During the past year, indigenous peoples have seen their basic rights, their cultures and their very lives threatened as never before.
Illegal mining, deforestation, companies that ignore court rulings requiring them to address environmental concerns, corruption, illegal incursions into indigenous territory – these are just some of the issues that indigenous people face.
Precious water sources are being threatened and depleted – from poisoning due to mining, from re-routing and diversions for extractive companies, and from the effects of the climate crisis.
But it’s not only their physical health and wellbeing that’s suffering. Indigenous people’s sacred sites and spiritual wellbeing are being badly affected.
“They have destroyed those sacred places, those places where we went for purification, where we received healing and protection,” says Misael, a Wayúu indigenous community leader from La Guajira, Colombia. “All of this cultural and spiritual damage means that we are on the verge of going down in history as a people almost entirely wiped out…a people on the verge of extinction.”
On top of this, the coronavirus pandemic has wrought unspeakable damage to indigenous communities across Latin America. Governments have failed to take adequate measures to ensure the protection of indigenous communities.
In Brazil, where the total number of deaths due to coronavirus stands at over 520,000 people, we have seen the avoidable deaths of many indigenous elders such as Karapiru Awá Guajá. And with their deaths, the loss of the keepers of their peoples’ memory, the guardians of their knowledge and their spirituality.
We know that indigenous peoples help to protect our planet Earth, our common home. We know that this is ever more important as the entire planet faces the effects of the climate crisis. Their lives are not simply threatened by health issues. For standing up for their basic rights to water, for protecting their land and environment, they face intimidation, threats, and death.
Juana, an indigenous leader from Honduras, explains how indigenous community members from Guapinol have peacefully stood up against the contamination of their rivers by a mining company. After being violently removed from a camp they had established to defend water and life, eight defenders are still in detention, having been falsely accused of various crimes, including illegal arms bearing.
She says: “The situation in Honduras is very serious. It’s a country in which defending human rights, defending the environment, defending life, defending rights of indigenous peoples, is to put our lives at grave risk.”
Human rights defenders in Latin America
A new report from CAFOD recommends ways that the UK government, EU and member states, Latin American states, all governments, and businesses and investors can protect human rights defenders from the attacks they face.
In Brazil, Sineia, Environmental Manager of the Indigenous Council of Roraima, explained how legal changes could wipe out indigenous people’s rights to their ancestral lands overnight.
These latest legal threats are considered the struggle of a century. Without land, indigenous peoples do not have life. And we will all lose the precious forest that they so valiantly protect, stemming the impacts of the climate crisis. We cannot let this happen.
Celebrating World Indigenous Day
On this International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, we celebrate indigenous people’s courage, resistance and resilience as they face these multiple challenges. Their struggle is our struggle. We too must act.