For decades, Oct. 12 celebrated the day Christopher Colombus landed on the eastern coasts of the Americas. Today that date is used to commemorate the over 500 years of Indigenous resistance to a colonial project that brought pillage, death, and cultural genocide.
On this Oct. 12, TeleSUR English celebrates the ongoing struggles of Indigenous peoples across the Americas and raises awareness of the struggles they continue to face, whether expulsion from their lands, which are often coveted by extractive industries, or being harassed, threatened and murdered by state and private forces when they challenge a nation-state’s neoliberal paths to development.
From the Mapuches of the Southern Cone to the First Nations of Canada, Indigenous people today continue to resist the Euro-centric colonial enterprise.
Chile: Mapuche Struggle for Their Ancestral Land
In Chile, the state has long countered Indigenous claims to land by enforcing a legal framework that qualifies their struggle as terrorism, allowing for the criminalization of their leaders and activists.
A recent example is the conviction of three Mapuche leaders Jose Tralcal Coche, Luis Tralcal Quidel, and Machi (a community and spiritual authority) Celestino Cordova for terrorism in an arson attack that led to the death of the landowning Luchsinger-Mackay couple in 2013.
They have claimed innocence and international human rights group Amnesty International has highlighted a series of irregularities that hampered the right of the accused to a fair trial including: using anonymous witnesses, keeping the investigation secret for too long, inappropriate use of pre-trial imprisonment, harassing witnesses and defenders, and using evidence that has been declared illegal.
Charges against 11 other Mapuche accused in the Luchsinger-Mackay case were dropped in October 2017 due to lack of evidence and irregularities in the trial, but after Sebastian Piñera was sworn in as Chile's president in January 2018, the case was reopened – with the same evidence.
Mapuche communities in Chile are targeted because they challenge the economic interests of powerful people in Chile, like the construction of the Sky Lican Ray-Pinohuacho recreational center near the Villarrica volcano, a sacred, spiritual significant place.
The communities have appealed to the International Labour Organization using Convention 169, which stipulates that Indigenous people have the right to decide their own fate and priorities regarding development, according to their own views and traditions.
Guardians of the Amazon in Brazil
In August, Brazilian Indigenous leader Jorginho Guajajara was murdered in the State of Maranhao in the Brazilian Amazon. Investigators believe Jorginho was killed by illegal loggers operating in the territory of the Guajajara people, who are renowned for their work as Guardians of the Amazon. At least 80 members of the community have been murdered for defending the jungle.
They have long fought against “an aggressive, powerful and armed logging mafia with close ties to local and national politicians,” international NGO Survival International details.
According to data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), 70 percent of Maranhao state has been deforested. In Arariboia alone, almost 25 hectares have been affected.
The Guardians of the Amazon, or Guardioes da Floresta, are a group of Guajajara men, who decided to fight against illegal loggers themselves in the face of government inaction. They patrol their territory in search of outside threats, and when they find loggers or hunters, they destroy their equipment and detain the perpetrators to deliver them to the police later. The group also aims to protect the uncontacted Awa Guaja people who live in the region.
Ecuador’s Indigenous Fight Corporate Impunity
Between 1964 and 1992, oil giant Texaco, later bought by Chevron, operated in the Ecuadorean Amazon. When it left the country, the transnational company left 1,000 pools of toxic waste which impacted the health and livelihoods of at least 30,000 people.
In July, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court ratified US$9.5 billion ruling against Chevron-Texaco and in favor of those affected by the pollution from the company's extractive operations. However, in September the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of oil giant and declared Ecuador guilty of violating a bilateral investment treaty signed with the United States in 1997, claiming it withheld justice from the company and failed to give Chevron “just and equitable” treatment.
The international court is demanding the state pay financial compensation to Chevron and nullify the Constitutional Court’s ruling despite it being unconstitutional.
Representatives for the affected communities said Monday, that, should the state choose to move forward with annulling the ruling, then they will challenge the decision internationally.
So far neither the company nor the state has taken responsibility for the environmental cleanup and economic compensation.
Guatemala: Mayan Activists and Leaders Murdered With Impunity
In June Guatemala’s Human Rights Public Defender, Jordan Rodas said President Jimmy Morales was “indifferent” to the wave of murders against Indigenous and Campesino social leaders in the country, and neither the president nor Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart, have taken action to ensure their security.
In May, when at least three social leaders were murdered, the United Nations urged the Guatemalan government to “investigate the murders and other attacks and threats against human rights defenders, and to guarantee that those responsible are taken to justice.”
Leaders of the Campesino Committee of the High Plateau and the Committee of Campesino Unity Committee of Campesino Development (Codeca) have also been targeted. In May, Codeca member Luis Marroquin was murdered.
In July, Juana Raymundo, a 25-year-old Mayan Ixil nurse and human rights activist was murdered. Her body was found with signs of torture near a river between Nebaj and Acambalam. She was also a member of Codeca and had been recently elected to the local council of the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples, which aims for the recognition of Guatemala as a multinational state.
No one has been arrested for the crimes. The organization has denounced continuous harassment and the systematic hate speech campaign against them and other human rights and environmental activists in Guatemala on the part of the government and economic elites.
In August, Guatemalan authorities arrested Rogelio Cac, a Mayan Q'eqchi environmental activist opposing a new hydroelectrical plant on what the community argues are communal lands. Cac has been accused of aggravated illegal detention and incitement to crime by an employee of Renace electric company.
Due to security protocols, the community halted the company pick-up truck in which employees were traveling. The employees were able to leave after reaching an agreement with the community, brokered by the human rights office of Guatemala and the Madre Selva collective, but one employee later filed a complaint.
Canada: First Nations Against Oil Pipeline
First Nations face similar issues in Canada. In August, Canada’s Supreme Court threw out an appeal by the coastal city of Burnaby, British Columbia to overturn a federal government decision that gave the go-ahead to continue constructing the Trans Mountain oil pipeline through its jurisdiction.
The expansion to the existing 1947 pipeline, some 980 km of pipeline, was approved by the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016 but has experienced significant pushback against its construction from other cities and Indigenous communities, which have delayed the project by over a year.
Members of the Secwepemc First Nation have been constructing ‘tiny houses’ — 2.5 x 3.5-meter houses — near Edmonton where the expansion begins in order to obstruct Kinder Morgan operations in the area.
In July about ten people blocked the company’s access to an existing oil station in Burnaby. They were sentenced to a week in jail.
First Nations representative Romero Saganash accused Trudeau of dismissing Indigenous concerns over the pipeline project. "When the prime minister says that this pipeline expansion will be done no matter what, and his minister adds that Canada will not be able to accommodate all Indigenous concerns, what that means is that they have decided to willfully violate their constitutional duties and obligations," Saganash said.
Ottawa has relaunched consultations with Indigenous groups on the Trans Mountain pipeline to the Pacific after a court ruled the tribes get a say in the multi-billion dollar project.
"We believe that we can and must move forward with engaging in a meaningful and focused consultation with Indigenous groups on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project," Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi told a press conference.
Once that review and Indigenous consultations are concluded, Trudeau's cabinet would have to decide again whether to greenlight the project.