August 7, 2013

Indigenous Peoples Rights and Land Grabbing Violations

Bui Dam under construction, Ghana, by ZSM via wikimedia commonsInternational Day of the World’s Indigenous People is on Friday, August 9th, and this year’s theme is “Indigenous peoples building alliances: Honouring treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.” In recognition of this upcoming day, the Landscapes Blog is taking a look at agreements that have been made to protect indigenous peoples land and rights.

Indigenous people worldwide are often subjected to the laws and decisions of the countries they live in without adequate input or buy-in. Other than the International Labor Organization’s Convention No. 169, there are no major international laws regarding indigenous rights, particularly when it comes to land and tenure. Land grabbing, the large-scale acquisition of land usually by governments or multinational corporations, is an issue that faces many indigenous groups. Oftentimes, indigenous people are more marginalized and have less political clout than other stakeholders in society, and because of this, exploitation in the form of land grabbing continues to occur.

When land that was previously used for non-intensive agriculture is converted into industrial land, the effects on the landscape are immense. Agricultural landscapes may be turned into monocultures, such as with the expansion of soy in Brazil, or converted into vast grazing lands, as in Argentina. Forest landscapes are often decimated to make way for development of mining and other extractive industries.

For example, the Belo Monte dam project in Brazil will be one of the largest such structures in the world, generating hydroelectric power for a large number of Brazilians. Its location on the Xingu River in the state of Pará is contentious, because several indigenous groups live in the surrounding Amazon rainforest and survive off of the land. The Kayapó, Arara, Juruna, Araweté, Xikrin, Asurini and Parakanã indigenous groups have protested the construction of the dam continually, and brought the issue global recognition. They are protesting the destruction of what they view as their rightful and ancestral lands.

From an agricultural perspective, destruction of rainforest lands can have a negative effect on agricultural productivity, food security, and food sovereignty, in addition to the degradation of ecosystem services such as clean water and biodiversity. The dam will cause an immense change in the landscape – some areas will be extensively flooded, and new settlements and towns are already under construction. The context for food provision will also change drastically, because the indigenous people can no longer rely on hunting and gathering in the forest or fishing in the river. Currently, many tribes also derive a livelihood from fishing, and the alterations in the river landscape will have considerable impacts on the current indigenous management of the water and associated natural resources.

Land grabbing represents a classic dichotomy between development and environment. On the one hand, Brazil is a fast growing economy with hopes of raising the socio-economic status of its citizens. This seemingly necessitates the construction of the Xingu river dam, and others in the future, to provide electricity and other services to Brazil’s sizable population. On the other hand, Amazonian indigenous groups feel that they have not been properly considered or consulted, and that the environmental impacts of this dam are too great. Some groups, like Survival International, are raising awareness and support for indigenous people’s rights, and Landscapes Initiative Co-Organizer Conservation International has partnered with the Indigenous Advisory Group to examine how Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) can contribute to more control by indigenous groups over decisions made affecting their traditional and surrounding lands.

The question remains, where is there a balance between these competing demands of growth and development versus social and environmental responsibility, and how can a landscape approach play a role in finding it?

Read More:
Indigenous Peoples’ Rights to Lands, Territories and Resources: A Synthesis Paper – International Land Coalition

Photo credit: ZSM

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