar people in the Southwest of Western Australia where it is endemic, and that is to do with Dreamtime spirits and also to do with the seasonal calendar,” Stephen van Leeuwen, a Boojarah Noongar man and an Indigenous professor in biodiversity and environmental science, told the National Indigenous Times.

Wadandi-Bibbulman elder Sandra Hill was quoted by ABC as saying that she was upset by the commercialization of a product derived from a sacred tree.

“I think it’s absolutely culturally inappropriate and absolutely rude to not consult with the elders and custodians about the use of this tree, which is our most revered tree,” she said. “It’s like going into a church and desecrating the idols in there.”

CAMEROON: Baka people forced to change lifestyle

The Baka people of southeastern Cameroon have been forced to transition from their hunter-gatherer lifestyle to farming and fishing for food security, Mongabay.com reported on Feb. 1.

The community, which has been affected by the zoning and settlement policies, had previously relied food sources from the rainforest, including a diet made up of about 60 animal species, 83 wild edible species, six species of fish, 32 crops and 28 varieties of plantain.

The Baka, usually referred to as the “forest people,” had lived in Cameroon’s evergreen and semi-deciduous rainforests for more than 4,000 years. After World War I, however, the French government executed a zoning policy that compelled Indigenous peoples, including the Baka in Cameroon’s rainforests, to dwell in settlements along the road.

The policy remained even after Cameroon obtained its independence, forcing the Baka to slowly abandon their nomadic lifestyle.

“Despite being aware of their collective rights to forest resources, [the Baka] are now constrained by a zoning policy that establishes areas for hunting, gathering and fishing,” Mongabay.com reported, citing a United Nations report on the Baka food system.

Final thoughts

In my final thoughts, I would like to congratulate Veronica Gorrie, a Gunai/Kurnai woman, for winning Australia’s top literary prize for her book, “Black and Blue: A Memoir of Racism and Resilience.” Thank you for putting your thoughts and observations in writing for the betterment of others. 

Finally, let me share with you Article 2 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Till next week.

Article 2
Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, based on their Indigenous origin or identity.

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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