Indigenous Peoples

There are approximately 370 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide, in over 90 countries. Although they make up 5% of the global population, they account for about 15% of the extreme poor. The land on which they live and the natural resources on which they depend are inextricably linked to their identities, cultures, livelihoods, as well as their physical and spiritual well-being. While Indigenous Peoples own, occupy or use a quarter of the world’s surface area, they safeguard 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. They hold vital ancestral knowledge and expertise on how to adapt, mitigate, and reduce risks from climate change and natural disasters. However, only a fraction of these lands are officially recognized by states, whether they are lands Indigenous Peoples traditionally owned or possessed under customary title. link  Indigenous people around the world hold the key, and answers, to human survival on the planet, as they understand how we, as people, can and must live in harmony with nature, respecting its many blessings and having the awareness to look generations ahead for our descendants. Francis, the first Pope from Latin America, said publicly that indigenous peoples have the right to “prior and informed consent.” In other words, nothing should happen on – or impact – their land,territories and resources unless they agree to it. link

September 2018: Indigenous rights over inherited land could be major solution to climate change. Carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation are estimated to make up anywhere between 12 and 20% of global greenhouse gas total. A recent report from the World Resources Institute found that ensuring indigenous communities legally own their traditional territories can prevent emissions between five and 42 times more cheaply than carbon capture technology. Securing indigenous lands in just Brazil, Colombia and Bolivia would avert up to 60 megatons of carbon emissions over a 20-year period. link



  • Background to Indigenous Environmental Network
  • Indigenous peoples in the USA
  • The Bolivia 2010 Conference
  • First Nations – Canada
  • Central and South America
  • The Philippines
  • Australia

Indigenous Peoples Network

Indigenous Environmental Network

UN World Indigenous People’s Day August 9, 2018 Theme: Indigenous peoples’ migration and movement

Background to Indigenous Environmental Network

The Indigenous Environmental Network is incorporated under the non-profit organizational name of Indigenous Educational Network of Turtle Island. Established in 1990 within the United States, IEN was formed by grassroots Indigenous peoples and individuals to address environmental and economic justice issues. IEN’s activities include building the capacity of Indigenous communities and tribal governments to develop mechanisms to protect sacred sites, land, water, air, natural resources, health of both our people and all living things, and to build economically sustainable communities. The challenge: How do we re-orientate the dominant industrialized societies so that they pursue human well-being in a manner that contributes to the health of our Mother Earth instead of undermining it? In other words – how do we live in harmony with Nature?

Rights of indigenous peoples are key to saving global ecosystems. Indigenous Peoples have been protecting biodiversity on Earth for thousands of years. Yet their rights are increasingly being eroded and they face multiple threats. This photo-essay gives you a glimpse of the symbiotic relationship that indigenous communities have with the ecosystems that they call home, and the lengths they go to in order to conserve these places. The rights of Indigenous Peoples to their lands and territories must be guaranteed for the sake of humanity and Mother Earth.

November 2017: Indigenous groups win greater climate recognition at Bonn summit. Indigenous groups claimed a victory at the UN climate talks in Bonn as governments acknowledged for the first time that they can play a leadership role in protecting forests and keeping global temperatures at a safe level. link

August 2017: Indigenous peoples are the best guardians of world’s biodiversity. “Around the world, Indigenous Peoples face escalating attacks as well as arrests for refusing to give up the lands they have called home since time immemorial. When I visited indigenous communities in Brazil last year, they showed me the scars on their bodies from rubber bullets and the graves of their murdered leaders. I have seen evidence of this violence in many countries. In the last year alone I communicated my concerns to governments about these attacks in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Tanzania and the United States.” (From an Interview with UN Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz to mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples). link

Global Witness: Many of the world’s worst environmental and human rights abuses are driven by the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global political and economic system. Global Witness is campaigning to end this. We carry out hard-hitting investigations, expose these abuses, and campaign for change.  We are independent, not-for-profit, and work with partners around the world in our fight for justice. link

Indigenous peoples in the USA

There are 573 federally recognized Indian Nations in the United States; approximately 229 of these ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse nations are located in Alaska. link

The Dakota Access Pipeline struggles became prominent spring 2016 and witnessed world attention on demands of indigenous peoples to stand up for environmental justice to secure rights protected by treaties to safe water. For Native American tribes, water is seen to be sacred, a living thing to be revered and protected. It is their cultural touchstone. Yet tribes across the United States face water pollution problems that make their members sick, taint their traditions and epitomize the weight of modernity squeezing spiritual connections to a breaking point. When it comes to water, more than just treaty rights are at stake for but basic environmental justice.

Standing Rock

December 2017: Judge orders DAPL spill response plan, with tribe’s input. The judge also directed the company, Energy Transfer Partners, to commission an independent audit of its own prior risk analysis and to produce bi-monthly reports of any repairs or incidents occurring at Lake Oahe, the site of the contested river crossing that was the focal point of months of anti-pipeline protests that ended earlier this year. link

June 2017: The Standing Rock Sioux claim victory and vindication in court. A federal judge ruled in favor of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, handing the tribe its first legal victory in its year-long battle against the Dakota Access pipeline, saying that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to perform an adequate study of the pipeline’s environmental consequences when it first approved its construction. The court did not, however, order the pipeline to be shut off until a new environmental study is completed, a common remedy when a federal permit is found lacking. Instead, Judge Boasberg asked attorneys to appear before him again and make a new set of arguments about whether the pipeline should operate. link

October 2016: What was DAPL about? The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has opposed the Dakota Access Pipeline first learning about plans in 2014. In 2016, thousands of protesters, including many Native Americans, gathered in North Dakota in attempt to block the 1,200-mile project. The pipeline is designed to transport as many as 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline would travel underneath the Missouri River, the primary drinking water source for the tribe of around 10,000 with a reservation in the central part of North and South Dakota. Pipeline opponents point out that even the safest pipelines can leak. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reported more than 3,300 incidents of leaks and ruptures at oil and gas pipelines since 2010. The Standing Rock Sioux also argue that the pipeline traverses a sacred burial ground. link

July 2018: The next Standing Rock begins August 2018 as First Nations seek to protect Secwepemc land being taken for tarsands pipeline through BC as law enforcement in USA and Canada prepare for confrontation. Construction is scheduled to begin August 2018, and waves of allies are expected from Indigenous nations inside Canada and beyond to join them as they block the pipeline’s path. link

 Bolivia 2010 – Cochabamba

World People’s Conference in Bolivia, 

April 2010, a historical moment occurred. More than 32,000 people, including Indigenous Peoples, social movements, small farmers and some world governmental leaders, converged in Cochabamba, Bolivia for the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Two outcomes of this conference were the Cochabamba Peoples Accord and the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth. The Accord and Declaration gave voice to peoples of the world experiencing the effects of climate chaos and its many accompanying issues, including depletion of freshwater and other natural resources and the problems of food security, poverty and environmental crises, along with the financial meltdown within the United States and globally – more

April 2018: Resilient Bolivian women adapt to climate change. The consequences of climate change are not evenly distributed – the poor are hit harder than the rich. Furthermore, gender plays a role: women are more vulnerable, as they are the ones responsible for production and preparation of food. This is especially the case in rural areas, where making a sustainable living depends directly on agricultural production. link

 First Nations – Canada

Most of British Columbia is unceded Indian land traditionally under the jurisdiction of distinct nations. Aboriginal title is an unresolved issue that creates conflict with settler society over natural resources In 1978, George Manuel, first president of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, wrote “We conclude that our People have no desire, under any circumstances, to see our Aboriginal Title and Rights extinguished.” The British Royal Proclamation of 1763 decreed that there were to be no sales of such land to individual settlers confirming the existence of Aboriginal Title and Rights which only could be extinguished by means of a treaty. more

September 2016: Canadian First Nations, U.S. tribes form alliance to stop oil pipelines. First Nations communities from Canada and the northern United States signed a treaty on Thursday to jointly fight proposals to build more pipelines to carry crude from Alberta’s oil sands, saying further development would damage the environment. The treaty, signed in Montreal and Vancouver, came as the politics around pipelines have become increasingly sensitive in North America, with the U.S. Justice Department intervening last week to delay construction of a contentious pipeline in North Dakota. link

August 2016: Canada officially adopts UN declaration on rights of Indigenous Peoples. There were cheers in the United Nations as Canada officially removed its objector status to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Tuesday, almost a decade after it was adopted by the General Assembly. link  (The declaration was adopted by a majority of 144 states in September 2007 with only Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States voting against.)   September 2017: PM Trudeau tells UN Canada has failed its indigenous people – link

 Central and South America

August 2018: How Guatemala is sliding into chaos in the fight for land and water. A Dublin-based Front Line Defenders member said: “People feel abandoned. No one is listening to them. They have no confidence in the justice system. Their leaders are being victimised and attacked, their voices silenced.” The director of International Land Coalition said, “At the base of the violence against defenders is the decision by the state to use land, water and natural resources not for the benefit of the many but the very few. Anyone who opposes mines, evictions, palm oil plantations or who even takes part in roundtables to find solutions to the rising tide of violence against land rights defenders is likely to be targeted.” link

April 2016: Honduras – the world’s deadliest country for environmentalists. “The environment is the new battleground for human rights, and disputes over land form the backdrop to almost all the killings.” Honduras now has the highest murder rate for environmental activists in the world, and conflict over land rights is the primary driver. Rampant inequality, a weak judicial system, cozy relationships between political and business elites and near total impunity for crimes against human rights defenders have contributed to 101 murders of environmental activists between 2010 and 2014, according to the British NGO Global Witness. It’s an upward trend: there were three times as many killings in 2012 as a decade earlier. link

The Guardian story of Berta Cáceres. Berta Cáceres was killed in March 2016 at her home in La Esperanza, western Honduras, after receiving more than 30 death threats linked to her campaign to stop the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam being built on indigenous Lenca territory. link  (October 2017: Honduran state, power company, involved in Cáceres murder       – link)  September 2018: Berta Caceres’ alleged murderers go on trial – link

August 2017: Peru tribal leaders vow to halt oil output unless indigenous rights respected. Indigenous leaders from the area around Peru’s largest oil field have threatened to block the government from accessing their territories and halt oil production unless an indigenous rights law is applied within 20 days. The tribal leaders accuse the government of refusing to carry out a consultation process even though it is negotiating a new 30-year contract with a Canadian firm. link


August 2017: Brazilian supreme court upholds land rights of indigenous people. The Brazilian supreme court, in a unanimous decision, ruled in favour of two tribes in a case that is being hailed as a significant victory for indigenous land rights. The decision settled a dispute over land traditionally occupied by indigenous people and ordered the authorities to respect the demarcation of land. link

August 2017: Brazil court block mining in indigenous reserve. For the second time in 2 weeks, a Brazilian court sides with indigenous peoples to stop mining in a vast natural reserve in the Amazon to commercial mining. The area is thought to be rich in gold, manganese and other minerals. The Renca reserve in the eastern Amazon is home to indigenous tribes and large areas of untouched forest. link

 The Philippines

January 2007: Mining issue. A report on the effects of mining in the Philippines argues that mining in the Philippines is being developed at a speed and in a manner likely to cause massive long-term environmental damage and social problems. The report finds that current mining plans will undermine the Government’s own strategy for sustainable development by destroying or severely damaging critical eco-systems, including watersheds, rivers, marine eco-systems and important agricultural production areas. Implementation of the proposed mining plan will bring insufficient benefits to the Filipino people. Plans for extensive mining operations in remote areas requiring licensing, regulation and monitoring will make it worse.
The Philippines currently faces a crisis of extra-judicial killings. More than 700 activists – including civil rights and environmental advocates – have been killed since the current administration came to power in 2001. link

October 2015: Philippine activists call for an end to foreign mining. The Philippines has suffered numerous disasters from its mining industry over the decades, creating a legacy of health problems that continue to the present day. Now there is a proposal to reopen one foreign-owned mine with a checkered history, and the backlash from activists who are trying to stop it. When a typhoon or heavy rain hits Marinduque island, many residents along the Mogpog River are evacuated to higher ground because the Philippine government says an upstream dam that holds back toxic waste from an abandoned copper mine is deteriorating and could overflow or burst, just like it did in 1993. When that happened, the river was silted over with heavy metals and other debris, or tailings, from the mine. In a leak at the Marcopper mine in 1996, millions of tons of tailings led to the pullout of its Canadian operator, ending three decades of mining on the island. Compensation for the environmental cleanup was never received.  After decades of mining, Marinduque is one of the poorest provinces in the entire archipelago. In June, a court in the U.S. state of Nevada dismissed Marinduque’s lawsuit against the company that bought out the mine’s former operator on jurisdiction grounds. For some environmental advocates, Marinduque is an example of why foreign mining firms should be banned from the Philippines. link


April 2016: Young people need to rise up to protect country. “As a young Aboriginal woman, everything I know about my culture is about looking after our land and looking after each other. They’re one in the same” said Protect Country Seed Summit organiser, Amelia Telford, pictured left. “But right now, it’s getting harder and harder to fulfill these cultural responsibilities – we can’t just sit by. We can play a huge role in building solutions that work for our communities. It’s time for people who are impacted by decisions to be at the table, putting communities, country and culture first. Climate change challenges life as we all know it – and the way we deal with it determines how we live, where we live and if we live. At the core to this crisis is the loss of country, culture and the lives of Indigenous peoples in Australia and across the world. Every ounce of coal, gas and oil that is dug up and fuels this crisis is another loss for our people.” link

Australian government statement: Indigenous Australians have managed their country for tens of thousands of years. Indigenous Protected Areas are voluntarily dedicated by Indigenous groups on Indigenous owned or managed land or sea country. They are recognised by the Australian Government as an important part of the National Reserve System, protecting the nation’s biodiversity for the benefit of all Australians. Indigenous Protected Areas deliver cost-effective environmental, cultural, social, health and wellbeing and economic benefits to Indigenous communities. As well as protecting biodiversity and cultural heritage into the future. There are currently over 70 dedicated Indigenous Protected Areas across 65 million hectares accounting for more than 40% of the National Reserve System’s total area. link

January 2009: Aborigines to bear brunt of climate change. Aborigines in the harsh Outback will be among the Australians hardest hit by climate change, with higher rates of disease likely and spiritual suffering too when forced to see their ancestral lands ravaged, according to an expert report. The report urges federal and state governments to act immediately to “mitigate some of the worst impacts of climate change in these communities”. Elevated temperatures and increases in hot spells are expected to be a major problem for indigenous health in remote areas, where cardiovascular and respiratory disease are more prevalent and there are many elderly people with inadequate facilities to cope with the increased heat stress. link