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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to Indian Country Today

Worldwide news coverage of Indigenous people in 2021 captivated readers from Australia and New Zealand to Ecuador and Kenya and on to the Amazon rainforest of Brazil.

Here are Indian Country Today’s choices of the world’s Top 5 stories this year on Indigenous people and issues outside the U.S. and Canada.

AUSTRALIA: Indigenous political party officially registered

We start with the first Indigenous political party representing First Nations issues being registered by the Australian Electoral Commission.

The Indigenous-Aboriginal Party of Australia was registered Dec. 2, 2021, about a year after being launched by a Paakindji and Malyangapa man known as Uncle Owen Whyman, along with nine Indigenous people from Dareton, Broken Hill, Wilcannia, Mutawinji, Newcastle and the Central Coast, National Indigenous Television reported on Dec. 2.

The new political party is expected to begin campaigning for local, state and federal elections.

“It’s an early Christmas present. People in the community are just so excited,” he told NITV News. “They never thought something like this, coming out of a little country town like Wilcannia, will be able to have a registered party in Parliament and apply for a seat in the upper house.”

“To get this news, it’s not only good for me but for all Indigenous people right across Australia.”

One of the principal issues for the new party is to defend sacred lands and waterways across Australia.

WORLDWIDE: Digital toolkit strengthens Indigenous voices

The year also brought a new resource, the Earth Defenders Toolkit, to Indigenous communities on the front lines defending their lands.

The toolkit, created by Digital Democracy in conjunction with local partners, is a living collection of tools and resources for Indigenous communities on the front lines of defending their land, and provides a forum where environmental and human rights defenders and allies can meet, share stories and mobilize together.

It supports local self-sufficiency and data sovereignty while lessening dependency on outside support, reported on Aug. 2.

“We’re hoping to create more spaces for community so earth defenders can sort of share stories and successes and pain points and obstacles,” quoted Rudo Kemper, a program manager at Digital Democracy.

Digital Democracy created the Earth Defenders Toolkit after observing that the app, Mapeo, was helping the fight for Indigenous rights. The toolkit was formally launched in June 2021.

The Waorani people, who live in the forested headwaters of the Ecuadoran Amazon, have long struggled to protect their lands from the oil industry. Along with Alianza Ceibo and Amazon Frontlines, the Waorani approached Digital Democracy to help map their sacred lands.

Together, they created Mapeo, a map editor for earth defenders to document environmental and human rights information on their land. Users can record important places or resources, such as ceremonial houses, hunting grounds, and medicinal plants. The mapping helped save about 180,000 hectares (445,000 acres) of Waorani land from oil drilling in 2019.

Mapeo is a landmark app in the Earth Defenders Toolkit. And now, other Indigenous groups are using it, too, including the the Ogiek of Mount Elgon in Kenya. The Ogiek are the original inhabitants of Kenya’s highlands, but after ongoing evictions that began in the early 20th century by the government and more dominant communities, the Ogiek now live on a fraction of those lands.

The Ogiek created the Chepkitale Indigenous Peoples’ Development Project in 2003 to help get their land rights recognized. In partnership with Digital Democracy and the Forest Peoples Programme, CIPDP uses Mapeo to monitor their resources.

AUSTRALIA: Woppaburra people win back 13 islands

After fighting for 117 years to regain their homelands, the Woppaburra people won recognition of their Native Title rights to 13 islands off the coast of Queensland, National Indigenous Television reported on Dec.4.

A judge formally recognized Woppaburra Traditional Owners Native Title rights over 567 square kilometers off the coast of Yeppoon, Queensland. The recognition covers 13 islands, of which Konomie (North Keppel Island) and Woppa (Great Keppel Island) are the largest.

"It's exciting,” Woppaburra Elder Uncle Bob Muir told NITV News. “It's something that I'll certainly remember for the rest of my life, that's for sure.”

The Woppaburra were removed from the island in 1902, dividing many families for generations. The Native Title application was first filed in 2013.

NEW ZEALAND: First Indigenous woman tapped as diplomat

Nanaia Mahuta, a Māori woman, was appointed New Zealand’s first Indigenous foreign minister, also becoming the first woman to be named the country’s top diplomat, The Washington Post reported on Nov. 2.

Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who won her second term in a landslide this year, described her ministers as “incredibly diverse,” with a cabinet that includes five Māori and eight women.

Mahuta was first elected to Parliament in 1996 and has also served as minister for Māori development and local government.

“She is someone who builds fantastic relationships very, very quickly, and that is one of the key jobs in a foreign affairs role,” Ardern said of Mahuta.

Mahuta also became the first woman in New Zealand’s parliament to wear a Maori traditional chin tattoo while serving as a legislator.

BRAZIL: Indigenous efforts grow to protect Amazon

Efforts are growing in Brazil to protect Indigenous inhabitants of the Amazon, with environmental activists adamant that Indigenous rights to ancestral lands is key to saving the rainforest, Reuters reported on Oct. 4.

During a Reuters Impact Conference on the fate of the Amazon rainforest, Indigenous peoples said their rights to protected lands were being undermined by the far-right government of President Jair Bolsonaro.

"What we are seeing is an attack on indigenous people, on their rights, their lives and territories," Reuters quoted Leila Salazar-Lopez, executive director of Amazon Watch.

Ginger Cassady, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, said the actions of the Bolsonaro government have continued to intensify deforestation by destroying environmental protections.

Final thoughts

In my final thoughts, I wish to congratulate the brains behind the formation of the Indigenous Party of Australia, the first Indigenous political party in the country to be established by Indigenous people for the purpose of putting Indigenous issues on the table of political discourse. Article 20 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is on your side.

And, lastly, but not least, I would like to wish all Indigenous peoples around the world, happy holidays and a year 2022 full of successes in the fight for the defense of Indigeneity. Till next year

Article 20
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and develop their political, economic and social systems or institutions, to be secure in the enjoyment of their own means of subsistence and development, and to engage freely in all their traditional and other economic activities.
2. Indigenous peoples deprived of their means of subsistence and development are entitled to just and fair redress.

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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