9 August 2017 - 10:55 AM
The 5 Indigenous Struggles You've Never Heard of
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Recent protests by Native American groups against the construction of a massive oil pipeline in the Dakotas has turned the spotlight on one of the world's more visible Indigenous resistance movements. But Indigenous cultures continue to struggle for self-determination in virtually every corner of the globe. To wit, here are a few you might not have come across.

West Papuan Pro-Independence supporters

1. Indigenous Groups in Russia’s Far Territories

A tiny number of Indigenous people live in the world's largest country by land mass, with more than 40 indigenous groups spread out across Russia’s north, Siberia and far east region. Many continue to practice traditional nomadic lifestyles.

Russia's hardscrabble landscape causes severe hardships, including health problems, low life expectancy, and a dwindling population. Aboriginal leaders say that their difficult circumstances stem largely from the assimilation policies introduced by the Soviet Union, including the forced relocation of "futureless" Indigenous communities into larger settlements in the 1960s and 70s. 

Areas occupied by Indigenous peoples are commonly rich in natural resources and are adversely affected by energy projects.

In 1990 the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North was established representing 41 Indigenous communities.

While Indigenous groups in Russia are guaranteed some rights through the Russian constitution, recent legislation has whittled away at their access to traditional hunting and fishing as land has been turned over to big energy concerns who covet Russia's vast oil and gas supplies.  

2. Saharawi People in Western Sahara

The Indigenous Saharawi people living in Western Sahara have lived under military occupation since 1975 and have faced widespread human rights abuses.

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Saharawis say that the occupier, Morocco, illegally extracts and exports phosphate rock. Human rights groups say that as many as 300,000 Saharawi people have been abused by Moroccan forces and face a media blackout.

The Polisario Front, an Indigenous independence movement, took up an armed struggle against Morocco until a ceasefire deal was reached in 1991.

After declaring the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, or SADR, the Saharawi people now control nearly a fifth of Western Sahara, but want to continue to push for a referendum that would allow complete independence, and have accused Morocco of backing away from an agreement to hold such a vote. 

Algeria, along with Cuba and Venezuela, have given their support to the Saharawi and the disputed SADR territory is a full member of the African Union.

3. Melanesian People in West Papua

West Papuans won their independence from the Dutch in 1963 but their territory was then annexed by Indonesia in 1969 as part of a controversial referendum, which at the time was backed by the U.N.

Indonesia continues to suppress West Papuan self-determination efforts through censorship and force, violating human rights in the process. Around half a million Melanesians are thought to have been killed by Indonesian authorities.

West Papuans are not legally allowed to protest or organize social movements, and many have been detained as political prisoners for staging peaceful protests. In the last three years, 27 West Papuans have been killed.

Indonesia has also banned foreign press and aid organizations from entering West Papua, so pro-independence supporters have increasingly sought to spread their cause internationally through social media.

Several other Pacific island nations have also supported West Papuan independence and condemned Indonesia’s 50-year repression. The Pacific Coalition on West Papua and the Melanesian Spearhead Group are two such organizations that have stood in solidarity with West Papua.

4. Aeta People in the Philippines

The Aeta people are thought to be one of the original inhabitants of the Philippines and mainly live in mountainous regions of the country’s biggest Island, Luzon.

Aeta people are Australo-Melanesians, which includes other indigenous groups found in Papua New Guinea and Australia and were named “Negritos” by Spanish colonists for their dark complexion.

The Aeta were thought to have had little contact with the Spanish as they remained in isolated mountainous regions, and were documented to have put up a strong resistance to being moved into reservations by the Spanish. Today a large percentage of Aeta people are Evangelical Christians after missionaries visited local communities.

Mining and deforestation have ravaged the lands of the Aeta.  

5. Wampis People in Peru

The Wampis Indigenous people live in small clusters on 3 million acres of land in the Peruvian Amazon.

Recently their lands and communities have been under threat from oil spills, deforestation, and industrial agriculture.

An oil spill from a Petroperu pipeline in February spewed thousands of barrels of crude oil across the Amazon, forcing the government to declare a state of emergency. Indigenous communities have insisted they should be compensated for their losses. 

In November 2015, the Wampis became the first group in Peru to establish an autonomous Indigenous government to help protect their sovereignty and to create a parallel structure to represent around 100 subsistence communities.

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