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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to ICT

Around the world: Indigenous Brazilians fight for their rights at the ballot box, Justin Trudeau admits road to reconciliation is slow, Greenland’s Indigenous people favor sand extraction, an Indigenous Scandinavian leader calls on worldwide cooperation, and ancestral remains return home from Austria after more than 75 years

BRAZIL: Indigenous candidates get on the ballot

A record 186 Indigenous candidates are running in Brazil’s general elections in October in what leaders say is an effort to fight back against attacks on Indigenous rights, lands and cultures under President Jair Bolsonaro, Mongabay.com reported on Sept. 27.

The number of Indigenous candidates is up 40 percent from the 2018 elections, when only one Indigenous person was elected to Congress, Mongabay.com reported.

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Only two Indigenous candidates have ever been elected to Congress in Brazil. Mario Juruna, Xavante, served in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies from 1982-1986. The first Indigenous woman, Joênia Wapichana, of the Wapichana or Wapixana people, was elected a federal deputy in 2018 and remains in Congress.

A new Constitution created 35 years ago established fundamental rights for Brazil’s Indigenous peoples for the first time in history, but Indigenous leaders today blame anti-Indigenous rhetoric for widespread violations.

The lower House in Brazil’s 594-seat National Congress has overwhelmingly embraced legislation considered harmful to Indigenous rights and environmental protection.

“This government has decided not to demarcate Indigenous lands, and to reconsider lands that have already been demarcated,” Indigenous activist Sônia Guajajara, who is running for a seat in the lower House from São Paulo state, told Mongabay.com.

“We have decided to fight directly, through the electoral dispute,” she said.

CANADA: Prime minister admits reconciliation is moving slowly

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a crowd gathered for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation that Canada is moving forward — but slowly — on its road to reconciliation with its colonial past, APTN News reported on Sept. 30.

This comments at Lebreton Flats west of downtown Ottawa came on a day – known informally as Orange Shirt Day – that was set aside to recognize the ugly history of the Canadian Indian residential school system.

“While residential schools were busy trying to teach Indigenous kids that they had no value, that their languages had no value, every other school in this country was teaching a version of that to non-Indigenous kids,” Trudeau said, according to APTN.

“It takes time to bring them along, and we’ve seen every year more Canadians stepping up to be part of that path of reconciliation.”

The day – held each year on Sept. 30 – became a national holiday in 2021.

GREENLAND: Indigenous population favors sand extraction

Eight of 10 adults in Greenland — about 90 percent of whom are Indigenous — support extracting and exporting sand that results from the melting sheets of ice caused by climate change, according to a recent survey reported by Mongabay.com on Sept. 27.

The survey of about 1,000 adults was conducted by experts at McGill University and the University of Greenland, and published in the journal, Nature Sustainability.

Greenland’s ice sheet experienced a net loss of ice this year for the 26th year in a row, leaving sand behind on the coastline, Mongabay.com reported.

The survey found that a substantial percentage of Greenlanders want officials to mine the economic benefits from the sand left behind.

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The survey results surprised experts, since Greenlanders have at times voiced fierce opposition to mining projects. But it suggests that sand mining could provide an economic model for Greenland to adapt economically to climate change while moving closer to the freedom from Denmark that many support, Mongabay.com reported.

“What I liked about this work was that it gives Greenland a voice in the discussion of climate change,” said first author Mette Bendixen, a physical geographer and assistant professor at McGill University, according to Mongabay.com.

AUSTRALIA: Scandinavian leader calls for Indigenous unity

A member of Norway’s Sámi Parliament called on Indigenous people gathered for an international conference to educate and inspire one another around the world, the National Indigenous Times reported on Oct. 1.

Mikkel Eskil Mikkelsen, a member of the Sámi Parliament of Norway, provided the keynote speech at the World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Education, which was held Sept. 26-30 in Adelaide, Australia.

“The Sámi Parliament is a place where the Sámi people come together,” Mikkelsen said, according to the National Indigenous Times.

“Our own parliament is for discussing the issues most important to the people, and we see this as an important part of our work – to give a voice to the Indigenous peoples’ ambitions and issues of the day. It is very central to us,” he said.

“We have seen the impact of the Parliament in building relationships, in creating understanding, and influencing politics at the national level, and giving Sámi people opportunities to take part in international works, such as at the United Nations and other forums.”

The Sámi Parliament was established in Norway in 1989. Sámi parliaments were established in Finland in 1973 and in Sweden in 1993.

NEW ZEALAND: Ancestral remains return home from Austria

Tears flowed amid the joy as the ancestral remains of Māori and Moriori people stolen by a notorious Austrian graverobber were returned home from Vienna’s Natural History Museum, Te Ao Maori News reported on Oct. 2.

The first repatriation to New Zealand from the Natural History Museum in Vienna — and the biggest ever from Austria — included the remains of about 64 individuals, New Zealand’s National Museum (Te Papa) in Wellington said in a statement, according to Te Ao Māori News.

Records indicate that 49 of the ancestors were taken by notorious graverobber Andreas Reischek, who spent 12 years in New Zealand from 1877 to 1889.

“These ancestors were stolen by those with no regard for the Māori communities they belonged to,” said Sir Pou Temara, who chairs the Repatriation Advisory Panel, according to Te Ao Maori News.

“In his diary entries, Reischek boasts of eluding Māori surveillance, looting sacred places – he knew exactly what he was doing. His actions were wrong and dishonest."

The repatriation came after more than 75 years of negotiations between New Zealand and Austria.

“It is always a spiritual relief and privilege to welcome back our ancestors who have been victims of such wrongdoing,” Temara said. “Culturally, we know that they are weeping with joy now that they have returned to New Zealand where at last, they will rest in peace.”

Te Arikirangi Mamaku-Ironside, the acting head of repatriation for the National Museum of New Zealand, said efforts continue to bring home additional remains.

My final thoughts

My final thoughts go to New Zealand where the remains of more than 60 ancestors were repatriated, including an estimated 49 who were desecrated and stolen from their graves by a notorious Austrian graverobber. It was indeed a sad and joyful day — sad because it took more than 70 years for people to agree to return sacred remains that didn’t belong to them, and joyful because justice can be delayed but never denied. I join the Māori and Moriori people in the celebration of this achievement.

Global Indigenous is a weekly news roundup published every Wednesday by ICT (formerly Indian Country Today) with some of the key stories about Indigenous peoples around the world.

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