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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to Indian Country Today

Around the world: Hundreds of human rights activists – including nearly 100 Indigenous people – have been killed worldwide, a Mi'kmaw artist's sunflower pins raise money for Ukraine, the Batwa people face violence in land dispute, and archeologists confirm Aboriginal peoples' links to western Australia date back to the Ice Age.

REPORT: Hundreds of activists killed defending rights 

This week starts with grim news yet again of hundreds of land, environment and Indigenous rights defenders who were murdered in 15 countries around the globe in 2021, Mongabay.com reported on April 7.

At least 358 human rights defenders were killed in 2021, with about 60 percent  defending land, environment or Indigenous rights, according to an analysis by Front Line Defenders and the Human Rights Defenders Memorial, an international consortium.

Of those killed, more than one-fourth – or about 90 people – were Indigenous, the report said.

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“Unfortunately, in most if not all of the places where this is happening, there’s just flat-out impunity for these attacks,” Mongabay.com quoted Andrew Anderson, the director of FLD.

For the second year in a row, the most lethal country for human rights defenders was Colombia, with 138 confirmed killings — more than a third of the total worldwide. Mexico was the second with 42 deaths, and Brazil third with 27 killings, 19 of whom were land rights defenders.

Many of the murdered activists are believed to have been targeted for their opposition to illegal logging, dams, mining operations or other extractive projects related to powerful interests in their countries.

Killings of human rights defenders were also documented in 12 other countries: Argentina, Burkina Faso, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines and Thailand.

CANADA: Mi'kmaw artist's sunflower pins help Ukraine

A Mi’kmaw artist’s sunflower pins are raising money to support the people of Ukraine, CBC News reported on April 9.

The work by artist Leanna MacLeod – who volunteers at the After Trauma Empowerment Network in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia – came about after she was approached by fellow volunteer Vida Woodworth, who is the board chair for the nonprofit resource center.

Woodworth wanted to replace her feelings of devastation from the images of war in Ukraine with something that could support the Ukrainian people, CBC News reported.

“After hearing about the crisis in Ukraine, my heart cried for them all,” McLeod told CBC. “I wanted to reach out in solidarity and support of the people in Ukraine."

She and MacLeod decided on a beaded, tear-shaped pin, with each teardrop containing a yellow sunflower, the national flower of Ukraine. Each flower contains a beaded green stem and a single gold bead.

The tear is molded in blue leather and contains a backing of birch bark. Blue is one of the two stripes in the Ukrainian flag and signifies the sky over the country. It also denotes freedom, trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence and faith, CBC reported.

The yellow stripe represents the golden wheat fields of Ukraine, a symbol of hope, joy, honor and loyalty. Green was used to portray nature, and the gold bead signifies the resources found in Ukraine and its strong people.

DRC: Report finds atrocities against Batwa people

An investigation by the Minority Rights Group found significant human rights atrocities against the Batwa people from 2019-2021 in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mongabay.com reported on April 7.

The investigation found that 20 Batwa were killed, 15 Batwa women were raped and two children were burned alive by the park’s guards, according to the report.

Researchers spent nine months between October 2020 and December 2021 speaking to witnesses, family members and Batwa people detained in South Kivu province, and to soldiers and park guards.

The violence erupted over attempts to eject the Batwa people from their family lands inside a protected area. The park has been the grounds of frequent reports of violence and displacement of Batwa people that started in the 1970s, when 6,000 Batwa were expelled from their ancestral lands.

A West Australian archaeological excavation has established that Aboriginal people have lived in the eastern Pilbara region for more than 50,000 years, National Indigenous Television reported on April 9.

Archaeologists examined stone tools, charcoals, and bones gathered from the Yirra rock shelter at Rio Tinto's Eastern Channar mine to establish the Yinhawangka people's ties to the land.

The venture, authorized by the Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation with funding from Rio Tinto, is the first ever Traditional Owner-led, non-mining-associated diggings in Yinhawangka Country, NIT reported.

"Yirra has great significance not only to the Yinhawangka people, but also to our Wangarada (desert family) and Ngarngarada (coastal family),” YAC Chairman Halloway Smirke told NIT. “We hope that Yirra will help us tell our ancestral story to Australia and our future generations."

Yirra is believed to be one of the first sites in Australia, with Aboriginal people inhabiting the region at the height of the last Ice Age. University of Western Australia Professor Peter Veth, who led the digging team, said that there would be an ongoing examination of the Yirra site.

NEW ZEALAND: Māori-owned store turns artwork into NFTs 

A popular, Māori-owned fish-and-chip shop is funding its own expansion by creating non-fungible tokens of digital artwork designed by a well-known street artist, Te Ao Maori News reported on April 6.

Anton Mathews, Te Rarawa, the co-founder of the Fush shop in Wigram, Christchurch, New Zealand, said starting a new Fush store costs about $400,000. The NFT project – essentially a cross between bitcoins and art collecting – will generate the revenue needed.

“This NFT collection will be made up of 1,000 unique non-fungible tokens, and these will be digital artworks designed by Jacob Yikes, who is also a well-known street artist and happens to be the same artist who has designed all of our artwork at Fush, from the beautiful murals that you see in our restaurant, to the artwork on our Fush waka,” Mathews told Te Ao Maori News.

In addition to the financial value, each NFT holder will also collect a Digital Reo series on the Māori language, said Mathews, who is a graduate of Te Pānekiretanga o Te Reo, the school of Māori language excellence.

Final thoughts

My final thoughts are with the families and friends of 358 human rights defenders who were killed in 2021 around the world. We must continue the fight for land, environment and Indigenous rights lest their deaths will have been in vain.

And finally, let me share with you Article 33 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Article 33
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions. This does not impair the right of Indigenous individuals to obtain citizenship of the States in which they live.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine the structures and to select the membership of their institutions in accordance with their own procedures.

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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