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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to Indian Country Today

Around the world: The prime minister-elect in Australia vows to help Indigenous people, Indigenous women in Canada face a greater risk of violence and sexual assault, illegal mining in Brazil spreads in Indigenous territories, a forgotten community in northern Australia demands basic services, and a Yukon First Nation launches an app to make its language more accessible.

AUSTRALIA: New PM renews commitment to Indigenous people

The prime minister-elect of Australia has reached out to Indigenous people, promising to support constitutional changes to give them a greater voice in the government, National Indigenous Television reported on May 22.

It was the first official policy statement from Anthony Albanese, a moderate Labor Party candidate who defeated the incumbent conservative prime minister in an election May 21.

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Albanese took the podium in front of about 1,000 party supporters, recognized the Traditional Owners of the land he stood on, and then proclaimed his support for the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, which called for a First Nations voice to be written into Australia’s constitution.

“On behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart,“ he said, according to NITV.

“We can answer its patient, gracious call for a voice enshrined in our constitution because all of us ought to be proud, that amongst our great multicultural society, we count the oldest living continuous culture in the world.”

Australian politician Linda Burney speaks at the Sydney Film Festival press conference during the 61st International film festival in Cannes, southern France, on Monday, May 19, 2008. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

He then announced that a Wiradjuri woman, Linda Burney, would be his new government's Indigenous Affairs minister.

"No matter how you voted ... the government I lead will respect every one of you every day," he told the crowd.

The Uluru statement is a statement from the Aboriginal people of Australia calling for a permanent forum of representation that could not be removed by any government and from which First Nations could advocate for their people to the parliament and government.

CANADA: Indigenous women face increased risk of violence

Indigenous women in Canada are much more likely to face physical or sexual violence than non-Indigenous women, since the age of 15, according to a recent Statistics Canada study reported by CBC News.

According to the study, about 63 percent of Indigenous women nationwide had experienced violence since the age of 15, compared to about 45 percent in most regions of Canada, according to the report.

The report says 55 percent of Indigenous women have experienced physical or sexual assault by a non-intimate partner, compared to 38 percent of non-Indigenous women. About 44 percent of Indigenous women have faced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner, compared to 25 percent of non-Indigenous women.

The report's data was obtained from questionnaires administered online, by telephone and in-person by the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces and the 2019 General Social Survey.

Marilynn-Leigh Francis, a traditional district chief of Kespu'kwik, a region in western Nova Scotia, said the rate of violence may be even higher.

"I don't know an L'nu woman who hasn't been sexually or physically assaulted," Francis told CBC News, referring to the Mi’kmaw word for person of the land.

She attributes the violence to cycles at home and hopes to break them by empowering women to become self-sufficient.

"I want to instill in my daughter that if somebody likes you or somebody cares for you, it doesn't hurt," she told CBC News.

BRAZIL: Illegal mining spreads in Indigenous territories

Unlawful miners extended their footprint in Indigenous territories in Brazil by almost 500 percent and tripled their presence in conservation units between 2010 and 2020, according to a recent study reported by Mongabay.com on May 18.

“These are outrageous statistics,” said geologist Cesar Diniz, technical coordinator of mining mapping for the research collective MapBiomas, which released the report.

“Although prospecting in Indigenous territories is nothing new, we’re seeing it expand by leaps and bounds ever since 2017,” he said.

The report cited the Kayapó Indigenous Territory in Pará state as the worst affected, with more than 18,000 acres of land taken over by illegal mining operations.

The next worst areas were the Munduruku Indigenous Reserve, also in Pará, where illegal miners had taken over nearly 4,000 acres, and the Yanomami Indigenous Territory in Amazonas and Roraima states, where more than 1,000 acres had been taken over by mining.

Pará is the Brazilian state with the most unlawful mining by area within conservation units. According to the report, the three most-affected units are the Tapajós Environmental Protection Area, Amaná National Forest, and Rio Novo National Park.

Luiz Jardim Wanderley, a professor of geography at Fluminense Federal University, said the explosion of illegal mining has been driven by price increases in international markets for gold, tin and manganese, according to Mongabay.com.

Another factor is that unlawful mining creates jobs, since it requires significant manpower.

“With poverty worsening in Brazil, rising unemployment and the economic crisis in recent years, the informal, precarious work in the mines, which is even sometimes analogous to slavery, is expanding, attracting more of the workforce,” Wanderley said, according to Mongabay.com.

AUSTRALIA: A forgotten community speaks out

The Irrkerlantye community known as White Gate in Australia’s Northern Territory has lacked basic services that the rest of Australia has taken for granted more than 40 years, National Indigenous Television News reported on May 20.

The residents live in tin sheds that offer little protection from Central Australia’s extreme desert temperatures; water is trucked in and the community’s meager power supply is provided by a few solar panels. There is no sewage system.

“We’ve been asking the government for housing and essential services this whole time; however, nothing has been done,” resident Felicity Hayes, who has lived at Irrkerlantye most of her life, told NITV News.

“We’re the first people to live in Australia and now we’re the second-class citizens of Australia,” she said. “We can’t live like this forever. Somebody’s got to come and listen to us."

Residents want the politicians elected this year to work with the Northern Territory government to resolve the impasse.

"They need to come here and talk to us because we’re the ones that are suffering," she said.

Ironically, Hayes is a recognized Traditional Owner of the Northern Territory’s second-largest town of Alice Springs, but the land her ancestors occupied doesn’t belong to her.

“It is our traditional land,” she said. “Our old people walked this land and hunted and lived here before the White man came.”

The water supply to the community was cut in 2014 under a Country Liberal government and was never restored. At the time it was understood as an attempt to force the closure of Irrkerlantye.

CANADA: First Nation launches app to make language accessible

The Liard First Nation in the Yukon has launched a new app to make the Kaska language more accessible and easier to learn, CBC News reported on May 21.

The Kaska Cards app, made by the Liard nation, holds hundreds of Kaska words and phrases. The nation received an award in 2020 from Canada’s premiers for years of work in promoting and preserving the Kaska language.

"[We're] definitely hoping that it gets maybe more people interested in the language," said Martina Volfova, director of Liard First Nation's language department, according to CBC News.

About 1,440 people reported having Kaska ancestry in the Canadian Census; there are five Kaska First Nations in Canada – two in Yukon and three in British Columbia. Only 55 people, however, are known to speak the language fluently in the Watson Lake, Yukon area, and in Ross River.

"They're usually people who went to residential school and experienced trauma for speaking their language," she told CBC News. "There's probably a high number of people like that."

My final thoughts

My final thoughts are about how the illegal miners have extended their footprint into Indigenous territories in Brazil by almost 500 percent in 10 years, according to a recent report from the research collective MapBiomas. This is a shame considering the fact that world leaders meet every year to discuss issues affecting global climate, which, according to scientific observations, is directly affected by how we handle Indigenous territories. Keep the Indigenous territories safe and you will harness the global climate. I challenge the Brazilian government to step up.

Lastly, I’d like to share Article 39 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Article 39
Indigenous peoples have the right to have access to financial and technical assistance from States and through international cooperation, for the enjoyment of the rights contained in this Declaration.

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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